50 Days to 50 Years, Day 09: Santa Fe Foodie Excursion and an evening with Evan O’Connell

23 07 2016

Day 2 of the Santa Fe Foodie Excursion started with this gorgeous view outside our condo. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to that every morning? Well, at least we have one more morning to enjoy it.

Even though downtown Santa Fe was a mere four blocks downhill, the thought of walking uphill with full bellies was not something either Lynn or I wanted to look forward to; so like the Angeleans that we are, we drove, and paid for parking. You can take the O’Connells out of Los Angeles….

And our bellies were definitely filled to the brim! Carlos of Food Tour New Mexico was our guide for the day’s excursion. He did a great job of mixing the love of food with the love of culture, along with a sprinkling of New Mexico history.

Our first stop on the tour was San Francisco Bar and Grill, in the heart of the Santa Fe Plaza.The Plaza is the central part of the city, hosting Indian and Spanish markets, along with community gatherings and cultural events, so it was a short walk from the center of the Plaza to the restaurant. They served us an awesome Chicken Enchiladas with Chimao Red and Hatch Chiles, commonly known as “Christmas” style.

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Stop #2, and my personal favorite,  was to Thunderbird Bar and Grill, which boasts over 100 different tequila varieties, extensive wine and beer offerings, and other spirits. The Green Chile Pork Soup with Acedero (a Mexican form of Mozzarella) was simply divine. Carlos offered a little foodie tip: To increase the flavor of meats boiled in liquid, allow the meat to cool in the liquid. You could definitely taste the infusion of richness in the pork. I could have had another bowl, but it was on to the next leg of the tour.

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To cleanse our palates, Stop #3 was to The Original Santa Fe Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Company. Carlos made us a “Birthday Cake” combination of Pineapple Balsamic Vinegar and Avocado Lemon Olive Oil. You could have it over ice and drink it, it was that scrumptious!

In between stops we were treated to some historical wonders and spectacular views from the La Fonda rooftop, the rooftop of the 5th Floor Presidential Suite of the Inn and Spa at Loretto, the Rosary Tree, and the Miraculous Staircase at the Chapel Loretto.

We also continued to meet some fun people. A couple of the participants in the Johnny Vee cooking class were there, along with some new faces. Three friends in particular captured my writer’s interest: Brittany, Julie, and Katie decided to take a mini-respite to Santa Fe, so Brittany and Katie drove up from Midland, Texas, and Julie flew in from Florida to meet up. I just love stories, and friendships like that. Katie also won the award for most fashionable, with a great dress and hat combination.

Since we had adequately walked off the burrito and the soup, we headed to Stop #4: Upper Crust Pizza for a New Mexico specialty: Hatch Green Chile Pizza.

Upper Crust Pizza is in an historical building in the oldest part of town. The crust is unique to this region; can’t be replicated anywhere else… kind of like Chicago Deep Dish! I was sold—both the Hatch Green Chile and the Red Chile pizzas were well worth the wait; and I was happy we had walked off the earlier fare so I could scarf down three slices!

And, of course, what would a foodie tour be without dessert! Stop #5 was to Senor Murphy Candymaker, which has been serving Santa Fe for 71 years. We sampled a quartet of treats including Bolitos and Pinon Fudge. The shop specializes in Pinon treats (“Pine Nuts” to the rest of the U.S.) which is a nut found exclusively in the state of New Mexico.

This leg of the excursion ended at Senior Murphy’s, and Lynn and I did a little bit of exploring the open air market, looking at the historical spots along old Route 66, and admiring some of the unique artistic endeavors that characterize Santa Fe before heading back to our condo to meet up with Evan.

One of the nice bonuses of marriage is that you get an extended family. I love Lynn’s brothers and sisters and their kids, and often wished they lived closer; but then, we wouldn’t have an excuse to visit if they did! Albuquerque is an hour south of Santa Fe, so Lynn’s nephew Evan wanted to drive up to see us this trip—so very sweet of him!

Evan met us at the condo, and we drove back into downtown Santa Fe, and stopped at a French restaurant for dessert. L’Olivier (how apropos) had a lovely patio, the manager played Getz/Gilberto in the background, and to add to the magical, Franco atmosphere, it rained!

One of the best features was a quote painted on the inside wall of the restaurant:

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Evan is an exceptionally talented artist, and through his studies, is getting well-versed in architecture. We walked around the Plaza at night, talking about the church structures and unique features of some of the monasteries in the West.

All-in-all, a pleasurable ending to our second day in Santa Fe.

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 23, Griffith Observatory with the Velas!

9 07 2016

“Beautiful memories are like old friends. They may not always be on your mind, but they are forever in your heart.” — Susan Gale

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Hermione and Samuel Vela are longtime and lifetime friends. Hermione and I met at The Church on the Way back in the mid-90s. While we knew each other, our relationship was mostly seeing each other on Sundays and at college and single’s group activities. I started attending a particular single’s group at the megachurch, and met a unique and stellar young man named Kelly Rivers. He invited me to his “Breakfast Club” early on Thursday mornings, and I discovered that Hermione and several other friends I knew were a part of it. That helped to change the nature of our relationship, and we started building a friendship outside of the group. However, when she asked if I wanted to meet one-on-one for accountability and prayer, well that pretty transformed us individually and corporately.

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Charles Finney said, “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

He is right. Hermione is a sister of my heart, as well as my family, and much of that is a result of the time we have spent together in prayer. The older I get, the more I understand how rare and how precious this bond is, and I am grateful to have it.

Hermione has seen and prayed me through depression, family reconciliation, loneliness, financial stress, faith struggles—the highs and the lows over two decades. I saw her come together with Samuel, and she and Samuel saw my coming together with Lynn.

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She was there to welcome my sister June and niece Gabi to California, and she was there to support me as June battled illness after illness, left to go back to Chicago, then returned to ultimately pass away. Hermione and Samuel grieved with us when June went to glory, and was there to support us as we navigated that grief.

Through upheavals, moves, and times of inertia we have maintained a quality friendship and a prayer partnership, and I am thankful and blessed that the quality of the friendship gets richer as we advance in years.

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One of the great privileges of lifelong friendship is to see the growth of family and relationships. Over the last several years, Samuel and Hermione have chosen to foster and then adopt two children: Jaxin and Yolanda. They are brother and sister, and as is the plight of many foster children, their lives have not been easy and their hurdles are often high. It takes a special heart to not only welcome these children into your family, but to work and fight to help them leap those hurdles and become who God created them to be; not what hard circumstances deformed them to be. Samuel and Hermione have those beautiful hearts, and I admire and revere them for this.

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Juggling schedules with children takes a certain type of art, but we were able to get together to celebrate their contribution to my 50 Days to 50 Years. We spent the evening at Griffith Observatory for their “Star Party”. Once a month, the observatory encourages amateur astronomers to bring their telescopes, and the staff have their own set up to assist interested parties in seeing constellations, the moon, and even some of the planets.

I brought a picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, vegetarian casserole, tacos, and brownies, and we knoshed, talked and watched all the buzz around the telescopes. We got a few views through telescopes of the moon, but for the most part we just spent time enjoying each other’s company and getting to know Jaxin and Yolanda a bit better.

Griffith Observatory is awesome for 360 degree views of Los Angeles, from Pasadena to the beach. We were able to take in the entire city from sun up to sunset, and enjoy the lights of the city that make Los Angeles look stunning.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 43, Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn with Theresa and AJ Danna

19 06 2016

“Cherish your human connections – your relationships with friends and family.” — Barbara Bush

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Theresa and I have been friends since the early 1990s, when we both were part of the now-defunct Masters of Professional Writing program at USC. She was one of the best parts to come out of those years in graduate school. She is a keeper (she says the same about me—verklempt), and we have watched each other’s lives through boyfriends and breakups, forced moves, intentional moves, job milestones, job losses and job stresses. But I am most thankful for being a part of her life because I got to see her son AJ enter the world and grow up. AJ turned 18 yesterday, marking a milestone in all our lives.

Theresa had AJ at 40, and I was there during the pregnancy, babysat him when he was little, and got to hang out with him at all sorts of things: from the kids show at the UCLA Los Angeles Book Fair, to the Chinese New Year celebrations, and various times and birthdays in between. They were a part of many Thanksgivings and Christmases in Los Angeles, and they had a front row seat as I met and married Lynn. My sister June was a pivotal part of their lives too, and they grieved right alongside me when she died.

I am honored and blessed by our family connection, and am so proud of the young man AJ has become. AJ is not your typical millennial: he knows what he wants, and he is pursuing it with passion and smarts. He has already gotten some major screen time doing background coverage in film and television, and he has a really spectacular voiceover reel over at his YouTube channel. He has met, and is being mentored by some of the best names in the voiceover and entertainment business. That is all AJ’s doing—no one handed it to him—he pursued them, was offered the opportunity, and made the necessary space for it.

AJ knows the players in his industry, and knows more about networking than any career coach I have encountered. In fact, as we were leaving the Barn, he ran into Mark Silverman, the voice of Rod Serling from the Disney Theme Park ride “Tower of Terror”, and just struck up a conversation with him. AJ’s confidence and his comfort in his own skin and his purpose are well beyond his years. He is focused and dedicated to his craft; but more importantly, he is one of the most personable and kind people I know.

Both AJ and Theresa are practically Disney historians, so I got to spend a bit of time with them at Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn in Griffith Park. This is a FREE thing in Los Angeles, and right in my backyard, so even on this 107 degree Los Angeles day, it was a win-win, not just for the fun exploration, but to have some time with them both.

Fifty years on this earth teaches you that time is precious, and people’s presence in your life through the sorrows and the celebrations, growing up, and growing older makes it even more so. Thank you, Theresa and AJ for loving me and being part of my life . I love you both very much.





Happy Father’s Day!

15 06 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all those who have taken on the role, whether you are biologically connected to your children, or merely through the heart. Here is an excerpt from my memoir, FRIED CHICKEN AND SYMPATHY, about my biological father, Theodore Roosevelt Oliver, Sr., followed by a link to an Examiner article that I wrote a few years back about my spiritual father, Glenn “Kirk” Kirkpatrick.

Blessings!

My father when he worked at the Naval Base in North Chicago, IL.

My father when he worked at the Naval Base in North Chicago, IL.

Oliver’s Twist: The Father I Barely Knew…

“People can never predict when hard times might come.
Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often caught by sudden tragedy.”
Ecclesiastes 9:12

I only have two memories of my father: The first one was in life, the second in death. The first was of a family trip to Brookfield Zoo in 1969. I consider June the unofficial family historian, and even she is surprised that I remember it so well. After the nine of us had spent our day at the zoo, we ambled single-file through the parking lot, to get into our lovely green four-door Oldsmobile with the chrome bumpers and the white-green interior, and head back to Cabrini-Green.

I was a vision of two-year-old cuteness, in a sky-blue pinafore with little embroidered flowers, blue socks with frilly borders, and braids that were contacting Mars; to this day my hair still has a life of its own. I distinctly remember Oliver (as most people, including us kids, called him) swooped me up with one large hand, and tucked me in his arm, holding me in the crook, while he used his other hand to retrieve the car keys from his pocket and open the door for the rest of the family. Oliver was stylish, in his button-down shirt, suspenders and tweed slacks. He had on one of his classic wide-brimmed hats, and I attempted to grab it off his head—an attempt which amazingly he dodged—seeing that his arms and hands were full.

He whispered something in my ear, but at that age I didn’t understand or care about words. All I cared about was his arm around me, holding me close, and the feeling of contentment it gave me.

My second memory of him is not really about him, but about his funeral. We were at Burr Oak Cemetery in Worth, Illinois on July 12, 1970. By today’s standards it’s a ghetto cemetery, but back then, it was one of the few options for people of color. Grandpa Joe and Grandma Annie had been laid to rest there, so it was in keeping with tradition.

So there we were, all seven of us kids standing around the gravesite in the rain, like strong little soldiers in black. I was holding onto Bay’s black-gloved hand, and something struck me so suddenly that I began to urgently tug on her arm. She looked down at me, her head wrapped in a black scarf, eyes shielded by the dark glasses she wore.

“Is Oliver coming back?” I asked. I didn’t get an answer. Just silence, with all eyes plastered on the hole in the ground. My first lesson in family dynamics. When faced with a hard question, pretend it was never asked.

I still have a knack for asking hard questions that have no answers.

I felt about as confused, and cheated as I sometimes feel now. At the age of three, I was not mature enough to wrap my heart around death’s finality. The little girl now buried within the adult still doesn’t.

It puzzles me how you can ache and long for someone you didn’t really know. I’m still that little girl in the blue dress at the zoo—except now, I long for my daddy’s arms instead of enjoying being in them. It’s a gaping hole—no matter how hard you try to fill it, it remains a bottomless pit. I pinpoint a lot of my emotional problems to the fact that my father was stolen from me. The depression I struggle with, my choosing emotionally-, and physically-unavailable men, and the subsequent lack of trust which has resulted from all those dead-end relationships.

As part of my own therapy to get a handle on the past, I’ve attempted to piece together Oliver’s life, like shards of a shattered plate. A delicate and painful exercise, with the end result being bloodied hands, and a piece that lacks the beauty, function and worth of the original. To some, it might serve little use except as a reminder of what used to be; but, painstakingly, I continue with the task. With each piece that comes together, and every little bit of new knowledge I acquire about him, I get a sense that I’m doing something significant and important—even if it’s for no one else but me.


My spiritual father, Glenn "Kirk" Kirkpatrick. A reflection of the Father Heart of God

My spiritual father, Glenn “Kirk” Kirkpatrick. A reflection of the Father Heart of God

 The Father Heart of God

Father’s Day has often been a foreign holiday to me. My father was murdered when I was three, and it wasn’t until thirty years later that someone came into my life who helped me understand the Father heart of God. Because of that consistent witness, I asked Glenn “Kirk” Kirkpatrick to step into the role of “Father of the Bride”, and walk me down the aisle.

This father role was not a place he sought, nor I pursued. But Kirk’s heart’s desire was to be the man God wanted Him to be, and as he sought the Father’s heart, he could not help but emulate it. And God’s divine purpose for us is to know his heart; it does not matter if it is demonstrated through human or spiritual genetics. He used Kirk to grant me this gift, and I make it a point to honor him as a father. I wish him a Happy Father’s Day, whether with a card or a message–now, Father’s Day is more familiar, and less foreign. Read more at Examiner.com: The Father Heart of God.





In My Orbit…

23 07 2010

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Girl’s been gone for a bit as life and circumstance have eaten up my time, energy and a bit of my sanity.  Since I never claimed to be completely sane anyway, that last one was the least of my worries.

After a month-long ordeal of packing a house and cramming it into an apartment, my sweet hubby fell ill and ended up in the hospital.  Diagnosis: ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that affects the colon.  Thankfully, he is on the mend, adapting to his medications, and we pray will be able to get back to life and work soon.

So the blog got put on the back burner, but I am now back with a vengeance.   Watch out, world!

The political junkie is in full bore, what with the smackalicious stuff coming from The Daily Caller about the JournoList,  a listserv where bunches of liberal journalists got together to engineer and plot the downfall of the likes of Fred Barnes and Sarah Palin, and to assist Obama’s political rise and eventual win of the 2008 Presidential race.

Like the East Anglia emails, it only confirmed my and many conservatives, suspicions about information control and dissemination in order to advance a cause or political agenda.   So no big surprise here.  However, the arrogance, sniping, and smarter-than-thou snarkiness is more than fascinating.

See for yourself.  The Daily Caller-JournoList links.

And I end with a bit of humor–it made me laugh out loud!  I love the Talking Heads and their video of this song, so this parody is well done, along with packing a punch.

H/t: Hot Air.





Sister Glue

28 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

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I could never love anyone as I love my sisters!
Jo March, Little Women 1994

My relationship with my sisters has been as individual as we are.  Often complicated, sometimes overly dramatic, but no less enriching and essential to my life.  The glue of faith, prayer, and family honor has held us together, when at times I felt we were irreparably parted.

These excepts are from different chapters of Fried Chicken and Sympathy.

Chapter 7:  Sister Interrupted.

During my young adult years, my contact with Barbara waxed and waned throughout the years as I sought to find myself and my life.  But I will never forget her constant love and worship of God, her childlike trusting faith, and her adherence to truth.

When I was a child, if you had told me I could get close to God if I stood on my head three times a day, I would have broken my neck trying.  During my time in Catholic school, I learned different forms of prayer, to saints and to Mary, that I used to say along with the other forms of praying I had learned at New Hope.  Barbara was walking past my room one day, and she heard me praying the Hail Mary.  She barreled into the room, in her blustery fashion, and demanded I stop.

Startled, I looked up at her.  “But I’m only praying,” I excused.

“You don’t have to pray to anyone but Jesus!  He is the only true God.”

That made an impression.  As loopy as other’s deemed her, and as convoluted as her thoughts sometimes could be, she was secure in who the Source was.  Despite the faulty teachings, and false hopes, she never lost faith in God that she would be healed, and she never got angry with God because it never manifested in this life.  She didn’t understand the whys, but it never stopped her from continuing to seek answers, ask questions, and trust God’s will and heart toward her.  I model much of my relationship with God from her example:  Unyielding faith, eternal trust, yet never afraid to be fully human.

Even when I thought I had stopped following her life, she was still committed to following mine.  Like Gerry, she loved her family, and was loyal to a fault.  When I would phone the Ferdinand house to speak with Bay, I would hear her excited voice in the background,

“Jennifer!  Oh yes—let me speak to my sister!”  Bay would surrender the phone, and she would ramble on about Lil Mike, Joshuah, Aimee, her job, or about nothing in particular; she just enjoyed the process of connecting with me.

I made a conscientious effort to be the “auntie” to my nephews and niece, particularly at Christmastime.  I made sure that Lil’ Mike, Joshuah and Aimee (who had the misfortune of being born on December 24) had something, even if it was only coloring books.  Barbara would exclaim, and ooh and ahh over the little gifts, as if I had given them college scholarships.  She was grateful for kindness, especially toward her children.

I didn’t understand the depths of her love for me until after she died.  At Barbara’s repast, a very thin and agitated young girl walked into the church hall where it was being held.  Joan greeted her, then brought her over to where I was sitting.  The woman was a coworker of Barbara’s, and she had traveled two hours by bus to pay her respects.  She was very apologetic, because she had gotten lost and missed the wake.  When Joan introduced her to me, her face lit up with recognition.

“You’re Jennifer!”  she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I replied, extremely puzzled at her highly familiar exclamation.

“Barbara talked about you all the time—how smart you were, and your clothes—and she used to tell me you wore these wild earrings!”  We all laughed, then she continued to go on and on about how Barbara talked about me.  I sat there and listened, and cried over this precious gift from a total stranger: a part of my sister that I never knew existed, and unfortunately, realized too late.  I mattered much to her, and was thought of, even in my chosen 3,000 mile exile.

Chapter 16:  The Law of Reflection.

Everyone has people who are mirrors in their lives; some render true reflections, others do not.  June’s mirror is a solid plane that has rendered an accurate reflection, allowing me to view myself and my world with some degree of normalcy.  I have never felt reduced in her presence, and I have never been made to feel as if I were “less than” in her eyes.  I know that I would not have had the courage to believe in myself, pursue my dreams, or move away from our family dysfunction had June not been in my life.  The mere fact of her acting as that solid plane has caused the direction of my “light” to change for the better.

Yet, while we share similar values, beliefs, and preferences, we are definitely opposites.  I’m more of a social butterfly, and she’s a homebody, preferring to sit in her place and read, or play her beloved computer games, than be in a roomful of people.  I’m extremely creative and innovative, enjoying projects that have a defined beginning and then moving on to the next task.  June is more analytical—she enjoys maintenance, and the mundane details and redundant tasks involved in it, where this type of work drives me insane.  She will often listen to my view on something, and she’ll say, “You know what, you’re a strange kid!”  But she means this with no malice, and it’s usually expressed with her dry wit.  The mirror defines our kinship.  Her positive reflection of me when I was younger helped me navigate what, for the most part, was a troubling and confusing childhood.  And now that I’m an adult, she still reflects a clear image, confirming who I have become and affirming who I can continue to be.  There are a handful of people who I know will love me no matter what I do, and she is at the top of the list.  She adores me and is among my true fans—always encouraging me to be true to who I am, to write, to not give up on my creativity.  Always reminding me that the dreams that I dream can, and will, come true.  She’s a great source of inspiration, an emotional support, and the epitome of what family means.

Chapter 15:  Enigma.

The intervening years had seen their share of divisiveness and rancor, and they has taken their toll on all of us as sisters.  June was always faithful to pray and hang on to hope of a restoration, when I had simply resigned myself to the fact that I lived on a different planet than the balance of my siblings, and had no expectation of any common ground for continued peaceable relations.

Two weeks before June died, Adrienne and Joan flew in from Chicago and took care for her.  This, as well as their concern for mine and Gabi’s welfare, reflected a stark contrast to the disregard and battling that had occurred in the past.  June was able to see us agree on ways to best care for her, and to see them reach out and sacrifice to ensure her health and well-being.  That was her prayer answered, and a promise fulfilled.

It was in 2006, that I began sensing the first thaw to the cold front that existed between me, Adrienne and Joan.

I received an email from Joan, inviting me to participate in this online movie site where you rate movies and chat with other people who have similar cinematic tastes.  I saw this as a hand through the door that I have left open, so I extended back and responded.  She’s shared snippets of her life (new cat, new job), then fully opened the dam, releasing a floodgate.  Sister is back in full swing, and we have chatted for hours on over instant messenger and on the phone, catching up on each others’ lives.  After June’s death, we have committed to spend at least one Holiday together each year, and so far that has gone well.

This recent development is as bittersweet as all the others—who knows when or if division may rear its ugly head.  But, I continue to hope that maybe this time, we are ready to actually be Sisters and that this will remain; no matter where we disagree, or what goes on with us.

With Adrienne, it began after a serious illness where she almost died.  June phoned me to let me know that she was in the hospital, so I tracked down the phone number and immediately called.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Adrienne, it’s Jennifer.”

“Well, hello!  How come you haven’t given me your new address?  I wanted to send you a birthday card!  It’s your 40th, right?

“Wow!  What a good memory you have,” I said.

“I have everyone’s birthday written down in my Bible, but I always remember yours.  Maybe because you were the last.”

“Well, thanks for remembering.”

“I have a pen and paper, so go ahead.”

I gave her my information, and we chatted for about twenty minutes about what happened at the Foxx Family Reunion, her condition, and what was going on in my life.

“Joan said she saw your writings on the Internet.”  I was initially shocked, then realized between my blogspot and my writing coach’s website, I could now be Googled.

“She must have happened on my writing coach’s website.  I’m finishing up my novel.”

She was impressed by this, and said she looked forward to when it was finished.  We talked a bit more, and then I decided to end the call.

“Do call me any time,” I said.  Again, she may never bother, but I still refuse to slam the door.

From the Epilogue: The Destination is There.

During their visit to care for June, I talked with Adrienne about things that we never shared in the past: challenges at their church, marriage, being a spouse and running a household.  In writing my memoir, I had collected many of the old photos of the Foxx and Oliver families, and Adrienne wanted a disc. Looking at the pictures together, we both noticed how our Aunts Allene and Everette had aged, then calculated how old our mother would be if she had lived.  It was 2008, so she would have been 77.  Adrienne marveled at this, then said, “Sometimes, I wish she were still here.”

I was quiet, as I had no immediate response.  In reflecting on this later, I realized what I did miss—the possibility of what might have been.  Surely the restoration and alteration of relationship would have extended to us as mother and daughter.  But that will never be in this life, though I am sure it will be in the next.





My Brother’s Keeper

19 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

Excerpted from Fried Chicken and Sympathy, Chapter 4: My Brother’s Keeper

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“This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether or not God will show them favor in this life.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1

Death truly does comes in many forms, which don’t necessarily involve a dead body.  There are economic, psychological and emotional deaths as well.  Oliver was the sole economic provider for our family, and when he died, that element died with him too.  Bay now found herself burdened with providing for seven children, along with bearing the weight of our various struggles and illnesses, and the inevitable hardships that followed.  Oliver’s death changed our lives irrevocably.

But next to Bay, I think Gerry was affected the most deeply.

Gerry was supposed to have been the “baby” of the family; then I came along and usurped his place.  Because we were the closest in age of the siblings, we were often stuck together, while the others were off at school or doing the teenage thing.  The one family picture where I actually got to see myself as an infant was the one I described earlier, with Bay, the six older siblings, and me on her lap.  The other picture of me from early childhood was with Gerry; I was probably about one and a half, and he was about eight.  It had been a professionally-done black and white print, overlaid and enhanced with colored oil paint.  I am in a cute yellow dress, and Gerry is in a fine blue suit.  The photographer posed us with me sitting on his lap, and one of his arms draped around my waist, holding me securely in place.  We are both all smiles and glow, my milk teeth showing, his a sunny grin with tiny teeth, reflecting a closeness that became damaged and diminished.

When I was six, and Gerry twelve, my favorite T.V. show was Speed Racer, and his, Batman. The problem was, the shows aired at the same time on different channels, and these were the days of one TV per home, and no TiVo™.  We would have “good-natured” battles over who would watch what.

“I don’t want to watch Batman!  He’s stupid!” I’d whine.

“Is not! You got to see Speed Racer yesterday – so I’m watchin’ Batman!”

“No, you’re not!” I’d yell, stamping my foot.

“Yes, I am!”  he’d yell back, turning the knob on the TV and shoving me to the floor.  I would then hop on his neck and start punching him.

“Oww!” he screamed, trying to get me off his back.  “Leggo!”

“No!  I wanna watch Speed Racer!”  He attempted to topple me off his back, while I reached toward the channel knob.  I pretty much had him in a chokehold until Bay stepped in to arbitrate the mini-war.  Most of the time, I ended up watching Speed Racer, while Gerry pouted and fumed.  But with those he loved, Gerry rarely got ugly or violent—and I knew he loved me.

Our favorite game was hanging upside down on the couch with our heads toward the floor and our feet skyward.

“I’m falling down Niagara Falls!” Gerry would yell, pretending to drop.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” I’d scream, letting the blood rush to my head.  Then we’d roll off the couch, feet over head, and walk around woozy for a bit, before getting back on the couch and doing it again.

So my being born really didn’t cause any huge sibling tension, or affect Gerry’s place in the family.  He was still the baby boy, and Oliver’s little prince.  He was spoiled rotten, and got away with acts that would have been unacceptable with the older siblings: being able to stay up past bedtime, talking back, and eating whatever he wanted, even if it was bad for him.  This distinction was not lost on Teddy, Adrienne, Barbara, June and Joan, so they did what they could to put him in his place.  Any of his infractions of household behavior was gleefully reported to Bay or Oliver, in the hope of his getting a beating, or at least a scolding.  It mostly backfired, because in Oliver’s eyes, Gerry could do no wrong.

The same was true of Bay.  Her reactions to Gerry’s bratty behavior and outbursts were based on fear that he would do serious harm to himself; and in his case, her fears had a legitimate basis.  June said that when Gerry would throw a temper tantrum, it involved a lot of thrashing and crying, and three times it resulted in Gerry’s getting a head injury.  The first time Gerry pitched a fit, it was because Bay wouldn’t stop washing dishes to give him some sweets.  She tried to get him to wait, but he first tugged at her skirt, then eventually started hitting his head against the wall.  He did this with such force that he busted the skin above his brow, at his scalp.  Bay rushed him to the emergency-room at Cook County, and he had to have stitches.  Another time when he was upset, he ran into a table and gashed open his head, also requiring an emergency room visit and more stitches.  So it was no wonder that she gave in each time he became demanding, to avoid any more injuries or medical bills.

The coddling given by Bay and Oliver did nothing to improve his short attention span, or his even shorter temper, but I have always felt Gerry’s behavioral patterns had a deeper-seated cause that had little to do with lack of discipline.  From my own personal studies and observations, I suspect my brother suffered from one of the Autism Spectral Disorders (ASD), perhaps Asperger Syndrome.  Many of the behaviors outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) fit Gerry’s behavioral and social dysfunction.  From his difficulty communicating or perceiving what has been related to him, to repetitive behavior and motion, to the inability to interact and lack of sensory response, Gerry lacked the necessary frame of reference to be able to navigate in the outside world.  My curiosity and study led me to seek out a professional opinion.  So a friend referred me to Dr. David A. Reisbord, a Los Angeles neurologist who treats many cases of Autism and its related illnesses.  “The temper tantrums and self-injury are typical in Asperger patients,” says Dr. Reisbord.  “So are all of his other symptoms.”

If Gerry had been born today, and I had had a mother who were willing to seek help, he might have been appropriately diagnosed and treated.  Even if his condition had been recognized and attended to in his teens (during the mid-‘70s, when Autism was being recognized as a serious developmental disorder), some of his pain, and much of ours, might have been assuaged.  But back in the 1960s such syndromes were not commonly known, or were simply dismissed among “plain” folk like us.  Bay’s desire for privacy also tied into her myopic approach to Gerry’s problems.  What happened in the home, stayed in the home, and it was nobody’s business how it was handled.  Even if the appropriate help and treatment had been available then, Bay would never have sought it.