Oh, to be one of the Greats…………….
It’s Monday morning. Everyone is out. Bye-bye people. Kando is here beside me napping, Bella is on “her” chair, and Joe has retired to his mat. He has this heating pad that is only activated when he gets on it. In the summer it doesn’t get used, but now that the mornings are chilly enough, that is where Old Joe can be found. Here I am at my cute little desk. I’ve got my dog beside me, my coffee with whipped cream within reach (no, I don’t save whipped cream for special occasions and, yes, I have been known to squirt it directly into my mouth), my favorite jeans on and I am very content to only hear the noises of the house. I got this desk at a second hand store and always thought I would teach myself to refinish furniture like my Dad. Well, I haven’t yet and I bought it about 18 years ago.
Now it is covered with an antique doily thing and the wall behind it has things I love. There are black and white pictures of my family…..Laura looking for Easter eggs at 2 yrs. old, Nick with a butterfly on his shoulder, the four of us in a saloon shot that they do at those studios in Estes Park or wherever, and an old Norman Rockwell picture of a boy and his dog. There is a cube with cool rocks that I like in it. One is a broken geode filled with sparkly white crystals and Laura has the other half, a rock Laura painted, a red alabaster heart shaped paperweight that I gave Ben but seemed to have taken back, and a cutting of a beautiful blue rock. I don’t know what that one is, only that Laura gave it to me. My Geologist husband would know, but like I said he is at work now.
It is no coincidence that my desk is placed by my birding window. I had the window made into a bay window so that the cats can watch what we call “kitty TV”. I don’t know if that was nice of me or actually a way to torture them. It is what it is now. My binoculars and bird book are within reach so if some cool bird comes I can be my dorky bird self and watch until I figure out what it is. This area is mine. No one else stacks their stuff here. They can use the space, but know that it is mine.
My family is great. This morning I am glad they are gone and that I am here alone. It feels nice and peaceful. My furry children and I have taken our places for the morning. I am so blessed to have the greatest family in the world. They are all great in different ways, which I will get to in a bit. I am pondering all of the greats this morning.
I love a good story. I love to hear my Dad or Ben’s Dad talk about the past. Ben’s Dad hates turnips. He tells the story of growing up with 10 brothers and sisters. Of course, money was an issue with a family of that size. One year the crops didn’t do well. There was not enough money to supplement the loss. The turnip crop, however, did well. They had a cellar in which they kept those turnips and ate them any way you can imagine all winter. They had boiled, fried, mashed turnips. Don’t offer the guy a turnip, which I never would because I don’t think I have ever purchased or cooked one in my life. My Dad used to tell all kinds of stories. He doesn’t so much anymore, which makes me really sad. He has gotten quiet and kind of withdrawn. Now when we see them there is usually a big bunch of us and it is kind of overwhelming. With them living in a tiny apartment with no kitchen, we always eat out. My Dad can’t hear well when there is tons of background noise, a downside of hearing aids. If I could get him alone over a chicken fried steak somewhere, he would talk. My Dad and I used to sneak out to Davie’s Chuck Wagon and eat chicken fried steak. My Mom would never let Dad have it as it is so bad for you and he has a bad heart. So, we’d go to breakfast without her and order whatever we wanted and never speak of it. We also ate a lot more ice cream than Mom ever knew. Ice cream is my weakness in life. Now Mom orders chicken fried steak ALL the time at the dining room in their building. Jeez. Seriously??
My Dad is a great story teller. When he and my Mom met he lived in Grand Junction and she in Glenwood Springs. My dad’s cousin married my Mom’s best friend and that is how Mom and Dad met. In those days, the Glenwood pool was different. There was a big cement island in the middle where the young people would bask in the sun. Once my Mom slapped iodine all over my dad so he could get a tan. Seems like that can’t be right, but Dad swears it was iodine. I have asked a hundred times if he was sure it wasn’t baby oil. Nope, iodine. Wouldn’t it have dyed his skin orange? Anyway, my Mom is not a burner. Us kids are all burners. Burn and freckle is my style. So, poor Dad got fried. He says he burned his epizoodus (not sure how you spell-check that word) and couldn’t move for days. I just love to hear the old guys tell stories about long ago. I want detail so that I can go there in my mind. I have seen pictures of the Glenwood pool with that island. Walgreens has all of these books with the history of certain towns in Colorado. You know, like the history of Denver, Golden etc. Well, if you ever see the one about Glenwood, check out that cover. The girl on the far left of the cover is my Aunt Agnes, my Gram’s sister. Cool. The thing about stories from old people is that those stories go way back. They are stories of a time that I can only dream of. Many times those memories are much more vivid to that person than something that happened yesterday.
Aside from Dad and Pop, there are the more famous great story tellers. No one can touch Garrison Keillor. The sound of his voice, the detail with which he tells a story, the humor he interjects, it is the whole deal. He can take a snippet of a day in Lake Wobegon and spin it into a story that has you sitting like a little kid waiting to see what happens next. I have been listening to some lately and find it cathartic. Mom got me a book of his poetry when I was in college. It doesn’t do it for me like hearing his voice. I haven’t read all of it yet as it just doesn’t impact me the same way. I love that book because my Mom wrote, “To my lover of poetry. Love, Mom” on the inside. My Mom had beautiful cursive before losing her sight and wrote on every book she ever gave any of us. Maya Angelou is another one. I adored her. Her voice could take you away in the same way a favorite song can. You just want to curl up next to her and have her tell you a story before you go to sleep at night. No one sounded like her. Wow. I have many of her books and I love them. Ben took me to see her speak once and it is a memory I cherish. Now she is gone and no one will hear that beautiful voice again. She could make me laugh and cry, but mostly she made me think. She made people think and she made people strive to be better, to do better. Boy did she leave her mark on the world.
On a lighter note, there is Lyle Lovett. What a storyteller! He has combined the talent of storytelling with his great voice and big band. I have seen him several times. Hearing Lyle and his Big Band at Red Rocks was amazing. I could go on and on about the story tellers that I love, but it would be a book in and of itself. Let me take you a little closer to home.
Laura is a huge reader and always has been. We are also a family of story tellers. She and I would make up stories at night lying in her bed. I would say, “Once upon a time there was a ___________” and she would fill in the blank. Then Laura would continue on with a sentence like, “and she lived in a tiny little town that was made completely of candy. One day she ________________” and I would fill in that blank. You get the idea. It was kind of like doing our own story telling version of Mad Libs. It was so fun because neither of us knew where the story was going or what was going to happen. I wish I would have taped some of those. I am not sure why we stopped doing it. I am going to see if I can start that up again. Laura also still loves to hear stories about our childhood. It is the same reason I love hearing about my Dad’s childhood. Things are not the same now.
In the summer time my mom would give me fifty cents to walk up the hill to the corn tree to buy corn for dinner. I would meet my best friend part way and she would get her mom corn. The corn tree was a huge, and I mean HUGE cottonwood that sat along 38th Avenue alongside the cornfield. There was a great big wooden table beside it and in the evenings the owners of that cornfield would sell ears of corn there. If you are from around Wheat Ridge, you know about the corn tree. When they cut that tree down, plowed down the corn, and built a slew of huge houses we were all deeply saddened. It was the end of something that will never be again. Laura can’t imagine that it ever was, so she hangs on every word. We also had Jack’s candy shop. It was also along 38th avenue and was a storefront in the front of Jack’s house. His wife had a little hair shop in the back where she did wash and set hairstyles for the women. Every once in a great while, she would bark something to Jack. We all thought she was mean. She probably wasn’t, but we didn’t like anyone barking at our Jack. I remember it like it was yesterday. The screen door squeaked when you opened it and the wooden door was white with the old hardware on it that you don’t see now. The floor was old, beat up wood and creaked like mad. Jack had his candy displayed in glass top cases along the front counter. We learned to be careful not to put our grubby paws all over the glass. His old cash register was in between the two counters. I’d give anything to have that cash register! Oh man, it was a sight. There was everything you could imagine. There was cinnamon hot dog shaped gum that lost its flavor in about four chews, those wax lips that have goo on the inside and then you chew on the wax, Necco wafers that no one except Ben really likes, milk duds, LiK-m-Aid packs, every flavor of jolly rancher you could imagine. I even remember the smell of his shop. He was the nicest old man in the world. He knew all of us kids from the neighborhood. We would ride our bikes down there in the summertime, our pockets full of change. We would get candy and soda and stuff our pockets with whatever our mom’s had a hankering for, usually chocolate.
My Mom’s order never changed, Mr. Goodbar. It is still her favorite. If you remembered to close the door and picked up a piece of trash off of the floor, Jack would let you choose some penny candy for free. I am so lucky that I got to experience that because it will never be again. I see why Laura gets lost in the story. It is so great and unimaginable. Could things really have been like that? Now I don’t even let her ride her bike without calling me when she gets to the destination. That is sad and makes me angry. They do go mess around along the canal but one of them has to have a cell phone and they have to check in regularly. That stinks. I don’t like that now we have to worry about people smoking pot there, or that someone could take them. Aargh on that. How I wish she could ride her bike to Jack’s and buy tons of candy with just a little change. How I wish I did not have to worry about some whacko getting them. It is just a different world. She asks if I will always be so cautious and worry. Yes, yes I will. Always. It is not the same as it was when I was a kid.
Laura and I both love to hear Ben tell stories about growing up in Gould, Oklahoma. He used to be pretty bashful about it and would say he couldn’t think of anything. We have learned to pick a topic, like tell us about the chores you did, or what you would do at night. What was school like? Ben grew up in a very small town. His graduating class was six kids…..yes, six. What???!! That is insane and I can’t even imagine it. There was only one girl in his class. Poor thing.
The other night he told us about homecoming his junior year. He was the king. The KING!!! Woah, man. He told us in detail about it and it was so fascinating. The main event was the basketball game. Ben played on the team, of course. There is not a sport out there that Ben doesn’t love. So, the whole town goes to the game. No joke. At halftime it is like a parting of the seas and the people form an aisle for the royalty to walk down…..huge group of people on one side, another on the other, with an aisle in between. At the end of the aisle is a fancy queen chair of some kind. I will have to ask him again on that one. So, Ben walks Marianne, who is a year older, down to the chair and crowns her. Before he does that he has to kiss her, on the LIPS, in front of the whole stinkin town including his parents!! He was seventeen. He about died and was so nervous. He had to kiss Marianne in front of everyone while still wearing his stinky basketball uniform. Then everyone clapped and went back to their seats. The basketball game resumed. Then he stops talking. Excuse me? Laura and I weren’t letting him get by without finishing the story. How was the dance, did you slow dance, where did you go to dinner….spill it. We want the rest of the story. That was it. No dance. No he didn’t do anything with Marianne. After the game, he went out for pizza with his mom and dad. No way! We just cracked up at that. I found a picture of him in his basketball uniform at the whole event just the other day. I swear I would have fallen in love with him then.
So, Ben doesn’t realize it, but he is also a great story teller. Laura is able to envision something that she has, and will never, experience through his stories. Me too, for that matter. It is so fun to hear about his life in Gould. He always says he has told us everything, but no way. We will keep asking.
The great Garrison Keillor starts one of his stories by saying,
“I grew up in a small town where you could see the lives of other people up close. There was no hiding. There just wasn’t.” Ben told us that if he got paddled at school (what the heck is that about? Who could paddle Ben?), the word would have gotten home before the last whack. Everyone in between school and home knew within minutes. He knew he was dead meat when he got home.
The whole love at first sight thing is corny and doesn’t seem real. I knew Ben was the one the minute I saw his eyes. I really did. We were at a barbeque for a common friend at Lyon’s Park in Golden. A friend had “set me up” with some guy (not Ben) and didn’t tell me that or I would not have gone. I don’t know how many times I told my friends to just leave it be. There is nothing worse than a set up. Wait, actually what is worse is if you can’t stand the man and find him to be a pompous goof that loves to hear himself talk, which was the case on this day. I was quite happy on my own, thank you. I didn’t need a man to complete me.
Then I met Ben. His brown eyes smiled and he was not in the midst of the crowd. My stomach flipped and I could hardly speak. I turned into a complete idiot. Loss for words? Me? He is unlike anyone I have ever known. He is great. He is so great. That small town, those experiences that he tells us about….it all made him who he is. I love to hear him talk about showing pigs, working in the fields, driving the tractor. I could listen all day because it isn’t anything I can imagine. I don’t know how he did it. I have been to his home town only twice. He must have been trying to bump me off because both times it was summer. I am not kidding it is a zillion degrees with a zillion percent humidity. I don’t know how the people do anything there. I almost died. The way Ben grew up is what makes him so great. He is the greatest man ever. He is quiet and wise, gentle and kind, and never lets anyone down. He is a hard worker, humble, super smart, and if he doesn’t know how to fix something, he will learn. He is the most honest person I know. We know we can count on him always. He is my sarcastic equal (ok, that is a hard one for me to admit) and can level me with one quiet statement. How did I get so lucky?
I forget to tell him all of the reasons I love him so much. I guess he will have to deal with me doing it publically. I love him more every day. Some days I kinda don’t like him as much, but I never knew that you could be with someone for so long and still fall more in love. When I got diagnosed with MS, then epilepsy, I felt so sorry for Ben. He didn’t sign on for all of this. I can be mean. When I get really sick, I am no peach. His love never waivers. He just kicks it in gear and does what needs to be done. He is the energizer bunny in human form. Ben knows me, the good, the bad, the ugly. He knows our kids and is always there for them. They do not ever wonder or worry that he will let them down. Neither do I. He knows me and loves me anyway. It still bugs him that I eat my burrito from the side, but he loves me anyway. You get it. Both kids eat their burritos by the side too. It is just smart because the middle is where the good part is and if I start at the end I might be full before I hit the middle. It is only logical. Now he just shakes his head at me. He knows me well.
In the words of Lyle Lovett….
And I like cream in my coffee
And I like to sleep late on Sunday
And nobody knows me like my baby
And I like eggs over easy
With flour tortillas
And nobody knows me like my baby
And nobody holds me
And nobody knows me
Nobody knows me like my baby
Lyle Lovett - Nobody Knows Me Lyrics | MetroLyrics
Sometimes I forget that I am worth being loved. You know, I get caught up in the reality of living with this stupid disease and get low. I feel I am unworthy. I feel like a burden of a wife, a grumpy and inadequate Mom, bad daughter, unreliable friend……..you name it. There is Ben to reassure me. There he is, loving me even when I am as mean as a snake. Sometimes I am so bad that I just can’t stand being with myself. Did you ever feel that way? Like the people who can walk away from you for a minute are lucky, but you are trapped with yourself. Ben said the day I had the seizure in the driveway he thought I was going to die in his arms. He turned me over and I was blue. He held me in his arms and begged me not to leave him. Wow. That gives me the chills. God was holding us both that day. Laura too. How did I get so lucky to be married to one of ‘the greats’?
It has been such a long road, but I don’t think Ben sees it that way at all. I don’t think God does either. It is just a road. Not long, not windy, not bumpy, not worse than anyone else’s. It just is what it is. I tend to be more dramatic than some, so I have heard anyway. I might pray more, I might pray less. I might live my life right some days and very wrong other days. Don’t we all? What I do know is that Ben must have the strongest faith of anyone I know. I speak often of being good and kind, but he lives it. I have not seen him be unkind. He always does what is right. He is always there to catch me, either figuratively or for real.
On this Thanksgiving day, I know how much I have to be thankful for. I have my Ben, my beautiful Laura, and my big hearted and now sober Nick. No matter what happens, we are there for each other. I am going to Grand Junction and my whole family will be there. I will be with both brothers and their families, my sister and her husband who is like another brother to me. Both of my parents are 90 now and still with us. We stay at a winery in Palisade in a huge suite kind of thing. It is two bedrooms on either end and then a giant kitchen and living area in between. We also get the room across the hall. My family used to all meet somewhere in the mountains for Thanksgiving. The western slope people would head east and us city folks would head west. We would meet in Breckenridge, Dillon, somewhere in between and rent a house. Then Mom and Dad got to where that was no longer possible.
So, now we make new memories in lovely Palisade. We just go get them each day from their apartment in Grand Junction and bring them over. That way they can still take their naps and be back in time to sleep in their own beds. It works and I am so thankful. Sometimes the family dynamic gets me stressed after a few days. You know, it is mostly the women. We all want to be in charge. Now, you and I know who is really in charge. Ha! Not the case. It is a battle sometimes. As we all age though I have grown to ignore more of the stuff that really doesn’t matter and just enjoy being together. The kids have a blast and there is no boredom! We eat for 3 days straight. There is always a puzzle going. I take the kids to the hot tub. Sometimes we go look around at some of the other wineries. Palisade feels very Mayberry to me. I have always liked it there. It is quiet and still.
There will be stories. I can’t wait for more stories. I’m hoping one of the kids can get my dad to sing “Cockles and Mussels.” Pray on that one for me, would ya?