Thursday, March 31, 2011

Creepy Images

I know this seems a little disrespectful, and I don't mean it to be, but in the scanning and renaming of the photos this weekend, I started to become a little more descriptive in the filenames so it would be easier for me to find them when I create my book later this year. It's easy when they are photos of events or places, but what about multiple images of people, or photos that really speak to you: good or bad. I didn't realize it when I was naming them, but when I sorted through them the other night, there were two photos where I used the word "creepy" in the filename. One is of my dad, named "". Was I unjustified?

I mean it's an okay picture of my father, Ed, in high school, probably in 1945 or 46. It actually exists in black and white, and with much better results. I'm not sure who thought it would be a good idea to paint it in such pastel colors, but I personally think it's a little creepy. Like the tie though.

My parents actually went to the same high school in Detroit, Redford High. Dad was two years older than my mom and didn't know she existed. She knew who he was, but was busy with other activities and friends so they never met in high school. Short story is, my dad entered the Marines under the GI Bill (at that time, it required only a 2-year commitment and was ultimately discontinued since it took the Marines longer to train the men than they would would actually serve). So both my parents entered as freshman together at Univ. of Michigan and graduated in 1952. More about that later.

My mom's creepy photo is also a photo in high school, but this time it's a group photo. I'm not sure if this was a religious group, a debate club, or possibly detention. But they don't look very happy. At all. And it looks like they are being forced to hold hands. Now would we ask that of teenagers today, and if so, would they ever do it? I don't think so. Her photo is simply called "". Again, I think it speaks for itself. My mom, Nancy, is in the front row, third from the right, sitting between Jeffrey Dahmer and Roseanne Rosannadanna.

Feel free to click on any of these photos to make them much bigger. I've scanned them hi-res so they will enlarge quite nicely.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March Madness

So, it's almost April, and it's still 30 degrees outside – 20s with the wind chill. I'm done with Winter. It's officially Spring, so is it global warming that is giving us unseasonably cool weather? At least it's been sunny and there's a promise of warmer weather. Verizon came yesterday to install a tv outlet in my sunroom. I carried the flatscreen from the den to the sunroom and enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the entertainment on tv for several hours. As dusk arrived, I brought out the space heater from the den and the down throw. By evening, I was packing up the tv and moving back to the den. Maybe I should take bets as to when I'll be able to migrate there full-time.

As I'm gathering and scanning all the old family photos I'll post some of my favorite here as a snapshot of family life in the 1960's. Here is a picture of my older brother Bill and me "playing" together with his Hook & Ladder fire truck. Tell me, do either of us look happy? I'll bet he's thinking "You're kidding, you want me to pull this fat turd around the driveway? Are you nuts?" I look a little confused too. Am I being asked to stand still for the camera or am I waiting for my brother to take off and dump me on the ground? Maybe I'm just grateful of the possibility of a free ride. And check out our shoes!

My early years took place in Darien, Connecticut, on Miles Road. It was a tree-lined horseshoe street filled with young couples and lots and lots of kids. Back in the 60's, all ages of kids ran around unsupervised, for the most part. Especially on this street where there was minimal traffic. We would set up four-square games with colored chalk, and ride our bikes up and down driveways with abandon. There was another, similar, horseshoe street nearby called Walmsley Road. Same demographics. Though it might have been more of a boy-thing, there was a rivalry between the two streets. The two streets would play baseball games pitting one street against the other: Miles vs. Walmsley.

Here's a picture of my brother Bob with, I think, the Miles Road gang. A slightly different use of the word gang than in today's society. My brother Bob is the shortest on in the bunch (I think he's the youngest too, from what I can tell here). I have very warm memories of Miles Road. Maybe it was the simplicity of childhood that I remember most. We moved when I was almost ten to Ohio. More about that later...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Antiques and Artifacts

We're clearing out my parent's house. Slowly. In fact, I'm the only sibling who has been out to the house clearing out items. With the help of good friends, who have held my hand through the review and purging of mom's clothes and personal items, I have been the one to take charge and move forward on these necessary, but unpleasant tasks. I have been going to the Vineyard every month since my mom's death, just to be close to her things, to feel her aura, and embrace the sadness head-on. But as Summer turned to Fall and Winter, it got increasingly sad to visit with no plan or purpose. Why was I coming? With no TV or internet to entertain me, and no friends on the island, why was I going there? It wasn't exactly convenient.

I knew that we wanted to try and sell the house, or rent it in the Spring, and I knew I'd rather go through some of this stuff with friends rather than with my two brothers. How sad would that be? So in January, I decided to get on board and take control. It worked out fine because I offered my friends a few things that would have ended up in the thrift shop. I know my mom would have preferred they have her things. And as I mentioned before, I have already brought a few too many of her things back to my house. Now if I could only get my friends to come over and help sort out MY house, things would be perfect...

Looking through the house, there are a few antiques, a few collectibles, and lots of "stuff". How do you put a value on an item you don't plan on selling? I'm addicted to Antiques Roadshow, Cash & Cari, American Pickers, and sometimes even Pawn Stars. I know we don't have collections that would make anyone jealous, and I'm hoping we don't decide to appraise any of the items as that seems like a waste of money. How do you put a price on memories?

There's a bookcase at the top of the stairs and it's filled with books that might be 100 years old by now. It was my Grandfather Ericke's glass cabinet that he bought and filled with books. He couldn't afford to go to college in 1910 so he decided he would read the classics and teach himself what he thought he would learn in school. My grandfather was a sweetheart, and he used to move with us when my dad would be transferred to another city or state. He grew up in Chicago. He often told the story about how he had arrived at a club in Chicago ten minutes after Al Capone had "shot it up." I loved that story.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The First Day of Spring and it's Snowing!

For once, I am happy that my office is windowless. I don't think I could stand to watch it snow again. Just when the white piles around my house began to disappear we get another visit from the snow god. Three inches expected at home, and a wonderous journey in the car to get there, I'm sure. I just have to remember to make a bathroom visit before I leave the office. Welcome Spring!

So today is Monday and the housecleaners came today. At least I think they did. They are like little elves that come and clean my house twice a month while I am at work. And what, you might ask, did I do on Sunday before this magical visit? I spent the day cleaning, of course. How cliché! I remember the first day they came to clean and give me a quote. She carefully pointed to overflowing table tops and cluttered corners covered with everything from magazines, mail, clothes, coins, cat toys, books, and exclaimed "with something like that, we would just leave it, we wouldn't clean it." Oh, of course, I said, a little embarrassed, I would straighten that up before they came next time. Of course. It was cleaned for that visit but slowly each week, more and more stuff appeared in these high-traffic spots.

With two cats, a bunny, a self-described "casual" housekeeper (me), and a small-ish house, it has become even more of a challenge to keep clean as I continue to bring back items from my parents house that I don't want to give up. Despite the fact that my mother was petite and I'm plus-sized, I couldn't give up certain pieces of clothing. Not expensive items, but ones she wore a lot or I have photos of her wearing them, or clothes in certain colors that matched her eyes. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them and I will probably part with them someday, but not now. The guestroom, mom's room when she came to visit, is the repository for anything that doesn't have a home. That room is off limits to anyone really, except for Jake, my tomcat, who likes the new rug I bought and is determined to shred it to death. I've strategically placed boxes and bags on top of the carpet to discourage him. Sounds like a long-term plan for messiness doesn't it?

My cousins posted the memorial information for my aunt on Facebook. I guess they're going to a moose lodge and eating dinner. No church. My parents also didn't want a service; at least my mother didn't want a service for my dad. Just the family at the grave. So when she died, even my brothers asked me what we should do. Are you kidding? If she didn't want a service for dad, why would she want one for herself? I guess it's nice that we don't have to be pressured into giving eulogies if we don't want to, but it seems so casual as to be forgotten. Not that I would forget either visit by the grave. I planted some bulbs last Fall around their headstone, so I'm anxious to see it in a couple of weeks to see if anything survived. It doesn't look like there have been diggers there (no pun intended) so I'm hopeful.

Last night I did look over a calendar/diary that my mom kept when she was in college. Her sophomore and junior years, Univ of Michigan handed out these great duo-tone spiral calendars, with photos on the left and on the right, spaces to write: morning, noon, and night. My mother kept this as her social calendar by the looks of it. She was a pretty popular woman in those days, though that doesn't surprise me. I mean, look at her!

She dated quite a few different men in her sophomore year, everything from "Coke with xxx" dates to movies to fraternity dances. On a single week it was not unusual to have several of these dates with four different men. In her junior year, I first saw my dad's name pop up. Their first date. Then several weekly dates, then multiple dates and then only dates with Ed were on the calendar. And finally – meeting Ed's family. Then, an entry all alone on the weeks calendar "Date with Ed - broke up." Turn the page, the following week said only "Date with Ed - broke up again." But he continues to be penciled in the following week, and the week after, and the week after that. Some weeks other men were also penciled in around "Ed". But I guess it all worked out in the end.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Death and Dying

Ok, not a title that you would look at and say, wow, I really want to read that. I know, morbid. Especially when the weather is amazing today. After such a long, cold, wet winter, we finally have a sunny day in the high 60s, which in New England, is unusual for March.

But today is the second anniversary of my father's death. A death that did not take us by surprise, but nonetheless was very painful. The first of my parents to die. The first living will. The first DNR. The first nursing home. The first loss...for me. It's hard to say how that death changed my life, but it did. Dementia is a cruel partner, one that is constantly taking and never giving. Occasionally dad would do something that would be pretty funny to my mom and me. We didn't laugh at him, but it was the only way we could deal with the slow loss of a loved one, one who didn't know he was sick. It's the opposite of Alzheimer's in that way. People with Alzheimer's know they're sick and that must be frightening. My dad didn't know he was sick and wondered why we were acting strange, questioning him, or preventing him from doing things he used to do. Some of the toughest memories for me are when he would look at me when he forgot a word, hoping I would find that lost the doctor's office, in the restaurant, at home. He was a very smart man and it was painful to watch the look in his eyes asking me for help. Of all people.

Yesterday, my Aunt Marion passed away. She was my father's only sister, younger by about two years. She was 80 years old, as was my dad, when she died. I am not very close to my cousins but she was the closest relative I had of that generation. She was a sweet woman, but a tortured soul in later years, because her health issues kept her bedridden for several years. Imagine not being able to sit up or walk for years. As her health failed, she was at home in a hospital bed, with her children at her side. Yes, that is comforting (something I'll never have, since I never married or had children), but nonetheless, not easy for anyone. Better than a hospital or nursing home for sure, but still.... I am reliving the pain my cousins are going through now. Not from the loss of my father, but of my mother just last Summer.

My mom was my best friend. She died quickly, less than two months after her diagnosis of bladder cancer. I think this should have been caught by the doctors if they had thoroughly done their job, but thinking like that won't make me feel any better or bring her back, so I've been told not to dwell. She was the one in the hospital bed at home, her family, us, me, watching her die. Her beautiful green eyes still smiling at me, at all of us, until she couldn't open them anymore. She had such a beautiful face and a kind soul. She was a caring and thoughtful person and she touched so many lives. I know people say that about everyone, but in her case it was true. She is terribly missed by so many, and though I'm not religious, I do hope she's with my dad and her parents and everyone she's missed all these years, especially her mother.

A week before my mom died, another uncle died; my father's younger brother by 11 years. What a shock that was. ALS they say. Another quick decline. So in the course of exactly two years, the entire Ambrose family of that generation disappeared. Like there was an expiration date or something. Mom's only brother died a few years ago, and so no direct blood relatives are left. The sobering part about that is that I, we, my brothers and I, become the next to die. And of what? ALS? Cancer? Dementia? What an uplifting post this has become right? Can you see why I'm on medication?

To end on a happy note, for the benefit of anyone who thinks I'm seriously depressed and are worried about me...don't! I'm fine. I have a lot of friends, family, and therapists surrounding me. If we all do our job, I'll come around sometime in 2012. Until then, I am looking forward to the delivery of my iPad2, which temporarily answers my question "what's the point of all this"?  Apps, of course.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Benefits of Blogging

I know of two people who just started blogs in the last month and they both feel a sense of gratification from being able to post anything they want to the site, regardless of who is actually reading it. So, I thought to myself, I could use a little of that. Why leave my sense of being purely to medication? This won't be a tell-all about my life or my feelings, but more of a chance to post stories and research on my family's history. I know, boring you say, if you're not part of the family. But trust me, there are some pretty interesting stories to tell. Most of it is ancient history of course. And like Twain, I'll arrange to have the most damaging musings published 100 years after my death. Enjoy my blog if you've stumbled on it accidentally. I'm the pudgy one in the middle.