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These are my thoughts: Feb 8, 2017.

“Nevertheless, She Persisted.”
If I were to have a gravestone, that’s what I would want engraved on it. In BIG BOLD LETTERS.

My mother was a strong, stubborn woman; just not when it came to women’s issues. She didn’t believe a woman belonged in politics, in the military, in the ministry, in the cockpit of a plane. Her list of what women should never do went on and on and on.

She had no time for the Gloria Steinem’s of the world. She would say: Be a secretary, a seamstress, a housewife, a teacher, a mother…

I can remember how thrilled I was when Geraldine Ferraro was put on the Democratic ticket. I can also remember vividly how my brother mocked her, and me, and how my mother agreed that she had no place in politics.

I don’t know where my sense of feminism came from. I was raised in a family where men could do or say anything, and women simply cooked the meals, did the laundry, raised the children and tried to keep the status quo.

This wasn’t me – ever. It drove my mother nuts!

As I do my DNA/Ancestry research I’m seeing some strong women who most certainly were not secretaries or housewives. Perhaps it is simply in my DNA to not settle for less than what it is I deserve as a human being.

Now, I’m in my 60’s and living openly as a lesbian. My partner of 34 years and I march and blog and do whatever we can for our share, and every other woman’s share, of dignity in Trump’s America. We also march,blog and do what we can for gay rights, but that’s a whole other blog!

It’s not about gay or straight, and I wish it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat. It should be about women being treated with respect. It’s about men who don’t value a woman and women who simply accept that as what their life is. We need women to value their life more, value their feelings more, value their worth more.

“She Was Warned… Nevertheless, She Persisted.”

As one does…

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Susan and I went to a funeral yesterday. It’s not something one looks forward to, but a sweet friend had lost her Father, and we wanted to be there to lend our support and love for our friend and her family.

Our friends father (Bill) was a very sweet man. We didn’t’ meet him until the rages of Alzheimer’s had taken over his body and his mind; and yet his sweetness shown through.

I had an inkling this funeral was going to be different when we arrived at the church and there were white chairs set up outside. They were placed on a hillside with beautiful green grass surrounded by trees and flowers with a view of the San Diego Bay that was simply breath-taking. I’d never been to an outside funeral, but after today, I can’t imagine any other way of honoring a loved one.

From those who spoke, I soon understood this was a man who was loving and was loved his entire life. His wife, his children, his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Love, love, love. He loved being outside, loved camping, loved sunsets, loved ice cream and coffee, and loved being the family “tickle monster.”

One of his daughters started to speak about his courage and how he emphasized to her the importance of being still, and it was in that moment I found my mind began to wonder.

I began to think of the death of my parents. My dad in 2010 and Mother in 2012.  I thought of the lessons they had taught me, and what it is I still miss about them.  Some days the image of them is so clear I swear they are walking right beside me. Other days, I don’t feel them at all.  It’s those moments when I am “being still” that I feel them most of all. When I have my tea in the afternoon, sitting quietly on my patio watching the birds, sitting by the San Diego Bay knowing how much my parents loved to sit in the same spot some 30 years ago.  Dad’s ashes are scattered in this Bay so that every US Navy ship that goes in and out of San Diego has to pass over him.

The thing is, I never understood my parents – ever. I thought of this today as Bill’s children and grandchildren were speaking of him so lovingly.  I never understood some of my parent’s decisions, their beliefs, their grudges, their never wanting to talk of anything.  So many things were left unsaid, unsettled, unknown. I love them, I just wish…

I left this funeral with the understanding that life is most certainly meant to be lived. It’s meant to be shared with those who love you unconditionally. You’re meant to be still, to be tickled. You’re meant to watch the sunset, and eat ice cream and drink coffee. You’re meant to laugh and love and share your thoughts and dreams and desires .You’re meant to make memories that will carry on long after you’ve gone. This is what your life is supposed to be.

We walked away from the service on that beautiful hill to the Reception Hall where an ice cream social in honor of Bill awaited us.  Ice Cream, every topping you could think of, whipped cream, cherries, nuts, cookies and coffee. For the first time ever, I left a funeral feeling upbeat and hopeful.

As a side note – the pastor who spoke at the funeral had a voice that simply drew me in. She was kind and compassionate, and spoke in a way that wasn’t condescending or judgmental.  As the pastor was speaking, I leaned over to Susan and said: “If anyone could get me back to church, I think it might be her,”  And it’s been many years since I’ve spent any amount of time in a church.

Bill must have been smiling knowing that I had been still and was listening.

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Ever have one of those days when you aren’t sure how it is you’re supposed to be feeling? You’re happy, and yet, your mind wanders to events that aren’t quite so happy, and then it wanders back to events that are happy.  Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy…

July 15th is that sort of day for me.

  •     My father’s birthday was July 15. He would have been 86 today.
  •     Herb Valentine – my Uncle Herb died on July 15th.
  •     I was married on July 15, 1972
  •     I arrived in San Diego on July 15, 2002 to be with Susan, and finally live the life that was really mine.

I miss my father on this day.  9 days from now – July 24 – it will be two years that he’s been gone. Doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed, and yet, there are days that the pain of his loss is as fresh as it was two years ago.  I miss picking up the phone and singing to him on his Birthday.  He loved it when I would sing the second verse of the Happy Birthday song to him. 

  •   May your days all be bright, and filled with delight
  • Happy Birthday, God Bless You, Happy Birthday to you.

Herb Valentine was a man larger than life in my younger years.  He was a big, burly man who, when he laughed, had a belly that just shook.  Sort of like Santa Claus!  He was a big part of my youth, and when he died a part of me died with him.  Those care-free happy days of picking cigarette butts out of the alley, and throwing stones and twigs in my doll carriage, and those glorious days on the Chesapeake Bay on his boat – the Dot-V-Dot – so named because I called his wife Dorothy – Dot-Dot. It was those days that defined my youth, and my Uncle Herb was a major part of that. When he was gone, there was a huge void that has never been filled. Perhaps that’s because I never let anyone fill it.  That space belonged to my Uncle Herb, it still does. 

My wedding day in 1972 – well – what can I say about that?  I knew it was a mistake, I knew I could never be what my husband needed or deserved and yet… I did it anyway because I could think of no way not to do it.

It wasn’t all bad, there were happy times, however; it was a lie on my part.  I feel sad about this. I should have been more honest, more open, and less afraid of facing the world as an out Lesbian.  Thing was, I was only 19, it was 1972, and my conservative, Republican, small-town family would have never embraced me as anyone other than the married family clown who worked at Ferguson and Hassler’s selling shoes!

I remember the evening was hot & humid and as happy as I thought I was – I knew that I wasn’t.  As much as I tried to be a good wife – I knew that I wasn’t. As much as I tried to be that small-town, conservative, Republican, church-choir singing wife – I knew it wasn’t ever going to work.

Even after my husband joined the Navy, and we left that little town and found ourselves in San Diego, I knew it was never going to work.  How could it?  I cared about him as a friend, but I was never romantically in love with him. How could I be?  I feel sad for him, and for me for the years we spent pretending.

The thing is – those years spent pretending brought me to where I am right now – with Susan.  It’s the happiest I have ever been in my life. When I got out of my car with my Cocker Spaniels Max and Molly ten years ago, my life was finally what it was supposed to be.

In those 10 years with Susan, Max and Molly have both passed away, friends have come and gone, and my family – well – they are what they are. Some have embraced Susan and me; others have turned their backs and walked away, as I knew they would.  Small-town, conservative, Republican religion doesn’t always interpret the Bible in a way that is kind and gentle to homosexuals, it’s more the fire and brimstone – I’m going to hell sort of religion they embrace!

Life is meant for the living, for the here and the now, although I do believe that your body somehow remembers trauma, both physical and emotional. For on this day – this July 15th – I feel like a child losing a beloved Uncle, a daughter missing singing Happy Birthday to her Daddy, a young girl looking at her future husband in a church and knowing it was wrong, and an adult woman looking into the eyes of the woman who would make her life happier than she ever dreamed, and my body laughs and cries at will.

This is what remains of this day…

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So, this Sunday will be the second year without my father here to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.  It gets easier every year without him here; still there are times when I find myself picking up the phone to call him, or times when I just want to talk to him.  It’s on these occasions that I go to the wonder of voice mail, and I listen to his voice. Some days this gives me comfort, other days it just brings more pain.

When I was a little girl – there was no one quite like my daddy.  I was one of the lucky ones – I actually had a Daddy.  He worked the 11-7 shift when I was really young, so I got to play with him during the day. I was his “little one” and pretty much got whatever I wanted when it came to my Daddy!

I learned in my teenage years that Daddy wasn’t to be messed with when it came to following the rules. Mother was usually the one who made and enforced the laws of the house, but… when Daddy raised his voice I knew that life as I knew it was over.  I only remember him striking me once, and that was because I told my mother to shut-up, and that was not acceptable at any time, for any reason, no matter how old I was.

When we stood at the back of the church on my wedding day – he held my hand and looked me in the eye and said: “Are you sure you want to do this?” I was only 19, and I knew I was running as fast as I could from my knowing I was gay, but… it was 1972, I was living in a small, conservative town and telling anyone I was a lesbian was just not something that was done.  I wanted to say NO I don’t want to do this Daddy, and run from the church. But… I said something about Mother killing me if I left, the music started, and the rest is family history.   I understand now that he would have been just as proud had I said No, and he and I had left the church.

When I finally had the courage to come out I was 50, and my father embraced me without hesitation. I don’t believe he ever understood, but… it didn’t matter.   We never discussed it as our family doesn’t talk about anything, especially things that have to do with emotions or feelings – it just isn’t done. But, he never wavered in his support of me and he embraced my partner Susan as he would another daughter.

In the last few years of his life, and since his death, I’ve discovered that my father was not the man I knew him to be.  Some of his decisions from years ago still tear apart a family who is simply trying now to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Pieces that fit into place show a man who acted foolishly, and put his personal interest above that of family, and we are left to wonder why and how a man who could be so kind and loving, could be so selfish. I struggle to understand.

What I’ve discovered is that my father was searching for something. I believe that the only time he ever really felt alive was on his Minesweeper “The USS Raven” sweeping the English Channel before the start of D-Day in June of 1944.  He knew that his actions on that day had made a difference; he had helped to shape the world, he had made a difference in millions of lives.

My father searched the rest of his life for that same feeling. He wanted to be loved, he wanted his life to matter, and he wanted to be something to someone.  I hope he knows now that he was all of those things – he was my father.

Rest in Peace, Daddy…   Happy Father’s Day

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about parents, and what they do to their children.  It’s the things they do on purpose to hurt their child, and sometimes the things they do without knowing, and sometimes, it’s the things they do, just because they can.  I’ve been wondering which case scenario is worse.

Realizing while a parent is still living that they will never, ever be the parent you would like them to be, and simply settling for a relationship of any sort to have that parent in your life…

Or

Realizing while a parent is still living that they will never, ever be the parent you would like them to be, and tiring of the game and the hurt, you live your life without that parent in it…

Or

Realizing after a parent is gone, that they were not the parent you believed they were, and you have no way to address, confront or confirm what you have discovered.  And realizing that you just have to tell yourself that you can live without the answers to the “What they hell were you thinking?” question that burns in your head and your heart.

Or

Realizing after a parent is gone; that they did the best they could with what they had, and no matter what things are left for you to figure out or try to heal, forgiveness is the only answer that will work…

Or

Realizing that no one is perfect, and yes that does include me, and you.

I don’t believe that anyone lives a life without regrets or at least a few; if only I had… thrown in there.  However, I question the life that leaves hurt, anger, and a child spending thousands of dollars in therapy trying to understand why they never measured up, or why they never felt loved, or why, or more to the point, how;  a parent could walk away, abuse, or simply not care about their own child.

I’ve come to understand through dealing with my relationship with my parents that every parent comes into their relationship with their own child with the baggage that was given them from their parent, and their parent before.  Passed from generation to generation are anger and regrets and family traits that aren’t always to be treasured and passed on.  When someone tells me I’m just like my mother or just like my father, I’m not so sure it’s always high praise!

In researching my family’s ancestry, I’ve come to understand some things, and I’ve also got a whole lot of questions with no one to give me any answers.  Lots of whys and how could he or she, and a whole lot of; are you kidding me?  I see cycles of neglect and self-interest that have lasted for generations.  Cycles unbroken because no one took the time, or had the courage to stand up and say: Enough. It was easier to just follow in footsteps that lead to absolutely nowhere. It’s heartbreaking.

As for me, I fit into every one of the scenarios that I listed above. My Dad left me pretty bruised and broken with no answers to the burning “why” questions I had. He simply wouldn’t answer, and I’m left to wonder. I understand a little better after learning of his family, but still… I’m left to wonder, and to try to heal the relationship with my only sibling after years of anger, hurt and turmoil caused by lies and deceit.  Happily, we are making things right between us, I just don’t believe we should have ever been placed in this situation.

What parents do to their children… Oy.

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Did you know that Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor those who have died in service to the United States of America?  Did you also know that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day? I hate to burst your 3-day weekend bubble, but, it’s not about heading to the beach, drinking beer, and throwing some meat on the grill.

I come from a military family.  My great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg, my grandfather in WWI, my father in WWII, my brother in Vietnam, my ex-husband in The Persian Gulf, my nephew in Iraq and Afghanistan.  My mother drilled it into my head and my heart that to serve one’s Country is the highest of honors, not just for the person, but for the family.

When I was little there was a parade down the main street of our little town.  My little tricycle had the red, white and blue streamers, and the veterans marched proudly and waved and smiled at the folks who lined the street. I may complain from time to time about the conservative politics of this little town, but when it came to their veterans; It was Americana at its best.

As I’ve gotten older, I also understand that Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring the dead; it’s also about honoring the living.  Their service changes their lives forever. Whether they see combat, is not the issue, it’s the service to their country that changes who they are, and it changes forever the family unit.

It’s the service of the Mother or Father left behind to comfort the children, pay the bills, and deal with the everyday life that can be simply overwhelming.  Not enough money, not enough love to go around, not enough community support, not enough government support…

In 2000 President Clinton signed the “National Day of Remembrance” resolution which asks all Americans at 3p.m. local time, “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.” Take a moment and honor them all.

Susan and I will be heading to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery to honor our fallen veterans, and then to the USS Midway to throw a flower in the water over the ashes of my father.

Memorial Day isn’t about how you feel about war. Memorial Day is to honor those who do the fighting and the dying, and those who “keep the home fires burning.” To those veterans and their families who may be reading this…  Thank You ♥

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about family the past few weeks. I suppose that’s only natural as I just spent a few days in the little town where I was born and raised in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Just driving through the town had my mind reeling with memories. We lived in an apartment above a restaurant where my mother worked, until I was 11. I ate breakfast in this very same restaurant last week, and was astounded that in almost 60 years, not very much has changed. I stood in this restaurant and let my eyes cover every inch of the place. The pinball machine that stood along the wall is gone, but I swear I could hear it. The counter is still there with its chrome stools, and vinyl seat coverings.  I’m sure the covers have been replaced but the stools themselves are the originals.  I closed my eyes and imagined the faces of the men who sat on those stools every day of my 11 years in this place I called home. These men would sit on the same stool every day, order the same breakfast, smoke their Camels or Pall Malls drink their coffee, crack their jokes, and tease my mother. I was sure I could smell the smoke from their cigarettes and the scent of the hot, strong coffee as I stood there staring at what was my past.

For the first time, I understood how rich my life was as a child, how lucky I was to have all of these people in my life on a daily basis. I didn’t understand it then, I only remember my mother making me work! But now I get it… All of these people cared about me, loved me, helped me grow and learn about the world. The man who told the same WWII war stories over and over – how I wish I could hear them one more time. The man who sat at the end of the counter with his little railroad hat on and always smelled of kerosene; who spoke of his deceased wife like she was still at home waiting for him… I’d love to hear about her, and of his adventures on the railroad just one more time.

As I stood in the parking lot and looked at the steps leading to the back door of the restaurant, I could feel my face breaking into this smile as I remembered my mother placing me on these steps with this huge empty barrel of vanilla ice cream and a spoon.  It was my “job” to make sure the barrel was empty before it got thrown out! The barrel was almost as tall as I was, so I had to stand up and lean over to get to the bottom on the barrel. I remember clearly that a bath usually followed the cleaning of the ice cream barrel.

I walked from the parking lot to the alley that goes between the restaurant and the house next door. A great deal of my youth was spent in that alley.  I stopped in the middle of the alley and just stood still and quiet. I smiled as I remembered running and riding my little red tricycle. I remember a baby carriage that my mother was so thrilled I was playing with until she came out and saw it was filled with dirt and sticks and cigarette butts I had picked up in the alley! I was once again a little girl in that alley, with my sweet little friends, riding bikes, kicking cans, throwing rocks, watching parades, eating ice cream. I walked to the end of the alley and looked down the street. It was like I was 5 again riding my tricycle down the street – nothing had really changed.

 

I never really thought of my life being enriched by living above that restaurant or by the people who entered that restaurant on a daily basis. I blamed that restaurant for the fact that I can’t stand the smell of hot cooking oil because that smell was everywhere when I was a child, and there was this film of oil on everything.   I never imagined that living there helped to shape this person I’ve become as an adult. I just thought my mother made me work too hard and all I wanted to do was play the pinball machine!  I never imagined that this restaurant and those people who came there every day would give me a balance and an understanding about the world – I just thought they were people who smelled funny and told the same stories over and over and over.

As I stood there with tears in my eyes, I finally got it all.  Home isn’t where you live physically – it’s what you carry with you as you go from place to place in your life. It’s those sweet memories that make you smile, and the lessons you learned from the not so sweet memories…

 

As I was walking back through the alley to my car I found myself looking down at the ground and discovered that without realizing it, I was looking for cigarette butts and I wondered to myself; whatever happened to that baby carriage?

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