Remembering June.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Been in rather a blue funk for a few days.  In addition to the letdown after the hyperventilation surrounding high school graduation for my youngest; the impending 6-week hiatus from our dear friends; and the sick week I just had, it’s June.  June is Father’s Day and graduation, or, for those with younger kids, the month when school lets out and kids are underfoot.  Roses fill the air with their perfume; gardens explode in green; we celebrate the summer solstice; and Sir Paul McCartney and my friend Chris blow out birthday candles in June.

And it is also my sister Missy’s birthday.  Next week she would have been 52.

Two years ago, two of my sisters and I flew down to Georgia to visit Missy and join the sister who was already there.  It was the occasion of Missy’s 50th birthday, and she was in the hospital.  We wanted to make sure to give her a 50th birthday none of us would forget.  We brought along goodies she loved but couldn’t get in Georgia and took decorations and funny things to make her laugh.  Once there, we went shopping for more.  We got her a cake and even a little contraband — small ‘splits’ of wine we thought she might like to try.

None of us could voice what was aching in our hearts.  We were there because we feared that this birthday would be her last.  She needed us, and we needed her.  So we went down to spend time with her, all of us, together.  We would bring some fun to her for awhile and show her some sister love. Our eldest sister was already there helping to care for her, which was a blessing.  We came to see her husband and children and give them some support, as well.

When we first surprised her in her room, on our arrival, it was wonderful.  She hadn’t known we all were coming, and it was a joyous occasion.  Missy perked up, and we set about fussing over her, laughing and joking like old times.

A couple of nights later, in the darkened and vacant hotel lobby, with poster board, markers, and stickers, the four of us made signs to brighten her room.  We laid the paper on the floor and drew around our feet; we traced our hands and thought of silly slogans to write.  We talked and sang and danced and laughed until we nearly wet our pants.  I haven’t felt so close to my sisters in a long while.

The day of her birthday, we arranged for her to be taken out of her room for a few minutes while we set up her party decorations.  We had hoped to put a sign on the outside of her door, as well, but the staff wouldn’t allow it.  No matter — we had streamers and hats and noisy things and cards and little fun gifts for her.  We had cake and shrimp and the contraband wine.  We had to stall the nurse a bit, but when it was all ready, we gave the high sign for her to come in.

She was happily surprised at the party; in addition to her husband and sons and us girls, she had other visitors and well-wishers.  We sang and chatted and she opened her gifts; we had silly hats and glasses for her, as well as a big round ‘button’ made of a paper plate pinned to her gown that said, “Ask Me about AARP!” (American Association of Retired Persons)  We all had fun.  Afterward, she was tired, so we toned it all down and left her to rest.

I will always remember that visit more for the bonding we shared during those days than for what specific things we did or talked about.  We all carry the scar of losing the sister who died with our parents fourteen years ago; that is a sad, but strong, bond we already share.  Even as different as we all are, our love for each other is steadfast.

I wish I could better describe that feeling of oneness with my sisters; it is rather new, as we are not all close in age, and therefore didn’t all grow up together.  We are of three different groups within the family: the two eldest sisters and my brother, who is firstborn, are the first group; after a five-year gap, there are two more girls; after another five years, Missy and me.  We have always been a close family overall, but after we lost our parents and sister in 1999, we realized how short life is and we drew tightly to one another.  We are not often all together physically, either, since one lives in Georgia, one spends half the year in Arizona, and the rest of us live in Washington.  For those few days, we were all together, with no agenda but to be grateful for them and enjoy ourselves.

There is a lot more to this story, but there will be time for that.  Let’s just say that she left us at the age of 50, which was far too young.  Life is so damned short.

So I’m blue.  My heart aches with the weight of memory and loss.  Junes will come and go, but they will always be Missy’s month: not only was it her birthday, but her husband’s birthday is the week before, and their wedding anniversary falls in between.

Dads and grads may take the spotlight, but June belongs to her.

Luck

Gloom, despair and agony on me,

Deep, dark depression, excessive misery,

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,

Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

– From the TV show “Hee-Haw”

Bad Luck

I’ve always been one of those people who walk around in a bad luck bubble.  If something was going to happen, it would happen to me.  In fact, that’s my motto.

If there was a food fight in the cafeteria at school, I was always caught in the crossfire.  When it’s finally my turn at the ATM, the “CLOSED” sign comes on.  When I get to the doctor’s office, they can’t find me on their schedule.  I once found the top of my hosts’ Tupperware salt shaker in my forkful of potato salad.  True story.

Restaurants are especially fun.  Either they’re out of what I order, or I get extra onions when I order none.  One time the server brought my food, and just as she reached to place it in front of me, she stumbled and my food ended up on the floor.  Or how about the time when my extended family was out to dinner and for whatever reason, my order was never put in at the kitchen?  First the staff tried to tell me it would be out ‘in a minute,’ but after the second or third round, they finally asked me what I had ordered because they had lost it.  Of course, everyone else at the table had eaten and their dishes had been cleared off the table.  The server brought me a dessert for my trouble.  I just had him box it up with my meal, because there was no time to eat it.

What about when I wanted to treat my parents on their anniversary at the restaurant of their choice?  The staff spilled my mother’s dinner in her lap, gave my father food that was too tough to chew, and made it a miserable time.  My mother said, ‘Remind me not to go out to dinner with you.’ With a wink and a grin.

Oh and there’s the family’s perennial favorite, the story that may be your only chance to say “mouth” and “bird poop” in the same sentence.  But that’s not even the worst.  And by ‘worst,’ I mean ‘strangest,’ because bad luck is so frequent with me that something has to be unusual to stand out.

Many years ago, I went to a croquet party where the guests dressed in white and brought champagne to deposit in a sink filled with ice.  The croquet tournament would start later.  It was a lovely day, and I was having a terrific time.  My friend, the hostess, came over to the sink and chose a fresh bottle to open.  She stood and chatted with me while she tore off the foil and removed the wire cage from the cork.  And then, as she had done countless times before, she began twisting and pushing the cork from the bottle.  At that point, the wet bottle slipped from her hands and landed with a clunk on the concrete, leaving her with the cork.

I didn’t know what hit me.  I felt as if I’d been punched in the face, hard.  I reeled back, gasping for air with a face full of bubbles.  I was choking on the foam in my mouth and nose, and my eyes burned from it.  She picked up the bottle as soon as she dropped it, but by then, it was nearly empty – the rest of it was on me.  It soaked my hair and clothing, leaving me a sticky, stinky, gasping mess.  I wasn’t even sure if my contact lenses were still intact.  (They were.)

The incident attracted everyone’s attention, and laughter was replaced by concern as people found out what had happened.  The party stopped.  Soon I was surrounded and being led to a chair.  The rest of the afternoon is a blur.  My head pounded for days afterward.

Did you know that the pressure in a champagne bottle is between 4 and 6 atmospheres (about 60-90 psi)?  I’d just gone a round with a real slugger!  In the old days of hand-blown bottles, explosions were commonplace.

A similar thing happened a few years later, only the bottle didn’t drop; the person opening it wasn’t holding it in a safe direction and I got champagne-faced again.  I still get a flash of memory when I drink champagne; it is embedded in my olfactory system.  But these days, I politely excuse myself to the next room when corks are being pulled.

(photo credit Anahi Temporelli)