Father-daughter flashback

I watched Oklahoma on TV the other night. It was a time machine that brought me back to 1966 when my father took me to see the play. What I recalled most vividly was Daddy hallucinating while John Raitt belted out a song.

My father had been mentally ill for years, since before I was born. While Raitt sang, Daddy muttered loudly to someone in his head and twitched in his seat, and people around us began to complain. Sounds of sshhhhhh!! and quiet!! surrounded me. I don’t remember what happened, whether we were asked to leave or Daddy settled down and we stayed to the end.

I was 20, in the glow of youth and blooming sexuality and glittering hopes and dreams. And I was mortified. Before Daddy’s meltdown, I had loved the way I dressed and secretly admired myself in the mirror, silk-blend suit and high heels and all. I felt I looked perfect for the Circle Star, then a classy theater venue in the Bay Area.

But I was edgy beneath all the excitement, because my father’s behavior was unpredictable. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

How differently I see that day now, and my father. Back then I was just growing into womanhood, half confident, half painfully self-conscious. I wondered why I couldn’t have a “normal” father I could be proud of, instead of Daddy with his rumpled clothes, nicotine-stained fingers and Thorazine-induced trembling hands. Subconsciously I was angry at him for being an embarrassment, a failure, a constant worry.

He committed suicide a year after we saw Oklahoma, at 50. I’ve survived well enough, had a career, friends, raised my daughter through college, but I really never recovered from the trauma. I drank alcoholically—though functionally—until my daughter was three and have ongoing anxiety disorder. I made many mistakes with my daughter that alienated her. We are now estranged, to my great sadness.

I’ve blamed and punished and judged myself for years. But since remembering Daddy and Oklahoma, I see things in a different light. I’m no longer a 20-year-old with expectations of Daddy, wanting to go to a glamorous play with a suave and handsome father. Now I understand that for some unknown reason Daddy couldn’t help it. He had a profound problem he was unable to overcome. But he did the best he could. He tried so hard to give his little-girl-turning-woman a special gala evening. Having made my own mistakes and unintentionally hurt people I love, I don’t blame Daddy now. And I’m working on not blaming myself. Daddy’s little girl is growing up.

Heavenly Help in Disguise

Hernias are not usually thought of as being from heaven. They’re usually thought of as coming from the other place. But my husband’s was different. It saved his life.

Frank’s hernia showed up last year. He was 78. The hernia wasn’t very big and it wasn’t painful. The doctor said it might remain relatively harmless and that if Frank preferred, he could leave it be and they’d just keep an eye on it. But of course he could have it surgically repaired if he wanted.

Frank had never had surgery and found the prospect unpleasant. He was inclined to leave well enough alone. But the doctor went on to tell him if he did remove it he could do it laparoscopically, with a recovery time of only 1-2 weeks and much less pain than with open surgery. It’s all done with a thin scope and instruments inserted through very small incisions.  

That made Frank was a lot more interested. He opted for the laparopscopic surgery.

Good thing. He had no idea then what an important decision that was. 

Routine pre-surgery blood tests were done, and a high white blood cell count was discovered. So different tests were done to find out what was causing the abnormality and eventually they did a CT scan.

That’s when they saw the spot on Frank’s pancreas. It was biopsied and turned out to be very early-stage cancer. Three-quarters of pancreatic cancer patients die within a year of diagnosis. But because his cancer was small and confined to the head of the pancreas, Frank was among the small minority of patients eligible for a complex procedure to remove the tumor. It’s called a Whipple surgery.

The Whipple surgeon said the cancer was early-stage enough that Frank could have his hernia repaired first, so he did. It was a piece of cake. He recovered fully in about a week. Shortly after that, he had his Whipple surgery. That was not a piece of cake. It was a long operation—about seven hours—and a lengthy, difficult and painful recovery. But it was worth it. It beat the alternative, no contest. The outcome was very successful, because the cancer had not spread to surrounding vital arteries or organs. The prognosis looks good for Frank to have a good number of quality years ahead of him.

It would be quite a different story if Frank hadn’t had that hernia, and if he hadn’t opted for the hernia surgery with its pre-surgery tests.

Life is mysterious. So many times, things happen that seem negative but when you look back on them you see that they were actually gifts. Precious gifts. In Frank’s case, the gift of years of life. And all from a lousy hernia, imagine. That has to be one of God’s cleverest disguises for a gift, ever.

Running Away from Home

I love my husband but I need to get away from him now and then. I do short getaways, like staying in Monterey with a friend or two for a couple days of eating, shopping, and walking on the beach, followed by more eating and shopping. Or I’ll go overnight with friends to experience the fog and the culture in San Francisco. There’s a wealth of things to do close to our home in Silicon Valley.

The getaways are good for me and our marriage. We appreciate each other more when I get back. The passion gets fanned a bit, the flame reignites. It’s a kind of marriage makeover.

I’m always the one who has to run away from home. Frank is exceptionally stable. He worked for the city for 30 years, and bought the house we live in nearly 40 years ago, 20 years before we even met. His 1970 Camaro is older than his house. And he’s a diehard homebody. He never travels except when we go together. He’s stable to a fault.

Once in a while I muse about what it would be like if Frank took a trip and I stayed home. Home alone! Wow, what would it feel like? The whole house would be my oyster. The first thing that comes to mind is the excitement of having control of the remote. That’s been a lifelong—or marriage-long—dream of mine. I could change channels, turn the volume up or down, turn the TV off and back on at will. I’d be drunk with the feeling of power it would give me.

I could have my girlfriends over for wine and Chinese takeout. And more wine. We’d laugh loudly and watch chick flicks and tell off-color jokes. Maybe even get really wild and watch Forty Shades of Grey. Or is it Fifty? I haven’t seen it. And ice cream for dessert, Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked. Yum, gooey cookie dough chunks. I’d get a lot so when the girls leave I can finish whatever’s left. Ice cream is a no-no when Frank’s home. He’s a healthy eater and watches my weight for me.

I could indulge openly in my secret addiction and buy a bunch of lottery scratch cards. Then I’d scratch them off right out in the open, at the kitchen table. I can’t do that either when Frank’s home. He disapproves of gambling almost more than ice cream.

I have a long list of more home-alone pleasures. My at-home getaway sounds great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Frank’s not showing any signs of restlessness or wanderlust. He’s happy just driving to a movie or to senior drop-in doubles at the city tennis courts. So I’ll just keep my sense of adventure and my suitcase at the ready. It’s for a good cause.   

Sisters Forever

This Thanksgiving I have a special blessing to be grateful for.

pumpkin-pie-520655_640I’m thankful for so many things in my life. My good health and my family’s, an enjoyable and active retirement, good friends, the freedoms we enjoy in this country, financial stability….

Oh, yadda yadda, blah blah. Do you want to know what I’m really thankful for? I’m really thankful that my niece Heather and her husband Sam have taken over hosting our family Thanksgiving celebration at their home. Their home, not mine. Yay! With 70 right around the corner for me, I’d rather Thanksgiving be at the home of someone who’s not me. I did it for years, and while it was a pleasure in many ways, it took weeks of preparation:  planning what to serve, shopping, cleaning, polishing, putting up special decorations, and so forth.

I did lots of hunting for dishware. I never remembered where my holiday stuff was from year to year and would have to rifle through all my cupboards. I would get down on the kitchen floor with a flashlight to search the cupboard under the stove, looking for my casserole dish with the warming candle unit underneath, my butter dish with the turkey-shaped cover, my orange-red-and-gold leaf-shaped appetizer dish, and other favorite holiday things. And after I found those, there was the tablecloth and matching napkins to be ironed, last-minute cleaning…it never ended.

Most of the guests brought food, and my husband even cooked the turkey. Can you believe I have the nerve to complain? But I had the key responsibility for making sure the bird and all the accompaniments and side dishes were done at the same time. It made a nervous wreck out of me every year. And though lots of people helped with cleanup after dinner, there was always plenty left to be done the day after, and the day after the day after. Washing the linen, putting away the holiday dishes in special places that I wouldn’t remember the next year, cleaning up wine stains on the carpet…    

Heather and Sam are doing an outstanding job. Sam, who is establishing himself as a world-class grill master, cooks the turkey on a great big rotating spit on his super-duper outdoor grill. It’s delicious. Out of this world, in fact. And Heather has revealed a real flair for gracious entertaining, seemingly without effort, from cooking to mingling with all the guests. She charms, she stays calm and carries on. It’s a bit humbling for me, actually. But I forgive them when, fresh and rested, I walk in their door, deposit my green bean casserole in the kitchen, then go join the other guests to chat and mingle and attack the appetizers.

I haven’t always been a grouch. I loved doing Thanksgiving when I was younger. But youth belongs to the young, and in my opinion, so does Thanksgiving. Now that I think of it, Heather has always admired my special casserole dish with the warming candle. I think I’ll give it to her as a little token of appreciation—if I can find it.