Sunday, October 19, 2014

Trips With Mom And Dad

This is a long post.  I won't be offended if you don't read all of it.

I had intended to write a post on September 10th, the one year anniversary of Mom's passing, but I just never found the time.  It's hard to believe it's been over a year now.  I'm doing much better since Mom gave me a kick in the butt (referred to in this post).  I still think about her every day, but I'm not so sad anymore.  Time is healing my heart (that, and the fact that I realize Mom is with me still).

I took two significant trips recently, one back home to Utah and another to San Francisco, where Mom lived from her childhood until she married my dad (and it's also where she met my dad).

In Utah I visited my family and felt Mom and Dad's presence a lot.  I was able to visit with my niece and nephew-in-law, who (you may remember) helped take care of Mom before she went into assisted living.  I had not been to their house before.  They bought it while still living in Mom's house, and it was a fixer-upper which they've done a great job with. 

As they excitedly showed me each room, I was touched by how much of Mom’s stuff they had hung onto.  As my niece said, every room reminds them still of "Grandma," and it was nice to feel Mom’s presence in the house.  They have the two lamp tables that sat in our living room for as long as I can remember, the vacuum she bought from Kirby, my dad's dad's old desk that sat in my old bedroom for years, the shelves in the basement that held knick knacks, Mom and Dad’s rollaway desk, the desk that held Mom’s TV and all our games, much of Mom’s kitchenware, and there was also one of our neighbor's (and Mom's best friend's) old chairs, which seemed oddly appropriate, given the long enduring friendship of my parents with our neighbors.  But what floored me the most was that my niece and nephew had saved Mom and Dad’s old couch, which is the same couch that had been in my parents’ front room for almost the entire time they lived in that house.  Frankly, the couch is outdated, faded, worn out, and saggy.  

 Mom and my sister on the couch (one of the lamp tables I referred to is at right)

 I would not have been surprised if my niece and nephew had given the couch to charity or even taken it to the dump.  But there it was in their rec room, and it brought tears to my eyes that they had saved it.  I felt Mom so much in their home.

We had a good talk about what a tough time it had been the year they stayed in Mom's house to help care for her, but my niece said that in spite of the challenges and difficulties, it was worth it and they don’t regret it at all.  My niece and nephew also acknowledged that they would not have this house if it hadn’t been for their time with Mom.  It was nice to hear that.  I really felt a strong impression from Mom that any residual resentment or anger I held toward my niece and nephew must be let go, and so that’s what I’ve done.  As for me, I am thankful for all that my niece and nephew did for Mom and all she did for them.  I’m letting bygones be bygones.  It was just so wonderful to feel pieces of Mom in that house, and I’m grateful that my niece and nephew are reminded of her every day.

The next day I visited with Mom and Dad's longtime neighbors who had been friends with Mom for over fifty years and who factored very heavily in my life growing up.  As I talked with them in their living room, I looked across the street at the house I grew up in, now no longer mine.

The people who live there now replaced the old "211" that had been on the house since Mom and Dad bought it with a newer, bigger “211.”  

 The old "211" that was on the front of our house all my life

It kind of made me sad to see the old one gone, but, obviously, I don’t blame the new owners for wanting to improve and update their house.

My sister-in-law had mentioned (and my old neighbor confirmed) that the owners of Mom and Dad's house were actually wanting to sell the it.  Evidently, it’s more than they can financially handle, and so I guess they are interested in selling.  That made me a little sad, too.  I don’t know the owners at all, but was hoping their family might have many happy, lasting memories in the house like my family did.  If I had the money, I would buy the house myself.  I’d love to have it back in the family again.  But it would be impractical and, alas, I don’t have the financial resources to make such a purchase.

My old neighbor talked about how sometimes she still expects Mom to come out of the house, and of course Mom doesn’t.  But again, just as I felt looking at Mom and Dad’s old furniture at my niece's and nephew's house, I looked across the street and saw the house my parents bought and built together and felt their presence and legacy.  They’re ever present through what they left behind, both materialistically and in how they raised and brought up their family.

 My neighbor said she was downsizing and has gotten rid of some of her nativity sets, which she collects.  She gave the one Mom gave her to my other nephew and his new wife.  It’s a nice thought that something Mom left my neighbor is now left to Mom’s grandson and his new wife.

After visiting with my former neighbors, I drove to my older sister's house and visited with her.  I liked it being just one on one without any distractions.  She asked if I was hungry, and I was, so she got me some potato salad.  It was in one of my favorite bowls of Mom’s that I had used often to eat things like cereal and ice cream.  As had been the case with this trip thus far, it was nice to be reminded of good memories and that Mom was still alive and well in the lives of her children.  When I used the bathroom, there was Mom’s old green hamper, and it was a nice sight to see.

I just really enjoyed reconnecting with my sister.  It’s clear she misses me and I miss her.  We didn’t want to say goodbye, but we had to, knowing it would be a while before we see one another again. 

I then drove to my younger sister's house.  As I visited with her I had these same feelings of Mom and Dad’s legacy as I looked at Mom’s old hutch and her and Dad’s old easy chair and as I held Mom’s namesake, Jerry (my sister's newest child) in my arms while my Dad’s namesake, Gary (her middle child) was playing nearby.  It was a nice feeling and I felt my parents in the room.

I then went to an eatery Mom and I had gone to often.  I ordered my usual, a turkey and artichoke sandwich on foccacia with avocado as well as a chai frappe (which was excellent) and a chocolate chip cookie.  It was a really good meal and the place was not very busy, so I quite enjoyed myself.

Then I went to a theater where I had worked while living in Utah. When I bought my ticket, the girl looked for my name in their computer system, but it wasn’t there, but Mom’s was.  I told them they could delete Mom as she had passed away. 

I was so pleased to be put at a table by myself (it's a dinner theater).  There were three empty chairs next to me, and I imagined Mom and Dad sitting in two of them.  Since Mom died, I have been to several theatrical productions and have had two empty seats next to me.  I always like to imagine that Mom and Dad are next to me.  Here I was again with two empty seats, and I know how much Mom enjoyed this theater when she was alive, so I was again imagining that she and Dad were next to me watching the show.  

The next day I went to the cemetery to visit Mom and Dad's headstone.  I then went to the nearby headstones of Dad's parents and sister.  Then I decided it might be fun to look for the gravestones of my Dad’s grandparents, which were in the same cemetery.  I went to the cemetery office and they gave me the information, and I was surprised to find a whole bunch of ancestors.  In all the years I’ve been to Mom and Dad's cemetery, I’ve never visited that part of the cemetery (unless I did so as a child).  There was something really neat about standing where my ancestors had once stood and where many of them were buried.  In addition to the strong presence I felt of Mom and Dad during this trip, I also felt my ancestors, whom I didn’t even know in life, around me.  It was a neat feeling.

After I left the cemetery I dropped in on my great uncle (Dad's dad's brother).  The man is 97 years old and still very sharp.  His hearing and sight have diminished a great deal, but his mind and memory are still quite sharp and he is very healthy and active for 97.  We really had a nice visit and a really nice lunch.  I realize, statistically, my uncle's days are numbered, although I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he lived well into his hundreds.  I try to visit him and his sister (who's 94) more often.  I’d call them more, but they don’t hear very well, so it’s sometimes hard to have a conversation by telephone.  

I saw another show at a different theater where I had worked often.  Once again, I had two empty seats next to me.  I was right on the aisle of the fifth or sixth row with the two seats on my left.  I once again imagined Mom and Dad were with me (or maybe it wasn’t my imagination at all).

This particular show involved audience participation, and I ended up being on the stage with the other actors (three of whom were friends I had worked with previously in other productions).  It was a lot of fun but it was surreal watching the first act from on stage.  What was even weirder was being on a stage I had worked on professionally for several years surrounded by people I had acted with professionally, but this time only being a guest.  What it made me feel was “I need to be on stage again.  I belong here.  I should be in shows just like this one.”  I hope it happens sooner than later.  I'm ready to be on stage again. 

It was fun being back home in Utah.  I've missed my former home and my friends and family a lot.

The day after I got back home to Jonah, we took our trip to California.  We went to San Jose and Petaluma, but what was really memorable for me was visiting San Francisco.  I've only been to San Francisco twice (to the best of my knowledge) - once when I was very young and once on a theatre trip when I was in high school in 1986.

I have just snatches of memories from my first trip.  I remember crossing a bridge (the Golden Gate or Oakland, I can't remember (though I know I crossed the Oakland Bridge on my 1986 trip)); I remember being in a park (probably Golden Gate Park) by a merry-go-round with my mom's brothers' kids; I remember watching The Lone Ranger on my grandma's TV in her apartment and wanting to take her TV home to Utah because we didn't get that show in Utah; I remember my siblings teasing me because I had a crush on one of my cousins - I think I played in the backyard of my Uncle John's house in Martinez.  That's all I really remember from that trip.

The 1986 trip I remember better because I was older.  I remember riding the cable car with two of my actor friends; I remember going to Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf; Grandma came out in a taxi to visit me while I was there; I remember how expensive everything seemed; and I remember spending a lot of time on the campus of Berkley for the theatre competition we were there for.

To the best of my knowledge, I never visited any of Mom's old stomping grounds.  I decided to do that on this trip with Jonah.  We did cross the Golden Gate Bridge on our way to Petaluma, and that was pretty neat.

We happened to go to Petaluma on a Saturday and went to San Francisco on Sunday, so traffic wasn't too bad either day, although I felt like the drivers around me were driving much faster than was necessary.  It made me nervous. 

I had brought some old pictures of Mom in San Francisco (at her church, her childhood apartment, the apartment she lived in as a teenager, the park, etc.) and thought it might be fun to take some “then and now” photos. 
Our GPS pooped out on us during the drive so we took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere different than we had intended to go, but maybe it was meant to be that way.  We happened onto Mom’s childhood street, Broderick Street, and worked our way to her old apartment building.  San Francisco is not an easy city to park in, so Jonah ended up driving around while I would take pictures in various locales and then he would pick me up.  I was trying to be artsy and took pictures of Mom’s old photos in front of the locale where they had been taken originally.  I didn’t line the old photos up as accurately as I would have liked, but like I said, I was in a hurry.

Mom's childhood apartment

 There was something kind of magical about standing in spots my mother had once stood as a child (or where her parents had stood), and there was something cool about visiting these places I had never (to my knowledge) been before.  When I was taking photos of Mom’s old apartment building from her childhood, some lady was trying to get in (and someone eventually buzzed her in), and I thought how cool it would have been to actually go inside Mom’s old apartment (not that it would have meant much to me since I had never been there).  It was fun to take pictures in front of her old apartment and in front of the apartment of her friend, Mildred Palmer, who lived across the street when Mom was a girl.  As fun as the taking of the photos was, I think Jonah's driving around San Francisco was stressful.

 Note the lady trying to get into the apartment building



 Mom and her mom and siblings

 Mildred Palmer's old apartment.  Her dad was my grandparents' landlord.

 Mom and her dad and brothers


 Mom and her mom



 Mom and her brothers


 Mom and her brothers

                  We next went to Mom’s old high school, which is now the home of a community college, I believe.  We actually did find parking there.  

Then we drove to my grandpa and grandma's old apartment and I took some pictures there while Jonah drove around.   

 Where Mom lived as a teenager

 Mom's mom and stepfather

I stood on the same step Mom had once stood on as a young woman and doing so made me feel connected to her in a different way than I had experienced before.  I wish I would have had more time to take it in, but it was still nice.  
             I had wanted to get some photos in Panhandle Park (off of Golden Gate Park), but the park was very crowded that Sunday and traffic was heavy in the area, and there just wasn’t any place to park, so we decided to bag it.

    Our next stop was Mom’s old church, the Sunset Ward, and actually, Jonah was able to find a parking spot.  We almost didn’t want to give it up.  Because it was Sunday, church was in session, and as I approached the church building, some ward members and the missionaries came out.  

 Mom is front at the very right

I talked with them a bit and explained what I was doing and asked if they thought it would be okay if I went inside.  They said they thought that would be alright.  I went in and took a photo of the picture of Jesus that is shown in the picture my mom had of a conference taken in 1956. 

 This was a conference held in the Sunset Ward building in San Francisco in 1956 presided over by David O. McKay.  Note the picture of Jesus in the middle.

  Close-up.  David O. McKay and his wife are at the far right in the middle.  Mom is in the back left with the "x" over her head.

    I ran into a custodian who knew the building well, and he was very nice.  Sacrament Meeting was going on, so I couldn’t go in the chapel, but the custodian let me go into the cultural hall and take a photo.  

 Mom in the cultural hall.

He talked to me about the building and asked me about my parents when I explained why I was doing what I was doing.  I felt a little bad because he was under the impression that I was still a member of the church and he was trusting me because of that, but he was very kind and I appreciated his letting me have a closer look at the building.          
               Being in the same room that my parents once held their wedding reception in (at least I think it was) was touching and moving.  It almost brought me to tears.  It was so surreal being in the place where Mom and Dad were at the beginning of their marriage, especially since I had never been there before.  
 Dad and Mom at their reception

It was a nice connection.   
           Once I took my photos, Jonah and I both agreed that driving and parking in San Francisco was more stressful than we wanted to deal with, so we opted not to explore any more of San Francisco and drove back to Petaluma. 
                On our way back home we had decided to drive home via the Pacific Coast Highway even though it would add about 5 and half hours to our trip.  We just thought it would be a fun and scenic way to end our trip.  We got up early on Monday morning and had breakfast at the motel (and it was a pretty good spread).  We left about 7 or 7:15 am.  Because it was Monday, traffic from Petaluma to San Francisco was much worse than it had been on Saturday and Sunday.  It was also a little foggy. 

We actually spent the first hour of our trip in traffic from Petaluma to San Francisco.  Driving in San Francisco was even worse than it had been on Sunday, but we got through okay and then onto the freeway.  There sure were a lot of crazy drivers on the way, though.

                The Pacific Coast Highway was pretty awesome and very beautiful, but there were also times when it felt precarious and scary.  There were really beautiful trees, and it was fun to drive the coast and see the ocean.  Some drivers seemed so impatient (and one guy, in particular, who crossed the double lines seemed unnecessarily dangerous). 

                I felt Mom and Dad with us on the trip, and I was reminded of the poem I wrote about in this post:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of far-off birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
Lacrymosa, dies illa (That sorrowful day)
I am in ev’ry flower that blooms,
I am in still and empty rooms.
I am the child that yearns to sing:
I am in each lovely thing

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die."

                All the beautiful sights we saw on our Pacific Coast Highway drive reminded me that Mom and Dad are very much with me.  I wondered if Dad had driven this route when he visited Mom from Long Beach or on his way back to his ship when he was in the Navy.  It seems logical that he might have taken that route.

                At the beginning of our drive, Jonah got a message from the woman in Utah to whom he had given the Jack O’ Lantern he originally made for Mom, but which we took after Mom moved out of her house.  She wrote:

                Hey [Jonah],
A couple of years ago, you surprised me with a gift of this pumpkin where I keep your card and think of you every fall when I put my decorations out.  Love it still and wanted to let you know...Jane.
Sandy Antique Mall,  Ut”

Jonah responded:

Hi Jane
“It was so great to get this email from you ,,, I knew you were the right person to take care of this special pumpkin that my mother in-law loved so much before she was moved into assisted living. In September of 2013 she passed away and our trips to Utah are not as frequent as they were before but it's great to know that this piece of folk art that I made has a great caretaker like you ..... So thank you for being a great caretaker and sending me this email when I needed it. It means a lot to me that you love it ,,,
“Take care Jane and thank you for the blessing of your email ,,,

We thought that was maybe Mom’s way of letting us know she was with us.

Both of the trips I took were very enjoyable, and I'm really glad Mom and Dad tagged along.  They are always welcome.