Friday, April 14, 2017

The Eggs and I

I love Easter.

It invokes wonderful memories of family gatherings that can never be duplicated. All my loved ones have passed on and the ones less loved have scattered to the winds. But, for decades before they leave, we enjoy Easter Sunday with food, lawn games, board games, flower picking, egg hunting, cooking and sleeping under the stars (weather permitting).

This time of year, their absence hurts the most. 

Until she dies at age 98, my Grandmother is the glue that makes Easter incredible fun and the reason we all gather. She bestows Easter baskets with REAL chocolate and jelly beans. She prepares a feast of baked ham, fried chicken, creamed spinach, fresh corn and string beans, kidney bean salad with slivered onions and vinegary delishness, and my favorite: the Best Freaking Potato Salad in the World. For 25 years, I've searched everywhere for something approximating her recipes, but no matter the source, Austrian/German pedigree and my efforts, the dishes never come close. 

In the early 70's we have Easter egg hunts on my Grandmother's enormous flower filled yard and sometimes the eggs contain real silver coins. Faded Polaroids show me in pigtails and fancy pastel dresses, tiny lacy trimmed socks and shiny Mary Janes, my father in Cuban shirts with perfectly quaffed hair, my mother, cigarette dangling from her ruby lips, resembling a brunette Jane Mansfield in full glamour mode with black stiletto heels and cocktail dress, my grandmother in a simple house dress. All of us are tan from the Florida sun - this was well before melanoma scares and sunscreen and we spend every weekend on the beach. There are a few showing the table groaning under the Easter Feast - I forgot to mention the ceiling scraping layer cakes, sporting fluffy white icing and my dad's sketchy efforts at decoration. 

Of course, these days, there's none of that. 

I've been thinking about honoring the people and places that made me, especially since there is another book in the works about it. Those photos are disintegrating, aging in a way I never would have believed possible. A little like me.

What we do have is a brand new, large, beautiful country table and chair set. It even extends to a larger size. It's perfect for a photo preservation project I'm starting. All those happy times and good souls deserve a lovely place on the wall, to remind me where we've been and where we still need to go. 

Oh - at least this year, there will be cake. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Taking to the Woods

It's been too long since our last servings of camp coffee.

It's a big year for us. My 50th birthday and our 27th wedding anniversary. 

Everything takes on new meaning and urgency after cancer. Not so long ago, I'm refusing cake on my birthdays, not decorating for holidays, not preparing special meals. You are always worrying about recurrence or discovering that all that expensive, nasty, mutilating treatment you took just slightly delayed the inevitable journey to Stage IV. It gets real scary at year 3 post treatment, right where we are. Whatever will be will be, as Doris would cheekily sing. Still. I no longer assume that I will necessarily reach my golden years and have unlimited stretches of existence. 

So, we kick around the idea of seeing Billy Idol in Vegas. That would be awesome, but after consideration of the painful travel and expense, it becomes clear that's not it. What do we need?  Something peaceful, relaxing and filled with nature, where we need no fancy clothing or large amounts of cash. 

Florida has many natural springs which we have never been to, and a huge national forest up north that is very different from our local scrub pines and palmetto filled tiny patch of woods. There are fresh waters and large, undeveloped, pristine forested areas with shady trails galore, geocaching, antique stores and miles of country roads. 

We discover an RV resort with all the amenities, right in the middle of Ocala National Forest, and directly across the street from springs. We will ride bikes, fish off the dock, swim in the springs and the pool, lounge around in the huge, luxury RV and have fires at night. All we really need to bring is food and our personal items. There's a golf cart provided too, and a Dollar General store at the entrance to our park -- what more do we need?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I hope Mandi would like this post.

Though we never met we have many things in common: RV’ng, cooking, family, animals,  work, friends, life itself. She even had her very own Mike. He’s a badass, just like mine.  

We both find our own lumps and are diagnosed with breast cancer just before our birthdays – hers at 31, mine at 46. By the time I discover her blog at Darn Good Lemonade in late 2014, I’m well into chemo and all its horrors. She is well into dealing with her metastic disease process.

It is now my year three post treatment, near where Mandi was upon learning that she was Stage IV, despite the extremely aggressive treatments she had received. Chemo, surgery, radiation. Just like me.

It’s her blog that convinces me to write. Unlike me, Mandi can tell a riveting story with nary a curse word, and make you laugh and sob and rage right along with her. I respect this quality and never could emulate it. But maybe I can tell my story in my own way -- and perhaps help someone through it along the way. It's been a liberating, empowering, incredibly healing thing that probably would never have occurred had I not discovered DGL. 

While breast cancer a terrible diagnosis for any woman, I can’t comprehend having it made at the tender age of 31. Mandi's grace and strength resonate in every post. How to feel self-pity after seeing her photos? They tell their own story, before and after BC:  Mandi in the wild, on another rv trip with Mike and the furbabies. Mandi with friends and family. Mandi cooking. Mandi in her wedding dress, and my favorite: Mandi in a hospital gown, face defiantly beaming at the camera. Fierce and determined. 

Mandi Hudson died this week. It’s hitting much harder than anticipated, though we knew it was coming. Maybe it’s because her blog inspired me so much, or all the things we had in common. Mostly, it feels like I lost a friend.