Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Douchely Priest

I made a book of my mom's paintings for my dad for Christmas. He thought about it for awhile, and decided that my mom would have loved to have been published, and because of that, we should offer the book to her friends and family. I used a publisher who prints books on demand, and while not horrifically expensive, it's a premium service, and, so, the books cost a bit more than a similarly sized book in a store. But the results are professional, and personal, all at once. This isn't a sales pitch, but feel free to check out the link to the publisher's site, on the right, if you'd like to see more of my mother's paintings, or if you're interested in getting a copy of the book.

Earlier in the week, I sent out an invitation to the "book release" to many family friends, including a bunch of people who were invited to her memorial, back in July. I even reach out to several of my mother's so-called friends who came up with incredibly lame excuses to not attend her memorial. I figured that enough time had passed that I had no right to be irritated anymore. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

One lame-ass, no-show wrote back to me yesterday simply saying, "How is your baby growing?" While I appreciate an interest in my incredibly glorious son, I hate when someone ignores my question. I didn't mention my kid in my invitation; I mentioned my mother's book.

You may recall I lost my mind in early July at the volume of douchery my sisters and I encountered from some of my mother's so-called friends, at their reasons for not attending my mother's memorial. Specifically, you may recall I went off on the priest friend for suggesting we hold the event on a different day to accommodate his schedule. I even went as far as to intimate he was on crack, and I wrapped up the diatribe by calling him Fr. Massengill. Yeah, yeah, I know it's "wrong" to suggest that a "man of God" is on crack, and probably even a mortal sin to call him Fr. Massengill, but I have no regrets. Even with a bit of time and distance between then and now, and the lack of pregnancy hormones coursing through my present-day veins, I still feel the same way. The guy is a douche, priest or not.

Yesterday, I received this message from him:

Hi Chrissy, thanks for the e mail. I am sorry I was out of the country during your moms memorial. I will take a look at the book ad after I close this note to you. I am wondering about a pencil drawing your mom made of my hiking boots. She said at one point that she was going to give it to me. I think it was just before you moved out of Howell. I no longer recall what happen, I think she just liked it so much she decided to keep it. We then lost track of each other. I have some interest in that drawing if it is still around. I actually still have and use the boots. If I can acquire the drawing somehow let me know. Take care. Fr.MASSENGILL

Note: that is his text, verbatim, save for the very last word — his name — which I changed to protect his identity. Sort of. The creative use of punctuation, and the sense that the note was written by one who acquired a bit of English as an adult, are all his own. Also, I want to note that I didn't alter his words (other than his name) at all to show, too, that he's a cheap bastard, or not much of a hiker, or both. I remember when my mom made that drawing: I was a junior in high school, which would have been 1985-1986. What sort of guy who likes to hike, AND gets free room and board courtesy of his parishioners, wouldn't buy a new pair of stinking hiking boots after all those years?

I had a crazy day yesterday, but had enough time to forward the note to my father and sisters. My dad said he'd look for the drawing of the boots when he got home, but I kinda wished he hadn't bothered: my mother was very generous with her art, especially if she used you, or a pair of your shoes, as inspiration. Also, once she discovered watercolors, she was very eager to get rid of her pencil drawings; she was SO over them. I'm not sure why: her pencil drawings rocked. Anyway, the fact that she withheld the drawing of the hiking boots from Fr. Massengill says that he probably pissed her off after she finished the drawing, but before she picked it up from the dude who used to frame her artwork.

My father wrote to me when he got home:

It appears the good father is SOL. I could not find the picture. Maybe Mommy threw it away when she figured out he was a Dick Head.

I don't often have the joy of reading cuss words from my pop, but oddly, I've seen him capitalize "Dick Head" at least one other time; it's the name he gave to his Macintosh hard drive several years ago. Anyway, I like it capitalized, like a proper name, like Fr. Massengill. One of the biggest reasons we offered the book is to save us the trouble of rooting through our closets for specific paintings or drawings. My mom was VERY prolific, and right now, so soon after her death, and not long after having a baby, and right after the holidays, we just haven't had a chance to get everything cataloged. Maybe someday. I'm pretty sure one of us has the drawing; in fact, I think I do, though I spent as much time as I could today, looking for it, but I wish I hadn't, because I couldn't find it, and that made me feel like a shitty daughter. I'll find it though, and soon. I'm just not sure I want the douchely priest to have it, not at any cost.

Maybe I'll change my mind in the coming months, but I suppose that's as about as likely as Fr. Massengill ceasing to be a douche.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Nail Set

Today I am 40. In case you were unsure, know it is a pretty wretched time of the year to have a birthday, regardless of your age. It's officially two weeks before Christmas, and amid the ubiquitous Christmas Carols, every year on December 11th, until this one, my mother woke me up — either in person, or by phone — by singing Happy Birthday to me. I was always embarrassed by that, as a child and as an adult. It was so heartfelt, that it just terrified me. My cheeks burned, and I counted the seconds until the little song would end. And, admittedly, I was always irked that she'd wake me up. Why did she call so damn early? But today, Matthew had me up at a ridiculous hour; he was laughing and playing with his feet; and despite my lack of sleep, and the permanent backache, my little baby boy makes me smile, and makes me sing, too. I missed the phone call this morning. A lot.

Karen's birthday is the day before mine; I know she misses my mother's unabashedly earnest singing, too. We both miss it more than we were embarrassed by it.

I've thought about my mom a lot since losing her, of course, but I think about her more during these cold, dark days. My mom was kinda nuts — there's really no delicate way of saying it — and she was always at the center of the birthday and holiday insanity: in my family, things were CHALLENGING from Thanksgiving right through New Year's Day, and often, beyond. Hurt feelings and offended sensibilities and loud voices preVAILED. I felt badly about it while she was around, and even worse now that she's gone. It's not exactly peaceful without her, but there has been less chaos. We're not better for it, though.

While my mom excelled at singing with abandon, she was pretty terrible at gift-giving (I say that at the risk of sounding like I lack gratitude; I don't). But I think some of that came from a good place. She told us stories of inequality and favoritism in her home growing up, so she worked hard to make sure her three daughters all got the same thing. The problem with that, though, is that we're all different people. The other part of the gift-giving dilemma is that possibly my mother thought we were all younger versions of her. So there were years and years of knee-high stockings and disposable razors, and orange lipstick with which to deal. Does anyone wear knee-highs anymore??

But those were just the stocking-stuffers. Once, she gave a particularly heinous pocketbook to my sister Karen for her birthday, and Karen didn't know what to do with it. As a joke, she wrapped it back up and gave it to Jenny for Christmas. Jenny wrapped it back up and gave it to Karen at the next opportunity, and Karen gave it back to Jenny. This went on for at least two Christmases, before my mom caught on, not too happily.

My mother had a tremendous flair for the dramatic, too. Every year she got us what I began calling "The Nightmare Gift." A trio of nail sets were wrapped and placed in our stockings, and we were ordered to open them simultaneously, so that my mom only had to explain once: she watched a show on TV about how to escape from a vehicle that's plunged into the water, and apparently, the only thing able to break through the glass underwater is a nail set. We were ordered to put the nail set in our vehicles, and while I have some lousy qualities, I am fairly dutiful. I put my nail set in my truck, where, I believe, it still lives, even though I am uncertain of its abilities to bring me to safety, if, in the ridiculously unlikely scenario, I wind up trapped in my truck, under water.

One year, we all received a book on how to set up our wills, along with a copy of my mother's last will and testament. "Merry Christmas, girls!" began the note that accompanied that gift. "You have to be ready for the inevitable," she told us.

There was the year we all received videotapes about breast cancer, because my mom read that one in four women — and this is where she'd solemnly note there were four women in the room — would get the disease.

She wanted us to be ready for when tragedy struck. But you never are. It strikes when and where it wants, and how it wants, and you can never prepare.

Despite our lack of control over our own fate, I still smile when I think about her uncelebratory, and downright frightening Christmas gifts. I teased her last summer about her fascination with death, and how gifts relating to death and disease are kinda depressing. She laughed, but disagreed. Even so, last Christmas she gave us far more appropriate Christmas presents: handmade soaps, chocolates, slippers, and garden decor.

It's not about the gifts, even though they take up so much of our efforts during this time of year. My mother's absence is a huge hole in the room. And I miss her especially today.


Now. I'm gonna try to lay off the melancholy for awhile, since it only reflects only some of my life. Things are good. We're having a family birthday party this weekend, and I'm hoping it provides some funny blog fodder. Failing that, there were those folks who rented the Baldassari this time last year for their own birthday party, and then brawled over birthday cake and chicken. I get it: birthday cake and chicken is some of the best stuff in the world. I mean that, truly. I hope that person/those people have a special birthday this year, with or without police activity. Though for our sake, I hope for the latter. As long no one gets hurt, right?

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I have a cold and am zapped. Sorry about that. I have been conserving my energy for making the house holiday-ready, though. We didn't do anything at all last year, for a few reasons: we both were sick, we had a pipe burst in the house, and it was just a bad year for us, mostly. So, after two years in the basement, Glen pulled the Christmas bins out earlier this week, and we had a lot of fun going through decorations we had collected together over the last few years, and with our new nine-and-a-half-foot tree, we might actually get to display most of them.

I like the look of an orderly tree with a theme of similar ornaments, colors, or textures, but I also like the hodge-podge we have on our tree, because I can remember with relative clarity where we were each year when we got our ornaments. And since I'm not religious, I tend to focus on the fond memories and food aspect of Christmas, and there are a lot of good memories (and good meals) associated with our ornaments. We picked up a bunch of them in New York City, with Glen's sister Clair, and her husband Frits, several years ago, two nights before Christmas, in Macy's. It was a warm night for December in New York City, and we were sweating, up on the 5th or 6th or 7th floor of that old building with those old escalators, burdened by our heavy coats and winter accessories and packages. Afterward, we pushed our way through the throng of humanity in the City, and went into St. Patrick's Cathedral, which couldn't be more different from Macy's: it was cool, and quiet, and reflective, and magnificent.

Another group of ornaments came from the old Treasure Island store at the Mercer Mall while Glen's sister Brenda (yo, Bill!) was down for a visit. We spent hours in that store, knowing the end was near for it, combing through all the kitsch and sparkle. We bought SO much stuff on clearance that we climbed around bags for the entire time Brenda was visiting. A very successful visit!

We have ornaments that make me think of specific people (and critters) in my life, and now, with several of them gone, what a strange flood of emotions they evoke. The plump, glittery, red-headed woman makes me think of my mom. The little wispy fairy makes me think of Catherine. I have a dog and cat ornament for Lacey and Monkey, both of whom have left me since we last had those ornaments hanging on a tree. So, it's certainly with considerable sadness that we decorate, but it's cathartic, too: the ornaments are a reminder of many good years, and hope, and love. On a lighter note, the John Denver ornament makes me think of my sister Karen, even though she cried for the old days when she saw it. The duck with a rifle makes me think of my dad. The Star Wars stuff turns my mind to my nephews. The ceramic snowmen and Rudolph stuff make me think of Brenda. The silver snowflakes make me think of my grandmother, Catherine, who is now 90; who gives each of us one every year. They also make me think of my sister Jenny, because she only uses her silver snowflakes and red bows on her tree — a stark contrast to my chaotic tree — and I love the way her tree looks. Hockey skates conjure thoughts of Glen's exuberant nephew, Aidan. And we have a small box of silly ornaments Glen and I made together the first Christmas we were together — just clear glass balls we filled with fake carrots and moss and cloves, and had there not been that association with them, I'd think they were stupidest looking ornaments ever possibly made. Well, they are, but that first Christmas Glen and I shared in 2001 was cozy and sweet and so full of great potential, and that's what I feel of when I see the pile of cloves and fake carrots and moss inside those glass orbs.

Matthew was reasonably content while we decorated the tree, though he spent most of the evening looking up at the ceiling fan, and playing with a couple of bean bag toys. I'm looking forward to Christmases with him, and I like the thought of looking back on this Christmas, with him so little in his baby pappasan, and with years of ornaments to remind me of our stories.