Tag Archives: love

Listen to the Music

It’s been a struggle this last few days to understand what the last six years have been like.  Six years ago, in a sudden hit to our family, my wife – the kids’ mom – Andrea Andrews Manoucheri passed away.  None of us expected it.  None of us wanted it.  She hadn’t been suffering in pain from some ailment.  It was pneumonia.  Just that simple.

So six years after that terrible day when I had to come home and tell the kids that their mother was gone it’s really a very different kind of thing.

Perhaps the best way to digest what the 6th anniversary of her passing meant might be to look at it by how I see all the kids’ reactions to this day.

We put a video together, like several years past, to commemorate the day but also to celebrate just how far we’ve come.  We used the Doobie Brothers song “Listen to the Music” and my middle daughter Hannah really stepped up and did an amazing job singing.

But the day . . . My oldest may have taken the hardest hit in the whole thing.  She spent the most time with her mom.  She remembers it all, the good, the bad, the really ugly.  I had a big hand in a lot of that ugly part and it’s hard for me to face sometimes.  So when the day comes it’s different for her.  She is also about to graduate college and move into the wide world…that’s a lot of change to face without your mom.  I can’t fix that.  I just have to know it’s true, which as a guy, isn’t easy.  My middle . . . she lets it all out.  She doesn’t always talk about it but when it hits her, it hits her.  She cries, she gets sad, it’s out there on her sleeve.  It’s different than her sister, and with all that she’s had more time at home with a single dad than her sister did.  That’s not right or wrong, it just changes the shape of how they deal with things.  She faces going to college soon.

My boys, though.  They miss their mom but it’s the hardest for me to see.  When I started dating I asked the boys if it bothered them seeing me with someone else, someone who is not their mom.  The response was telling: they didn’t really have a lot of memory of me and their mom together.  It’s just a sort of ethereal happening, something that was.  Affection, hugs, kisses, those are reserved for what their mom did with them.  But even that . . . they were 7 when their mom left.  They have officially lived almost as long without her as they did with her.  That’s an odd thing to face.

So . . . having said I may not post here again, or not very often . . . I post.  We did a video that I think encapsulates all the last six years and more.  We face the loss but we kept moving forward and doing it knowing that it’s okay to move forward.  It’s okay to be enjoying things even though she’s not here to enjoy them with us.

And like I’ve said many times, we’re stronger together than when we’re apart.  We miss you, Andrea, and we love you.

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When the Morning Comes

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When the Morning Comes

I decided, after much deliberation and fretting and sweating and stress, that the first single from our recording session should come out.  This even though we’re still in the process of rehearsing and recording the rest of my record.

Why?

Because I . . . and frankly all the musicians in the Ain’t Got No time (Rock and Blues) Band were moved by the results.  That’s not something happens all the time.  The mixture of the acoustic guitar along with the beautiful vocals that Matt Retz and Eric Rosander arranged for the tune were so stirring I felt that the time was right to release it.

When the Morning Comes will be the first single, released April 22nd in iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, YouTube Music, iHeart Radio, whatever the hell that thing Jay-Z and Beyonce have is called . . . hell I’ll beam it to Pluto so the aliens can broadcast it to the computer chip in your fillings if you want.

So let me regale you with the background of this song, if you will.

I came up with two lines in the very beginning, and that was some time ago, not long after losing my wife, Andrea.  She passed away on March 26th, 2011.

I’m broken and bent, beat down ’cause I spent my time fighting my battles of the heart.

I also had the chorus:

I see the moon…rising in the midnight sky, I see your headlights as you pass me by.
Though I wait here for you you’ve left me behind

Some years later the aching and pain started to fade and were replaced with some yearning.  Not for who I lost but for wanting to find someone else.  When that came I realized that meeting, seeing, hearing someone new was just as exciting and lovely as what I had.  So the last line of the chorus just fell into place:
And she’ll be here when the morning comes

The song is about loss, about love, and about the drive and enjoyment of moving ahead.  Sometimes you lose and you never recover.  Sometimes . . . life catches you by surprise.

This project…it’s just such a personal one, and as a musician that’s what you want, I suppose.  You grab deep into your soul, find themes that are universal, and bring them to the fore.  You don’t have to lose someone . . . we all have had breakups, arguments, divorce, loss takes all forms and faces.  I feel like this song could apply in so many ways.

My colleagues and fellow musicians say they can hear so many of my influences, from the Allman Brothers Band (particularly in the guitar solo) to The Black Crowes to The Eagles (particularly in the harmonies).  In the end, though, that combination of all of those makes this uniquely our own creation.

April 22nd the song drops.  I hope you are touched by it as much as we were.

 

A Time to Release . . .

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A Time to Release

Things have been a bit radio silent here for the last several weeks.  It’s time you knew why.

The picture up there is from last Monday, the 28th of March.  Just two days after the anniversary of my wife’s passing . . . two days past what would have been my 23rd wedding anniversary (we married young, and yes…they are the same day) I was in a recording studio.

Fancying myself a bit of a storyteller let me give you the long-winded explanation of why this is significant.  It comes, essentially, in two parts.

First . . . this whole thing started in the week or so following my wife, Andrea’s death.  I binge-watched in a sleepless week the entire TV series The Wire, which was good, from what I remember.  Then I did something my wife disliked…I picked up a guitar, in the living room, at 3am.  A song started to form and the anger and frustration I had got my blood going and in my sleepless state I had inspiration for music.   All the anger and emotion flooded out and I wrote a song about where I was at.

Then the writer’s block hit.  For more than a year-and-a-half I was unable to write music.  It was frustrating.  After that time, though, the dam burst and I was nearly prolific.  The result was close to a dozen or more songs that I was constantly honing and re-recording in demo form.

Fast forward a few years . . . my oldest daughter was struggling with what her career choice would be.  Deep down she wanted to do one thing but was clinging to what her mother wanted: something in the medical field.  She would have been good at it, it’s a noble thing to do . . . but I knew she didn’t want to.  So I told her to look at herself, her life, this was her time, after all.  “Find something you love, what you’re passionate about and work really hard at it and you will be happy.  Maybe not rich, but you will be fulfilled.”  (Or words to that effect)  My daughter turned that around on me a year later.  “When are you going to do that, Dad?”

I was floored.

“You need to go into the recording studio again.  You’re too good and you talk a good game . . . but don’t use us (the kids) as an excuse.  Find a way.”

So I have taken my own advice.

I joined a band . . . the Ain’t Got No Time (rock and blues) Band.  This is a group of some of the most talented people I know.  We started gigging first, a couple free fundraisers for charity.

Then I asked them if they’d record an album with me.  I even considered, at their suggestion, whether or not this could be a band album.  I almost did that . . . but a couple things stopped me:

  • Much of the material (most of it, in fact) helped me get through the struggles, the grief and confusion.  I wrote what I felt and this was a very personal project.
  • I wasn’t going to say this was “the band’s” record when I wrote all the material.  These guys all write and they write amazing stuff.  The world needs to hear a full band record, too.  That will come later.

We started rehearsals:

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And the band seriously became nearly de-facto producers of the record.

Here are the cast of characters of AGNT:

IMG_6543Kevin Mooney is the drummer.  He basically looked up, said “who do you want this to sound like,” and counted off the beat.  When we said more he gave more.  When we needed a break in the song he hit it dead-on.

IMG_6565Eric Rosander plays bass and sings backup (at least here).  He sings in an a capella   group so his vocal arrangements are strong.  He plays upright, and is one of the best bassists I’ve ever played with.

IMG_6569 (1)Matt Retz plays guitar – rhythm and lead – and sings.  He and Eric arranged backup vocals for my first single that sound like a full chorus of people behind us.  It simultaneously evokes gospel meets The Eagles and I’m so proud of it all.  Matt took some of the reigns and helped produce an amazing three songs.

IMG_0752Then there’s Robert Sabino…our keyboard player…though he’s so much more.  A resume that includes Bowie, Madonna, Simon and Garfunkel, Mick Jagger, and a who’s who of people from the 70’s-90’s and beyond.  Rob helped so much with arrangements that made the songs so much more than I ever thought they would be.  Between Rob and Matt the material didn’t just get better, it sang.

So two days in the studio, a massive amount of guitar amplification and a set of torched vocal chords by the end and I have two full songs and an acoustic instrumental that may be my proudest work so far in my life.

This was certainly something I did for me, for sure.  But without this band and these people it certainly wouldn’t be the material it is.  I love them all and they are truly magical people to be around.

So . . . that said . . . instead of working toward a full record and holding off, I’m so proud of this material I’m going to release a single in the coming weeks.  I am simply waiting on the publishing and copyright paperwork to clear.

Stay tuned for updates . . . hopefully the term “radio silence” will not be applicable is so many more ways.

A Rose-Colored Memory

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A Rose-Colored Memory

Over the weekend I bought a vase of roses for my dinner date.  The florist did an amazing job of arranging the flowers, even stopping me before I left their shop so they could add to the arrangement and make the flowers look even better.  They re-tied a bow on the vase and thanked me for their business.

That should have been it, take them on the way to dinner and all would be fine.

As those flowers sat all day on my kitchen table, though, they began to spark something I had long forgotten.

The smell of those roses permeated the whole house and suddenly I was a little boy again, tiny, walking in a striped shirt and holding hands with my grandma in her front yard in my home in the Midwest.

My grandma, you see, had one of the greatest rose gardens I can remember.  Right adjacent to her house, between the driveway and the sidewalk leading to their back door, was bush after bush of roses the likes of wish most people had never seen . . . and some of those flowers will never been seen again.

My grandmother was a test grower for one of the plant companies that sold plants via a catalog.  Where today they buy their plants online and such then you had to get a paper catalog and order your plants.

When the companies started making new hybrids of flowers, someone had to test how they handled the climate, the soil, the treatment, and report just how well they bloomed.  As a little boy I remember when they would come in and occasionally I’d help her plant some new hybrid in her garden.  It would seemingly take forever for those bushes to have an explosion of color from that thorny jungle by her house.

Some colors, names like “sterling silver” or peach color merged with blood red . . . the velvety petals would unfold on the bristly branches in the garden.  My grandma planted and cut roses, handing them out to family and friends as they bloomed throughout the spring.

She also would cut flowers I simply cannot get here where I live now.  She had white, pink and purple lilacs in her yard and at an old farm where they used to live.  I would go with her and we would cut the pink and white branches from the bushes and put them in water.  The house car and our house smelled of lilacs and to this day if I smell them I smile and think of driving around with my grandma and handing out the wonderful flowers.

So when I came down the stairs for my Valentine’s Day and smelled the roses, I was momentarily aghast, washed over with memories of that beautiful flower garden.  I remembered the car drives, lilac petals lightly floating down to the floor of the car.  When I was little, this woman, Irish background, had met my Persian grandfather and heard him call me “Davood”, the Farci pronunciation of my name.  It stuck with her and she always called me that.  So smelling those flowers I remembered my grandma, getting out and saying “come get these flowers for Auntie Mary, Davood!”

You might read this and think, having all these memories wash over me in that one, precise moment, I might just be down and melancholy.  Instead, I smiled, the most pleasant of memories of my grandma coming over me, had me reaching for that vase and heading out the door.

There was no better way to start a Valentine’s weekend.

And I hadn’t even left the house yet.

30 Reasons

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30 Reasons

Today my wife, Andrea, would have been 45 years old.  For me and my kids it also marks 4 1/2 years, 5 birthdays since she passed.  I wouldn’t say every year has gotten easier, that doesn’t feel quite right.  Perhaps it just means . . . each has been different.

October 30th is always a bittersweet day, particularly for me.  For most people this is the day before Halloween, nothing more.  Unfortunately, for me, it has a couple more realities.

October 30th reminds me of my late wife, who you see up there.  She passed away in 2011, on March 26th.  But now it’s a day I celebrate with those closest to me, immediate family, so to speak. They could be related by blood or they could be family because we love them.

The day also reminds me, annually, that I screwed up, a lot, on more birthdays for my wife than I succeeded.  There were some, like the weekend overnight in a B&B in Napa.  There was the earlier part of our relationship and marriage where you are so happy you give them a card and it’s amazing. However, I didn’t make the time I should have. That hurts.

But we don’t dwell on the bad. We dwell on the good.  We call it, as I posted last year, Celebration Day, which is, of course, a Led Zeppelin reference.  (Ever the musician)  But we have tons of reasons, most are amazing, some are shallow, all are wonderful.  They are the reasons we celebrate.

  1. My wife was a force of nature.  My brother used to have a reference “a bottle of fire.” That was Andrea, a woman who grabbed you by the hand and barreled off the cliffs of insanity, damn the consequences, enjoy the ride!  For the most part, I really did enjoy the ride.
  2. That Smile – Some people smile and they have great teeth or great personality. My wife smiled and her whole face smiled with her. It lit up a room and my heart.  Friends tell me I’m a sucker to this day for a great smile – a whole of your heart smile – and they’re right.
  3. We didn’t celebrate enough before – this is one of those selfish ones. I didn’t celebrate enough when she was around.  I want her family and friends to know how amazing we still think she was.
  4. We aren’t sad – This is hard for some people to grasp. OF COURSE we miss Andrea.  She was a wife and mom and friend and amazing.  But we can remember her, honor her, love her, and still find life, happiness, adventure . . . and even love again. We still love her.  Yet she is the one who is gone, she had it easier in some ways.  She doesn’t have to miss us.
  5. We Miss Her – Again, selfish, but of course we miss her!
  6. The kids should find this a happy day – How do you hit this day without the kids feeling like it’s yet another reminder she’s gone? You embrace the day. Talk about her. Love her, embrace the goofy things she did and talk about what made her wonderful.
  7. It’s a fun day – You carve pumpkins, have cake and ice cream, and laugh. What’s wrong with that?
  8. It’s a reminder – Not just a reminder of who she was but who we should be. We should make time, and though I am often late from work, even if I’m late on this day we will celebrate.
  9. The Goofiness – While the kids remember parents as parents, they get to hear the silly things.  They hear about dancing around in the living room and singing off-key and Halloween nights drinking beer and driving around in a golf cart with Andrea’s uncle.
  10. Warmth – We grieve at different times already. We grieve when the day she died comes, which is so hard for me because it’s also the day I married her. We smell something or see something or hear a song and we get emotional thinking why is this happening now?  Rather than do that why not embrace this as a day to be happy?
  11. We celebrate that we had her – We could be sad she’s gone, but how amazing is it that we had her at all?  Most people don’t lose a parent or a spouse like this, I get that.  But how often do you celebrate without the stress?  How often do you look at your wife’s birthday as a celebration you get to have her?  Instead you’re probably stressing about getting everything right.  Which one sounds better to you?
  12. Why Not? I mean . . . I won’t be able to do those birthdays over and I don’t ever think of it that way.  Still . . . why not do it to show your kids what’s supposed to happen?  Why not make it an enjoyable day?
  13. Memories – We all have different memories of people and events.  This way I get to hear different perspectives from my kids of what their memories are of their mother. Same with family and friends.
  14. Cake and Ice Cream. I mean . . . who doesn’t want a night that ends in cake and ice cream?
  15. It makes you feel good – let’s be honest . . . the cliche’s and tropes are right.  It’s so much fun to give to someone and have them have fond memories of Andrea and of the day because you gave them something?  That’s pretty damn amazing.
  16. You connect with family and friends – I love my kids to the ends of the earth.  Yet this day I get to FaceTime my daughter in college and the kids stay home and we do things. That’s important.  My family, Andrea’s family…we all have this day to remember her by.
  17. You Confuse People – This sounds weird, I know, but it’s fantastic to confuse the hell out of people who think you’ll hit this day and just . . . fall apart.  I don’t.  Okay, maybe a little sometimes.  Mostly, I hit this day and smile because I know we’re doing it right.  I remember her.  It confounds people that you aren’t in a puddle in the corner.  I mean, in the beginning you laughed to keep from crying.  Now you cry because you’re laughing about some ridiculous story.  It’s pretty great.
  18. You Prioritize –  Even today I have a colleague who yells at me if I’m late getting out the door for a kid’s event or a holiday or anything.  But this day, even if I have to work late, reinforces that I’ve put the kids and family and close friends as a priority.  That’s just a good message to send.
  19. You enjoy the day, not the stuff – In the beginning I made cake from scratch and got fancy and . . . it stressed the hell out of me.  Then I realized that if I have time, it’s fun to make the cake.  If I don’t, a decent cake is good, too.  The kids started to ask for things like it’s Christmas…which I quickly put a stop to.  It’s not about that, it’s about all of us together.  So cake from Freeport Bakery . . . that’s just fine with everyone.  It’s fine with me, too.
  20. You make the day about us, not just her – It’s important to remember this . . . it’s certainly about her.  It’s not about presents or cake or treats or any of that, though.  When the kids start saying “I want (insert toy here) for Celebration Day” you remind them it’s a day about us, not about presents.  Then it’s amazing. My son asked if we could call his sister in college and was happy that this year it’s Friday, and he thinks she’ll be around.
  21. You Put Aside the Guilt – Yeah, my guilt for sure.  But the kids have it, too.  My son, who worried his temper tantrums wore his mother down.  How he thought it was his fault she was gone.  How my daughter fought her tooth and nail on everything.  None of that matters.  This isn’t a day to dwell on what went wrong.  It’s a day to remember what was right.
  22. It’s not about living in the past – We live different lives now.  Far different than the lives we were looking to live a few years back.  A daughter who isn’t in a medical field.  A son who loves movies.  A musician daughter.  None of those were expected in the scheme of things from a few years back.  Yet we will celebrate those, too.  This is as much our day now as hers.  That’s a good thing.
  23. It IS about the future  – We’ll talk about what’s next.  It’s certainly where we’re going now.  I have learned through the last few years to be very, very supportive.  I am trying my hardest to do that and this helps me more and more to do so.
  24. It IS about those close people – We use the connections we made this day to stay close to those around us.  I have a friend who is my friend now . . . who years before would have been “Andrea’s friend.”  That is pretty amazing and in a tangiential way Andrea’s the one who made it happen.  I am better for it.  Others who I might have talked with occasionally I talk with all the time.  That’s important.
  25. With my wife, AndreaThat smile – Yeah, I know, on here twice.  I’m not simply a person about looks or image, but . . . for good or ill, when she flashed that I was hopeless.  You have to admit, it’s pretty spectacular.
  26. It’s not loss, it’s leaving them behind – We continue to age.  My sons are literally feet taller than when they lost their mom.  My daughters, too.  My oldest is in college, about to be 21.  She will remain that pretty, smart, silly, intelligent woman at the age of 40.  She will never get older.  It’s like we continued on another path and she’s behind us somewhere.  Never meeting up again.  That’s hard, for sure.  Then again, we remember where we came from and that makes us happy.
  27. Remember it’s about the journey – Part of leaving the path we were on with Andrea is remembering that it’s not about the path or where we are going.  At the end of the day, we need to enjoy how we got there.  Sure, we got lost in the woods here and there but how amazing was the view when you had to climb a tree to find the path?  How close did we get trying to find our way?  That is what it’s about.
  28. It’s not about what she’d want . . . it’s building off what she started – No, we aren’t doing what we thought we would five years ago.  That’s not a problem, not for us.  Yet we know the great things she gave us before now.  My girls know they can do anything and don’t get discouraged by others because of her.  My sons know that their mother loved them and wanted them to be happy.  No matter what the plans were . . . they’re far more now.
  29. It’s okay to be sad – Sure, the kids and I will have moments where we’re sad.  How could we not be, it’s her birthday, we loved her, love her still, and we do wish she was here to celebrate.  But we don’t live in the sadness.  We live and that is part of the sadness.  It’s hard to know we’re going to keep experiencing these amazing things – a movie studio tour; homecoming; prom; 21st birthdays; all of the things life brings and know that she’s not experiencing them with us.  But this day lets us realize we know what she’d be thinking and doing and loving us all.
  30. Love.  In the end it’s love.  That’s cheesy, sad, Lennon-esque for sure . . . but it’s about love.  I . . . loved . . . her.  I still love her, it’s not that I ever will stop.  Think about the first man or woman you loved and then it ended.  Did you stop loving them, even if you had a terrible, horrible break up?  No.  You didn’t, stop kidding yourself.  But life is about continuing the journey.  You keep moving because the world carries you along on it’s crust, spinning around the sun and taking you with it.  When they are gone you can try and stop with them . . . which will do more damage to you . . . or you can live.  We can honor her and love her . . . but we all change in life.  The hard part is that she is now unchanging, where she was in 2011 forever.  We are not and we have to move forward.  That’s what’s difficult.  So we honor Andrea on the 30th to remember what we were and remind us that we can continue to keep living.

This is our day now.  It’s also hers.  Happy birthday, Andrea.  Happy Celebration Day to my kids and my close circle of family/friends.  Don’t be sad.

Celebrate.

Treasures You Never Knew You Had

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Treasures You Never Knew You Had

My oldest daughter is in the middle of a college project, one that needs old pictures of her as a kid. I’m not against that, I tend to be a bit nostalgic and I like old things. I like history and the history of our family and where they came from and all that is part of who they are.

Most of my pictures are stored in this series of stacked chests that my wife used to use for decoration. My sons had taken to calling them “treasure chests” and I had no idea how correct that might actually be. I simply assumed that this would be another in a series of walks down memory lane.

IMG_5243We certainly found pictures of my daughter as a little girl. Since I was a news photographer at the time it’s not hard to understand why there would be a lot of them. I had a camera around me all the time, both video and still. It wasn’t actually the pictures that got me, it was what was there with them.

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In the box was an application, ID card and several pictures from the Miss Teen of California pageant, 1986. On that card, of course, along with a picture, was the name Andrea Andrews, my wife. Now…I’m sure she may have told me years ago that she’d been in the competition but I certainly didn’t remember it.

“Oh, yeah,” my daughter casually informed me. “She didn’t win, of course,” was her response.
“She should have. She was pretty enough,” was my response.

Under that was a tiny journal, one I’d never opened because I assumed it was simply empty. My wife was a good writer, she liked to write in fact. She didn’t do it like writing in a diary, though, or as I’m doing here . . . blogging my life’s minor events. Yet when I opened it inside was an itinerary and a day-by-day telling of a post-high-school-graduation trip she made to Europe. I knew about the trip, heard stories, even saw pictures. But to see her words written out was pretty amazing. More than that it was surprising.

I have to be honest, though, they all made me smile. It was a pleasant thing to see her words, find out new things. We’d been married 18 years, that’s no small number. She died too young, 40, and I grew to think I knew most everything about her. I knew that when she was hungry you needed to feed her quickly. If she grew really quiet after telling you how hungry she was you were in for an angry tirade the Tasmanian Devil himself would run from. I knew that she wasn’t nostalgic, she was always looking ahead, which made us kind of a good pair at the time.

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Then at the bottom of one of the treasure chests was this tiny mailbox.

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I remembered it. We’d carried it – one of only a few things left over from the years when we’d met and still lived somewhat separate lives.

“That’s a sorority thing,” my daughter said matter-of-fact. “They still do that sort of thing, little boxes and stuff to keep memories in.”
“I know,” I replied, “but your Mom never kept anything in this.”

But as I moved the mailbox I heard something inside, which ruffled my brow a bit. As I opened it little dried pieces of something started to trickle out and a silver sparkle caught the light inside.

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“It’s a corsage,” my oldest daughter exclaimed.
“That’s not just any corsage,” I told her. “I gave that to her.”

In 1989, just a few years after that pageant I hadn’t known about, Andrea and I started dating. For me it was wonderful because, well, she was wonderful. I was always reminiscing about those days but I never thought she did.

I remember ordering the flowers. Andrea had been to a myriad of sorority dances and formals and watched friends and roommates with their dates. This one, her senior year, she finally had one of her own and not some schmuck just looking for a date but an honest-to-god boyfriend.

The florist had asked what color her dress was. When I asked she told me “I want it to be a surprise,” so I decided to go with the old standby. I chose roses…red roses because, even in that short period of time, I was already in love with her. It seemed appropriate.

Andrea and Me

It turned out, of course, that red roses were probably okay but the silver ribbon might very well have clashed a little with the pastel pink dress she wore. Being a strapless dress and with no place to pin the corsage she carried it to the hotel room we shared with her roommates and their respective boyfriends.

There, some two decades later, neatly preserved in a mailbox was this little token. Not very expensive, not even really worth much. It was obviously worth a lot to her, this person who kept little and treasured less.

I looked up and realized the kids were all looking at me, my mouth slightly agape, unable to talk.
“I had no idea she’d even kept this,” I told them. I tried to say something more but the words just caught in my throat and I just looked at the flowers, turning it around in my hands.

I asked my son to get me a plastic bag. The “baby’s breath” was starting to fall off the flower so I placed it gingerly inside the bag and returned the flower to the mailbox. She put it in there, it should stay there.

I put the boxes back in their place and marveled at how the more I knew about my wife, now gone these four-odd years, the more I seemed to learn about her.

It’s not often you get a surprise. Then again…it’s nice to be swept off your feet every once in awhile, too, just like she obviously was the night I gave her those flowers.

Boxes…Everywhere Boxes

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Boxes…Everywhere Boxes

Boxes.

You may never have realized the importance of boxes until, quite frankly, you become the parent in charge of said boxes or, like me, you are a single parent.

I had never quite realized how many boxes, tubs, containers and storage items my own mother kept around the house until I became that sole person, Dad, in the home. It’s not hoarding, though you might consider that the case if you looked into my own closet. It might just bear a slight resemblance to the old picture of a UK shoestore up there.

I don’t have a ton of shoes, certainly nowhere near as many as, say, my wife or my mother did.  Bear in mind, though, guys tend to have a pair of black dress shoes, brown ones, tennis shoes and maybe some work boots. That’s about it.

Yet I went to the store a number of weeks ago and bought brand new Adidas shoes.

shoes

 

Bright red Adidas, as a matter of fact.

Yet when I was in my closet this morning I realized, just purely out of a habit I’d acquired from the last few years, that the Adidas box, along with a box for dress shoes was sitting on my closet shelf. This wasn’t because I had some affinity for boxes or thought, now weeks removed from the purchase date, that I might need to return them. No, I have these boxes up on the shelf for one specific purpose: school projects.

Noah Barleywater Project
Noah Barleywater Project

These are the kinds of things, when you have two parents and Mom is generally the one to be home when the kids get home from school, that Dad doesn’t contend with. Plus, Mom usually has shoe boxes in abundance. (I know that’s a stereotype, but c’mon…it’s really kind of true, right?) So when I bought shoes for my oldest daughter, my middle daughter, myself, even the boys as their feet grow to adult proportions, I kept the boxes.

It’s self-preservation.

Self-preservation, you see, because you don’t hear about school projects until the last-minute. Particularly with boys. So when they come to you the Friday night before the project is due obsessing about the fact they need a shoe box . . . well, you have one. Or two, as is the case for my needs.

But boxes abound for other reasons. My oldest was only home a month before heading back to work on a grant for college. A large number of items left behind need to be sent to her back at school. This is where leftover boxes from moving, guitar purchases, Amazon.com or other areas come in handy.

But I also picked up a habit from my own mother. Storage containers (not big storage unit kind of things, like Container Store tubs) are great for kids’ items. I have file cabinets full of artwork and grades and report cards, things that I think are the history of my family. My mother had one of those tubs for each of us . . . of course mine ended up unceremoniously dropped on my doorstep last visit, but it was a fun walk down memory lane. Some of it . . . well, let’s face it, was painful to remember. Some made no sense whatsoever.

There’s also a box upstairs that I kept but I never open.

Inside a small purple box still labeled “Decorator Items” from the move from my last home, is a box full of materials dated anywhere from March 26th through the middle of April, 2011. Every sympathy card, dozens of homemade cards from the kids’ school, notes, paperwork, everything from the week my wife passed away is in there.

I didn’t bury it, there’s no hiding from those events, the days still burn in the recesses of our brains. Yet there’s no need to post a shrine to the days, either. I remember the last items I placed in there. Just days after the funeral I had to pick up the last of my wife’s personal effects at the hospital. Sitting on the top are three get-well cards that, even today when I think about them, are heart-wrenching.

I don’t open that box. I haven’t in four years.

Yet that box is really the start of our story. It may be the actual spark for the beginning of our story. It’s where we put the past, keeping it safe, not buried, not invisible. We see it, we may open it and reminisce when the mood strikes us, but it’s there.

It’s necessary, just like all those shoe boxes that sit on the top of my closet.

Only this box has never been empty.

The Memories of a Night Out

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The Memories of a Night Out

I did something the other night that has become, literally, the most routine and common occurrence in our household. I wouldn’t normally have thought twice about it.

I took my kids to the movies.

I grew up loving to go to the movies, my brother took me to see Revenge of the Pink Panther at the old Royal Theater in my hometown. I saw Ghostbusters and Back to the Future and even 16 Candles and probably every other John Hughes film in my hometown. I loved them then. I love the movies now.

Tonight, though, I walked with three of my kids into the theater and it was different somehow. We went to see Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.  There was nothing in the film that startled me. I wasn’t driven to tears by it (well…much). I just started down this emotional road and, like watching a train wreck, I couldn’t stop moving toward it.

Kids at Movies

As the film wasn’t boffo at the box office like Jurassic Park or Inside Out we went to one of the older theaters in the area. It was walking around the corner into the darkness of the theater that I was overcome. Inside the darkened room I realized what was getting to me. The upper balcony, the near dollar-theater feel . . . it was like the old dollar theaters from when I was younger. That reminded me of my late wife. I hadn’t been this awash in melancholy in a very long time.

When I was first married I was broke – far more broke than I am now. It’s not that we complained or worried about it, we were broke, knew it, bemoaned it, but still managed to enjoy ourselves with it. Even after our daughter was born we’d spend the money on a babysitter and then go to the dollar theater to see a movie that had been out so long it was probably already on video. We were cheap dates, only a buck to go to the movies was a bargain.

As the lights darkened in the theater this night, approaching the end of the movie trailers and heading to the start of the Disney Motion Pictures logo I took a deep breath and sighed. Loud.

AndeI always sat to the left of my wife. I don’t know why, it just always was where I sat in the theater. It’s an odd fact that I’d never thought about before but it was all I could think of at this moment. Why on the left? Why not the right?  I don’t know…it felt weird to think about that, even now.

I looked down at my arms and turned them over, top to bottom. My left arm, as far back as my memory goes, has always had a slew of scars that covered it. The remnants of burns I don’t remember from when I was a mere 12-months-old. It remained the same.

My right arm has one scar, about 3/4 of the way up the forearm, fading now in my fourth decade on the planet. The area above it started to get tender and I got goosebumps on my forearm. It wasn’t a ghost, I don’t pretend that the spirit of my wife was in the room with me. Yet her memory was there. I felt how she used to quietly, near subconsciously move her fingers over the skin of my right arm, sliding her fingers down and merging hers between mine and holding. I had this urge to reach over and put my hand on her knee even though I knew it wasn’t there.

Movies were date night for us. We might have dinner at some bad Tex-Mex place (because it was cheap) and no matter how bad the movie we would navigate around the arm rest and find a way to press next to each other. She would hold my hand through most the movie. She would lean her head on my shoulder only to lift it again because the seat just didn’t lend itself to that juxtaposition of her body.

I was distracted for the full two hours. It wasn’t the need for contact. I suppose I could get that if I really wanted. It was her contact that was missing. When the climax of the movie, the tearful most poignant part came and George Clooney shed a tear on the screen I could only take a shuddering breath and sigh out, stifling the same emotion.

I didn’t miss having someone. I honestly missed my wife. In the deep, buried in the membranes of your cells, tied to your DNA kind of way. I missed those silly, broke, insane days when just being together was enough. When going to the movies brought us together, just the two of us.

I was in this cold reverie of nostalgia when I felt a head on my left shoulder – the opposite side from my wife. I looked over and my son, blonde and growing and such a mix of my and his mother’s personalities had laid his head on me. I reached over with my right arm and rubbed his short hair. He looked up, head still on my shoulder, eyes lifting his top eyelids to their peak, and smiled only to return his gaze to the screen.

I heard him sigh and took that same cleansing breath.

As we walked out of the theater, the memories lingering behind as we moved toward the entrance my other son asked “how did you like the movie, Dad?”

I looked at him and simply said “I loved it.”

I loved everything about it.

When They Grow Up

Abbi

When They Grow Up

Despite the title and the picture seemingly contradicting themselves, that woman up there is actually all grown up.

Not totally, mind you, but far more than I would ever have thought.  Far more than her father, at that very same age, would have been as well.  In fact, I was knee-deep in the throngs of a crazy whirlwind relationship at that point.  It would be part of my life through most of hers.

So why do I call her all grown-up?

Last week I did one of the most stressful, scary things I’ve ever done since the passing of my wife.  I left my four children alone.

That’s right.  All alone, in the house, together my children were left in the care of their sister, now an adult. I had no doubts that she would be able to do it.  In fact, it was her father that was more concerned than she was.

It’s not that I didn’t make preparations.  I gave her money so that she could take them out for food.  She can cook, my daughter.  However, she doesn’t cook because, seemingly, it’s a task that she thoroughly hates.  Bake?  When the mood suits her.

So eat out was the plan.

It’s an amazing thing, this, because she is seeing an in-depth look at what life is like as a parent of two pre-teens and one full-fledged teen.  Moodiness, grumpyness and all-out cabin fever hyperactivity of her twin brothers.  That is what she faced.

Liberty Bell

So while I was wandering the streets of Philadelphia, taking pictures by the Liberty Bell, I was the annoying parent calling 3 to 4 times a day checking in on them.

The first time I called . . . the first day I was in Philly, my daughter answered the phone with “Hi, Dad, the house didn’t burn down, nobody’s injured, the kids are fine and we’ve all had dinner.”  She cooked.  Mac and Cheese . . . organic, of course.  God forbid those chemicals get into their systems.

So while I stood there worried not about whether they threw a party or went crazy or killed each other but worried that they are scared being alone without their only parent . . . they just laughed at goofy pictures of their Dad and sent me silly things about how crazy they were.  It was comforting.

Yes…it was comforting.

I wasn’t worried about the fact they are growing up.  Honestly, I wasn’t.

I am proud.

I am proud about the fact that my oldest daughter, without flinching, no complaint, said she would watch them without fail.  I am proud of the fact that they expected nothing but were thrilled with the things I brought home to them.

My kids were brilliant.

It makes me proud that they were brilliant.

No parties, no preppies, no boyfriends or girlfriends, no mess . . . well, okay, the house was a mess, but less of a mess than I expected it to be.

No . . . my kids are growing up.  That’s actually a good thing.

Looks like I’m growing up a little in the process, too.

May Day

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May Day

I tend to be a bit of a sentimental fool sometimes.

May 1st is one of those times.

When I was little, we lived inside the city limits of my hometown.  Years later we would move a couple miles out, which was amazing in its own right.

But I still remember some of the things from when I was small and lived in a home not far from my grandparents.

My Grandma had a tradition on May 1st – May Day.  It may have been a silly or made-up thing she did for us. It may very well have been something her extended Irish family did when she was a kid.  I never knew and wasn’t savvy enough at the ages 4-8 to ask.

My Grandma would take a little cup, be it styrofoam or a paper or a bigger container or whatever and she’d decorate it.  She’d take pipe cleaners of varying colors and weave it along the top. curving, making the little cups, generally made for drinks, into May baskets.  Often she’d make treats and mix in small candy or anything else she could think of and pack them into a little box.  She’d take the box, put it in the rear of her Buick that she drove and visit the cousins, whose houses were closest . . . and then come to our house.

She liked to play games and taunt us, my grandma, int the most fun and sincere way. She’d put the cups on the front stoop (having called my mother in advance, I am sure) and then ring the doorbell.

Grandma’s game was that after she rang the doorbell she’d pretend to run away. Her tradition was that we had to catch her and give her a kiss.  “That’s the rule.  You can’t break a May Day rule!” she’d tell us in feigned sincerity.

It never failed.

We’d see her bending down to place the cups and we’d race out the front door, giggling, and chase her down the sidewalk.  She never really ever got past the black lamp post on the front yard and we’d grab her leg, as we probably only got about halfway up her leg in height at that point anyway.

“You have to give me a kiss,” she’d always tell us.  We, of course, would oblige.  After all, you can’t break a May Day rule.

My grandma wasn’t able to drive much after that.  Macular degeneration took a good portion of her eyesight and legally she just couldn’t drive.

But she never forgot May Day.  She still delivered them.  She would later tell us “you have to do this, give them to pretty girls you like and then run from them until they catch and kiss you!”
“Ewwww!” is what we likely responded.

Years later, though, as girls held more sway than games I remembered my grandma’s tradition. I gave dates May baskets. None really knew the tradition, which was no surprise. Even fewer actually saw how sweet it was. Those dates and relationships…they never panned out to much.

I have kept it up here and there.  I haven’t made the baskets, but I tended to give cookies or treats or bake for my loved ones and friends on May Day.  I got cookies for friends for May 1st this year.

Few understood the tradition but all accepted the treats.

In the end, maybe my Grandma was right.  It very well may not be the tradition itself.  It might just be knowing when to slow down and let the right person catch you.

After all . . . you cannot break a May Day rule.