Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tribute to Mom


As some of you already know, my Mother, Nancy Hollowell, died peacefully in her sleep yesterday morning at 9:30 am, after an almost five year struggle with Alzheimer's.  I'd like to  share with you some of her life because she was a courageous,  vibrant,  dynamic woman  who lived a full life.  I want to remember who she was before Alzheimer's took it's awful toll.

She was born in a small town in Mississippi, the second of two daughters born to Fred and Juaniece Bynum.  They were quite the adventerous couple; he was 20 years her senior  and they had eloped to Colorado Springs. They did a lot of traveling. Mom grew up in an large,  tight-knit extended family and there were enough eccentrics to keep it interesting (Uncle Waldo always wore eyeliner.) She had two girl friends she grew up with that would be friends for life, Sue and Ann.  By all accounts she had a very happy childhood.

She yearned for more than small town living, and met my Dad at Ole Miss.  He had dark hair and amazing blue eyes and was handsome in his ROTC uniform.  They married on my mother's 20th birthday.   They made a dashing couple.  She was well suited to the life of a military officer's wife.  She did her duty: she moved back home with the kids while Dad served his tour of Korea (post war) and first tour of Vietnam during the war.  She packed up the household and moved to where he was stationed, from West Point to Colorado Springs, to Ft. Benning to countless addresses in Texas.  When Dad had his second tour of Vietnam, she moved us into a little house off base in Killeen, Texas, where we kids could roam free.

The military life suited her.  She loved the formal part of the military: she'd get to dress up and accompany dad, spiffed out in his dress uniform, to various social functions.  And  how they partied!  Back then,  the MPs would follow you home if they saw your car weaving to make sure you got home safely.  There's a picture taken of my Mom that personifies that era.  It's black and white, of course.  On the walls in the background are mid-century art pieces.  Mom is doing the limbo in a snug black dress.  She's pregnant with me. She's got a cigarette in one hand and a martini glass in the other.

Most people dread moving; they hate leaving behind friends and familiar places.  I think she enjoyed it.  It was an adventure:  a chance to make new friends and have new experiences.  She made friends so easily.  Part of it was her upbringing, I'm sure.  But she was eager to meet new people and people responded to her charm.

She had her share of tragedy, too.  She lost her sister,  Jean, at an early age in the mid 60's, and her dad just a few years later.  And the biggest tragedy of her life, (and mine) was when my brother, Fred, died when he was 16.  I can't imagine the anguish and pain that she and Dad went through.Many marriages don't survive the loss of a child.  Theirs did.  Mom somehow kept it together.

She'd always wanted to live overseas and Dad finally got orders.  We arrived in Frankfurt in June, 1974 and were there for three years.  Mom made sure we took advantage of every opportunity we had to travel, see and do.  We visited England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain...I don't remember  everywhere we went, truth be told. She and Dad would vacaction without us, occasionally.  I remember eating Thanksgiving dinner at the USO in Paris.  We saw every museum and castle we could. We ate all the strange food we could find.  And she bought souvenirs wherever she went. Even though she was afraid of heights, she followed me all the way up and down the leaning Tower of Pisa.  She took me and my sister, Paula, on a trip behind the Iron Curtain, before the wall fell, and we visited Leningrad (St. Petersburg) , Moscow, Warsaw and Prague.  The Soviet soldiers with their machine guns enjoyed terrorizing me!

My Dad was stationed and then later retired from Ft. MacPherson in Atlanta, GA.  We had moved to Marietta, north of Atlanta, where I went to high school.  Mom had gone back to work full time while we were in Germany, and found a job working for HUD in downtown Atlanta.  It was the late 70's when energy conservation was still on everyone's mind, so she joined a carpool.  For her turn to drive, she bought herself a new, bright yellow, tiny, tinny Toyota Corolla with a four speed manual tranmission.  I'm sure her car pool buddies dreaded her day to drive, but she was doing her part and she loved her little car.

She was diagnosed  with pancreatic cancer when I was a freshman in college.  They gave her six months to a year to live.  She did chemo and radiation and is one of the very few people who beat that disease.  We spent a lot of that next summer, when she was in such bad shape, watching the Atlanta Braves on TV.   That was the year they won their first 13 games and they helped Mom recover and deal with the treatments.  I've always considered the years since to be bonus years and feel blessed to have had them.

My sister had moved to Florida not too long after we arrived back in the states, and after a brief stint at the Atlanta Journal after college I moved down, too.  I figured Paula would one day be my only relative and I wanted to have a good relationship with her.  My Dad died of cancer a few years later, and Mom moved to Florida not too long after I married Ed.  She bought a house in Walden Lake and got busy making a new life for herself.  She joined the Methodist Church, sang in the choir, did the bells chorus, played golf (her passion) and played bridge.  She made many new friends and found a travel buddy.  She was returning from a 2 week vacation in New Zealand and Australia when the planes hit the twin towers and all air traffic was grounded.  She was a few days late getting back from that trip.

She loved her grandaughter, Amanda, and my two boys, Justen and Grayson.  She loved doing holidays and making sure they were magical for everyone. Every year she'd make a double batch of butter cookie dough and have it ready for us when we got there.  I'd roll and cut the cookies, she'd bake them and my boys would decorate.  Mom would make frosting and the boys would get the food dye out to make up their own colors of frosting.  The kitchen would be a wreck with smears of icing and different colored sprinkles everywhere, but she'd just sweep up the mess and smile.

We got the diagnosis about five years ago.  My sister and I knew something was wrong and went with her together to see her doctor.  I remember Dr. Kelly's words: "Nancy, you'll be fine.  It'll be hard on your girls, but you'll be fine."

It has been hard.  This bright, smart, charming, funny woman was reduced to a shell.  Her wit and personality have been long gone.  Slowly, slowly she lost her ability to speak, to swallow and eat.  She lost her memory.  She lost her memories.  She lost the ability to care for herself or control her bodily functions.  She went from an adult back to being a child. She lived exactly in the moment.  It wasn't all grim; there were moments of joy.  I used to pick  her up and take her to my sister, Paula's house.   Paula would have her granddaughter, Ava, with her.  Mom loved to sit with Ava, her great granddaughter, and coo and sing-song and wave to her.  When I visited her last month I took her outside to sit in the sun and she articulated, quite clearly, 'This is nice."

She's been physically strong if not mentally.  As late as Sunday she was walking around the memory care unit on her walker.  Monday she didn't want to get out of bed (that's not unusual for her.)  They noticed splotching in her legs which meant that her heart wasn't pumping like it was supposed to.  Hospice had been called in a month or so ago, just in case.  They called for 24 hour care.  My sister stayed by her side on Monday night.  They were saying it could be hours, it could be days.  I'd planned to come down Tuesday afternoon after my son got out of class, but at 7 am the facility called and said, "Come now."  Good news rarely comes from 7 am phone calls.  I called Paula, who'd briefly gone home, and she headed back to Aston Gardens.  The day nurse had arrived and was taking over when I got there.  Both nurses agreed, it could be hours, it could be days.  Mom's breathing was steady but shallow.  Paula decided to head into work; they had a crisis.

I sat by mom's side, talking to her, singing to her, reminding her of things we had done.  She was not concious, but the nurse said she could still everything we said.  I talked to her, held her hand, rubbed her face.  After about an hour and fifteen minutes, her breathing suddenly changed.  The nurse said,  "That's it, she's about to go."  We debated calling Paula, but the nurse said she wouldn't have time to get back and she didn't want her to rush and get into a wreck, especially since she thought it was going to happen any minute.

My dad had a saying.  He'd exlaim 'My stars!' to make a I told Mom....."Mom, Dad's right there, he's waiting for you.  He's saying, 'My stars!  Nancy, look at you!  Don't you look great!'  "  She took her last breath a few moments later.  She was very peaceful.

Yes, I'm weeping as I'm writing this.  I will miss having my Mother here on this earth.  I'm thankful for the time we had together, especially the bonus years after the cancer.  That being said, I'm grateful this journey is over.  I've been mourning her for years; I've been mourning  for my Mother who was no longer able to mother.  Missing the woman who loved to walk on the beach but was no longer capable of it.  Who could no longer play golf or enjoy a good meal or a hearty laugh, or even follow the plot of a TV show.

I hate Alzheimers like other people hate cancer.  If you're in the mood to do so, you can make a contribution in her name, Nancy B. Hollowell, to the Alzheimer's Foundation.


It was a fabulous show, a packed house..~700 people or so.  They were
there for the Avetts. It was a warm night, had on jeans and wish I'd
worn shorts.  Couldn't ask for a nicer evening in December in Florida.
 The opening band, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, put on an excellent set.
They just received a Grammy nomination so they were just beside
themselves; on fire.  I like Cajun music live well enough.  It's
always fun and danceable.  These guys' accordian player doubled on lap
steel, and that brought something extra to the mix,  They are
definitely worth seeing.
The Avetts lived up to their live reputation.  Back stage they were
very quiet. I was teasing one of them about his beard, said he should
lose it, it looked too much like Devandra Banhardt's.  Guess that was
Scott.  They went on and tore it up.  The crowd had packed in around
the stage early, and were singing along with every lyric.  I was to
the side of the stage 'cause I couldn't find my way to the front,
which is my usual perch, and it was amazing to watch from the
performer's perspective, seeing hundreds of faces reflected in the
lights singing along with the songs that you wrote.
It's traditional music but punk as fuck at the same time.  They do
their own take on it, like Split Lip Rayfield does.  Their tour manager sat at the
side of the stage and changed string after string, seemingly one after
every song.  I wish I'd brought my camera just to show that set up,
this guy on a stool with about  30 packets of guitar and banjo strings
right in front of him.
They did have a drum kit and an electric guitar, which they used for
just one or two songs at the end.  They played right up until the
midnight cutoff and had one encore.  The crowd was screaming for more.
I've foolishly missed them the last 2 times they were in town.  I'll
not make that mistake again.

This will be long.  Skip now if you want.

So, we saw Centro-matic last Friday in Orlando (see blog for review) and last Saturday in Tampa (Ybor).  Both sets too short,
especially Orlando.  But the shows were both so wonderful and
memorable.  I was in a Centro-matic high, and didn't want it to end.
Checked their site and saw that they were playing Macon (Macon Fucking
Georiga??!!??) and planned a roadtrip.  After all, they'd be the
headliners, after two shows of being 1st and 2nd on the bill.  Was
hoping for a good long set.

Broached ths subject to my friend Kevin,  and best bud Bev and they were all for it.  We 3 hadn't done a roadtrip together since we drove to Atlanta to
see Wilco at the Tabernacle, which was 5  (???) years or so ago.

Found a cheap hotel downtown close to the venue,  but I reviewed it under Orbitz and under amenities it listed 'toilets' so I decided to skip that hotel for something else. Of course, I wasn't feeling any more confident when we arrived at our hotel and I walked up to the counter and said I had a reservation and
the guy behind the counter said, "Jennifer?"

Me and Bev had hauled our bikes so we went out for about an hour's
ride. My first experience with hills.  The place I ride most often is called Flatwoods, and the name describes it totally. She told me on the way back to
Tampa that the secret was to shift into your easier gear before you
needed it (that info would have been helpful earlier.)  I was huffing
and puffing.  But it felt good after the long car trip.

I went to school  at Mercer in Macon.  This was the early 80's.  The Mercer campus was a dangerous place, the neighborhood around it was too.  We rarely ventured downtown.  So I was pleasantly surprised by downtown Macon.  In the wash of the black night it looked happening.  Hard to find a parking
space.  It wasn't teeming with people but it wasn't deserted either.

Met up with some people from my obsessive music list, Postcardfromhell. Fun to finally meet and put faces to names.  I'm usually shy about
meeting new people (yeah yeah put a few beers in me and that changes)
but had met Jon before and I guess having the commonality of Postcard
made things easier. It was great to talk to Josh and Corey and Paula
and Jon over beer and dinner, then to meet Jay and his friends Mike

Ran into Will outside the venue and he was happy to see us.  Offered
to put us on the list but we declined.  Told him since I hadn't baked
anything for him I felt bad and would happily pay the cover.  Ran into
Scott next, and he was happy to see some familiar faces as well.
Assured Mark that I was not stalking him. (well, I am but I just lied
to make him feel better)  Chatted a bit with Matt too.

One thing about small towns, they still have reasonable prices for
drinks.  $3 pints for something very tasty.   Sometime before the first
set I guess I get into a chatty mood (ah, beer) and start talking with
this fresh faced kid at the bar who was bemoaning the fact that he
looked 14, then doing shots of Dewars (who shoots scotch??) and then
talked to some of the young men up from the AFB in Warner Robins.  The
haircut always gives them away. 

Centro-matic, what can I say.  I hate to keep harping what a wonderful
lubricant beer is, but it was working for me Saturday night.  I was in
a place of joy, rocking and swaying to the tunes.  It was wonderful
being surrounded by people who are as enthralled as I am. I couldn't
have been happier.  Chatted more with the band after the show.  Now I
want to follow them wherever they go.  I'm
truly smitten.

So crashed back at the hotel.  Bev got up early to do another bike
ride and I slept in.  We ate and drove thru Rose Hill  Cemetery (that place is goes on and on) and by the Mercer campus (my god has it
changed!  For the better!  musta found some money somewhere 'cause
there's been tons of new building and fixing up and it looks great...)
and back home.

Intense weekend, much fun.  I heart Centro-matic.  So nice to meet the
Atlanta Postcarders.  What a wonderful and memorable weekend.


np: Centro-matic (what else) All the Falsest Hearts

I missed Centro-matic when they were in town in December because I wasn't feeling well.  They are one of my favorite bands.  I just love the feelings their songs evoke, even though I often have no idea, even with a lyric sheet in hand, what they're about.  The sounds from Will's vocals, his wonderful voice and very unique delivery, twisting consonants and vowels and singing words in different ways along with Scott's harmonies, keyboards, fiddle and whatever else he touches transports me out of my current self and puts me in a realm somewhere outside my simple existence.  Matt's inventive drumming and Mark's steady bass or amazing guitar, it allows me to have a few perfect moments in my life.  That was last night.  Sounds melodramatic but I guess I really needed my Centro fix.

The show was in Orlando, at the Social.  Doors at 9, and Centro was somehow the bottom of a 3 band bill, will Jason Isbell listed above him and Will Hoge (???) the headliner. Me and my friend Bev walk in at 9:30, and the band is on stage, tuning up.  Mark sees me and gives me a big smile and a wink and they started playing a few minutes later.  Short set, heavy on songs from 'Love You Just the Same.'  Like I just said, Scott's harmonies with Will are just amazing, makes me weak in the knees.  Scott sawing on his fiddle, Will did a few of his trademark high leg kicks.  The crowd at first were the loyalist who knew them but by the end of their 40 minute set they had the front by the stage crowded.
The set break was busy.  Found Jason and spoke to him just a bit, gave him the cookies I had baked for him.  His southern accent seems to deepen one on one vs. when he's on stage.  Bev gave him info about the radio station and invited him to come down if he wanted.  He remembered the station from when he was with the Truckers, they played live in studio before. He was very sweet.  Didn't get into a big q&a session 'cause I knew he had to get on stage.

Said hi to Mark and Will.  Will said they were gonna head out quickly after I gave him his batch of cookies, but said we'd visit more tomorrow in Tampa.
Went back in front of the stage to wait for Jason to start.  My turn to people watch.  Oh, boy.  High Trixie and Chad turn out.  Some guy who looked like an honest to god preppie from 1981.  Pressed khakis, tucked in polo shirt, short haircut.  Poster boy for the Young Republicans.  The new fashion for the 20 something female is the long top that ties under the breasts, kinda like a maternity top.  I'm so glad I don't feel the need to wear the latest.  These girls have never actually worn a maternity top or would understand why it would be the last thing one would want to wear.  There was a group of 3 men, late 20's early 30's, kinda scruffy looking. Big beer guts, all around 5'8" or so, tshirts, (one had a Hayseed Dixie shirt on) jeans, ball caps.  They enjoyed Centro but were there for Jason.  Smoked thru the entire show, took turns buying beer.  Was fun watching them have a good time.  One more observation, more people were drinking cocktails than I'm used to seeing, and it's not just because I usually go to a place that doesn't serve hard liquor.  I think normally that the minority of people drink cocktails, but here it seemed almost 50-50.

OK, Isbell came on and was smoking. He mentioned the 3 band of all guys, and how tonight was big for Man Love.  His band was tight. (actually they were all smoking, a constant grey haze from the stage)  Didn't keep a set list, of course, but got Dress Blues, Try,  but no Chicago Promenade.  Did a Thin Lizzy cover, Jailbreak.  Did a few Truckers songs, including Outfit, and that got the biggest response from the crowd.  Looked over and the three scruffy guys had their arms around each other and 2 of them actually joined hands and sang along the Truckers songs. Ah, Man Love. It was quite a sight.

So about halfway thru the set I left to get a beer.  I'm second from the stage, and my friend Bev is right behind me.  I'm back in a few minutes and see that she has been pushed back and these dancing young women, one with a piece of white netting in her hair, like a bridal veil, are where I was.  I've no idea what happened, but as I started to approach them to ask them to move, I see Bev charge in, shove them aside and push me back to where I was. I got beer spilled all over me and I guess over some of the space invaders as well. It was quite surprising, 'cause in the eight years I've known Bev I've never seen her lose her temper.  Later, she says they came bopping in, 4 of them, as a group moving as one, and invaded her space to get to where I had been.  They were so close that one of their ponytails was bouncing in her face. I think she tried to ask them to move but they ignored her. So she took matters into her own hands.  Too funny.  They later came and apologized for taking my spot but demanded an apology for spilling beer all over one of them.  Yes, we're sorry just please go away.  Bev is a black belt in tai-kwan-do so it would have been interesting if it had gotten really ugly.  Girl fight!!

It was a bit disconcerting but I got back into the show.  People kept bringing Jason shots (the 3 scruffies) and beer and you could see him getting drunk right there on stage.  He was eyeing a pretty blonde right next to me and not making any attempt to be subtle.  Don't know how trashed he was but you could see his eyes change, but he never lost a note.  3 big shots of JD would do that to anyone.  The set ended with the other guitarist doing a fab version of Psycho Killer.  Crowd was very appreciative.

The Centro guys were still there after Jason's set so we chatted with them a bit before heading home.  Truly was a great show and looking forward to tonight.

Originally 10-1-2005

OK, so here's the recap of 2 crazy road trips in 2 days.
Decemberists were Wednesday night at House of Blues in Orlando.  The
venue is very cool looking, visually very appealing, but it sucks just
the same. It is in the middle of this 'destination' near downtown
Disney, whatever the hell that is.  You can see Pleasure Island across
the lake. (Pleasure Island, for those who don't know, is a Disney Land
of Bars.  There are different themed bars/discos and you can wander
around with a drink in your hand...ugh...was dragged there once years
ago for a gf's birthday)  There is a huge arena that is a permanent
home for Cirque de Soleil, a huge 24 theatre AMC Theatre, a mega
Virgin mega store, a Wolfgang Pucks' with 3 or 4 different restaurants
to choose from and I don't know what else is down further because I
haven't walked any further down but I assume there are more places
that are eager to find ways to separate you from your money.  OK, back
to HOB.   Corporateness permeates the place.  Tight security; they do
bag checks, they wave wands up and down and do pat downs.  Once
inside, large men in yellow HOB SECURITY shirts are everywhere.  The
layout is a square, with bars along either side and the back, then go
downstairs to the 'floor' in front of the stage.  There is also a
balcony which was closed this night.  The stage is  probably 50 feet
wide and tall, covered with a curtain that looks like a quilt.

I had baked brownies to give the band, and had them wrapped in foil.
I had a knife, too, a steak knife to cut the brownies with.  The knife
was wrapped in paper towels, and both were in a plastic grocery bag.
I thought for sure I'd never get the knife thru security (really, its
almost airport tight) but they waved me right in without checking the
bag.  My friend, Bev, said that al Qaeda would be recruiting me
now...I smuggled a knife into HOB!  So, how to get the brownies to the
band?? I asked a beefy security guy by the front door.  He suggested I
try  the door leading to backstage.  I asked the beefy security guy by
that door.  He couldn't do anything.  He couldn't let me backstage, he
couldn't go backstage, he couldn't get anyone in 'production' to do
anything, either. I just clutched my brownies.
We met up with Tampa Kevin and his beautiful girlfriend, Rachael.  We
had gotten there late, the opening act's last song.  Sons and
Daughters were supposed to be good, but I guess I'll have to wait
until next time.  So, the Decemberists made us wait a long time before
they finally came onstage.  We had forty minutes to chit chat and cool
our heels. The place was packed.  Don't know why they didn't open the
balcony. They finally took the stage at 9:20, and damn I couldn't see
a thing.  I'm 5' tall and I usually get to a venue early enough to get
up front, but tonight it wasn't to be.  And to make things worse, if I
tilt my head back trying to look up, I end up looking through the
wrong end of my bifocals and everything is blurry.  So we went up the
stairs to the bar level and craned our necks to see the stage.
I didn't know what to expect.  I was not expecting high camp, but
that's what we got.  The show was a lot of fun.  The lead singer had
on a red and white striped blazer, ala Farrel's ice cream parlor.  The
lead guitarists had some kind of jester's hat on.  I guess when I
listen to the records I took them as performing these songs straight,
but live they decided to have fun.  I mean, its soft rock, right?
Gotta do something to liven things up.  The crowd ate up the antics,
down to the giant snapping fish jaws at the encore during the whale
song (whatever its called)  The crowd chanted and swayed along to the
tunes (there was one odd guy with a metal helmet behind Kevin, but
I'll let him tell that tale.)  The violinist was very good, the
harmonies were wonderful.  She did sing a song on her own, very Sandy
Denny like.  The keyboardist/multi instrumentalists was also female,
also very good.  They put on a 'show' vs. just playing a concert...I
think their last song before the encore the entire band was on the
ground playing their instruments, including the drummer draped across
the drum set.  OK, it was a lot of fun.
Sometime during a bathroom break I asked the merch people if the band
was gonna come out and sign stuff and the lady said no.  So I said,
screw it, and gave the brownies to my friend Bev to do with what she
wished.  She wished to keep them, so we munched down on our way home.
Home after 1 am.  Got kids off to school at 7:30 and went back to
sleep until 10:30.  I am sooo spoilt.

Last night, Kevin got to the house about 6, we ate dinner, Bev got
there about 7:45, and we headed towards Orlando about 8.  There were
four bands in the line up and we were afraid of a really late night so
we decided to take our time.  We got there around 10, I think, and
right after we bought our tickets I spotted Jason about to go into the
door so I stopped him, introduced ourselves, and gave him the brownies
I had baked for him that day.  He seemed very pleased with the
brownies, but I did not say that it was a bribe to get him to play
longer.  We got inside, very scant crowd as compared to the night
before.  Probably 200 people tops.  The second band was just
finishing, so we milled around, visited the merch table. Bought the
self titled CD and the tour EP.  Caught up with Jason again, and asked
him my most burning question.  I said, you're a happily married guy,
right?  Right, he said.  So, I asked, how does your wife take it when
you write a song 'You've Got Such Pretty Eyes For A Snake'?  Doesn't
it drive her crazy.  He said he was sure it did, but he just had to
write what out there.  HMMM>?>>>So, that was the most of our exchange,
except to ask why he didn't come to Tampa.  He said they didn't get an
offer.  I said next time we'd put on the show.  He said to be in
contact with his booking agent. (We've got one guy in Tampa who puts
on most of the alternative shows in town.  He does this in addition to
holding down a full time job so I'm sure he's just burned out)
The next guy was coming on so I went down to watch him.  Scottish folk
singer, Alasdair Roberts.  Sounded more Irish than Scottish, but what
do I know?  He did traditional sounding songs, very good stuff if you
like that.  The man was skinny.  (Insert Bobby Sands joke here)
Bought one his CDs for my hubby.
So, MEC finally takes the stage...about 11:40 or so, I think.  Loud,
rockin', yeah.  But immediately noticed a bad crackling sound with
Jason's guitar.  He soldiered on a few more songs, kept stopping
trying to tinker with the amp, then finally gave up.  So most of the
set we had just one guitar.  Jason didn't take his guitar off, though,
even though it wasn't working.  Security blanket, perhaps?  Or, what
do you do with your hands when you're used to holding a guitar and now
have nothing to hold onto while you're singing? He occasionally would
strum it or form a chord and then realize it wasn't working.  Very
good stuff.  Didn't keep a set list, but remember we did get Just Be
Simple, The Dark Don't Hide It, Leave the City and don't remember all
what else.  Kevin timed it at an hour and 5 minutes, so I guess we
should consider ourselves lucky, considering it was a one guitar
operation.  Glad we made the effort to trek to Orlando.
This is originally dated 7/12/2005

OK, will try to give an overview of our 5 days in Paris, without giving you a blow by blow narrative of us being tourists.  I'll include some of that, too, though.  I'm hoping that this is more of a travelog of the unusual, funny, or weird things that happen that turn a vacation into an adventure.  But  the touristy stuff is inevitable.

Let's back up a bit.  My husband has the week of the 4th of July off every year, and we usually go away somewhere.  I'm usually the one who spends hours on the internet, pricing different options, exploring different avenues, then we usually do the same old thing, like going to Dive Dive Dive in the Bahamas(nothing wrong with that, it is a wonderful place) or to the NC mountains.  This year, in December, I turned the task over to my husband, Ed.  He grumbled a bit but said he'd do it and surprise me.  The man can't keep a secret for anything.  I opened up my very romantic handmade Valentine's day card (another tradition, another story for another day) and out tumbled the itinerary for our stay in Paris.  I burst into tears and probably blubbered for half an hour. He wasn't sure if I was pleased or not.  Through my tears I tried explaining how happy I was.  So we've been anticipating this for awhile.

I used to live in Germany.  My dad was an army officer and I spent 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in Frankfurt.  My mom made sure that I was a well traveled kid.  I went to Paris twice while we lived there.  I remember seeing the Mona Lisa.  I remember the vastness and opulence of Versailles.  We ate Thanksgiving dinner at the USO in Paris.  But I was a kid.  I was looking forward to seeing this through adult eyes.  It was my husband's first European trip.  Needless to say, we were very excited. I will also admit to having more than a little trepidation.  Don't the French hate Americans?  Aren't they all really snobby and rude to those who can't speak their language? Will we be looked down on, snubbed, ridiculed?  I'd had thoughts of getting a Canadian flag lapel pin or wearing a pin with a big slash through George Bush's face, but in the end decided not to.

I'm always a nervous wreck before I travel.  I was that way before 9/11, even worse afterwards.  I've actually missed 2 different flights in 2 different cities by being late to the airport (wasn't my fault, really) so it is always in the back of my head that something bad is going to happen.  My husband is used to me freaking out by now, but we somehow got to the airport in plenty of time, without us fussing at each other at all (OK, without me fussing at him at all.)  The trip started on a high note when I was carded when I ordered a beer with my burger. I'm 42.  Tee-hee. That brightened an already great day.  I have a hard time sleeping anywhere except in a bed, but thanks to my doctor-prescribed sleeping pills (and a couple glasses of red wine)  I was able to get some sleep on the way over.

We flew into Charles deGaulle.  Not sure when it was built, but it sure is ugly.  Reminds me of the older parts of JFK.  And it is overwhelming.  Easy trip through immigration and customs.  Then you get to the outside portion, where people wait in line to check in, and there's very little room to maneuver.  Very colorful, every nationality in the world, every language, everyone's crammed together trying to pull luggage or push luggage carts in too cramped quarters.  A bizarre bazaar of humanity.  My husband has a rather delicate nose and is fond of deodorant, so the first whiffs of those who do not have the same need to cover up naturally occurring body odor was, well, interesting.  But we didn't encounter that nearly as often as we thought we would during our trip.

My husband had booked us into a 4-star hotel, which probably surprised him as much as me.  We're both careful (tight, stingy....OK, I can make a dollar scream) with money: he is a purchasing manager, his job is to buy stuff.  The better he is at his job the more money he makes.  I enjoy seeing how much I can get for as little as possible.  I get great joy out of my thrift store finds.  It's more than just a habit, it's a lifestyle.  The more I save in one area the more I can indulge in another (I save on clothes, splurge on CDs.)   The Hotel du Louvre is right next to the Louvre, right down from the Opera, within walking distance of lots of different points of interest.  It was a great location.  We had hoped for an early check-in, to nap and catch up, but it was not to be.  So instead we headed out and explored.  We  were out for awhile and stopped back by the hotel but our room was still not ready.  We grabbed our luggage and changed into shorts because we were burning up.  I felt sorry for the help.  They were all in long sleeves and it was hot.   The weather was crazy while we were there, at least to us from Florida, where the weather's the same for months on end.  Burning up the first day, needed shorts.  Chilly the next few days, needed coats.  Would go from shorts weather  to needing a coat weather within a few hours. Windy.  Some rain.  Gee, reading this over  I guess its normal, in many places, to have changing weather patterns.  Kinda like Austin in March.  We're just not used to it and it was a novelty. 

 It was for the best that we didn't sleep in the afternoon, it would have made jet lag recovery that much worse.  As it was we had a pleasant afternoon strolling around, going thru Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle and walking along the Seine.  Is there any way to put into words how beautiful this city is? Everywhere you look thereĆ¢€™s an amazingly large, spectacularly beautiful, ornate but orderly designed  really old building.  You walk along the street and look over and buttresses are flying.  Oh, another cathedral.  Oh, another jaw dropping bit of architecture. How old is that?  Been around 800 years.  Oh.  It is unbelievable and for me, with my limited powers of expression, indescribable.

  Also saw some neat cars.  Most of the cars in Paris are small, but nothing like the Smartcar. Also saw a compact type Mercedes with a hatchback, not available in the states, obviously.  Unlike NYC, most of the cars were in fairly good shape.  They weren't full of dings and dented bumpers.  Which is surprising considering how they drive. They don't have the protective extra armored grills on their front bumpers, either.

Finally got checked into the hotel.  It's a very old building; we get off the elevator and walk down the carpeted hall and the floor squeaks at every step. We get to our room and can't get any of the lights to turn on. After turning on and off all the light switches in the place, we find there is a master switch by the exit door.  Very clever.  When you leave you don't have to go around turning off all the lights, just hit one and they all go out. The room is very nicely furnished, if on the small side by American standards.  The space is used wisely.   In the bathroom we found something different.  

 You have to step up to get into the bathtub/shower, and there is no shower curtain or sliding door.  Instead, there is a glass door that swings back and forth, like a door, but only goes back halfway through the tub.  And there is no seal at the bottom.  When you shower, the water runs down the glass, and half the water goes into the tub and the other half drips onto the floor.  There is a drain in the middle of the floor, but the floor is not really sloped towards the drain so the water just sits.  You put your bathmat down and it gets soaked so when you get out of the shower you're standing on a wet, squishy mat.  Oh, and the hot water was entertaining.  You set the temperature in the shower for what you think is a warm shower, wait for the water to warm up and hop in.  Well, the water keeps getting hotter and hotter and hotter, so you have to jump out of the way to keep from getting scalded.  So, you turn the temp down, just a bit, no change. A bit further, its still burning up.  A bit further, then freezing water is coming out of the pipes.  Your entire shower is a dance in and out of hot and cold water. We couldn't get the temperature right, so we learned to dance instead.  Another part of the adventure.  But the towels were wonderful, about 4'x 6'.  Pure bliss.  And they had wonderful fuzzy terry robes.  And the sheets were (gasp) pressed.

So, our first night out, I dig out our guidebook and find a recommended restaurant that I thought was not too far from us.  Its off  Rue Sebastapol, which I take as a good sign. (One of my favorite artists, Jay Farrar, has a CD called Sebastapol) Trying to look as chic and Frenchlike as possible,  I pull on a new skirt that I bought to go with my cool thrift store blouse and slipped on some cute embroidered flats.  I have delicate feet and sensible shoes are what usually adorn my feet, but I figured we wouldn't be walking far.  And looking around, many many French women are walking around on the cobblestones in high-heeled, pointy toed shoes, and they're not wearing hose either.  What's a little pair of flats?  Big mistake.  Our quick outing to dinner turned into a two hour walk. We never find the restaurant in question, but enjoy the exploration.  A huge blister developed on my little left toe which affected the rest of our trip.  We stopped and got bandages and it helped a bit. It didn't stop us, but it did slow us a little and caused me to curse myself quite a lot.  Stu-pid, stu-pid. (Stupide, Idiote, Maroon)  I know better. ( The same damned thing happened in Cozumel a few years ago.  First night out, too many margaritas, new sandals, walk back to hotel, painful blister on toe.)  So we end our first night like we do on subsequent evenings.  We stop at a local grocery, get snacks for the next day,  a bottle of red wine and some good dark chocolate.  Great way to end the evening. On the new Andrew Bird record there is a song called 'Tables and Chairs' and the song has the line, "There will be snacks, there will be snacks."  That became our catch phrase for the trip.

We had good intentions about going out and doing things at night.  They had tons of cool stuff happening right around us, for example, the second night we were there Gregorian monks were chanting at Notre Dame.  Most of the cathedrals had classical music performances in the evenings.  Unfortunately, after a long day of being a tourist, neither of us had any energy to do anything except eat and go to sleep.  The sloth family strikes!

The next day we did the double decker tourist bus, which takes you from place to place. You can get off and get back on a later bus. They give you headphones and you plug them in and dial in your language and you get your history while being driven around.  A lot of it was bull, but it made for interesting listening.   We get off at the Eiffel Tower and spend several hours there. The view is incomparable.  Just awe-inspiring. There are 3 different platforms on the Tower. We take the elevator to the top.  Both my husband and I are afraid of heights, so we clung to each other on the elevator ride to the top, my eyes clenched, my stomach in my throat.  At the top I inched around by holding onto the wall, but bravely did go to the edge  and take photos. (Its fully enclosed with fencing so there's no danger of falling but its still terrifying.)   My toe wasn't bothering me that much, so we decide to walk down from the second landing instead of waiting for the elevator. A thousand or so steps later we're back on the ground.  We switch buses and the driver is trying to tell us something but we didn't quite understand.  We understood what he meant when he stopped in the French Quarter and told everyone to get off the bus.  It was 7 o'clock, his shift was over. We started walking again.  We were on the other side of Notre Dame so I was able to get some lovely photos.

  We walked along the river (there's a walkway right along the river and a sidewalk above, at street level.)   We passed by the Louvre and see what appears to be a major Hollywood production set up by the side.  Trailers everywhere, marked with signs in the front 'Wardrobe', 'Gaffers' etc.  Lots of trailers for the actors, too.  Had no idea what film it is, but it was rather fun to see all that stuff.  Back to our hotel we promptly fell asleep, missing the aforementioned chanting Gregorian monks.  We crawled out of bed a few hours later and had a late dinner.  It stays light in Paris until 10:30 or so at night, which is so different from what we're used to.  Its great fun to sit at an outdoor cafe and watch the world go by.

So our plans were to get up early the next day to get to the Louvre early to beat the crowds.  We get there right before opening only to find that it is closed for the day. Closed on Tuesdays.   I swear my guidebook didn't say that, it said open daily.  We decide its time to tackle the subway system.  We buy our passes and find that it is as ridiculously easy to navigate as every one had said.  So, our next stop was to be Musee Orangerie, which is supposed to house an extensive collection of Impressionists.  We get there, only to find that it is closed for renovation.  We decide to head to Musee D'Orsay, which is not too far away.  It is supposed to also have an amazing Impressionist collection, but we had avoided it because it is supposed to be really crowded. (I'm hobbling with my sore toe by now and will be for the rest of the trip.)   We pass by another film being shot and stop to watch.  The entire crew is Asian, speaking French.  It was fun to watch the countdown and hear the director yell 'Action!' then 'Cut!' and watch them relight the set and do it all again.  We get to D'Orsay and yes, the crowds are unbelievable.  Too much for us to fight, so we head off to yet another place which is renowned for its Impressionists collection, the Petite Palais, which also holds the city of Paris' collection.  It is off the Champs-Elysees, also within walking distance.  In my case, by this time, hobbling distance.  The Place de la Concorde is where Champs-Elysees ends, and all along the Plaza and Champ Elysees they have started erecting barriers closing off the streets and risers with seats, all in preparation for the ending of the Tour de France.  We get to the Petite Palais, only to find that it, too, is closed for renovations.  Ah, how much time we could have saved had we only talked to the concierge at the hotel.  So, we Metro it to the Sacre-Coeur, another astonishingly beautiful cathedral on a hillside overlooking the entire city.

 The views are spectacular and breathtaking.  The stairs to get to the top are also breathtaking.  By this time I'm noticing that in addition to my poor sore toe, my calves are also killing me.  Me, miss gym rat who works out 5-6 times a week; me the one who runs, swims, does other cardio stuff and lifts weights and who pays special attention to her legs and does extra calf work because I want them to be shapely, my calves are killing me.  Its rather entertaining, the ow, ow, ow with each step up or down.  Humbling, too.   We don't encounter too many stairs in Florida.  We ran into the same film crew from earlier in the day, this time they were shooting by the Sacre-Coeur.  I'm sure the film, whatever it is, will never see a stateside release.  What a shame.

We did the Louvre the next day.  Got there early, before it opened, so we didn't have to wait long in line.  Spent an unbelievable 11 hours there, it was a day the museum was open late.  Every time we got ready to leave, one of us saw some other exhibit we just had to see.  And we didn't even see but a fraction of what there was to see.  It's like the Met in NYC times 10.  We'd look at paintings for awhile until we couldn't absorb anymore, take a break and fortify ourselves with pastry (there will be snacks, there will be snacks) then go look at sculpture.  Go for another couple of hours, stop and rest and refuel, then go some more.  Just an unbelievable orgy of beauty.  They allow flash photography but I soon figured out that there was enough light that I didn't need my flash.  I took a photo of whatever I fancied; I have no idea of the artist or origin of most of what I took, if I liked it I took a picture (until my battery died.)  Had to take a photo of the sculpture we could see from our hotel room. You could spend months in the Louvre and not do it justice.  We went until we dropped.

We had planned to do Versailles on our last day, but we (I) decided to go shopping instead.  I read that twice a year they have state mandated sales.  So every store you pass  has a large SOLDES sign.  But even with everything on sale I still couldn't spend the money.  Everything's still too expensive. It was raining on and off, so we kept the umbrella close.  We wandered around, came across another beautiful cathedral under renovation, Saint Eustache.  Just amazing, really.  The light inside was spectacular.  We wandered that day without much of a destination.

  Since we hadn't spent much time on the Left Bank, took the Metro and stopped at a randomly picked stop and poked  around. Was flattered when someone who was taking a poll asked me for my opinion. Guess that means I didn't stick out as your typical American tourist.  Hopped on a bus and let it take us around (the bus schedule was less easy to decipher than the Metro.)  Filled up on tacky souvenirs to take back to everyone.  We bought so much at one place the cashier even threw in an extra keychain.  Woo-hoo.  Another spectacular dinner then back to the hotel to pack.

Ed had let me chose what we did every day; he only had two requests:  One, that we have a picnic in a park (a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and thou) and two, that we see the Eiffel Tower at night.  We never got to have our picnic.  We did have a rather crappy crepe and a bottle of water while sitting in the grass of a park, but that was not exactly  what he had in mind.  On the last day, when we had planned our picnic,  it rained.  I felt bad that he hadn't had a chance to do what he wanted, so off to the Eiffel Tower we went after we finished packing.  We left the hotel about 11:30.  We were running mighty low on Euros and I was worried because we had bought our 3 day Metro passes 3 days ago.  We didn't know if they would expire at midnight or if they were good for 72 hours from purchase.  There is no Metro stop right by the Eiffel Tower, but there is a train stop.  (In Paris they have the subway system and a train line that runs in the city and out to the suburbs.)  The trains run less frequently than the metro, and we noticed, while waiting, that it said last train at midnight.  We decided then we'd try to take the Metro back.  We got off at the Eiffel Tower stop, walked up the stairs, turned around and looked up and both our jaws dropped. If the Eiffel Tower is spectacular during the day, it is astonishing at night.  The way they have it lit, all I can say is 'Wow!'

Once again, another memorable sight.  After a while we decide to head back; it's about 12:30 or so.  The closest Metro station is across the river, so we walk that way, keeping an eye on the Tower for different views.  We can't find the Metro station so we start walking along the river towards the next station.  It's a lovely night out, a little cool, we have our light jackets on, and my toe isn't bothering me that much.  We finally find the next Metro station, check the map to make sure we're heading in the right direction, then head to the turnstile with our fingers crossed.  We slip our tickets in, and chu-chink, they're accepted.  The turnstile opens, we go in and head to the platform.  Whew.  We walk for about 20 seconds and encounter a lady who's walking towards the exit. "That was the last train," she said, "the Metro's closed."  Oh, no! What to do?  "You can always get a taxi," she said.  Yeah, like we're gonna find a taxi that takes credit cards.  So we climb up out of the metro station and turn back to take another look at the Eiffel Tower.  It is 1 o'clock in the morning and it is now lit up with flashing strobe lights.  They flash on and off, ripple up and down, like a Christmas tree and 4th of July all rolled into one.

It was an incredible sight.  I've never seen anything like it.  If we'd caught the Metro we would have missed this most wondrous of sights.  With the likelihood of finding a taxi slim, we hoof it back to the hotel.  Have a lovely walk along the Siene.  Get back to the room at 2 am, too wired from the walk to sleep, so more red wine and dark chocolate and finally crash about 3. It was just an awesome way to end our trip.

 Get up at 7 to make it to the airport.  We're standing in line and the representative from the airlines is checking us in prior to check-in (I know, it makes no sense) and told us the flight was overbooked, would we be willing to go on stand-by?  If we were bumped, they'd give us an $800 travel voucher, pay for hotel, meals, and taxi for the night.  Were we interested?  What, a free night in Paris?  An $800 travel voucher?  Where do we sign?  We wouldn't find out until right before the plane left, so we had to go thru all the rigamarole of checking in, going through security and all that.  On the other side of security my husband discovers he'd lost his credit card so we had a white-knuckled half hour until we found out someone from the airline had it.  Whew.  We were not bumped, dammit, but it was fun speculating.  Kinda like wondering how you'd spend your lotto winnings.  An uneventful flight back, actually arrived early in Miami.  Immigration there is a nightmare.  What a horrible introduction to the U.S. for first time visitors.  I am embarrassed, mortified really.  It wasn't too horrible for U.S. citizens, but for foreigners the lines were unbelievable.

OK, that's the basics of what we did and what happened.  We had an absolutely marvelous time.  I highly recommend Paris to anyone.  Its easy to get around, there's tons of stuff to do whatever you're into, and you can figure out what you need, even if you don't have French, if you've got a French/English dictionary.  Most service people you run into have English, and if they don't, you can usually point or point at words in your dictionary and get by.  Here are some myths/stereotypes busted or confirmed:
1)      The stereotype is that French people hate Americans, are snobby and rude and will snub and ridicule tourists  because we can't speak their language.  I spent way too much time worrying about this before our trip.  It is so totally wrong.  You think that a stereotype this ingrained must have some basis, but we did not see it at all during our trip.  Almost everyone we ran into was polite and as gracious as they could be. They corrected my mangled French with a smile, not a sneer. My '˜Merci's' were nodded at and smiled at and returned.  I did not feel any antipathy towards me because of my heritage.  My husband, oh wise one, says in most cases people will treat you as you treat them. This is true.  Myth busted.  I've never been so happy to be so wrong.  

2)      French women know how to dress.  This is not a myth, this is the God's honest truth.  I would sit and enviously watch the beautiful and beautifully put together women walk by.  They have more elan and flair in their pinkies that I will ever have.  When I was younger I was a Vogue magazine devotee (you'd never know now) and I used to try to 'dress', but I never got the hang of it.  I think the combination of not working at an office job, motherhood, and living in Florida have all combined to turn me into a slob.  I'm strictly a jeans/shorts and t-shirt type gal.  Oh, but I wish I could put an outfit together like the French women do.  I am envious of their collective sense of style, which seems so effortless.  Oh, this season's color is tangerine. We saw it in many variations, many different hues, but light orange is in.

3)      The French can cook.  My god, can they cook.  Except for the crappy crepe in the park, almost everything else we ate was outstanding.  And we ate fairly simply.  The bread, oh my!  The sauces!  The dark chocolate!  The pastries!  We had one raspberry tart (and I'm not particularly fond of raspberries) where the taste just exploded in my mouth.  I swear I'll remember that tart forever.  I had good intentions of stopping every afternoon for a coffee and pastry, but we only did that a few afternoons.  Damn.  I regret every pastry I missed.  Ah, orgiastic ecstasy for the tastebuds.

4)      Paris is for lovers.  Yes it is.  One of our guidebooks said, when it comes to matters of the heart or groin, Parisians do not sit in judgement.  I'd say. There was all kinds of making out going on.  Kinda fun to watch.  Like back in the days when you were a virgin and you knew that whatever you were doing was not going to end in sex so you just kissed and made out like mad.  Couples kissing everywhere.  Making out on the grass in the park. Grown men and women, in their forties.  On a park bench.  In the museum.   Brings a smile to your face.

5)      Paris is expensive.  Yes it is.  Guidebook says to bring half the clothes you plan to pack and three times the money.  Yes, yes, yes.  The exchange rate's horrible, and every time you change money they charge a fee.  We just laughed about it after awhile because there was nothing we could do about it.  After exchanging some money, my husband quipped, "Hey, just try spending that in more than one place."

Other silly observations.  Hey, the buildings look just like they do in the Aristocats.  And the sirens sound just like they do in foreign films.  Hmmmm.

It was an absolutely marvelous trip and we had the best time.  I can't wait to go back and spend more time exploring Paris.  Hopefully next time we'll get out some into the country as well.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mom and Alzheimer's

After writing a novella for my ride report yesterday, I realized that I've missed the act of writing.  It's been a lazy Sunday and I oughta go ride my bike, but instead will attach thoughts to these pages.

I've had the thought, rather melodramatically, that I've had a major tragedy each decade of my life.  When I was in single digits and far too young to understand, my brother committed suicide.  In my teens my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six months to a year to live.  My dad died when I was in my mid-twenties; way too young.  I don't feel the need to share the big life changing moments from my thirties and forties, but I had them.  Now, a few months into my fifties, I'm having to face this decade's challenge:  my mother's Alzheimer's disease.

She triumphed over cancer and won a battle very few do, only to have to live her last years in one of the most horrible ways possible.  Her mind is gone, her memories are gone, she's lost the ability to form a coherent sentence and is losing control over her body.

We've had her in an Assisted Living Facility for almost two years.  My sister and I both noticed a deterioration of her memory. She would get lost driving around Plant City.  The bumper on her car had more than a few scrapes on it and she didn't know where they came from.  We all have memory lapses from time to time, but she'd call me and ask what a certain type herb was used for. A contractor would knock on her door, tell her she needed a service, and she'd go down and get money out of the ATM to pay them.  She got ripped off more than once.

My sister and I finally took her to her doctor and told her of our concerns.  I guess my mom's a good actress because the doctor, whom she saw frequently, had no idea that there was a problem.  After a bunch of questions the doctor gave mother a piece of paper and a pencil and told her to draw a clock face showing 3 o'clock and to label it.  My mother was able to draw a circle and 2 sticks inside the circle, but that was it.  The doctor told mom that 1) she needed to stop driving, 2) she needed to think about an alternate place to live and 3) it was going to be harder on me and my sister than it was on her.

I don't think the latter is true. It's hard on mom, too.

  She was not happy at having her privileges taken away.  Who would? They moved her from a regular room into the memory care unit, which is behind a locked door after she got lost a few times on her daily walk.  It's a really nice place (they all have some problems) and fortunately mother bought long term care insurance, so, for the time being, it's paid for.  She's being well cared for.

But what an awful way to spend your last years.  In her lucid moments she mentions dying.  She says she wants to die and doesn't want to live like this.  Physically, she's in really good shape so she will be with us for  awhile, but mentally she's getting worse every time I see her (which is about every two weeks.)  She's always so glad to see me, even if she doesn't know my name anymore.  She knows I'm her people, even if she doesn't know if I'm her mother, her sister, or her daughter.  Going out in public is stressful;  too stimulating.  I've been picking her up and taking her to my sister Paula's house when my sister has her granddaughter.  Mom loves to hold little Ava (with help from me or Paula) or just watch her play on the floor. This last time, by the time I got her back to her room, she'd forgotten she'd seen the baby.

I hate this disease so much, I hate what it has done to this once vibrant woman.  After last Tuesday it hit me really hard at bedtime.  Ed held me as I wept and cried and cursed.

So, I want to try to remember the mom that used to me.  The woman that raised me.

I was going to do a mini biography but maybe I'll leave that for another post.  Random memories here, then:

Living in West Point, NY and  being in the car as mom drove dad to work everyday.  He'd always open up the car door and put his right foot out before she came to a stop.  I was probably in the middle and she'd use her right arm as a seat belt.  Mom taking me to the hospital to get shots every week.

An earlier memory, I think.  We were living in Ellisville, MS,  where she grew up, while dad was in Vietnam the first time.  Lunch would be hot dogs dipped in a sauce of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup combined.

Ft. Hood, TX.  I came home from pre-school on my 5th birthday and mom had set up and aquarium for me.

Killeen, TX during dad's 2nd Vietnam tour.  Mom buying Fudge-cicles for us from the ice cream truck.  Her letting me spend my own money to buy a watermelon, making me feel very grown up.

El Paso, TX.  Getting to name the Siamese cat we'd just gotten and named him Monolito (should have been Manolito) after my favorite character on High Chaparral.  That same kitten getting drunk after eating mom's heavily bourbon-laden fruit cake.

OK..I'm going to stop and post now.  I've got a lot more to say and share but will not to it all at once.  That would be overwhelming.

All I can say now is bless the bones of all of the caretakers.