Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jeannette Moffitt Coleman

 "When was the last time you played cards with a wounded soldier?"
Clara Coleman Naddy quoting her mother Jeannette Moffitt Coleman


On the wall in the hallway outside my bedroom, above a desk and chair hangs a wooden box lined with velvet.  Inside the box is the monogrammed baby silver of my great grandmother, Jeannette Moffitt.  The J and the M are in a flowery, old fashioned script, clearly of the 19th century.  Obviously hand engraved, the monogram is not perfectly precise on each piece, the letters lay closer on the knife than they do on the fork or spoon.  They are silver and small and fit for a child's hands. The spoon is most worn, the fork tines are a bit used, the wide, round knife looks new.  Based on my math, Jeannette was born in 1875 so she probably touched them most often in the late 1870's.

Next to the baby silver hangs her father's discharge papers from the Civil War.  Although his home was in Louisiana, he enlisted in Indiana and fought for the Union.  Throughout Jeannette's entire life she never called her father, nor heard her father called anything but "Captain Moffitt"  (even though his discharge papers indicate William Moffitt's rank was that of Private). This included her mother, who never referred to him or addressed him in any other manner other than Captain or Captain Moffitt.  Jeannette's father called her mother "Mrs. Moffitt" for their entire marriage.  Jeannette was allowed to call her mother, "Mother" when addressing her mother directly; but always referred to her as "Mrs. Moffitt" when speaking of her mother to others, including Jeannette's siblings and children.  The South, in the 19th century, had a complex set of social norms.

And these were indeed southerners.   Born and raised in New Orleans for generations.  Captain Moffitt owned land outside the city which was leased for farming (Jeannette's older sister, Lena insisted to my grandmother that the farm outside of New Orleans was used to smuggle slaves from the south to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, but my grandmother was skeptical of this story).

William Moffitt's father had been a pirate or a privateer as had his grandfather (who sailed and fought the Battle of New Orleans with Jean and Pierre Laffite) and his great-grandfather who contracted with the Revolutionary forces and disrupted England's trade in the colonies. Clara assumed this was where the title "Captain" originated.

I believe the pirate/privateer stories.  I also have hanging in my house a set of china doll dishes that my grandmother, Jeannette's daughter Clara, convinced me was loot from piracy.  The wooden packing case they were stored in was marked England, 1756 and the cotton batting around them still had husks from the cotton attached.  Neither my mother Rita, her mother, Clara nor her mother, Jeannette were ever allowed to "play" with the dishes...which were, after all, over 100 years old when Jeannette was born.

As my son, Andy says..."some families have heirlooms, we have booty!"

Next to the Civil War discharge papers hangs Jeannette's maternal-grandfather's ("Mrs. Moffitt's" father) naturalization papers.  George Clammens, from Prussia, arrived in New Orleans in 1844....about 90 years after the Moffitts.

According to her daughter, Jeannette was about 5'5" tall, had long, beautiful auburn hair and "the biggest brown eyes" in New Orleans.  Jeannette was born to some privilege and modest wealth.  She was educated and loved to read.  She had idle time only the wealthier girls of the era were allowed.  She filled the time with her reading or embroidery or "tatting" lace.  At my wedding I carried a handkerchief edged in her hand-made lace.

Jeannette met and married big, handsome, James Coleman around 1895 in New Orleans.  Jeannette and her family were what my grandmother called "Baptist/Catholics."  Originally Catholic, they found acceptance as Baptists in the south and left Catholicism, except of course, for the clandestine Mass said in their home every Sunday morning at dawn.

The couple moved to McComb, Mississippi when James became the executive in charge of maintenance for the Illinois Central Railroad.

The Coleman's produced nine children, Anna, Clara, Merrill, Henrietta (Rae), George, Floyd, Leona, Jim Jr. and Katherine (Kitty).  James Sr. (called "Gentleman Jim Coleman" because of his rule against the use of any cursing in the rail yards during his years of management) was promoted and transferred to Chicago in 1911, their two youngest children, Jim and Kitty were born in Chicago.  The entire family returned to Catholicism upon arriving in Chicago, with the older children "converting" to their covert religion.

James and Jeannette moved into a large house on the south side of Chicago, not far from the South Shore Country Club (where my mother's parents met for the first time in 1915).  The house is long gone, but it had rooms for James and Jeannette, each of the children, a live-in maid's quarters and a separate suite for guests (where my grandmother and her children lived after she was widowed at 29); the same suite in which Captain and Mrs. Moffitt came to spend their elder years.

The entry hall was large enough to be used for dancing during parties, with a piano rolled into the foyer or during big celebrations a band positioned on the landing of the stairway.  I have always pictured the home as a combination of the sets of "Life With Father" and "You Can't Take it With You" with kids running everywhere and sometimes long-term-live-in-guests (wounded servicemen, musicians who would play the piano on Sunday afternoons for the family or family from New Orleans looking for new fortunes in Chicago).  Clara told me that the dinner table never had less than 16 people sitting at it, many more on Sundays when dinner was a buffet and there was always a pianist present to entertain after the meal.

Jeannette was fun and lively with more energy than her 9 children combined.  She ran the house, took care of the kids, managed their off-beat social life and kept the door open for anyone she perceived as needing some support.  Jeannette seemed to attract wounded servicemen.  She found them on streetcars and in the library and the rail stations, she invited them home for a meal with the family and as mentioned before they often ended up staying for extended periods while she pushed and prodded her husband to find the veteran employment in the rail yard or offices.

After a few years of ad hoc involvement in the plight of disabled veterans, Jeannette discovered the brand new Hines Veterans Hospital and began making weekly pilgrimages to "Speedway Hospital".  She would load up as many shopping bags as she could carry with supplies for the men: socks, playing cards, candy, tobacco, paper and pens, stamps, razors, etc., travel by a complex collection of streetcars and trains and then spend the day talking with the veterans, playing cards, helping them write letters and bullying the staff to provide better care.

No one who came to the house left without making a contribution.  Jeannette's children were all pressed into service for the cause.  When the boys had paper routes or part-time jobs they were "taxed" by their mother for help with her passion.  Clara left high school in 1912, when she was 14 to go to work as a phone operator at AT&T.  A portion of Clara's earnings went to the support of her mother's volunteerism.  Pianists who entertained the family on Sunday were dragged up to the hospital on Monday to sing again for their Sunday supper by entertaining the patients. 

The family faced setbacks, James Sr. drank a bit and his career stalled,  Clara was widowed in 1927.  She and her three young children, Rita, Dick and Tom returned to the family home where she delivered her fourth child, Jack, 4 months after her young husband's death.  The crash of '29 took most of the residual family security,  Anna and her husband moved to Colma, California.  But, whatever challenges faced any member of the family, if they complained or whined, Jeannette would ask "When was the last time you played cards with a wounded soldier?  It would be good for your soul!" 

In 1932, during Kitty's 17th Birthday party, while the band was playing on the landing and Kitty's friends were dancing in the entry hall, Jeannette went to her room with a nosebleed...and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  She was 57.

Jeannette's funeral procession was 13 miles long.  The longest on record up to that time for a private citizen in Chicago.  The hearse had arrived at the cemetery long before most of the procession left the front of the church.  Most of the procession was disabled veterans.  Car after car of men who had been touched by this sheltered southern belle who opened her home and her heart to them.  These men served their country and then been forgotten by almost everyone.

Everyone but Jeannette Moffitt Coleman.

There is a legacy here.  It intimidates me.  But as I look around at my family...my grandmother, my mother, my aunts, my sister, my cousins, my nieces and my grand daughter I recognize the legacy of independent, fun and giving women Jeannette left behind her on earth.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Four Great-Grandmothers and No Place to Hide.

Rebecca Whittle Householder

Mary Hodges

Mary Corcoran Naddy

Jeannette Moffitt Coleman

I never met any of these women but they shape my life everyday.

They are my great-grandmothers.

My maternal grandmother, Clara Coleman Naddy told me the stories of her difficult to please, "lace curtain" Irish mother-in-law, Mary Corcoran Naddy and her devotion to and over-protection of her handsome sons.

Clara and my mother, Rita Naddy Householder dazzled me with stories of Clara's well-loved mother, Jeannette Moffitt Coleman, who focused on making life fun and interesting for her brood of 9 in addition to her pioneering volunteer work at Hines Veteran's Hospital, (her funeral procession was 13 miles long!)

My mother did the research on my father's lineage and the famous Cumberland Gap families that intermarried generation after generation and make up not just a family tree, but as my son says, "a family wreath" in eastern Tennessee.  The Whittles and the Hodges vying for status as the earliest settlers on this continent and the humble Householders who landed here much later....1650 or so. 

I am going to take some time with this blog and share some of the stories that have been handed down to me.  What is fact, fiction or legend, I do not know.  But I loved these stories when I heard them and I hope I can do them justice now.  I just do not want them lost.

Stay tuned we will start with the fun and feisty Jeannette Moffitt Coleman.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's a Crummy Job, But My Sister's-in-Law Agreed To Do It.

I cannot imagine being married to any of my older brothers.  I mean, I lived with these boys when I was a kid and I can tell you they are no picnic.

I know, I know, they are all smart, handsome, talented, charming, funny and accomplished men.  When I was a kid I thought my big brothers were the doppelgangers of  Dick Van Dyke (Jim), Steve McQueen (Tom) and Ryan O'Neal (Don).  They are the life of any party.  They are the expert in any debate.  They are each proficient in the physical world.  They can dance.  They all love babies and Christmas.  Who could ask for more?  Their wives could.

I love these men...don't get me wrong...whatever turbulence has existed over the past 46 years or so in our relationships...the Householder boy's own me and a place in my heart that is entrenched beyond excavation (trust me I have tried to dig them out of my affections many times).  But I know first hand what a handful each of these extraordinary men can be.

Along with those extraordinary attributes come equally strong peccadilloes.  They are all a bit temperamental; sometimes with an emphasis on "temper", occasionally more "mental."  They tease and torment incessantly, which is cute when you see them at at family reunion, but wearing when you live with it daily.  They are experts, so they are always right.  They can be a bit judgemental.  They are obsessive about their various interests.  They each have some control needs.  None of them ever really learned how to express feelings very well.  And, probably because they had such a strong-willed mother, they all can be a just a little bit hard on women.
I am a lot like my brothers ...without the movie-star good looks.   

When I was a kid people would say to me, "It must be so fun to live with (fill in one or more of my brother's names here)."   And I would answer, "oh, yes!"  And I would think, "Are you nuts?"

So, I have watched in wonder as Jim and Tom and Don married and stayed married, each over 30 years to wonderful women who were willing to put up with the sunshine and the shit this trio doles out.  Cherry and Judy and Anne have always fascinated me.  I have admired, loved, emulated and scoffed at them all.

Loving my brothers is a crummy job, I know this first hand, but someone had to do it and Cherry, Judy and Anne stepped up.  My admiration knows no bounds.

Jim lost Judy yesterday. 

Jim and I have not been close over the past 30 years or so.  Every few years we try to reestablish our relationship, but it is always a fragile reconciliation and breaks quickly.  So the emails and phone calls taper off.  Or one of us loses our temper and lashes out (last time it was me) when we get our  feelings hurt.  I would feel guilty as hell about not being in my Jimmy's life, my mother's voice in my ears reminding me that my most important role in life is to "take care of the boys."  But, I have never worried about Jim because he had Judy in his life. 

30 years ago Jim and Judy spent Thanksgiving at our home on the near-north side of Chicago.  They had not been married very long...2 years maybe?  It was the first time I met Jim's second wife in person.  She was cute, petite and quiet.  She was a few years older than Jim, who is 12 years older than me,...so it felt a bit awkward...Judy was an adult. 

Jim's first wife was a girl I had loved intensely.  I was 9 years old when they got married and she was an adorable, drama-prone, fun-loving blond that treated me like a little sister.  She set my hair and painted my toe-nails and when I was a teenager she shared clothes and the secrets of my crushes and heartbreaks.  We were girlfriends and when she left my brother it was a blow.

So when Jim married Judy so quickly after his divorce I was skeptical that it was a wise move.  And when Jim had business in Chicago and visited us without Judy a couple of times, before that Thanksgiving weekend, I retained my doubts...he was obsessed with her...calling her every 20 minutes and panicking if she didn't answer the phone. (It never occurred to me at the time that of course he would feel this way, his first wife, feeding her appetite for drama, moved out of his home without any warning, took everything in the house... including his  four children, when he was on a business trip and just disappeared...it took him years to find the kids again.)

So, we welcomed Judy into the family and our home that weekend, but I was reserved.  I still missed the first wife, I thought Jim had rushed into this marriage and I was concerned by his obsession.  That late Wednesday afternoon when they arrived at our apartment on Sedgwick Ave. we talked and took a walk through Lincoln Park and played with my 4-year-old son.  Judy was quiet and I was struggling to find any point of shared interest or common experience.

When we returned to the apartment, Kem and Jim built a fire in the fireplace and I took Judy into their room for the weekend and sat on the bed chatting while she unpacked.  She pulled from their suitcase several hangers with a pair of pants, a shirt, a folded sweater or sweatshirt and matching sox pinned to it.  Jim's clothes.  Beautifully laundered.  Perfectly pressed.  Coordinated.  She noticed me staring at them and said, "Your brother Jim is a great looking man and he deserves to look great...but if I leave it to him he dresses like a 9-year-old-boy who got dressed in the dark."

And with that, I fell in love with Judy.

Something about the way she touched his clothes and spoke of him communicated such a depth of love that I was brought to tears.  I realized that a good girlfriend for me was not necessarily a good wife for Jim.  But this woman, this grown up, was taking care of my brother in a way his first wife never thought to do (Jim always did the laundry in his first marriage...even as a teenager I thought it was unfair that he had to travel on business all week and then come home, clean the house on Saturday and spend Sunday doing his and every one else's laundry before leaving on the next business trip).  And I sent a little prayer up to my mother to look down from heaven and see what was happening.  Judy loved Jim.  Judy was taking care of Jim.  It was old fashioned, yes.  But it was endearing beyond words.  Jim is a handful, he needed taking car of!

In the last 24 hours I have read on Jim's Facebook wall  many postings lauding my brother for the care he has given Judy during her long illness.  I am proud of him for being such a good and caring husband.  But he had a great role-model in Judy who took care of him every day of their marriage.  I know for a fact that Jim has basked in the warmth of Judy's style of love and affection.  Making a cozy nest, cooking meals he loved, watching his diet, doing his laundry, dressing him in clean, well pressed clothes and being so proud of him, his talents, his good-looks and even his passionate peccadilloes.

Judy showed her love in old fashioned ways, that's ok, my brother is an old fashioned guy.  With her passes a style of feminine affection that we all should mourn.
  Jim and Judy when they first married.

My heart is breaking for my oldest brother.  The first widow among our siblings.  The first to experience this loss and as always, in the role of oldest brother, to pave the way for the experience ahead of each of us, this time it is the inevitable profound loss that accompanies profound love.

May perpetual light shine upon Judy Householder.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Object of My Husband's Affections 8/3/10

Last summer, after discovering that our second grandchild was on her way, my husband, Kem and I sat in the local all-night diner, held hands across the table and tearfully agreed that it was time for him to give up his mistress.

Anyone who has been a party to a long-term relationship knows that even those who are truly in love cannot always be everything to each other.  There are needs that cannot be met inside a marriage, no matter how hard each of you tries.  

I am no fool.  I knew where he went when he slipped out of bed at 2:00am.  I knew what he was up to when he was "running to the store for a Diet Coke" on a Saturday afternoon, and was gone for 3 hours.  He had come home late, guilty, breathless and disheveled more times than I could count.   

This had been going on for 13 years. 

I really could not compete with her.  I am chubby and planful.  I worry, make lists and I am a serious smart-ass.  She hasn't an ounce of fat on her.   She is sleek.  She is lithe.  She is spontaneous.  She purrs.  She made him feel free and young in a way that I never could.

But on that August morning in 2009 he agreed that, for the preservation of the family, he would give her up.

Which is how I came to drive his BMW.

Kem's Mistress

The 1994 red 325i convertible, with tan interior, had been my gift to Kem after Noah's Bagels IPO in 1996.  He had lusted after the design of the 1994, somehow finding the tail lights of the '95 and '96 models offensive (Silly me, I had thought my husband was all about headlights up until this point).

We lived in Redwood City, CA when she entered our life.  One mile from the Junipero Serra freeway (280, the most beautiful freeway in the USA).  When my composer-husband was stuck on a lyric or had lost the next phrase of melody,  Kem would jump on this spectacular roadway (the closest thing to the Autobahn)  and let this beauty do her thing.  Top down, in the middle of the night, at 105 mph he would race up and down the peninsula from San Jose to San Bruno and back, clearing his head.  Revving his creative engine.

In the summer of 2002, when we left California for life in a small southern town on the east coast, Kem and our son, Andy, drove the mistress across country on Rt 40 from Barstow CA to Wilmington, NC.  The buddy-road-trip-movies cannot touch the adventures they had together.

In our first few years in Wilmington, my husband could be seen zipping around town in his red-love with his newest purchase from Home Depot or more often, our Siberian Huskey, Tatiana, in the back seat.  If someone was trying to place us in the community I would often hear, "Is your husband the bald guy, in the red BMW, with the great dog in the backseat?"  Yes, that is my Kembo and the two ladies who proceed me in the hierarchy of his affection.

But a BMW convertible does not have room for 2 car seats.  It does not have the requisite 75 airbags to protect these babies that have entered our lives.  And, frankly, much to Tatiana's dismay, the joy of having Drew and Charlotte in PaPa's car has eclipsed the rush of having the top down and doing 0-to-60 in 7.3 seconds.

And thus, Kem gave up his mistress and we decided I should bring her to Washington DC as my commuter car.

Yikes!  I had to learn to drive a stick-shift!  After 13 years I was about to confront his mistress/drive Kem's car, for the very first time.

In Memory of Kleemo 5/30/10

Six years into their marriage, my parents had an argument and my hot-tempered-drama-prone-mother packed up my sister Joy and my brother Jim and went home to her mother.  She was seriously contemplating divorce.  It was early 1943.

My father, not to be out-done on the drama front, immediately enlisted in the US Navy.  It was war-time and federal laws made it tough to divorce absent servicemen, so he figured that this was the best course of action while my mother's temper cooled. 

The fact that their original fight was over his desire to enlist was an ironic piece of family trivia that I have always enjoyed.  As the father of two, my dad was exempt from the draft.  But he was also only 27 years old and like George Bailey he somehow felt he was both shirking a responsibility and missing the biggest event in history. 

He wanted to go.  She did not want him to go.  She threatened to divorce him if he went.  He said he was going.  She left to divorce him.  He went, and by going kept her from divorcing him.  If you cast their doppelgangers: Frank Sinatra as my father and Roz Russell as my mother...you'd have a 1940's romantic hit.

And thus it was that my father became a WWII vet.

James Robert (Bob) Householder served aboard the  USS Cebu as a Machinist Mate in the Pacific Theater.  He fixed engines and built clocks; helping the Navy to both propel forward and navigate their journey (clocks were a navigation tool). 

Bob was 28 years old when he stepped aboard his ship, discovered he was 9 years older than the average sailor in the Pacific, and was immediately given the nickname "Pops."  Pops at 28.

Most of the Cebu's primary activity was focused upon repairing other ships that had been damaged by air attacks, including kamikaze missions.  When things were slow they built clocks, when things were really slow, they made jewelry, knives, and clocks for themselves and each other out of the excess stainless steel and acrylic.  My father was a stellar machinist and mechanic, but it was at some of these other endeavors that he really excelled.  A designer by nature, he could fashion artifacts of great beauty out of the left-overs from the true business of the ship.

Pops was a  cut-up with the confidence of a man rather than the uncertainty of a teenager.  He was popular among the young men around him.  They sought him out for advice, counsel and loans.  His letters home, when not trying to woo my mother back to him are filled with stories of these boys.  This one has a broken heart, that one drinks too much, another one has nightmares and calls out for his big brother in his sleep.  Pops took his nickname seriously and tried to help them, protect them and with some, educate them just a little bit.  Which brings me to Kleemo.

Kleemo was a very young sailor who served with Pops.  Kleemo was apparently not the sharpest tool in the shed.  When he was having some trouble with a calibration, my father exasperatedly asked him, "Kleemo, how many thousandths in an inch?" To which Kleemo replied, "Geez, Pops, there must be a million of those little sons-of-bitches in an inch!"  You get the picture.  Kleemo could not keep "righty-tighty-lefty-loosey" in mind and spent his service leaving things either ajar or so tight that a blow torch had to be put into service.  

Kleemo's mom had signed the papers for him to enlist at 16.  He was 18 or 19 at this point and had never raised in rank in the 2-3 years he'd been serving.  He was a klutz and a screw-up.

After my father returned from the war and reconciled with my mother he would call my oldest brother "Kleemo," whenever Jimmy screwed up.  Pretty soon, given Jim's habit of silly mistakes, the nickname became his for good.  By the time my brother was a teenager my family had forgotten about the young sailor who inspired the name, and just thought of Jim as Kleemo.  Jim HATED the nickname.  Who could blame him? 

In 1965 my mother and I were in an Ace Hardware store in the suburbs of Chicago. She was paying for her purchases with a check.  The man behind the counter looked at the check and then at my mother and said, "You wouldn't be related to a Bob Householder, would you?  A guy who served in the Pacific during the war?"

"My husband's name is Bob Householder, and he served on the USS Cebu during the war" she replied.

The man behind the counter gave out a "WHOO!" that filled the store.  He came around the counter pointing to himself and said, "I am Joe Kleemo!  We served together.  I cannot believe this.  How is Pops? We called him Pops!"

And my poor mother had to tell Joe Kleemo that her husband, my daddy and Kleemo's "Pops" had died the year before, two months shy of his 49th birthday.  My mother had yet to learn to speak of him in the past tense.

Joe Kleemo put his hand to his mouth and then he sat down on the floor.  My mother bent down to speak to him and when he looked up at her he was crying.

"I never would have made it through the war without Pops" he said.  "I was homesick and always in trouble and Pops took-up for me many times.  You know, I stayed in the Navy, I stayed for 20 years.  Pops taught me how to use tools, how to fix things.  I became a good mechanic because of Pops."

My mother sat down next to Kleemo on the floor of the Ace Hardware and the two of them cried together.  I was 11 and was mortified and horrified by this display.

In a couple of minutes they were laughing.  Kleemo was telling a story of mischief or mayhem that Pops had caused.  How he had teased and tormented the boys and the officers aboard that unsexy, unsung repair ship.

I was fascinated by the fact that there was a real person named Kleemo.  However, this person did not reconcile with the nickname for a screw-up that had plagued my big brother.

In the car on the way home I mentioned this dissonance to my mother.  It was always impossible to tell what would upset her in the years after my dad died, so I was a little nervous about whether I should have brought up my confusion.

"Honey," my mother said, "your daddy didn't call Jimmy "Kleemo" because he was making mistakes, he called Jimmy "Kleemo" when he was teaching him something.  Your daddy must have loved teaching that young man....he teased him, which he only did to those he loved.  He loved Kleemo, like he was a little brother.  And when he came home he called his own little boy by that lonely young sailor's name, every time he was teaching him."

I think of Kleemo every Memorial Day.  Every year since that day in 1965 I think about the lonely young men, far from home, some so young they turned the 28 year old's around them into father figures.  I think of Kleemo because he is my father's brother in arms and my brother in loss.

James Robert (Bob and Pops) Householder is buried in the National Cemetery in San Bruno California overlooking the San Francisco bay, my mother, Rita Naddy is with him there.  They are both buried under a single headstone that details his service in a war in which he was not obligated to serve and which threatened their relationship.

Today we remember all of those who served and all of those who begged them not to go.

A Word About World Class Talent 4/26/10

Silicon Valley was not my first time at the world-class-talent-rodeo.

Me as the bomb in 1972
In 1972 I was the bomb.  I was studying acting, planning on becoming an actor and a comedy writer.  I was a serious smart-ass and I thought I was pretty damn cute.

I hung out with some pretty talented kids.  All going to school and working and planning on becoming famous musical theater stars.

That was never my dream; I wanted to be Sally Rogers.

I wanted to hang out all day with a bunch of funny boys and write stuff that would make folks laugh.

No one had heard of Tina Fey yet, so Sally Rogers from the Dick Van Dyke  Show was my only role-model.  (Well, to be fair Tina Fey was only 2 years old when I was 18....she might have been a role model to other toddlers but she didn't have a lot to offer me). 

That semester I was taking a class that had an "audition requirement."  We had to audition for a number of productions to increase our confidence with the process.

I did not audition well.  I used "Itsy Bitsy Spider" as my audition song for musicals, hoping the cute factor would carry me.  I was not a very good cold-reader.   I was a zoftig girl who spent a lot of time holding her stomach in..so my breathing was screwed up and I was much too self conscious.  I usually defaulted to improvising some nonsense and hoping they did not notice I was off-script.  Truth is, I just didn't take it too seriously.

But the kids I went to school with took it very seriously.  When the news came to us that a new musical was being produced in the area my school-mates went nuts.  They converged on the library, checking out the script and score to this offbeat (and remarkably bad) musical four weeks in advance of the auditions.

One of my classmates was a very talented young man named Ray.  Ray had a beautiful tenor voice and the lead seemed made for him.  Others of my cohorts were also good singers, trained dancers and accomplished actors.  They studied the score and the script, they researched the director and the musical team.  They prepared.  I went along to fulfill a requirement and hang with my friends, I had no illusions about my performing talents.  But I thought my friends were great.  I thought they were the best.

We all went to the audition and did the usual things: sing, read, dance a bit.  Then the director had us do it all over again.  Sing, read and dance a bit.  We were sitting around the theater waiting for her (the director was a woman, named Marilouise) to thank some of us for showing up (me) and ask some others to either stick around or come back (my friends).  But she seemed to be stalling.  We were waiting and waiting and she was conferring with her musical team and just letting us sit there.

We were beginning to grouse a bit when the door to the theater opened and a young man entered.
Several of my classmates started to whisper and fidget.  They apparently knew this thin, pale, sandy-haired guy.  He just looked like a skinny John-Boy Walton to me.  But, he was having some serious effect on the inhabitants of the theater.  Ray looked sick.

The director spotted him and jumped off of the stage and ran up to him.  Now, this director was a big girl, six feet tall and at least 275lbs.  So, when she jumped and ran, it was something to see and I have to admit I was mesmerized, so I was paying pretty close attention when she grabbed John-Boy by the lapels (who wears a suit to an audition?) and dragged him to the stage.

As they passed by me I heard John-Boy say, "Thanks for the note, Marilouse, but I forgot the audition was today and I did not prepare."

Note?  He got a note?  Like an invitation?  I had heard about this audition through the grapevine, others heard about it from our instructors at school and some had read about it in the papers.  But a note?  No one I knew had gotten an invitation to this audition.  What the hell was going on?

Marilouise was falling all over herself hustling John-Boy to the stage.  "Sing anything!' she said.
"Sing, Happy Birthday,"  she demanded.
"Really, I have been at work all day at Marshall Fields and I am tired and not in good voice," John-Boy said as he tried to untangle himself from Marilouise's grasp (but she had 135lbs on him and she was not letting go).

By this time, I had heard my friends referring to "Kem" and I realized that this was John-Boys first or last name.  They all seemed to know him.  I did not.  And I could not for the life of me figure out what was happening.  Why was he invited?  Why was Ray turning colors?  C'mon, my friends were the most talented people I had ever met.  What did Ray have to worry about?

Marilouise was not letting go and it was clear John-Boy was going to have to sing or get his arm wrung from his body.  So, as we all watched, he walked over to the music director and asked to see the score.  Why he asked to see the score I could not fathom.  What was he going to do with the score?  He had already admitted he had not prepared.  None of the songs from this musical were well known (for good reason, that musical sucks), so what was he doing?

John-Boy flipped through the score and then said, "Ok, I will do this one."
"Shall I play it through once?" the pianist asked.
And John-Boy said something so interesting.  He said, "No."
Again, what?  He has never seen the score before.  He is going to just pick it up and sing something from it?  Having never even heard it?  What was happening here?

The pianist began playing an intro that I recognized as the song Ray had been practicing all month.  The big emotional number, sung by the lead.  Ray had nailed the same song in his audition a couple of hours ago.

John-Boy opened his mouth and started to sight-sing that difficult, obscure piece of music.

I certainly remember that John-Boys voice was beyond beautiful;  it was the voice of a sexy, love-lorn angel.  He seemed to be making the song up.  He didn't falter or stall and as he approached the final high note, he bent his knees slightly, dropped his chin a bit and held onto that note without stress or strain or even apparent effort.  And I remember being stunned and amazed at the ability to make that sound while sight-singing.  But, what I most remember is the sound of air rushing past my ears.  Really.  I felt as though I was being pulled at an accelerating speed though a tunnel of music.  I could see John-Boy, but all I could hear was this whooshing by my ears.

And then I heard my friend Ray groan a little as he sunk down in his seat.

I realized then that I was in the presence of "the real thing."  My friends were talented, but John-Boy was something else.  He was a world-class talent.  It was my first exposure to "the real thing."

I was only 18.  I did not know that the gap between talented and world-class was so wide.  But, now I understood why Marilouise had sent him the note and why she had held on to him for dear life.  She knew what was coming.  She knew that heart-stopping-world-class-talent was there.  I did not know.  I was not prepared. 

When John-Boy finished singing he shrugged his shoulders as if apologizing for his performance.  "I told you I hadn't prepared," he said.

The pianist was applauding and shaking her head.  The entire theater of competing actors were applauding.  Something I had never seen at an audition.

Marilouise was frantically moving around the stage as though she had forgotten where she was or what she was doing.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "You need to read....you need a partner to read with!"
She was panting, I think.

And she looked out in the crowd and her eyes landed on me, "You, girl with the long hair, come over here and read with Kem Hauge!"

And, as I climbed up on that stage to read (and pretend we were a machine), I realized that I was not and never would be a world-class talent.

But I also realized that just because I wasn't a world-class talent,  it didn't mean that a world-class-talent might not one day be mine.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do 9/24/09

I ended a very intimate 23 year relationship today. Goodbye, Chanel #19. We were good together....but you have moved to Paris and refuse to come to the US, so our relationship must end. These long distance things never work out, do they? I will miss you every day and I wonder if men will still want to sit next to me in meetings without you behind my ear.

The Secret 6/11/09

I am not sure what awakens me each early morning when I am in North Carolina.

It might be the freight train that rumbles through this small southern town at 4:30.

Or, it might be Tatiana, the Siberian Husky that sleeps beneath the bed; she harrumphs and sighs with each change of position during the night.

Or, it might be that I am of an age when women wake frequently during the night.

Whatever the cause, when I am in Wilmington I invariably awaken at that early hour when it is neither night nor light outside.

I do not stay awake long.

I reach for Kem.

He faces south, away from me.

I move up against his back and slip my arm under his and around his chest.

Kem does not wake up, but he rouses enough to make room for my arm and tug me just a bit closer to him.

We are spoons.

I am a foot shorter than Kem, so we are spoons with the teaspoon behind the soup spoon.

Kem smells like gingersnaps stored in a cedar closet, spicy and sweet.

He has always been the best smelling man on earth.

I breathe in the scent I know so well from 35 years of hugs and my respiration slows.

We keep the room cool; it is semi-dark and so quiet at that hour.

We both fall into the best sleep of the night, the two hours before the alarm.

And that is the secret.

We sleep best with both of our heads on the same pillow.

A Perfect Day for a Long Journey 5/19/09

I think the 19th of May is a beautiful day for the trip to heaven.
The sky is so blue.
The world is in bloom.
The grass is green, not yet sunburned by summer heat.
Kids play outside after school at this time of year.
Adults search for places to eat their lunches out of doors.
The sky stays light into the evening and people take walks and greet their neighbors.
Yes, looking over your shoulder on the way to heaven would be a lovely sight.
A world of light and color and goodwill disappearing behind you.
It must be a comfort as you make your way to heaven and leave your loved ones behind.
My sister, Joy, is making the trip today.
It is time. She has been very ill.
But, Joy leaves many who love her behind on earth.
We are blessed with this beautiful day.
As Joy makes her journey, we close our eyes, turn up to the sun and feel a touch of the warmth of our sister's love on our faces.