What Are You Wearing?

Juju walked casually with a group of her fellow “band geeks” to the cafeteria one rainy Spring day in 1975.  The group of 7th graders walked together and in fashion; t-shirts, patched blue jeans, chukka boots or sneakers, evidently the uniform of the time.  Juju playfully ribbed a girl named Gayle about her lunch box and the girl turned and pushed her.

Juju’s return, non-aggressive, shove was met instantly with a man grabbing Juju from behind and around the neck.  The kids called the hold a “snot lock.”  Juju felt pain and a jerk of her neck as the shop teacher yelled in her ear, “You little shit, boys don’t hit or shove girls, got it??!!”  Gayle yelled, “Juju is a girl!!”

With that the shop teacher, missing his left index finger, relinquished the snot lock on Juju, as she turned and glared at him.  “You all get yourselves to class!” was all he said.  No apology was heard as the woodwind section trotted off to Mr. Nettles in the band hall.  Juju’s face was red, a result of the hold and her embarrassment.

Juju had left her house that morning in the safe confines of her father’s  car.  He was retired and enjoyed driving his seventh child to seventh grade, even though it was only about a mile and a half away through the middle-class suburb.  Juju’s father loved his Cadillac Fleetwood and would rest his left arm out the open window, holding his unfiltered Camel cigarette.  He never said a word about Juju’s appearance, even that day when she was sporting a Roger Staubach football jersey, faded blue jeans, and white Chuck Taylor high tops.  Even after retirement, Juju’s dad often got up and dressed in his starched, linen chef’s shirt.  Juju wondered if her dad missed cooking for hundreds of people, he often seemed sad.

Seventh grade was the hardest year for Juju in her academic adventure.  Puberty and snot locks were not making Hurst Jr. High all that fun.  The next year would bring organized athletics for girls, but in 1975 Juju found herself in a band hall, holding an oboe she would never be proficient in.  This will get better she thought, but when?

Juju had a 1970s “shag” haircut in 6th grade and that had helped her from rude people calling her a boy.  The summer before 7th grade though, Juju’s mother had encouraged her to get a shorter style and that seemed to exasperate the problem.  Juju looked in the mirror hanging over her bedroom dresser.  Do they really think I am a boy she wondered or do they know my secret?  Juju had become 100% sure that year that she was indeed different.  A childhood of unusual thoughts had become pretty clear in her 13th year on earth.  Juju looked at the poster of Starksy and Hutch on her wall and back to the mirror.  She didn’t think she looked like a dude.  What are they seeing that I do not, she thought?

Juju was seated in algebra the next day when an envelope was handed to her by one of the office ladies.  “Welcome.  Please accept this invitation to the National Junior Honor Society.  The swearing in will be held this Saturday at 7pm with a reception to follow in the school cafeteria.”  Juju was getting a drink from a water fountain after class when a hand was felt on the back of her head.  Her head was pushed into the water stream, as she quickly released the button.  “Ha, you queer!!  You like that?”  That was the last time Juju ever used the water fountain until 1978.  Which was okay, it cut out all problems going to the girls’ restroom.

Saturday evening came and there were Juju’s parents, seated in the second row. Juju was wearing a dress her mother had made her wear, finding it wadded up in the back of her closet. Who knew her mother could iron it back to perfection in less than 10 minutes? It had been purchased for a relative’s funeral the year before and banished by Juju upon returning home. Uncomfortable in the flower print, she ambled up to Mr. Arnold, the school principal, and gladly accepted her certificate and honor society “gold-plated” pin. As she turned and walked back to her seat, she noticed the big smiles of Jim and Jewel, her parents. She hadn’t told them about the shop teacher or the fact that she spent her days thirsty. Juju knew she was smart, and that fact seemed to bring happiness to her parents. Let’s just leave it at that she thought. I will be the smart one…the one that stays out of trouble and reports none. Some day people will stop thinking I am a boy, or calling me that just because they mean something else and want to hurt me.

1976 brought 8th grade and the death of Juju’s father. Funny how when you are sad about things you don’t think it will ever go away…until something bigger and sadder happens. Grief brings focus for sure. Time passed and things got better. Juju learned to surround herself with people that liked her no matter what shirt she was wearing, or what her hairstyle happened to be. Some of her new friends were even “sporty” girls like Juju. She sat in the bleachers one day and watched the cheerleaders practice their routine on the gym floor. She was waiting for them to clear out so volleyball practice could begin. Juju noticed that even though the cheerleaders were not wearing their red and white uniforms, they all still dressed very much alike, down to the same hair ribbons keeping their pony-tails in place. We all leave the house in a uniform Juju thought, whether it was her Dallas Cowboy jersey, her dad’s chef shirt, or the cheerleaders and their halter tops. How we present ourselves is a big part of who we are on the inside.

After that day, Juju wore what she wanted and cut her hair as short as she desired. She was who she was and there was no changing it. Juju knew she was different and sometimes people would stare or comment. Their intention might be one of mistake or pure ugliness, it would not matter. Juju was going to wear her uniform with ease and self-confidence…and with that “gold-plated” pin. Thanks for the smiles Jewel and Jim.

A Change is Gonna Come

Change is good.  Change is heartbreaking.  Change is life.  The summer of 2014 and now the Fall of 2014 have been all about change for me.  I have shed tears on many days, and on others have been deliriously happy.  I have apologized for my transgressions, I have accepted the responsibility of change.

A weird thing happened.  I lost my medical insurance because my marital status changed this summer.  For a few weeks, while I was shopping for new coverage…I was without.  I finally decided on a plan with Cigna and it kicked in on October 2nd.  On October 3rd, I awoke to a medical issue that necessitated that I immediately go to the doctor.  I am intentionally being vague here because, even though I tend to spill my guts onto this blog, my personal health is still something that I will keep private.    Anyway, …the very next morning, my life could have significantly changed…and I had coverage.  (Thank you Obamacare)

So, I am scheduling surgery to correct the medical problem, it is not life-threatening.  October is breast cancer awareness month, so I also got a mammogram this morning and a colonoscopy is in my near future too.  This is definitely a change for me, as in the past, I have been very adverse to doctor’s offices.  After “The Change”  occurred with me about 4 years ago, other changes have happened to my middle-aged body that now require maintenance.  Getting older sucks, …the alternative really sucks.

I urge my readers to set up and go get a mammogram this month.  If I can do it, you can do it.  My large breasts got smashed down to the size of a iHop flap-jack this morning and it didn’t hurt, it was merely “uncomfortable” for a few minutes.  “The Girls” survived and are resting now with me at my office.

Change happens throughout our lives, I think when women hit the mid-section, the changes are kind of amplified.  It’s okay, take a deep breath and forge ahead.  A high school friend died of cancer last week, I will take all these damn tests with a very thankful smile on my face.  A change is gonna come.

I am not a perfect person.  This year, at times, I have been inconsiderate, hurtful,  and dishonorable.  I am truly sorry for the change that brought.  If you like me because of this blog, you might not like me if you knew all about my actions.  Maybe some of my recent bad health is some type of cosmic karma.  I probably deserve every bit of pain that comes my way.

I am getting my house in order.  I am attacking my health issues and working my way back to good health.  My gynecologist told me I was above the weight for my height this week, on his chart.  “No shit, I asked?  No doctor has ever told me that before!!”  Turns out I am just short for my weight.  Instead of 5’11” I should be 7’0…who knew??

A change is gonna come, I feel it.  By Spring, more changes will come my way….I will embrace them.  Change can bring you to your knees with sadness.  Change can dizzy you and rock you to your core.  But sometimes unexpected change, change you never saw coming, can bring you happiness and joy at a level you never envisioned.  Whether you were forced to change, or you do it voluntarily….I wish you love and happiness.  Always.

Oh there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Standing Ready

The round-house punch came from the left and hit me squarely in the left eye.  My head wobbled back and forth, think Wiley E. Coyote when he gets hit with a frying pan, then his head snaps back to original form.  Only I wasn’t in a cartoon.  I was wedged in a druggie’s bedroom between his bed and a dresser.  A 17-yr-old was tripping out and his parents had called 911, unable to contain his violence.

Me and my back-up and good friend, Dave, had arrived at the house about the same time and approached the front door.  The kid’s father was totally frustrated and alarmed.  “My son is high on something and very violent, he has locked himself in his room.”  An ambulance was called and the goal was to get the kid on a gurney and to the hospital to be checked out.  Neither parent said they had been harmed, so arrest for assault/family violence, was not considered.

I got permission from the Dad to “open” the bedroom door and Dave did so with one good kick.  I entered the bedroom first and quickly scanned for weapons within the kid’s reach.  He stood there and spewed obscenities as I scooted sideways between the bed and dresser…wanting to get my hands on him.  Dave was right behind me as we moved to get control of this potentially dangerous situation.

I inched closer to the kid as he was screaming a diatribe fueled by dope.  I was about to latch onto him when the punch hit me.  Feeling pain, anger, and embarrassment all at the same time….I wobbled.  Being wedged as tight as I was…I did not go down for the count.  He was a good sized teenager and the punch came with a great amount of force and adrenalin.

Dave lunged for the kid as I grabbed him with both hands and we threw him backwards onto his bed.  The fight was on for a couple of moments, with both his parents watching from the doorway to the bedroom.  We drug him out to the front porch of the house.  I had one handful of hair and with the other I grabbed him by the belt of his jeans.  We secured him on the gurney and off he went to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

I could have charged him with aggravated assault on a peace officer, but I did not.  The parents thanked us for our help and off we went to the next call in our district.  Dave laughed at me after he saw I was okay.  Hell, he laughs about this till this day when we start talking old “war stories.”

A very small and somewhat routine call got me punched, it could have gotten us killed.  You never know what you are walking into when you answer a call for service as a cop.  The kid could have pulled a gun and the story would have ended quite differently.  He was out of is mind…we were careful, it still happened.  The kid needed to go to the hospital and we had a job to do.  We did what his own parents could not do.

Why do I blog about this today?  Well, because I had a bad experience with a police detective recently.  I found myself cursing my local police department and generalizing all of them as cowards and idiots because of this one guy.  We get caught up in generalizing people, groups of people…cops especially when we see news stories like Ferguson, Missouri.

I post this today to remind myself and my readers that there are thousands of good cops out there.  They are on the front line, doing the grunt work, much like my call to help the druggie’s parents. They do the job everyday, mostly without complaint.  It is a thankless job and it is done for low pay and with terrible hours.

Every call to 911 is a cry for help.  The caller never says, “Hey, send over that asshole that gave me the speeding ticket the other day!”  No, they say, “My son is out of control!!  I need help now! Please!!”

Pause and be thankful a complete stranger stands ready to take a punch for you today.

I’m Letting it Go

So, October is fast approaching and with it will inevitably come the 29th. That day will be the 93rd anniversary of my mother, Jewel’s, birth.  On the 30th, I will probably feel somewhat better.  You see, my mother died on October 1, 2004…she was 82.   I think she got screwed over; her mother and her mother’s mother lived to be 93.  I know that sounds weird, but Jewel would agree with me.  We always counted on her living till 93.  The fates didn’t allow it and I have been angry for 10 years.  I am vowing right here and now to let it go on October 29th.  You might argue that Jewel would not have wanted the anger and sadness to be in me for 10 years…and that would prove you didn’t know Jewel.  She would be kind of happy I have been tormented and pissed on her behalf.  Okay Jewel…I carried the anger for you, but I enveloped it in a cloud of love.  I am letting it go this next month.  It will take its leave and what remains will be pure love, wrapped warmly for years in our genetic code that yields seething temperament, but pure love.

The truth is that most Americans don’t live to the age of 93. Jewel would love that I carried the torch for her, but would have been the first to point out that thousands of her peers never made it out of the war theatres in the Pacific and Europe alive. Never making it out of their twenties, let alone living to comb grey hair. “The Greatest Generation” had a bunch of self-indulged people we call the Baby Boomers. I don’t think we are dealing with our parents’ deaths too well. I am not a 52 year-old orphan, I am a middle-aged woman whose parents are dead.

I have been going through a life-changing event the last several months. I was accused of being a different person since Jewel died. The accuser meant that I had changed to my detriment, I would have to agree. Just as births change the patterns of our lives, death leaves its carbon print all over our psyche. I have toughed it out…I have made it, probably in error, without the help of drugs or counseling. I cannot believe I am typing these words, but I choose to be happy.  I vow to work on it with the same due diligence I gave to the resentment these past years. If you see me you might not see it on my face, as I have a frown wrinkle between my eyes, of which Jewel once remarked, “That big crease makes you look bitchier to people.”

So this is it Jewel. I’m letting it go. I am releasing myself of the anger. It is exiting the weathered door with its collaborator, grief. I would have loved to have had you in my life for another decade, for sure. But you had me at the age of 40 and that ensured that your exit would leave me with years of my life without you. It’s okay. You did a good job and I thank you. Can I tell you though that I am mildly irritated that my target year is now 82? Well, hell.

Aside

Juju was actually proud at the moment she puked the three Pink Things into the Six Flags trash can.  She had just successfully completed her first ride on the Mine Train Roller Coaster.  A tall kid, she could have accomplished the feat the summer before, but had balked just as she reached the point of no return on the long ride’s line.  She had turned on her heels that day and ran as fast as she could to the Log Ride.  Hearing the mocking laugh of her sister Junene in the background did not bother her at all, another day she had thought.

Little did Juju know, her time would come on a July day in the summer of 1970.  Juju’s mother and sister had somehow convinced her in the darkness of that night that they were waiting online for the “Mini Mine Train.”  The Mini Mine Train was the sedate little sister to the scary and unyielding regular version.  The comparison of the amusement rides and the personalities of the two sisters would one day ring true to Juju’s adult memory.  On this day however, Juju took her place in the seat next to her mother and the cross safety bar clanged to a locked position.  As the train moved forward, out of the station, Juju looked overhead and read the sign as she flew underneath it…..what did that say???  Juju looked at her mother with all the disgust, fear, and betrayal an eight year old could muster.  As the train zoomed into it’s first sharp turn, Juju could be heard screaming in the darkness, “YOU TRICKED ME!!!”

At the end of the ride, Juju was giggling and running ahead of her mother and sister…off to find her place in line to try it one more time.  The second run took place about five minutes after the pink spewing….Juju was hooked on the speed and the funny feeling the coaster gave to her stomach.  Six Flags would become a yearly stay-cation, adventure that she would enjoy up into college.

 

The park closed on that long ago night at 11pm. Juju and her mother ended up at the Race Car Track, her personal favorite.CP43
Juju would push the pedal to the floor board and pretend she was Mario Andretti. Her mother, Jewel, always game, would play along with her imagination. Mother and daughter were both laughing so hard that tears were streaming down their faces as they approached the pimply, pit crew. There was 10 minutes left until the park closed. Jewel looked at the vacant line and back to the kid begging them to exit the hot rod. Jewel said, “Kid, I will buy you a Coke if you take your foot off that master brake and let her go around one more time.” One dollar exchanged hands and Juju was once again racing around her imaginary Indy track.
One dollar bought that summer memory, decades later it has become priceless. Juju can still remember the motor vibration on her hands as she gripped that steering wheel. Throwing her head back in laughter, laughing into that long ago night, hoping for one more Pink Thing on the way to the car.

Enjoy your summer.

Thank You Jewel.

My mother was 20 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Jewel had me 20 years later and growing up she liked to regale me with stories of her life and America during “The Great War.”  My mother and my father were members of that group that Tom Brokaw likes to call, “The Greatest Generation.”  It was a different war, I realize that now….it was not Vietnam or Iraq.

When my mother, Jewel, heard the radio reports and listened to FDR tell America, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” she, like millions of other people, knew she would be of service to her country in some capacity.

The term “Rosie the Riveter” was first used in a song in 1942, but soon became part of American culture as millions of women stepped up and took over jobs, not normally held by women, when large numbers of men entered the military branches to fight in the war.  Jewel started working for Tesco Corporation in Tarrant County, Texas and was one of the first women “meter readers” documented in the state.

Image

That wasn’t enough for Jewel though and she soon joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC) and traveled to freezing temperatures in Illinois for basic training. About 150,000 American women eventually served in the WAAC during World War II. Besides nurses, they were the first women allowed in the U.S. Army. My mother drove a supply truck for the duration of her service. I have blogged before that she met my father, a mess Sergeant, making a delivery one day. She would eventually give him seven “deliveries” with me being lucky number seven.

WAAC

I sit in my office today thinking about all this because this Sunday is Mother’s Day. I got up this morning thinking about how I now really hate Mother’s Day and I need to change that around….hence this blog. I need to think about stuff like this and just how damn cool of a mother I had on this earth. I followed Jewel’s lead out of college into a service position, I was a police officer for eight years before going to law school. I like to think that if I was around in 1942, I would have joined the WAAC too. I like to think that Jewel and I had lots of similarities, all the while knowing that we were so completely different human beings.

This Sunday, I will raise a glass to Jewel and think of days gone by. I will silently thank her for service to family, community, and country. I will remember past Mother’s Days when she would be waiting for me and my siblings on her porch swing….knowing I would have some beautiful flowers or a plant for her gift. Who am I kidding? I think and honor her every single day of my life. I don’t need a stinking Hallmark card holiday to do so, do I Jewel? You are in my heart. You are the reason I serve my clients every day to the best of my ability. You are the person I want to be proud of me.

I would give anything to be sitting on that swing with you today Jewel. Sipping on a Fresca and listening to you talk about your garden or the neighbor’s “damn dog.” I miss you desperately.

What I would envision myself doing is giving you a big bear hug of thankfulness. Of course, I cannot do that any longer, so this blog will have to suffice.

Happy Mother’s Day, Jewel, I humbly thank you.

Jewel2

The Answer

It all started back in January when I was watching CBS Sunday Morning and saw a story on Chris Rosati…..this story to be precise.

 

Krispy Kreme Heist <<<click on it

I felt an instant connection and draw to Chris and his insane idea to steal a donut truck and go around town giving out free treats….why? Well, given his same circumstances it is just exactly what I would do. I started thinking that someone in Fort Worth, where I live, should do something equally crazy to honor Chris in his fight against ALS….and I was just that crazy person. So I drafted some amazing friends who gave of their money and time…and we did this.

Donut Giveaway <<click on this

You see Chris Rosati knows the answer. His disease may be terminal, but it doesn't matter at this point….because of the answer. I have blogged before about life being very small moments of perfection. Watch out for them because sometimes they are moving quite quick in front of you. I witnessed one of those moments, the CBS story, and knew that Chris had the answer.

"Love is the answer, and you know that for sure." John Lennon.

Hand someone a donut and they smile, a simple thing. I saw it on TV in January and experienced it first-hand in March. A random act of kindness, big or small, is based in love. My friends and I felt the impact of the Rosati event in North Carolina on the day we gathered to give total strangers a smile. It wasn't about the donuts though you see, it was the act toward a fellow human….the impact…..the ripple effect. We all want to matter. In the end of lives, whether it comes at 20 years of age or 98, we want to know we mattered while here on earth. It isn't about money in the bank, or celebrity, material possessions….it is about the people one impacts with the answer.

I am willing to bet that Chris Rosati has been impacting people in a positive way his entire life, his illness just gave him clarity, focus, and urgency…urgency to shift gears into overdrive. I commend him for what he is continuing to do with his life.

I think I will grab hold of some of that focus and urgency and ramp up some of the things I do in my life to help others. I have always been a "doer." Today, I want to encourage you to become one too. Don't read this blog and think it was cool what we did and then go about your day. I want you to create a moment of perfection today. Work on your answer. Do not procrastinate or rationalize…start a project that will create one of those ripples of your own. It feels really good, let me tell you. It feels great to have the answer, better than a chocolate covered…well, you get my point.

"If you are not impacting someone, then this whole thing is a waste." Chris Rosati

"Get off your ass and go do something for the greater good." Julya Billhymer