please don’t bury me

 

Heroes album cover
Image via Wikipedia

My big brother Bruce died from a brain aneurysm on February 12, 2008.

 

His actual date of death is February 13 because he was kept alive to harvest his organs. When I was little, Bruce turned me on to a funny little song called “Please Don’t Bury Me” by John Prine. It’s about a man who, like my brother, woke up and died in the morning. In the song, the man’s only wish was for someone to  “cut me up” and pass around.

After all, what use is a man in the ground when someone can use his parts? He donated his corneas which lends truth to Prine’s line, “the blind can have my eye.” His donated his kidney to a 26-year-old man who waited 13 years since he was 13 years old (making Bruce’s actual date of death of February 13 even more fitting). Bruce passed around more parts helping dozens of people.

More lyrics fit Bruce so well such as “Give my stomach to Milwaukee if they run out of beer.” They buried him next to our granddaddy in Kentucky which fulfills the line, “Send my mouth way down south.” And the very last line would send Bruce into a fit of infectious giggles: “Kiss my ass goodbye.”

Bruce shares his date of death with the great outlaw country artist, Waylon Jennings, who passed on February 13, 2002. Jennings sang a line in the song “Highwayman” which will always lend me comfort in my brother’s passing: They buried me in that great tomb that knows no sound But I am still around. I’ll always be around..and around and around and around and around. Rest in peace, Boo-Boo.

 

 

 

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october 28, 1989

20 years ago I met my husband the first time. I was studying for college mid-terms on a Saturday night before Halloween (yeah, I partied HARD back then). I needed a break, so I headed down to the Brat Stop on I-94 in Kenosha, WI for some ice cream.

The Brat Stop was a one-stop shop for cheese curds and beer and if you were in a dancing mood, you could enjoy live music in the bar. 

I skimmed the shelves and to my surprise, no ice cream. How could a place that boasted of dairy products not have ice cream? Majorly bummed, I walked into the bar and ran into a friend who waitressed there. She told me to stay for the Halloween party. I wore no costume except for a cut off tie-dyed Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and those awful tapered pants that could make the skinniest girl look like she carried a hot air balloon for a butt.

 

The usual costumes walked by – a guy dressed as a devil, a woman dressed like a zebra, etc. Then I saw two men walk in. One guy was normal except he held a small alien that smoked and held a beer. The other was a dude in Beetlejuice clothing with baby powder in his hair.

 

They stood next to me and I said hello. The guy dressed like the devil passed by. Beetlejuice said, “That guy can go to HELL.” I laughed and he said, “Hey! Let’s dance. Later.” Then he walked away. I didn’t know if he meant that we should dance later or if that was his way of saying goodbye.

 

He came back and escorted me to the dance floor. The first song the band played was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” I remember almost slipping on the baby powder falling from his hair. Instead of enjoying a nice quiet introduction, we yelled each other’s names. It went like this: 

The Band: “Yeah YOU! Shook me ALL NIGHT LONG.”

Me: “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?!?”
Him: “TIM!”
Me: “JIM?” I panicked because I broke up with a fiance of the same name.
Him: “NO! TIM! WHAT’S YOUR NAME?
Me: “TERRI!”
Him: “CARRIE?”
Me: “NO! TERRI!”
The Band: “And that was ‘You Shook Me ALL Night Long!’ And now here’s a little country song called ‘Rocky Top Tennessee'”.
Him: NO WAY! 

And we raced off the floor. The rest is Great Pumpkin history.

 

radio ga-ga

 

You know one thing my daughters will never experience? Waiting for a song on the radio. When I was 8 years old, I listened to Chicago‘s WLS-AM back when AM radio played top 40 songs. During the summer my friends and I played the radio and screamed when Shaun Cassidy sang.

 

We pictured him with his shirt open to his navel waving his tight-panted butt at the mic. Though at that time we didn’t realize how incredibly gay that looked.

There we sat in our bathing suits from swimming in an above-ground unheated pool, eating bologna sandwiches sitting on a shag carpet and as soon as the DJ Larry Lujack announced “Da Doo Run Run,” we jumped up on the bed and screamed. Then my mom rushed in thinking we just broke our arms.

We also held our tape recorders up to the radio if we ever wanted to hear songs again. Now stuff is just downloaded to an iPod. Where’s the fun in that?

Maybe I sound like a grumpy old man. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of “back in my day” stories for them the moment they complain about their dead iPod battery or if the Internet is down. And those stories will probably include walking uphill both ways in the snow.

I think I’ll just wax nostalgia and listen to Queen’s “Radio Ga-Ga.” On my iPod, of course.

 

 

delicious ambiguity: gilda radner

2399165937_686eb91e13_oOne thing I’ve learned from Gilda Radner‘s SNL character, Roseanne Rosannadanna, that no matter what, it’s always something. No matter what mood I’m in – elative, cranky, or just plain indifferent, there’s always something that will help me land my helicopter and keep me grounded.

Gilda died on May 20, 1989. That day, I just broke up with my fiance a term I used lightly since he was never serious about getting married. May 20 was the date I fantasized a wedding since it was 2 years to the day we met.

Alas, it didn’t work out thankfully and instead of sipping champagne and dancing to a bad eighties DJ in a reception hall, I sat home alone intent on watching Saturday Night Live, a fate I was more than happy with. Steve Martin hosted so I was ready for a good laugh camped out in my parent’s basement, sinking into the couch with a bag of microwave popcorn.

Instead of the usual goofy jovial monologue, he broke down reminiscing of Gilda. They played a clip of them dancing together from 1978. She wore a white dress and red sash. Following that show I rented everything she was in from the neighborhood video store and studied her broadway show. I also bought her book It’s Always Something about the illness that took her, ovarian cancer.

I learned that back then there were hardly any tests to detect it early so she became a martyr for this cancer so hopefully other women will not suffer the same fate. She also suffered from horrible self-esteem and bulimia. She blamed herself for giving herself cancer trying to recall what she did to give herself this fate. It’s always something women do unfortunately, thinking that if we go through a rough time we obviously did something to deserve it.

And that was not her case, nor is it rarely ever the case with the rest of us. Since then she’s been like an angel floating around, always there when you call upon her with her tap shoes. She’s bathed in white, a red sash tied around her waist, ready to snap us out of whatever crabby mood we’re in. She reminds us that no matter what, it’s always something so you might as well just make allowances and forgive yourself and others.

 

 

purple nyquil haze part 2

erma bombeck“Dear, it’s not necessary to do that every time you call my name. Mr. Thompson, I heard what you said.”

“What? I just said Saint Erma, that’s what you are, right?”

“Yes, but I don’t like your tone. Now off you go, don’t you have a decrepit hotel room with a shrine of Debbie Reynolds to get to?”

“Oh yeah, any word yet?”

“Nope.”

And Hunter vanishes. I turn to Erma, as usual, for advice. “Saint Erma, my older daughter is upset. A boy at school called her a clueless dumb blond. What do I say?”

“Tell her that she is not a dumb blond. She is a blond savant. And she’s not clueless, just blissfully ignorant.”

“Ohhhhhkay.”

“Maybe not. Just tell her boys are stupid and hide your husband’s Just For Men.”

“Good idea.”

And in a flash she’s gone to sit at the right hand of God. I turn around and Elvis entertains my youngest daughter. He’s singing “That’s All Right Mama.” Like me she can see all these people who invade our home each day. But she doesn’t let me in on it. She thinks it’s normal.

I pack my other daughter’s sandwich away, checking it for any bite marks that the King might have left. I hand out kisses to her and my husband as they go off to school and work. I sit down at the kitchen table to the strains of a powdered-wig Mozart playing his harpsichord.

“You know, Wolfie,” I say, “You’ve got to do something about this hair powder. I can’t vacuüm it up.”

“So sorry, m’lady. Won’t wear it next time.”

“You, sir, are a dear, no matter what Salieri says.”

The alarm clock rings. I can’t find the snooze button so I unplug the clock from the wall. I crawl back under the covers hoping to continue my conversation with Mozart but undoubtedly I’ll dream of missing classes at school in my underwear.

resistance is futile: turning into my parents

My parents celebrated their fifty-third anniversary last summer. They married after knowing each other only 10 days in Tupelo, Mississippi.

 

Mom was a waitress in Murray, Kentucky when she waited on my dad in 1956. Ten days later, my mother wore a blue print dress much like the one Sissy Spacek wore in her wedding scene in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

Reflecting on how long my parents stuck together, I discover how much I’m like them. After all, resistance is futile as the Borg says.  

Here are signs I’ve morphed a little into my mom:

 

*I limp softly and carry a big purse. My mom had knee surgeries, I had back surgeries, so we limp and lean on shopping carts. I also donated all my little purses to my daughters’ dress-up trunk in favor of a huge purse so I can carry – get this – yarn and crochet hooks.

 

*I sneeze loudly. I jumped out of my pants each time my mom sneezed when I was little. Now when I sneeze, my girls yell, “BLESS YOU!”

 

*When I need a stress release, I indulge in retail therapy at Wal-Mart. Maybe it’s the bright lights and brand new yellow asterisks. Plus I never have to dress up to go there. When I look around, everyone else has a “come as you are” look too. There are more pajamas on Wal-Mart shoppers than a pre-teen slumber party.

 

*I confuse my family members’ names. I call my husband Honey, which sometimes comes out Holly. When I call Holly, I say April, and poor April gets the dog Fluffy.

 

And here are signs I’ve morphed a little into my dad:

 

*I look forward to a nap every day. You’d think my favorite time of the day would be reading, journaling, drawing or yarn work, but nope, it’s that bit of snooze time.

 

*While relaxing, I refuse to sit in nothing but my favorite easy chair, even though it’s old and torn (like Frasier‘s dad’s chair).

 

*I listen to blue grass music. I may not have been born a hick, but it’s in my blood.

 

purple nyquil haze part 1

2506166893_943a256b76_bI wake up at 2 a.m. with razor blades in my throat. The cold my older daughter had two days ago invaded me and I hear a faint strum of a guitar. I walk downstairs and there’s Harry Chapin singing his magnum opus:

Cat’s in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon
Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon
When you’re coming home Dad
I don’t know when
But we’ll get together –

CRASH! BOOM! SMASH! His guitar neck in my hand, pieces of it all over the stairs, I glare at him and say, “Sorry.” I hand it back.

“Hey! You copied me!” says John Belushi at the end of the stairs.

“I learn from the best.” I take a shot of NyQuil and go back to bed.

Later that morning, I’m up, still in a purple NyQuil haze, making a peanut butter and banana sandwich for my daughter’s lunch. I set it on the table and a hand with a ring on every finger reaches for it. I slap his wrist.

“I…I…I…I’m sorry ma’am. It’s just that I don’t get too many peanut butter and banana sandwiches in heaven.”

“That’s okay, Elvis. But it’s for my daughter’s lunch.”

“I understand, Ma’am.”

“Elvis, you know I love you honey. And you know I don’t mind you calling me ma’am. In fact, the only time I like ma’am is if it’s attached to a Southern accent, which you undoubtedly have. But you need to find yourself a good chef up there.”

“None of them know how to cook hillbilly.”

“Yeah, that could be a problem. Tell ya what. I’ll put in a good word to my grandma, I heard she was a fantastic chef.”

“She know how to cook collard greens?”

“You bet!”

“Later, Tater.”

I turn on the radio and as usual, the procession begins. Robert Palmer and his women with slicked back hair, white faces and red lipstick set up their instruments, not that they know how to play them anyways. He starts singing,

The lights are on and you’re not home
Your will is not your own.

“Mr. Palmer! You know I got a bad case of loving you but your music is not conducive to a preschooler’s learning environment. She needs to concentrate.”

He’s dejected, but I’ve told him so many times before. Only Mozart in the morning. He’s more than welcome in the afternoon when I’m doing dishes. Wolfgang rolls in his harpsichord leaving talcum powder prints from his wig on the floor. He sits down and wails out “Rondo Alla Turca“.

I turn to put dishes in my sink and Hunter Thompson is rummaging through my medicine cabinet next to the fridge. “Hunter, you know I kicked Vicodin a long time ago.”

“Yeah, just thought you might have a few left.”

“Ha! You know that’s not possible! Besides you won’t find anything stronger than cold medicine.”

“What about this?”

“That’s for my under-active thyroid.”

“And THIS?”

“High blood pressure. Now off you go.”

Hunter shuts the cabinet door. “Whatever happened to housewives and their ‘secret’ medications?”

“Number one, we’re called stay at-home moms. Number two, thanks to Saint Erma, we don’t have to hide the fact that our jobs are sometimes crappy.”

“Oh yeah, Saint Erma.”

Just then a choir of angels sing, and Erma Bombeck appears with a glowing aura of light. I have no choice but to genuflect.

to be continued…