Mid-Life Ramblings; Sanity Optional

Saturday, March 26, 2005

When One Door Closes Another Opens...

Yesterday's post spoke of the 15 year-old who was devastated by the loss of her best friend. But life didn't end for me at fifteen. I have been blessed enough to have several "best" friends in my lifetime and today I want to talk about K.

K moved into our hometown the summer before our sophomore year in high school. This was her mother's hometown and as her mom and dad had divorced, her mother moved them back home. How K and I became friends is a story that we still giggle about after all these years.

You see, that summer I had been allowed to begin dating. I had met this guy named Danny who was two years older than me. He drove an old blue Ford pickup truck and was into CB radios at the height of the CB radio craze. He lived with this wonderful old couple and their youngest son, who was just a couple of years older than Danny. Danny and I would double date with Mike and his girlfriend Kim.

It was a great summer spent boat riding and skiing on the river every Sunday afternoon. Danny and I went to movies and even Astroworld. His truck had a bench seat so I got to sit right next to him when we'd ride around town. Ah, young love! I was head over heels. Until he decided to break up with me at the end of the summer so he could spend his senior year untethered. I was devastated!

School began and I had to see my beloved in the halls every day refusing to even acknowledge I existed. I heard rumors that he liked a new girl who was tall and pretty and wore dresses to school every day. I didn't know this new girl but I was absolutely sure I didn't like her.

One early Fall weekend, we went to a nearby town so my brother could compete in the Boy Scout Cub-mobile races. I had a friend with me and she and I were walking around the grounds. The police explorer group from our hometown had a concession stand there and Danny was working in it along with the new girl. [shock!] Every time C and I passed the stand, Danny would sidle up the the new girl, K, and I teemed with jealousy. As the day wore on, I could stand it no longer. C and I left that immediate area of the park so I didn't have to watch the spectacle. As we cut through the parking area, what do we spy but the baby blue Camero owned and driven by one K, the new girl, and that car was pretty dusty. I looked around carefully, saw that no one was nearby, and politely wrote "BI**H" in huge letters on the hood. C and I giggled and took off. I felt so very much better.

Well, our sophomore year progressed. As time continued, I got over Danny completely. Most of the focus was on Richelle as we lost her that Spring.

One day in band I was talking to Becky, another friend, and she told me she was friends with K. I explained to her why I really didn't like K but she asked me to reconsider. She told me that K was never interested in Danny. On the day of the Cub-mobile races K was interested in another guy there. But every time Danny saw me coming around he'd start talking to her until I was out of sight just to make me jealous. Oh man, did I feel terrible after learning that. It gnawed at me all day long because I'd done something mean to K and none of it was her fault.

That afternoon when school ended, I found K at her locker. I took a deep breath and told her everything and I apologized for being so stupid and mean. She looked at me wide-eyed and started to laugh. It seems that when she saw the writing on her car, she assumed it was this girl named Debbie, with whom K did not get along. She happened to pass Debbie as she was leaving the park and flipped her off. She never even thought it could have been me.

From that moment on we were the best of friends. To this day if we are together and see Danny we wave real big and collapse into a fit of giggles. Getting rid of him as a boyfriend brought me a new best friend and I can't thank him enough for it.

K and I will be friends until the day we die. She has been as close to me as a sister. Her two children are, for all intents and purposes, my niece and nephew. I was there when each of them were born. K and I have shared all our milestones together. She welcomed E with open arms nearly six years ago when I showed up with this guy I met online that I was going to marry and she didn't call me crazy. We love to tease our husbands that we've known each other longer that we've known then so our loyalties lie with each other.

In November, when we almost lost my mom, K was there at the hospital with us through most of it. If the doctors came to talk to us, she sat in as well. My dad called her his surrogate daughter. [vbg] She opened her home to us as a place to sleep and clean up between shifts at the hospital. When Mom was released on Thanksgiving morning, our entire family celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with K's family in her home.

Just last night E and I attended a crawfish boil at K & M's home. We sat in the backyard all evening, eating crawfish and visiting. Her son and his friends are into some of the rock music from the 70's. Those boys cranked up the speakers and all us "old folk" sat there an sang along, talking about the bands and what the music meant to us.

On that day in May, 28 years ago, I was given a new best friend. She is and always will be my sister and I look forward to sharing our old age together.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Today I am transported back 28 years ago to a day when I was 15 that had a huge impact on my life.

On March 25, 1977 on a gorgeous Spring day at 4:30 in the afternoon, I lost my best friend since kindergarten to AML leukemia.

Richelle was the first girl my age I met when we moved to the town where I grew up. My mom and I were in the A&P doing some grocery shopping when we saw Richelle and her mom. We girls started talking to each other and a friendship was born.

We went to kindergarten together and were inseparable. I remember for Richelle's 6th birthday I gave her a little black leather purse stitched in white and my mom had bought the matching brown one stitched in black for me. The party was out in her backyard that year and we had such a great time playing. I don't think I've ever mentioned my real name on this blog but it's Michele. Richelle's dad called us "Mee-chele" and "Ree-chelle".

We went to Catholic school together as well. We played together on the playground and shared all our secrets. We joined a Girl Scout troop together. In 7th grade we did a science project together. Richelle's dad helped us build a model of two rivers, one with a dam and one without and we spoke about water conservation. We made cotton ball trees and painted the box blue and green.

Another year we did a 4-H cooking demonstration together. We made Vegetable Casserole Delight. My mom still has the recipe. To this day I can't eat it without missing Richelle. We got a blue ribbon for that one.

We went through boyfriends together and we added other friends to our circle. D joined us in school in 3rd grade when the two Catholic schools combined. S moved to town in 6th grade and we became the four Muskateers. Richelle's dad always said that you never saw less that three of us together at one time.

I remember a night when S and I slept over at Richelle's. We were up really late and got hungry. So we crept into the kitchen to see what we could find. We discovered powdered doughnuts and decided to pair them with glasses of milk. We were trying to be very, very quiet so as not to get busted. We sat quietly at the dining table and began to sample the doughnuts. It was then we discovered they were a little stale. Richelle says, "Mmmmmmmm, crunchy!" just as I've taken a drink of milk. I laughed and it all came right out my nose. We dissolved into a fit of giggles and got busted anyway.

After 8th grade graduation we all decided to go to the local public high school instead of the Catholic high school 10 miles away. For the first time we were able to wear real clothes to school in place of those horrid white blouses and blue pleated skirts we'd been prisoners of for eight years. I became a band geek and Richelle became a drummer in the pep squad. We had new groups of friends but we were still best friends.

One Friday night in January 1976 Richelle and I went to the basketball game at the high school gym. Her mom said that Richelle had been running a fever so although she could go to the game she had to stay inside the gym and not do a bunch of cutting up. We behaved ourselves that night and went home afterwards. Richelle was out sick all week the next week with the flu. I wound up staying home for a couple of days at the end of the week myself with a virus. I tried to call her a couple to times but there was no answer.

On Saturday morning, February 7th, Richelle called me at home. I was still sick so I was in my pajamas and robe. My mom was outside talking to our next door neighbor and the twins were outside with her. I was so very happy to hear from Richelle and told her I'd tried to call her. She said she'd been at the hospital for a couple of days with virual pneumonia. I told her I was so glad she was better and back home. That's when she told me she wasn't better. She and her mom were at home packing clothes quickly to go to New Orleans. I assumed she was going to see her first cousin M, whom she was very close to and whom ended up being my roommate in college. She said no, she was going to a hospital in New Orleans because they'd found out she had leukemia.

I don't remember the end of that conversation. I only remember walking outside and telling my mom through tears that Richelle had leukemia. I remember going back in the house and calling both S and D and relaying the bad news to each of them. We all cried together on the phone that day. I spent the rest of the day in my room crying for my friend.

In 1976 the cure rate for leukemia was about 10%. We knew with 90% certainty that Richelle wasn't going to live much longer. St. Jude wasn't accepting 15 year olds then so she was treated in New Orleans. She went through rounds and rounds of chemo and lost all of her hair but was in remission in a few months. She came home that summer wearing a wig and celebrated her 15th birthday on August 29. Her parents bought her the cutest little brown Toyota. She was able to drive and we had a blast while it lasted.

The leukemia came back again that early Fall and it was back to New Orleans for more treatment. She was home again in December to celebrate my 15th birthday. My parents let me have a party with BOYS and I have pictures of all of us there dancing, Richelle in her wig smiling.

It wasn't long after that that the leukemia was back again and this time it was bad. She went back to New Orleans for even more chemo but the doctors told her parents that there really wasn't anything more they could do. Time was short and Richelle wanted to come home. She wasn't about to die anywhere but home. That year for Valentine's Day, I went to a drugstore and bought this really huge Valentine that cost a whole dollar back then. [vbg] We passed it around school thinking that we could get a few of her friends to sign it. When I got it back, there wasn't a place left for anyone to write. Everyone from fellow freshmen to seniors to teachers had signed it. It became one of Richelle's treasures.

I got to see her a couple of times after she got home. She was so very fragile. We talked and laughed in her room surrounded by her doll collection. We remembered all the good times and talked about all the boyfriends we'd had. She told me she wasn't afraid to die and I told her I didn't want her to.

She went into the hospital back home in mid-March and we knew it wouldn't be long. She had fought a hard battle but was losing the war. Her parents had even tried taking her to Mexico for layatril treatments because they were and remain illegal here in the States. But nothing worked. I got to see her at the hospital the day before she died. She was laying in that bed, tiny, frail, bruised from all the needles but still smiling. I got to tell her I loved her and I said I'd see her again soon but I didn't.

During 6th hour class that Friday afternoon, S showed up at the Biology Lab door crying and asking for me. She said she'd been working in the office when they'd gotten a call that Richelle would not make the night. That was the longest hour of school ever. But our Biology teacher, Mrs. Tietje, was fantastic. She stopped the biology lesson and let us just talk about Richelle for the rest of the period. We all cried together that day, boys and girls alike, because we all knew her.

I got home and begged Mom to take me to the hospital but she told me that it was time for Richelle to be with her family and not a bunch of us kids. Just after 4:30 Richelle's mom called to tell me Richelle was gone. I had lost my best friend who was supposed to grow up and be my roommate in college, my maid of honor at my wedding, and aunt to all my future kids. Let me tell you, at 15 that's a hell of a lot to handle.

We buried her that Sunday. The day before when I'd arrived at the funeral home, I hugged Richelle's dad and he said to me that she wouldn't come back even if she could because she was in a much better place, a place where she wasn't sick anymore. I have never forgotten those words. The church was overflowing with people. The choir sang Peace Is Flowing Like A River, Richelle's favorite church song. I still can't make it through it all the way. Her tombstone has her name carved in her handwriting. Until I moved away from there nearly six years ago, I visited that grave twice a year - March 25th and August 29th. I have thought of her at each milestone in my life and wished she were there. I cried when I saw her parents at my wedding. I knew they were wishing she were there, too.

I wound up forging a wonderful friendship with her cousin M. We became the ones who were there for each other at all the times when Richelle should have been. We now share the adult memories that each had expected would include Richelle and that's helped ease our pain.

So every year on March 25th I get a bit melancholy and think about my friend Richelle and remember what it was like to be fifteen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Life when you share it with fuzzy faces

Last night was particularly stressful in our home.

I hate to admit it but we still have quite a number of boxes and bags in our back bedroom/office that we have not yet unpacked since the move. We've been going through them slowly but they are still looming there reminding me every time I enter the room that they need to be taken care of. I make this confession because it is central to my story. The back bedroom/office usually stays gated so that the dogs can't get in there and dig around. But we've been on the computer a lot lately and have become lax in putting the gate back up.

Last night during dinner, Sneauball became suspiciously absent from the room. This is not normal behavior for either Sneauball or Sophie because when E and/or I have food they tend to believe it is their appointed task to hover underfoot and whisk away anything that may fall to the floor. So I called to Sneauball and down the hall he came looking guilty. I told him to stay up front with us but he soon disappeared again.

As soon as I finished dinner I went to find the little devil. When I rounded the corner of the hall he came trotting out of the back bedroom with something in his mouth. I cornered him to try to determine what substance he was trying to consume and found that it was a greenie (a dog treat that promotes clean teeth and fresh breath). Ah ha! This was a good thing for two reasons 1) it's usually paper, one of E's earplugs, or some other forbidden substance that he gets into and 2) he'd managed to find the bag of greenies that I've been looking for ever since we moved in. Leave it to Sneauball to find it first. I patted him on the head and thanked him for finding them then went into the bedroom and put them out of reach, giving one to Sophie in the process. These were two little happy dogs. They both ran off to our bed to consume their treats.

Later on E fed them then we all headed off to bed for the night. But at 11 pm the pukefest began. It soon became apparent that the greenie I caught Sneauball with in his mouth was not the only one he'd eaten.

So here we were after 11 pm, cleaning up dog puke, changing the sheets on our bed, and trying to keep Sneauball from soiling the clean sheets. Now that's an aggravating situation for anyone and I'll admit both E and I were grumbling. I ended up sitting up in the bed holding Sneauball in my arms with a towel underneath him until his tummy settled at 1 am. Sometime during this process E threw up his hands and headed off to the computer and in doing so said something that just flabberghasted me. His excuse for bailing was, and I quote, "because he's YOUR dog". What?????? Folks, it's funny this morning but I can assure you that at around midnight last night it was not. I fell asleep before he returned to the bedroom and I dreamed I was mad at him all night long and believe me, I got my revenge. :-)

It was just one of those nights that make you realize that sometimes having dogs is just like having kids and then your realize that it's only sometimes and you're thankful for that.

As I attempted to drag myself out of bed and off to work this morning, darling little Sneauball was none the worse for wear. He was his normal happy, bouncy, tail-wagging little self and I was both thankful and pissed off about it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Viruses, Sharp Objects and St. Patrick's Day

This has been a pretty yucky week for both E and I. After our lovely afternoon out at Oak Alley on Sunday, we were visited by the stomach virus apparently making its way around the area. I stayed home on Monday and went home early on Tuesday. E had it a couple of days before I did and then relapsed with it yesterday. Oy!

Then, as if the virus wasn't enough, E sliced his thumb open on the mandolin cutter while preparing a pork roast for the oven the other night. He had to go down to the doctor's office and get four stitches. So for the past two days he's been home not able to do much. I am hoping he was able to get out a bit today because the animals, especially the bird, were getting on his last nerve and I'm sure he was getting on theirs. ;-)

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day and also Sophie's fifth birthday. She's a Peke-a-poo so she's half Chinese and half French but born on an Irish holiday. Poor little thing, I believe she's a bit confused. I made her day better first by trimming the fur out of her eyes so she no longer looks like the lost Beatle. Then I made a point to make sure and play ball with her anytime she wanted to and, believe me, that's a huge sacrifice on my part since Sophie wants to play ball ALL the time. She was thrilled because she had her Daddy home with her all day long, even though he was sick. That just gave her the opportunity to take care of him by snuggling up next to him or making him play ball. Because in Sophie's mind making us play ball with her makes us feel better because it makes her happy. [vbg]

This weekend I plan to launch a new knitting project. I've found a ministry where knitters and crocheters get together and make prayer shawls for breast cancer patients. I have a friend in Virginia battling breast cancer now and I thought this would be a good way to make a difference in the lives of others like her. I put out an inquiry with my local Freecycle group (http://www.freecycle.org) for knitters and crocheters that might be interested in working on this with me. I've gotten a good number of responses. Yesterday I picked up some yarn to begin my first shawl. This weekend I'm going to get the pattern out to those who responded and hopefully the project will begin. My plan is to donate them to the local clinic for newly diagnosed patients. I can't wait to see the first one when I'm done. :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Having been raised here in Louisiana all my life, I am quite accustomed to it being hot and humid most of the year. Our winters are mild; our summers are nearly unbearable. But twice a year something magic happens here - we manage to have a week or two of perfect weather.

While others are still suffering through snowstorms, Spring begins to creep in at the end of February here. It's barely noticable at first. One will notice a bloom or two on an azalea shrub or the faintest tinge of chartreuse on the outer branches of the oak trees alerting one to the fact that nature is awakening. Then the dogwood trees begin to bloom and the azaleas burst forth almost in unison. March tiptoes in and before we know it, Spring is here.

It is at this time that we have perfect weather. Yesterday there was not a cloud in the sky, the temperature was in the mid-70's fahrenheit, and a constant breeze blew. It was the kind of day that makes you want to play outside no matter how old or young you are. Today was nearly identical with the exception of cotton candy poofs of clouds dotting the sky.

I don't know how they do it but the folks at Oak Alley Plantation (http://www.oakalleyplantation.com) always pick this perfect weather weekend to host their annual Arts & Crafts Festival. This afternoon E and I, along with our dear friend D and her daughter (our gorgeous godchild), took a ride down to Vacherie and hit the festival. About 150 vendors were there with all sorts of crafts and such. The smell of Cajun food was carried along with the breeze. We walked and looked and just enjoyed the sunshine. We bought nothing except bottled water and a huge bag of freshly popped kettle corn*. We sat under an ancient oak and listened to the local bands and singers perform.

Days like today make you forget anything that isn't going right in your life. On a day like today folks walk around with huge smiles on their faces and those faces are often pointed toward the sun. Days like today make you aware of Nature more than you are at any other time. You grin at her beauty as you touch the newly bloomed azaleas and feel the grass on your toes at the front of your sandles. Days like today make you grateful to just be alive and able to enjoy your surroundings.

We may actually have a few more weeks of this perfect weather before the humidity completely takes over. I'm making a promise to myself to enjoy each and every one of them remaining. Then I'll look forward to the return of perfection near the end of October.

*Kettle Corn is popcorn popped in a huge sugar kettle (used to boil down sugar cane on the old plantations). The popcorn is lightly coated with a bit of sugar (cane sugar here in Louisiana, of course!) and the sugar lightly carmelizes as the corn pops. If you have never had the opportunity to experience kettle corn, I highly recommend that you add it to your list of things to do. The commercial popcorn makers now have their own versions of kettle corn in microwavable bags but do yourself a favor and try the real, fresh stuff first. :-)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Things took an interesting turn around here last Friday - E lost his job quite unexpectedly. We're still not sure of the exact reason but as more time passes we're realizing it was very likely just a personality difference with his 24 year-old, quite immature, micro-managing, immediate supervisor.

On Friday evening when E showed up at my office to "drop the bomb" on me, I immediately reacted in the way I've been programmed to react all my life - I freaked out and burst into tears - nauseous, hyperventillating, shaking, the works. I immediately imagined us losing the new house because we couldn't pay the note. I was inconsolable.

I called my friend Lisa to ask her to light her Ya-Ya candle because the power of Ya-Ya prayer is amazing. As I was crying she said, "Wait just a minute! You are not about to be in forclosure on your house. Do not go there right now. Talk to me about losing the house only if it comes down to it. Going there now when your don't have forclosure papers in your hand does you no good."

Lisa went on to tell me that she's been in the grasp of such fear before. In fact, it's happened to her enough that she's got a whole personality built for fear. She calls it "Suck". Suck is a nasty looking guy. His clothes are ratty and he smells of cigarette smoke. His teeth are yellowed, his hair is greasy and he shows up at your house and sits on all your furniture and sometimes just won't go away. She said that sometimes when she's stronger, Suck only hangs out on her front porch because she won't let him in the door. Other times he comes in uninvited and she lets him hang around a day or so. But sooner or later you have to be tough enough to throw his butt out on the street because as long as he's in your home, you are paralyzed. She told me that night that if I needed the weekend to let Suck hang around then to go ahead and let him. But the sooner I kicked him out, the better.

I swear it was as if she were standing in front of me, shaking me by the shoulders, and saying, "Snap out of it!" It was like cold water being thrown on me. Suck kind of hung around that evening but by Saturday morning I had booted him to the curb.

I am refusing to look upon this as a negative but rather as a positive. E's hourly wage certainly was well below what he is worth and he hadn't gotten a raise in the 15 months he worked for that company. In fact, I told him he'd have to hunt really hard to find a tech job that paid him such a low salary. I remembered back to when we bought this house five months ago. I remembered how everything just fell into place. We were the first to call about the place and the first to see it. It was the first house we'd actually felt strongly enough about to call to see. We were in it a month later. I always believed this house was meant to be ours. God isn't about to let us lose it after only five months. Shoot, we haven't been able to enjoy the pool yet.

So thanks, Lisa, if you wind up reading this. I owe you one for snapping me back into reality and introducing me to Suck. Now I can actually throw him out when he tries to come back around. And right now I'm living with both feet in today instead of one in yesterday and one in tomorrow. It's really hard to stay here but I've managed to be in the present thus far. It's only taken me 43 odd years to figure that out. [vbg]