Category Archives: The Husband

Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

thanksgiving-dessert-table-2016

 

Mrs. Thomas’ Long Week (an encore post from The Husband, in honor of Elvis)

Cleveland Weekend - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (21)

Longtime readers may be familiar with this post, written by The Husband. It’s one that I feature here on the blog every August 16 to commemorate Elvis’ passing, not because I’m an Elvis fan — I have a strong visceral dislike to all things Elvis, which is another post altogether — but I think this is one of The Husband’s best pieces of writing and I love it.  (And him.) Feel free to leave him a comment, if you wish.  Photo taken by me at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, August 2012, where Elvis’ Lincoln Continental is, indeed, in the building.  

Beginning 39 years ago today – early in the evening – Mrs. Thomas took to her room after crying out, quickly calling her mother and telling her to “get the hell over here” and plopping her 8-year old son in front of the television to await his grandmother’s arrival.

Mrs. Thomas didn’t come out of her room the rest of the night. Nor did she come out the next day. Nor the following day, either.

It was only on the fourth day after the sudden death of her beloved Elvis that she finally emerged. Her hair was a tangled mess. Her eyes were red with traces of days-old mascara running up and down her cheeks.

She showered, got something to eat, and returned to her room for two more days.

I know this because I was an 8-year old witness to much of it.

On the evening of August 16, 1977, I was watching television when CBS News ran one of their 30-second national news briefs. A photo of Elvis Presley was in the upper right corner of the screen as the anchor – probably Roger Mudd or maybe Morton Dean – said something to the effect of, “Reaction continues to roll in from around the globe as news of the death of Elvis Presley today at the age of 42 has brought a throng of thousands of grieving fans to his home in Memphis…”

I remember turning to my mother and saying, “Mrs. Thomas is going to be in trouble.”

I was friends with Mrs. Thomas’ son, who lived across the street from our first floor duplex apartment. It was from my friend and his mother that I first learned about Matchbox cars, NASCAR racing and Elvis Presley. Shortly after the Thomases moved in, I was invited over to play. In a tour of the apartment – which took about 7 seconds, although at the time I was too young to know that we were just barely making enough income so that we were always just a little bit behind – I saw an enormous portrait hanging over Mrs. Thomas’ bed.

“Who is that?!?” I said to my friend.

I heard a gasp from behind me, where Mrs. Thomas must’ve have overheard me. If I’d have said the same thing about the enormous portrait hanging across from Mrs. Thomas’ bed – that of Jesus Christ – she would not have been as upset with me.

“Who is THAT?!?! THAT is Elvis Presley! How have you gotten this old [seven, at the time] not knowing Elvis?!?!”

I’d put that about mid-1976. Over the next year or so, then, it was rare for me to be over the Thomas apartment and not hear Elvis on the stereo, or see Elvis on the TV – as the Thomases were the first people I ever knew with a VCR.

(Which is funny because they had no more of a pot to piss in than we did, yet there was this incredibly expensive primitive video player. Might not have been called a VCR, as I don’t remember any tapes.)

Anyway, Mrs. Thomas had every single one of Elvis’ movies – whatever format it was in – and they were always on. I remember not liking the movies terribly much – even at that age I realized it was essentially Elvis Presley playing himself in some unrealistic setting like Hawaii or a 19th century western town. The music, though. Well, the music was incredible. I can’t tell you the first song I heard, but the one that I remembered liking immediately was “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck.” Just a great tune, with every element of Presley’s talents all over it. Never liked ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ [still don’t]. But all of the others I soon knew pretty well.

It became ‘normal’ to see the large bust of Elvis that rested on Mrs. Thomas’ bureau, not to mention that painting, and just accept the fact that Elvis was that important – that of course you’d have a bust and portrait of him in your house, you idiot. It was vintage 1970s; in retrospect, I swear that damned painting was on a velour canvas. I just remember it was fuzzy to the touch [although we never let Mrs. Thomas know we touched the damned thing, believe you me].

So it was on that mid-August night 39 years ago that I saw what was going on there on the TV and told my mother that Mrs. Thomas was going to be in trouble. What I meant, of course, was that she was going to be a holy emotional fucking wreck. I just didn’t know some of those words at the time, so ‘in trouble’ was my way of saying, ‘she’s going to be majorly fucked up by this news, mother.’

And, indeed, she was. It was too late to walk across the street to check on my friend and Mrs. Thomas. At least that’s what I remember my mother telling me. I remember looking at the window across the street at the Thomas’ second-floor apartment front window. The room was black but I could see the neon-like images of what was the television screen in the living room. By that time, I figured out later, Mrs. Thomas had plopped my friend in front of the TV and retired to her room. The next day, early, I walked over and sure enough there was my friend and his none-too-happy grandmother. She, no doubt, figured her days of raising an 8-year old had long passed.

I asked my friend’s grandmother how Mrs. Thomas was doing.

“Not good,” said his grandmother. “She’s crazy. She wasn’t this upset when her father died.”

Just then, I vaguely remembered one time when I overheard Mrs. Thomas calling her father something along the lines of a ‘lazy, no-good boozing prick’. I chose not to share that with my friend’s grandmother that morning. At first, I was scared for my friend. I could hear Mrs. Thomas crying in her room over the sounds of Elvis’ music.

My friend and I went out to play [back in those days, ‘what are your kids doing this summer?’ meant that moms across the country simply opened their front doors, turned to their offspring and lovingly said, ‘Get out!’]. We came back for lunch and the soundtrack – Mrs. Thomas’ shrieking with Elvis providing back-up – were still going strong. Same thing at dinner. By this point, my friend’s grandmother looked like she wanted to strangle her daughter but was afraid to open the door to her room to begin doing so.

The next day, when it continued, I remember asking my friend what he thought of all of this. How did he feel about Elvis’ death? “He’s Elvis, man,” my friend said. “He’s Elvis and he’s dead. It’s too weird.”

That was about as introspective as we two 8-year olds got that summer. When, about a week later, Mrs. Thomas was well enough to go back to work and slowly resume what now seems, in retrospect, to have been a very sad and mundane life raising a son as a single parent, I noticed that more Elvis memorabilia had somehow been acquired. Maybe it’d always been there and I’d never noticed it. More likely, Mrs. Thomas had instructed her mother to bring the stuff with her, as her mother still lived in the house where Mrs. Thomas grew up a young girl in love with the 1950s Elvis.

Over the years, I’ve encountered others who had a similar Elvis-worship. While I thought the Elvis portrait Mrs. Thomas possessed had to be a one-of-a-kind, amazingly a few years later I saw the same damned thing over another friend’s mother’s bed – no lie. I guess that was the painting you put over your bed. While I encountered other Elvis-worshippers, Mrs. Thomas is the one I recall most vividly simply because she was the only one I witnessed suffering in the aftermath of Elvis’ actual death.

As I say, the music was something I dug right away, and always have. Throughout my life, I’ve maintained that if you don’t like Elvis, and you are American, then there is something very, very wrong with you. In your soul, I mean. I know that sounds ridiculous, but Elvis is so quintessentially American, that to not like the music [hey, I agree: the movies suck], the persona, Graceland, etc, meant that somehow you’d missed the whole point of America. At least as it existed in the second half of the 20th century. I can’t quite explain why – in words – that I feel that way. It just is.

[Note from Melissa: I’m so not an Elvis fan. Never have been. Never will be. Never liked him. I don’t get the whole mystique and appeal. Infer from that what you will. Carry on.]

So, today, on the 39th anniversary of The King’s death, I think of him and his music. I think of Mrs. Thomas, too. All of these years later – assuming she’s still alive – I wonder if this day still fills her with the kind of grief it did back then – the shock of it aside, of course. Now that I’m five years older than Elvis was when his head hit that porcelain toilet as his heart finally gave out, I still love the music, and the persona [the movies still suck, though].

I also still think that Elvis is as quintessentially American as any other icon of the 20th century. That he’d be 81 years old also reminds me just how young he was when he died.

And, just how young I was, too.

Book Review (by The Husband): Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick

While real life history is being made tonight at the Republican National Convention (this country really didn’t just nominate one of its most obnoxious citizens as a candidate for President of the United States, right?)  I’m choosing to tune out the shenanigans.  I watched last night and quite frankly, I’ve seen more than enough.

Instead, we’re watching Parks & Recreation this evening (“The Debate” from Season 4, which is actually rather apropos) and I’m sharing The Husband’s book review of Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick(Who grew up here in Pittsburgh!)

Valiant Ambition

While many believe they know the story of Benedict Arnold and his treasonous betrayal of his ‘country’, in Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, the many nuances and details that led Arnold – considered by some at the time to be an even greater commander of men than George Washington – to do what he did are deeply explored.  Philbrick, at the same time, uses Washington’s story as a parallel to Arnold’s, making the book not only a great read, but one that greatly contributes to American Revolution historiography.

Philbrick argues that – in the end – a Benedict Arnold was needed to save the American colonies from losing the Revolutionary War. The story many of us ‘know’ is not how it really was during the fighting between 1775-1781.  As Philbrick writes, “The real Revolution was so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth. No one wanted to remember how, after boldly declaring their independence, they had so quickly lost their way; how patriotic zeal had lapsed into cynicism and self-interest; and how, just when all seemed lost, a traitor had saved them from themselves.”  

Continue reading here

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #51 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

A Few Book Reviews by The Husband (25/99)

I’m not the only one who writes book reviews in this house.  All of The Husband’s reading is history-related nonfiction and presidential biographies, and he’s been churning out quite a few longform-style reviews on his blog.

Since I’m at a work event this evening and he’s holding down the homefront, it’s more than apropos for his words to take over the blog tonight, too.

Here are some of his recent reviews:

Five Presidents

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford by Clint HIll 

The First Congress

The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government by Fergus M. Bordewich

Prisoners of Hope

Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, The Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism by Randall Woods 

This is post #25 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project (We’re a quarter of the way there!)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

This Is the Father’s Day We Almost Didn’t Have

at the beach, 2011. the husband with the kids in the ocean. an intentionally blurry photo, taken by me.

This is the Father’s Day that we almost didn’t have.

Had things gone dramatically different on Thanksgiving — as they very nearly did —  this Father’s Day would have been the latest hurdle in a sad series of firsts.

It would have been the beginning of a lifetime of fatherless Father’s Days — which are the only kind I’ve known for the past 32 years.

Perhaps that’s the reason I’m having trouble writing the obligatory Facebook sentiment wishing The Husband a Happy Father’s Day. The emotions are too familiar, too close to the surface. It’s impossible to articulate in the face of the losses that did happen this year and challenges we continue to struggle with this new normal and our ever-present pasts.  They don’t make Hallmark cards for this kind of Father’s Day, which can be my lazy excuse (this year) for not buying one.

Instead, I look for the perfect photo, the best quote and I come up empty-handed until I find these words that I wrote for Father’s Day 2011. Words that still ring true five years later. More than ever, actually, if that’s possible. And it is, because while this was written in the midst of much uncertainly and change, it was also written before.

Before losing everything we’d worked two decades for.

Before The Cancer.

Before Thanksgiving.

Before going places on this parenting journey one never imagines when you first hold that newborn.

Before everything changed.

Before we knew now what we didn’t know then.

Here, then, an abbreviated version of “Father’s Day 2011: The Here and The Now”:

“I didn’t think I needed to write a Father’s Day post to The Husband. I really didn’t plan on it, to be honest. But then, you know, post after glowing post started showing up in my Google Reader – tributes to all the wonderful dads out there, guys who are the type of dads that The Husband is. Friends and family members are writing Hallmark card worthy status updates on Facebook whereas I’m … sitting here thinking, I’m really such a shit for not doing one of my own.

Because it’s not like The Husband doesn’t know how I feel, for God’s sakes. Obviously, he knows that I think he is a great Dad and a wonderful husband, yada yada yada, so it doesn’t really matter.

But see, here’s the thing: it kinda sorta does.

For reasons I don’t really want to go into on the blog and Facebook, it matters especially so this year. After being together for literally half your life, you fall into these sorts of silent, oh,he/she-knows-how-I-feel patterns, despite the irony of the minister at your wedding deliberately changing up your vows and scrapping the to have’s and to holds with phrases like “you’ll remember the big things like your anniversary, but it’s the little day to day things like saying, you matter to me that is the hard stuff.”

You take for granted that things like the laundry will always be done every Sunday of your life, like it has been in mine for 23 years. (Yes. Twenty-three YEARS my husband has been doing my laundry. Top that, girlfriends.)

You take for granted things like being able to count on your husband to run out to Walgreens for a gallon of milk, or take the boy for a haircut, or to pick up the kids when you’re running late, or to remember the sunscreen and apply it better than you, or to take them to the park when you’ve got a migraine kicking your ass for the third day in a row.

And these are just the little things. We’re not even going to get into the big deal, lifelong, no-cure-or-end-in-sight things.

Like parenting a child with autism, for example.

Like being a hands-on, 24/7 dad when you’re living with chronic pain for more than a decade.

You take these big and little things for granted until they’re not there anymore – or, in our case, not there as much. 

One of my faults is that I tend to focus on anything but the here and the now.

I procrastinate. (Hence, the no Father’s Day card or gift.)

I fixate a bit too much on the past.  I don’t always live in the moment.

(I’m working on that.)

And when you live with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, you’re not grounded in the present and you miss saying what needs to be said.

Which, for this Father’s Day for The Husband, goes something like this:

You’re an even better father than I ever imagined you would be, in circumstances that we never imagined would be.

Even though it doesn’t always seem like it, you’re needed more than you know. 

And you’re loved more than you can possibly imagine.

Happy Father’s Day.

  99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #21 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 
 

like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky

Storybook Ball (2)

“It’s not easy being green.
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out
Like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky.” 
“Bein’ Green” – written by Joe Raposo, sung by Kermit the Frog

I hate television.

I really do.

And right now I hate it even more than usual because ABC cancelled “The Muppets” after only one season.

The MUPPETS, people.

Who the hell cancels The Muppets?! I mean, you really must have one dark, shriveled, corroded soul to pull the plug on Kermit the Frog.

According to Variety, along with “disappointing ratings” in the 18-49 year old market, critics said the series was “not family-friendly enough and out of step with the history of the characters, created by the late Jim Henson.”

That, my dear Kermie, is pure bullshit.

Having watched every episode of the newest incarnation of “The Muppets,” this show more than did the late Jim Henson proud. The irony isn’t lost on me, either, that this news comes on the heels of today’s anniversary of 26 years since Jim Henson’s sudden and heartbreaking death. What a way to remember and honor the legacy of this creative genius.

As for not being family-friendly enough, the new “Muppets” had plenty of innocent laughs for the younger set combined with an abundance of in-jokes for those of us who remember with nostalgia days when iconic performers like Carol Burnett, Milton Berle, Lena Horne and many, many more were sidekicks to floppy, colorful, zany characters.

And really, since when is “not family friendly enough” a barometer for keeping a show on the air? Have you seen what crap supposedly passes for family-friendly TV these days? If we’re going to make that a criteria, then all we’d be left watching is a blank screen.

Maybe “The Muppets” were doomed in this entertainment culture.  As The Husband wrote in this post (“Remembering Sammy and Kermit: When Entertainment Was the True Reality Television”) which I published here six years ago,

“They were part of an era when ‘entertainment’ meant more than watching some fat bastard try to lose weight, some chick with enormous boobs and not-so-enormous talent try to win a karaoke contest, or some incredibly dysfunctional psychopaths try to raise eight children on television in an attempt to become famous. 

It meant real talent. Real magic.”

Real talent, indeed.  Those Muppets had it.

And we’re not likely to see their real magic ever again.

photo by me, taken at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, Pa, May 2009 

The Answer’s at the (Almost) End

Hospital bracelet

A few months ago, The Husband launched a blog called The Answer’s at the End, a mix of in-depth, analytical longform-style book reviews (his focus is presidential biographies and history) along with occasional commentary on sports, current events, and music. (Indeed, the title of his blog comes from George Harrison’s song of the same name from his 1975 album “Extra Texture.”)

If you’re friends with me or The Husband on Facebook, you know the story: as we were finishing up Thanksgiving dinner, The Husband got up from the table and walked into our bathroom. I don’t know how long he was in there — my guess is under five minutes — when I went to check on him.

I found him collapsed on the floor, barely conscious, sweating, and unable to speak.  His breathing was extremely labored. I screamed for someone to call 911, and the dispatcher instructed me to start giving chest compressions because there was a moment when I felt him starting to slip away. The paramedics came, started working on him right there on the floor of our bedroom, and took him away in an ambulance.

I’ll write more about this (all signs point to this being a vasovagal syncope) but for now, I’ll let The Husband take over. As George says, life is one long enigma my friend. So read on, read on, the answer’s at the end.

Weeks ago I’d planned on a post for November 29th remembering George Harrison, on the 14th anniversary of his death. Then I almost got to meet him a lot earlier than I was planning on; so, that’s kind of changed the post a bit.

As I wrote on Facebook yesterday, I collapsed on Thanksgiving Night with an as-yet unknown-and-may-never-be-known misfiring of the brain that left me unable to talk and came very near to stopping my breathing forever. My wife kept me breathing long enough for the paramedics to take over. I spent a few days in the hospital and I’m now home doing a lot of resting.

As it was happening, I remember thinking that this is what it is like to die. I could hear much of what was going on but was powerless, unable to communicate. I felt as though there was a struggle going on. On the one hand was the desire for the inability to breathe and the discomfort to stop at any cost. On the other hand was my wife pulling me back and refusing to let me rest just now. The bond between my wife and I – because of all we’ve been through these last 25 years together – has always been strong. She doesn’t want to hear it, but I know that she’s the reason I hung on. I knew she wouldn’t let me go and that I owed it to her and our children to stay. More importantly, that I wanted to stay. That I fought to stay.

Having said all of that, it didn’t hit me until a few hours after I was in my hospital room that I could have died. This seems self-evident, but my mind was so addled that it didn’t hit home until I saw the date written on the white-board across from my bed. It had the nurse’s name, the emergency numbers, and ‘November 26, 2015’. Looking at that I suddenly thought, “This could’ve been the day that I died” – borrowing heavily from Don McLean.  Later, looking at my hospital ID tag, I saw my date of birth, followed by my date of admission. I realized those dates could’ve been the beginning of my epitaph.

At one time or another in our lives we all wonder what that date will be for us – that ‘death’ date on the epitaph. Seeing it there in print was a bit more than I could handle so I immediately stared at something else [you do a lot of staring at things in the hospital].

The list of things I’m grateful for today that I took completely for granted is too long to even start. Yesterday was a typical day in Pittsburgh – rain, rain, cold, rain – but it sure as hell looked like a beautiful day to me. I know that won’t last and that’s ok, too. I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life flittering around marveling at how great everything always is. That ain’t me [surprise, surprise].

That being said, I sure as hell am going to try to approach things differently. I’m still in the afterglow of having my life saved. And I’m sure I need to pay more attention to my health and that there may be some follow up things I need to do medically.  I’ll face that as it comes. I hope, though, that I can really keep the promise that I’ve made to try to look at things differently.

Before I sign off [just for today, folks], a note about George Harrison as originally intended: I learned about George’s death while in Wichita, Kansas, in a hotel while watching Live with Regis and Kelly. That’s right: I learned about George’s death from Regis Philbin [“well, well, well, Kelly  – guess who’s dead?!?”]. We were in Wichita with our one-week-old twins in the NICU. It was surreal. A Beatle-death would normally have been an Earth-shattering, world-stopping event. With my infants in a hospital 1,000 miles from home, not knowing what would happen or how long we’d be there, etc., however, George’s death registered with a tremendous sadness but I had more pressing obligations.

Still, sad it was. A year later, George’s widow, Olivia, and his friend Jeff Lynne released George’s last album, Brainwashed.  When doctors told George he had only a few months to live in the fall 2001, he went into his recording studio to record as many songs [he had a backlog of dozens of unrecorded songs] as he could. The recordings were raw and as time went on, George’s voice became weaker. After his death, Jeff Lynne and George’s son, Dhani, went into the studio to listen to George’s recordings. They recorded back-up vocals, added backing tracks, and fine-tuned it. When it was released, of course I bought it right away. Listening to it the first time, my son – 1 at the time – joined me and crawled over to the stereo. He pulled himself up to a standing position, obviously listening to the music. I watched this in amazement. I don’t know how long it lasted but it was long enough to leave that impression on me.

I don’t know what was going on while my son was listening to that album. I really felt, though, that he somehow knew that this man singing was someone special. Maybe in the cosmos there’s some kind of connection between them – one coming into the Earthly world, the other leaving one week later. Maybe it’s nothing. But I’ve always taken comfort in thinking that George’s spirit helped us get from Wichita back home and has been with the world ever since.

Thank you, George. I’m just not yet ready to meet you just yet.