In thirty-five days, I’ll be moving into a new decade. I have obviously known about this event for quite some time, but I hadn’t really given it much thought lately. It’s been a bit busy, what with four kids and keeping them alive and relatively cared for. Additionally, the fall is a busy time full of family birthdays, our anniversary, and of course Halloween. And what with Indian Summer being in full swing, I mean, I am sweating for crying out loud, it hardly seems that close to my Christmas-seasoned birthday.
But there you have it. Staring down the barrel of forty, I am. FORTY. it’s kind of an ugly word, don’t you think? If only the word gods had left the “u” in there, at least. I could be all Britishy about it, but noooo, it’s just a crass little word now. Not dignified like “colour” or even “honour.”
Half of the time, I completely forget I turned 39 already. For some reason, (baby?) I still keep telling people I’m 38. I liked 38. 38 was a good age. I liked it so much I inadvertently stayed there for two years.
All the same, turning forty is overwhelmingly better than the alternative. As I’m already a year older than my mother was at her passing, of this I am keenly aware. And there are a great number of fabulous forty year-olds these days. I’m still younger than a number of actresses still portraying sex objects as opposed to wise grandmotherly types.
In anticipation of this birthday, I’ve got a few items on my list to accomplish. Finishing up my book, for starters. But on a smaller scale, I still don’t have a lipstick shade. I’m nearly forty, for heaven’s sake, I should be able to pick a lip colour. (see how much more dignified that “ou” is?) This weekend, I intend to find one. And maybe some makeup to wear every day. After all, I am no longer 38. No reason I should be scaring small children with this bare face.
As most of you know, my fantastic husband is a musician, which is indirectly how we met. His band, Juniper Lane, often hung out at an open mic night where I ended up singing a few times. It was there that we first became friends.
Several years and two children later, Juniper Lane won a contest to be among a few finalists from which Coldplay would choose an opening act for their Verizon Center show.
YES. Coldplay. Chris Martin. Yellow. The Scientist. Commence the squeeing.
I had a six-month old at the time of the show, and he’d really never been left for more than a few hours, but come ON, my husband would be opening for Coldplay, so I packed my breast pump in the cutest bag I had, piled on the black eyeliner, and we all headed downtown for one of the most surreal nights of our lives.
The first funny happened when we got there. Apparently, when you tell the security guard you need to get in because you’re playing tonight, and you literally have your instrument swung over your shoulder, they are suspect. And when you’re so flipping excited that you are opening for one of your musical idols that you can’t wipe the smile off your face and loudly declare, “I AM OPENING FOR COLDPLAY WHICH WAY TO THE DRESSING ROOM!” they may or may not consider calling for back up.
But we eventually proved ourselves truthful and headed in.
There was a lot of waiting around, a lot of wide-eyed wonder, a soundcheck, and some visiting with Coldplay’s drummer who is a lovely man who tolerated all of our star-struckedness and even signed all the things for us. I wasn’t allowed to tag along to the official food area, but hubs did eat dinner at a table next to the band, which is kind of fun as well.
Some other famous people were milling about backstage, like the Foo Fighters drummer and Kate Bosworth, I think. I say I think, because I wasn’t the one who spotted them, having spent a solid amount of my time in the back of the dressing rooms, pumping. But I guess that is what happens backstage at giant rock shows? Famous people just come walk around?
When my husband’s band played, well, it was ridiculous. I don’t think my wordy little self has any words to capture the metric tonne of pride one experiences when you see the person you love getting to live out a dream. It’s nothing short of amazing. I think it’s probably better than having your own dream come true, if I’m being honest.
Although it didn’t catapult the hubs and his bandmates to instant fame and fortune like it should have, it was an amazing celebration of all they had worked toward for so many years. And in addition to having that amazing experience, all of our children will certainly drag this story out to impress their friends for years to come.
And when your kids think you’re cool, that may be more valuable than any record deal. Close, anyway.
The first time I met Aeryn Gillern, he walked into a study room in the mens’ dorm where I was cramming for a midterm with some friends. He was wearing a full length nightdress, an actual nightcap, and carrying a candlestick. He looks like a very manly and handsome Wee Willy Winkie. He swung open the door, muttered something about having a productive evening, slowly passed his disapproving eyes over the three of us, and dashed out. I remember being equal parts alarmed and amused.
Aeryn was a memorable character that I had seen around campus and town. He used to ride his bike to and fro, dressed impeccably with starched shirts and an interesting armband, the meaning of which I never did learn. His posture was flawless, even on his bicycle. He would have been a shoe-in for the part of Rolf if The Sound of Music film was ever re-cast. For the first couple of years on campus, I don’t think we ever spoke to one another, although I would see him from time to time in classes and on the rare occasions I made it to the gym, he was always there, headphones on, laser-sharp focus on his fitness routine. He was a bit of a mystery character – very reserved, stately, and not one for casual conversation.
It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Austria that I got to know Aeryn. As there were only about a hundred of us, it was impossible to avoid getting to know on another to some extent. But with Aeryn, I was happy for the close quarters. We took Austrian folk dancing lessons together, and we sang in the Latin Schola choir together. He was a fiercely loyal friend. I remember one time being asked to sing a part by myself, and feeling extremely self-conscious about it. One of the other choir members poked a bit of fun at me, highlighting just how quivery my voice had sounded. Aeryn stared him down, and in his booming baritone declared, “It’s called vibrato.”
Aeryn guarded his personal life closely, and it would several years before he was fully open with me about his reasoning. But even when I was a nineteen year-old spaz of a girl, he looked after me and tried to help me understand some of the world that my sheltered upbringing had left out. I didn’t even fully comprehend it at the time, but Aeryn came out to me one early Spring day as we sat on a bench outside the Kartause, our Austrian campus. There on the lawn of this centuries-old Carthusian monastery, bundled under our wool coats, he was trying to help me sort out my confusion about a mutual friend. I distinctly remember his tapdancing around the word gay, never uttering it in fact, as he went to great lengths to explain just how he was able to empathize with our friend. I still have no idea why my fiercely-private friend shared so vulnerably with me that day, but I am honored he did.
Aeryn only let most people know him at arm’s length. If you look through photo albums of our semester abroad, for example, there aren’t that many pictures of him. He didn’t come out to the pubs, he rarely traveled with any of us unless it was part of the school program, and he was fond of turning up his nose at most of our adolescent antics. Once, on the bus trip back from Rome, he even convinced our friend, Libby to take some Nyquil, pretending he thought she had the sniffles, but really just hoping she’d konk out and stop pestering him.
It would be years before all of the pieces fit together in that particular puzzle of his guardedness, but just as they were coming together, my friend disappeared. He hadn’t answered my latest email, and I wondered if I’d somehow offended him with my intrusive questioning. I only wish that had been what happened. I wish that he was just giving me the silent treatment, but sadly I would learn months later that he was really and truly missing.
The last time anyone saw my friend Aeryn was eight years ago today.
Today his mother, Kathy, stands vigil in Vienna, taking cold comfort in being close to where her son last stood. I wish I could be there with her – that I could kick down some doors and get answers for her.
But above all else, I really just wish that my friend were still here, still making me laugh, still making me think. While his last email to me was a bit of juicy gossip from our old stomping grounds, (he always had the dirt!) his second to last email started like this:
Greetings! You know, it just occured to me today, I like you! Not in that kind of way, but in the sense that I like hearing from you by e-mail and I look forward to the chats we have on line. It is funny, we have ekpt up with eachother for a good while. That's it. It just popped into my head today. Just let it go to your head, I know, I am wonderful, but, I am already taken!
Although he died decades before I was born, Uncle Gigs is a legend in our family. My dad thinks his real name was Owen, but regardless, Uncle “Gigs” Gallagher was my grandmother’s uncle, brother to my great-grandmother Rose Greenhalgh, nee Gallagher.
When my grandmother and grandfather married, they did what was the usual for the time and moved in with relatives. Several years passed and a couple of their children were born before they were able to afford their own rental, and when they could afford it, the understanding was that they would now become a safe landing for poorer relatives.
Gigs was one such relative. A house painter by trade, he often took long sabbaticals from his job to attend to his first love: drinking. He was without a permanent residence, and would also on occasion cause a public disturbance so he would have a warm place to sleep at night. In the county jail. But the warden caught on to Gigs’ strategy, and would make him spend the day painting his own house in order to “earn his keep” and sleep in the cell.
And so it was that Gigs ended up doing long stints in my grandmother’s basement. His reasons for being relegated to the basement were two-fold: one, there was limited space upstairs, mostly occupied by small children who shouldn’t be disturbed by a stumbly drunk man, and second of all, because Gigs wasn’t exactly in complete control of his bladder after a few beverages. This led to some awkward encounters later on when my aunts were of dating age. There were a few times where their dates had arrived to pick them up and were treated to a display of Gigs’ half-bare backside as he ascended the steps to actually make it to the bathroom. Apparently, Gigs always managed to button just the one side of his union suit, never both, never neither. Always one cheek left embracing the breeze.
At some point, Gigs met a woman who swore he had married her. Gigs denied any wedding, but given his penchant for moonshine-induced holes in his memory, no one really knows who was in the right. But she had followed him back to my grandparents’ house, and he ran ahead of her, instructing all of the children to keep her out. She managed to barrel past everyone, however, and was chasing him around the dining room table for a bit before giving up.
Gigs wasn’t living with my dad’s family when he died, but his funeral was well attended by a myriad of people from many walks of life. Rest in peace, great great-uncle Gigs. You’re a legend.
Today was madness. It was a good madness, but madness all the same. I had three magazines post a piece of mine online, and one that was somewhat vulnerable, controversial, and miraculously well-received.
I wish I could tell you about when I first started writing. If I think on it long enough, I bet I could, and I shall try, but it’s 7:38 and I need to do a blog post for my Write 31 days challenge, so instead I’ll be telling you the hilarious tale of my sister’s first brilliant written story.
In the 2nd grade, my quiet little mouse of a sister was asked along with the rest of her class to think of the funniest possible story and write it down. She took the assignment to heart, went home with a stack of that manila-colored triple-lined paper, and drafted what she considered to be the most hilarious story her seven year-old self could muster.
I suspect the commercials for the local musical theater may have contributed to her inspiration. They were playing ads for the upcoming production of Victor/Victoria.
The story was a simple one: a man liked to wear dresses. He met a woman who liked to wear suits. This was a perfect match! They fell in love and got married. The End.
Now, I realize this hardly sounds scandalous. But in 1976 or so, it apparently sent waves through Crofton Woods. The teacher brought it to the counselor who brought it to the principal who called my mother and requested she come in for a conference immediately.
When my mother arrived at school, she sat down across from the panel of three experts. The principal slid the story across the desk to her with a dour look on her face. My mother was understandably concerned about what the paper said. Were there curse words? Gruesome violent details? Was someone hurting my sister and she had confessed it on this page? The looks on the faces of the school officials betrayed their own concerns too readily.
Then my mother read the story. And commenced hysterical laughter.
When she realized that the teacher, counselor, and principal didn’t find the story the least bit funny, she caught herself and tried to recapture her concern. Which is when the counselor began a particularly bizarre kind of questioning, attempting to determine just how my sister had found her inspiration for this clearly disturbed tale.
“Does your husband….enjoy wearing women’s clothing?” the counselor ventured.
My mother’s laughter resumed. “Oh goodness, you’re serious, aren’t you?” she finally managed.
At that point, my mother remarked that to a 7 year-old, this was merely the funniest thing she could think of, that no, my father was not into trying on her pantyhose, but thanks for asking, and that she also found it to be a delightful little tale and my goodness did they really have her find a sitter for this nonsense.
I am nearly certain there was a mark in the old family file from that point on. But it does remain my favorite “birth of a writer” story.
I have no idea what I was thinking, I really don’t. Perhaps it was my feeble attempt at ripping the bandage off all at once, or maybe I never stopped to consider the potential for disaster. After all, I’m the girl who still gets in the pool one excruciating inch at a time, even though I know, I KNOW, that diving in is a far better, far less traumatic, plan.
So when I brought my lovely WASPy boyfriend of a year home to “meet the parents,” why I chose to do so at an extended family gathering is beyond me. In retrospect, the fact that he didn’t ditch me and run screaming back across the Potomac should have eliminated any doubt I had regarding his investment in our relationship. The man was clearly all in.
When you grow up in a large family, the noise expectation at parties is different. When twenty-some people are all chatting at once, there’s really no quiet possible. I remember my husband trying to escape to the living room for a moment, only to be dragged back by the barking orders of my elderly aunt, requesting him to “Get you ass in here.” She really just wanted to know more about him, but I could tell my amusement wasn’t helping matters.
And later when we tried to take a break by offering to walk my four year-old nephew to the park, the little guy bristled at his intrusion and required a talking to before acquiescing. That was the moment the sarcastic, “Ready, Freddy?” phrase was born in our home. It seems four year-olds aren’t keen on sharing their aunties.
It took another year and a half before my husband introduced me to his parents.
I woke up this morning to the death stare of a 10-month old. My husband scooped her up, changed her, and let me rest for a few more minutes as I’d gotten up about half a dozen times to feed the little monster. It was too loud to sleep any longer, what with the other three greeblies fighting over the last two frozen waffles, so I tossed on my Nutella-stained Star Wars sweatshirt and dragged myself downstairs in search of coffee. The steps dropped me into the living room, where my #3 greeted me enthusiastically with, “Mama! Now we’re all here, a family!” She was draped over my husband’s lap, the little monster snuggled in his arms, and the other two played on the floor nearby.
I patted my husband’s head and wished him a happy anniversary. At first, he was puzzled, and said, “Wait, today? I thought that was tomorrow?” and I wasn’t the slightest bit annoyed. How could I be? Today’s schedule included two soccer games, a play rehearsal, a costume meeting, Girl Scout cookie pick-up, buying and delivering ten bags of ice for tonight’s Halloween party at the school, and of course, wrangling them all for said party which we’ll attend together instead of getting a warm meal in a quiet restaurant with cloth napkins.
When we were the well-rested, fresh-faced twenty-somethings in our wedding photo, what I just described would have made us cry. More than likely it would have sent us running in opposite directions. We weren’t going to be those people. When vacationing with my family, we’d celebrate our relative freedom as tiny children ran around like miniature tyrants. This would not be our fate, no sir.
In a couple of days, we’ll escape for 24 hours. While we’ll have the wee one along due to feeding requirements, it will be a well-deserved and long-awaited break from the chaos of our daily lives. It’s funny how it took twelve years for us to get to this place – most of the time it seems like the blink of an eye, but I am glad it took that long to work up to this. The silly boy and girl who registered for three different types of wine glasses and a game table were not cut out for a day like today.
Twelve years ago, I was scrambling around town and dealing with the last minute details of wedding planning. Bridesmaids’ gifts were wrapped, Groomsmen’s gifts were also wrapped, (couldn’t exactly trust my intended with that one!) and I was on my way home to have the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.
It was a perfect autumn evening, and while getting ready at my parents’ home was a cluster of unimaginable proportions due to the sheer volume of people, I somehow managed to somewhat pull it off and arrive to the church on time.
We held the rehearsal dinner at the now-closed Sly Horse Tavern, in an upstairs room with a brick fireplace and intimate decor. Everyone had a lovely time and a lovely meal, and I sent my soon-to-be husband off with his friends to a Travis show at the 9:30 Club and dragged my sister and a couple of friends out for one drink before attempting an early night so as to get much-needed rest.
In spite of the many out-of-town family members staying with my parents, my mother took care to preserve a room for me. She had put flowers in there, made up the pull out futon couch with an added air mattress, and laid out fresh towels and soaps. It was a lovely effort, which no doubt took away from the time she needed to get ready herself.
Unfortunately, however, the air mattress had a bit of a slow leak, and that night, when I attempted to get comfortable and fall asleep, each of my tosses and turns deflated it a bit more, until I was rolling atop a thinly-draped plastic sheet. Freezing cold. Shaking and freezing.
Around 2:30 AM, I gave up. I grabbed one of the blankets and headed downstairs in search of a sleeping surface. I stumbled into the den and found another pull out couch, but this one had my brother in it along with the German Shepherd. At that moment, the warmth of a dog was tempting, so I scooted him over and climbed in. Blessed warmth and sleep at last.
It wasn’t long before I heard a persistent tapping at the louvered doors. In a loud whisper, my nephew declared, “We’re hungry! We need breakfast!” It was still pitch dark in the room, so when I dragged myself out to the kitchen and squinted at their angelic faces, I figured I’d pour them some cereal and crawl back into the covers.
But then the dog was up, and then the nieces awoke and needed food, and that was the end of my rest.
I couldn’t help but think, was that really the last of my single nights? Seriously? To say nothing of the fact that I was supposed to look “the best I’d ever look in my entire life” less than 12 hours later.
If ever my daughters marry, they are staying in a hotel the night before.