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So long, folks.

Last Easter I decided I’d post twice a week, for exactly one year. 

Time’s up.  This is goodbye.

Thank you, everyone, for the thoughtful and funny comments, and a special thanks to my wonderful wife Rachel, who was my most loyal reader, and to my talented daughter Alani for all her artwork (look at some of her pictures in the older posts – she’s great!)

I’m hunting for a parking lot outside the Starbucks on Fifth.  My six year old stepson Jack is in the backseat.

“You know what I hate?” Jack  says.  “When you’re going to park, and somebody else pulls into your parking spot.”

“I know” I say.  “That’s the worst.”

“Well,” Jack says.  “It’s not the worst. The worst thing is dying.” 

He’s philosophical that way.

“Really?” I said.  “But I think when you die, you go to the coolest place ever.”

He ponders this as we park and walk in.  I hold his hand.

“But it hurts when you die,” he says.  “Maybe not when you’re old, but when you’re young, it hurts.  Like if you get shot.”

Glamour Wife

For a year and a half, two coils on our stovetop haven’t worked.  My wife, who does most of the cooking, struggled to prepare meals on the remaining two coils – the two little ones.  Ever frugal, I went to Home Depot and bought two new big coils. They worked  reliably for two weeks.  Then they worked if you shoved the coil into the receptacle, hard, before you turned it on. Then they stopped working at all.

Rachel didn’t complain.  She soldiered on.  We took perverse pride in how long we limped along on two burners, eking more life out of the old Whirlpool.

But enough is enough.  We went to  Home Depot and Lowes Sunday, scouting Maytags, Whirlpools, G.E.s.  Rachel ran her hand over the smooth black cooktops on the display stoves.  (The coil models, out of fashion,  were tucked away in a rear aisle.)  We went home to clear our heads from the dizzying allure of those fancy new appliances before picking a model. 

Then, at home, I realized we didn’t need a new stove at all.  I could send away for a replacement kit for the coils and all the internal wiring.   A hundred bucks or so.  There was no need to abandon our ancient porcelin-white stove.

When I suggested this to Rachel Sunday, she actually considered it.  That’s how patient a wife she is.    She looked as if she was going to burst into tears, but she said yes, maybe it made sense to cobble together a repair job on our antique stove instead of buying a new one.

But then, Monday morning while I was at work, Rachel went out by herself to  an appliance store.  Freed from my Rasputin-like influence, she realized that her own true heart’s desire was to have a shiny new stainless steel convection oven.  With a smooth cooktop. 

She called me at work and told me.

“I’m a glamour girl,” she said. 

I abandoned my plans to scour parts warehouses for Whirlpool replacement parts.

I blundered into a fight with my wife last night.  I thought we were having a lively, fun debate and then, suddenly, she was in tears.  A few minutes later she went upstairs and slammed the door.

This happens to me sometimes.

We were discussing my theory that Christianity is like the McDonalds hamburger empire. ( In 1949,  Richard and Maurice McDonald  had a little hamburger and milk shake joint in California.  A sharpie named Ray Kroc bought them out, tweaked the product a bit,  franchised it and spread it over the entire globe.  The same thing happened to Christianity.  It was just a little Jewish sect when a whiz kid by the name of Paul of Tarsus discovered it, packaged it for the Gentiles, and opened franchises all over the Roman Empire.)

Rachel disagreed. She’d heard of Ray Kroc, but knew little about the brothers who originally ran the hamburger joint.  She argued that Ray Kroc was the father of McDonalds, not them.  She pointed out that it was Kroc who came up with the filet of fish sandwich.

I’m sorry?  The filet of fish? The filet of fish is not what McDonalds stands for, any more than St. Paul’s belief that women should wear veils in church is an important tenet of Jesus’ teachings.

And so I did the bad thing.  I started arguing with Rachel, explaining her error.  Offering examples so she could see her mistake.  Countering every point she tried to make.  Interrupting her.  I actually thought we were having fun until the tears and the door slam.

I’m grew up with six siblings.  We’re all arguers.  Except Therese, the youngest.

It took about twelve hours before she’d talk to me again.  We’re going out for dinner tonight.  My goal is to have no opinions.  (But believe me, Ray Kroc was no Jesus.  He forced Richard and Maurice to re-name their restaurant because the fine print in the sales agreement gave him exclusive rights to use the name “McDonalds”.  Then he opened up one of his franchises a block away and forced them out of business.)

I ask my daughter if she’d prefer cremation or a cemetery grave if I should die in the near future.  It’s a hypothetical.  Rachel and I just read a memoir by a woman whose 34 year old husband died in a car accident two miles from home.  It got us thinking.

Alani and I are sitting at Starbucks.  She’s nursing a blackberry Izzi.

“Cemetery” Alani says immediately. 

She says she’d like a place to visit.  

I ask her about the concerns Rachel expressed.  That unlike an urn of ashes, a grave requires tending, and sometimes a lengthy trip in the car.   And that if you couldn’t make it on a particular anniversary, you might feel guilty. 

“Yeah,” Alani says, thinking it over.  “Like, I might be filming a movie in Italy, and not be able to make it back.” 

I’m not sure what event she wouldn’t be able to make it back for.  Do people visit graves on particular days?  Birthdays?  Wedding anniversaries?  Death anniversaries?

“Tell you what,” I say.  I tell give her advance permission not to visit me on any particular day.  Just whenever she feels like it.  Or not.

Alani nods, and moves on to discuss the things she’d like me to leave her in my will. 

 

Stephusband.

I’m standing outside Thomas Middle School, talking to Michelle.  She’s the mom of twins in Jack’s first grade class, and Jack’s going to their birthday party tomorrow.  Jack’s dad will be taking him to the party, I’ll be picking him up.

The kids are lined up with bagels and backpacks.  It’s been eight years since my daughter was a first grader.  I always enjoyed the school drop off when Alani was little, and now I sometimes get to do it again, with Jack.

Michelle does not recoil when I iintroduce myself as Jack’s stepfather.  I like that.  Some people are uncertain how to proceed once I admit I’m an imposter stepfather.  She doesn’t bat an eye, and introduces me to the real dads in the group as Jack’s stepdad.

‘”So you’re picking up. . .”? she asks.

I nod.  “Dad’s bringing.  Stepdad’s picking up.”  It can be confusing.

Rachel arrives at the schoolyard.  She hugs Jack and comes over to our group.  Michelle already knows her, and says hello.

“I was just talking to your. . .” Michelle starts to say, and hesitates. 

I know exactly what happened:  Her brain is trying to figure out what my title is.  For just a moment, it wondered whether she should refer to me as “your stephusband”.  But it’s just a second.

“. . . husband.” she finishes.

That’s correct.  There is no such thing as a stephusband.

Rachel and I are planning our funerals.  We’re reading Here When You Need Me, by Kate Braestrup, about a woman whose husband, age 34, went out for a drive one morning and never came back.  Car accident two miles from their home.  Rachel and I decided we should give each other instructions, just in case.

Rachel wants to be cremated.  I opt for the traditional cemetery grave-and-headstone arrangement.

That’s fine, Rachel says, if that’s what I want.  But, she asks, would she have to tend the grave?  I tell her no, no special decorations needed, just so they mow the grass occasionally.

“I don’t want to be any burden,” I say.

That’s not it, Rachel says.  She explains that she’d feel guilty if she didn’t visit my grave regularly (birthdays?  wedding anniversaries? what’s the etiquette?), but if she did visit, it would ruin her week.  She’d dread the scheduled day, and cry at the cemetery.

This hadn’t occurred to me. I always thought that, if I died prematurely, my daughter, and perhaps my wife, would take some comfort in having a grave to visit.  Maybe on a small knoll, next to an oak tree, with my name chiseled into a granite headstone.   I’d seen this scene many times in movies and on t.v., where the bereaved stands by the headstone and has a talk with the deceased.  The presence of an actual decaying body six feet down made the griever feel closer to the departed. 

Then I realized that I’d only seen this scene on t.v or the movies.

Did it ever happen in real life?

So here’s my question, for those of you who have a loved one in the cemetery.  Is it a comfort, or a burden?

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