Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Letting Go.

tom and boo on the rocking chairA few weeks ago I gave up. Surrendered. Let it all go. Threw a private tantrum. Held a pity party for one. Screamed silent rage.

What exactly brought me to this place? What triggered it? How did I go from, life is pretty good to life is fucking shit? Why did I switch stations? Which straw broke the camel’s back?

I don’t know.

I wasn’t exactly blindsided but I didn’t see the point tipping either. Nor the stubborn brick wall that refused to budge. I only knew that I was too tired and weary to figure out a way around it. Or through it. Over or under. The gloves were off. I threw in the towel.

I’m not talking about your garden-variety physical tiredness, the kind that takes well to sensible homespun cures. A long hot luxurious bath. Lazy afternoon nap in the sun. Curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Or simply getting a good night’s sleep with nothing but candy-coated honeysuckle dreams.

I’m talking about a malaise that at times appears so dark and impenetrable. So suffocating yet seductive. Like a Dark Hero who feeds off the tiredness deep inside my soul. The relentlessness of daily life becomes intolerable. The path is overgrown with thickets and prickly thorns. Abandoned by my guide, I grope for a lifeline. I struggle to keep my head above water.

The dove does not appear with the olive leaf.

Little back story. Two things happened in my first year of University. I got pregnant. And I made a conscious decision to be a better person. Partly for my son’s sake, but mostly for mine. I wanted us to have a bigger life than the one Ma and The Old Man lived. This notion, along with a burning desire to prove that I wasn’t a total loser, fueled my passions. Colored my every move.

I was highly motivated. I became a triple, possibly quadruple, Type-A Person. I had much to prove. I was a driven woman on a mission to change everything about myself that I deemed unworthy. Nothing worse than that.

With this ambitious desire for self-improvement came a lifelong pursuit of all things spiritual. I not only walked away from Christ Lutheran Church but I kicked any form of Christianity to the curb. I didn’t walk away from God, just the institution of religion and all that it entailed.

I wanted a deeper, more authentic relationship with my higher power. I wanted something real and meaningful. Personal and gritty. Truthful. No holds barred. I also wanted to feel better.

I became a seeker. Not just of wisdom. But of peace and beauty and truth. And the cynosure, my everlasting muse, love.

Along the way, I discovered my personal gurus and motivational mentors. Everyone from pop-psychology writers to spiritual superstars. Philosophers to fiction writers. Kindergarteners to Doctorates. From famous television hosts to an intimate circle of girlfriends. Colleagues and classmates. Poets. Artists. Musicians. Healers and helpers. All wise, witty and wonderful.

I voraciously read the books. Listened to the audio tapes. Recited the positive affirmations. Attended the lectures. Filled countless pages with lists of things I was grateful for. Gave thanks for everything, and everyone, from Gandhi to Mother Goose. I kept careful watch over my thoughts. Fearful that any negativity might manifest some really bad juju.

Thoughts become things. We are the creators of our world.

I smiled serenely. Like Buddha. Bowed my head. Breathed in the good and let out the bad. Walked barefoot. Sat silently. Practiced yoga and meditation. Got in touch with my body, mind and spirit. I did the cha cha cha.

All these things helped.

But there are times when it is exhausting. Bloody hard work. Being good, and constantly striving to be better, possibly vying for sainthood even, is downright taxing. Every now again it makes me cranky. Just like the two-year old lying on the concrete floor in the middle of the frozen food aisle at Walmart, I throw one hell of a tantrum.

The fortunate thing these days, few witness the thrashing and kicking and wailing at the top of my lungs.

No. No. No. Life’s not fair, I whimper.

I don’t want to be good, better, best. I don’t give a shit about my higher self. I want to hang out in the Dark Side. Amongst the shadowy villains. Monsters and miserable men. Mess around with Lucifer and his gang.

I don’t want to play nice.

It’s at this humbling and spirit-siphoning dead end that I surrender all. Every last bit. I just let go. Hand over the reins to God, the universe, Mother Earth, my Guardian Angel Franny and her sister Zoe.

It usually takes about a week to release the sad, frightened, angry, resentful, jealous, lonely, toxic little child that sometimes grows insidiously within the grown-up me.

To finish this business, I don’t go anywhere exotic. I don’t check into a hotel under an assumed name and have an exorcism performed. No bed rest nor hospital stay is required.

I just stop. Listen to the quiet voice within. Cut myself some slack. Then let go.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Depression.

Face of DepressionThis morning I woke up.  Thank God.  As I was making the bed I thought about my plans for the day. Making a cup of cinnamon coffee. Writing my blog. Banking with E.  Shoe shopping with M. The first two items on the list made me happy.  The third, not so much.  The fourth delighted me.

Then I had this thought.  My two daughters are my best friends.  Then I had this thought.  I wonder if they’d find that pathetic.  I know I’m not theirs.  Nor should I be at their ages.  Then I had this thought.  My mother was my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  When she died I not only lost my mother, I lost my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  That blows.

Then I started to cry.  Bawled my fucking brains out as I was making the bed. The whole nine yards. Messy tears and snot all over my face, the pillows, sheets and my new shabby chic comforter.  Which by the way, was incapable of providing neither the degree, nor the depth, of comfort required to stop this sorrowful eruption of muck and mournfulness.

Then I had this thought.  I’m sad.  Probably even depressed.

I come by this melancholy honestly.  Not that he talked about it.  Not ever.  But I think The Old Man was depressed, most of his adult life.  Maybe it was because he was Finnish.  Their suicide rates are high, especially in the winter, which is long, cold and dark.  Much like Northwestern Ontario, where he lived his entire life.  I got out when I was twenty-four.  It was too dreary for me.  On so many levels I can’t even begin to describe.

What caused his depression?  Who knows. I can only speculate.  One part environment.  One part DNA.  One party magical mystery tour. The Hammond Organ

The Old Man sought refuge and relief from his misery in alcohol, watching sports on TV, buying new shoes, eating anything laced with sugar, swearing at inanimate objects, going to church on Sundays, shoveling snow in the winter and digging in his garden in the summer, umpiring little league games, taking long Sunday drives, scratching our dog’s belly, and sleeping. The older he got the more he slept. He was often antisocial, spending long hours alone in the spare room, behind closed doors watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.  There was a Hammond Organ in that room that he tinkered with but never really learned to play.  (However, he was an accomplished spoon percussionist.)  The memory of that room, and his self-imposed exile and isolation, makes me sad.

People didn’t talk about their feelings back then.  Men especially, kept things under wraps. Stiff upper lips and pulled up boot straps. The Old Man stuffed his sadness inside a profusion of plaid flannel shirts, only to unleash it every three months like clockwork, after a long night at the neighborhood saloon. The Crest on Red River Road.  Instead of manifesting in tears, his hurt took a far darker, menacing form.  He’d come home seething with anger.  Uncontrollable rage.  He never hit anyone because he was like a small yapping dog.  All bark and no bite.  But he ranted relentlessly and bullied the shit out of Ma and her kids. He was an unholy terror. It was one hell of a time.

During those dark nights of the soul, I hated him.  Wished him dead.  Prayed to God to strike him down with a bolt of lightening.  A precise and explicit message from heaven.  But that didn’t happen.  Thankfully.  Because the truth is, The Old Man was a good man when he wasn’t drinking. He had a kind, tender and sensitive heart, and he loved his family fiercely.

And he was ill.

An alcoholic.  But the alcohol was merely self-medication.  The deeper illness was depression.  It makes me sad now to think that we didn’t know that.  I mean, we knew intimately the subject matter of his rum and coke induced rages.  The things that angered and tormented him.  But we never understood why. Our family knew very little about the pathology of alcoholism as a disease.  And even less about depression.  Back then depressed people were crazy.  Plain and simple.  It was far better to be a self-pitying miserable alcoholic.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered if while I was praying to God to strike him dead, if he was doing the same thing. He went to church every Sunday.  What were his prayers?  Did he pray for help?  Beg for healing?  Did he seek forgiveness?  Did he find comfort there? Did it any of it help?  I hope so.

So here I sit.  Years and miles away from Northwestern Ontario.  Daylight is breaking.  How do I deal with my sadness?  This depression?  The tears that stain my cheeks and cover my shabby chic comforter? I do this.  I write.  I run.  I do yoga. I take long walks along quiet country roads.  I take photographs.  I play with my dogs.  I love my family fiercely. I eat well. I take vitamins. I talk to my wise girlfriends about deep dark feelings.  I pour my heart out to my husband.  I listen to my children and look for clues on how to live a joyful life. I laugh my guts out.  I pray.  I meditate.  I write letters to God. I count my blessings. I get up, go to work and give it my very best shot.  I play my guitar and my clarinet. I read books. Listen to music. I dream. I hang out. I waste time. I watch TV. The Old Man Hipster

But I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t do drugs, except for the occasional ibuprofen. I do my best to stay away from sugar, especially white. I don’t give myself pep talks. They don’t work. I also don’t scold. Engage in self-pity, self-loathing or self-flagellation. I watch my inner dialogue. I try not to spend too much time alone in this room.  Although that’s challenging because one of the things I love to do most requires that I spend long stretches of time in isolation.

Over the years I have found solace in motivational books and tapes, teachers, preachers, the wise and the enlightened. I’ve learned acceptance. Of what was.  And what is.

Will I ever be completely free from depression and sadness?  No. The truth is, I don’t want to be fully extricated. It’s part of who I am.  Like my hazel eyes and crooked smile.  It’s the fuel that fires some of my richest writing. The fountainhead of a few of my best ideas.  My literary wellspring. It’s what allows me to feel things deeply. Not just my suffering.  But yours.  And yours.  And yours. I shed tears for all living creatures. Even the dead rats I come across on the country road I walk.  I like that about me.

Depression reminds me of my humanness.  My weaknesses and strengths.  It dictates that, in order to stay healthy, I must stay connected.  It opens the eyes of my heart. And unleashes love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, hope.  And above all.  Empathy.

I get it Dad.  I get your pain.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter. It Smells Just Like Yesterday.

tom+aimee+mel b+wCertain smells always bring me back.  Flood my brain with memories.  Ones I thought were long gone and forgotten.  I love it when this happens.  It’s enough to send me on a scent hunt.  Digging up recollections like hidden clues to buried treasures.

Then becomes now in a heartbeat.

I can’t walk into a kitchen where baking has taken place without thinking immediately of Ma’s cookie baking emporium at 204.  Oatmeal raisin.  Hermits.  Ginger Snaps.  Sweet and spicy.  Rich with love and motherly goodness.  One whiff of Italian food and it’s a Spaghetti Saturday Night.  The best comfort food smack dab in the middle of a brutal Northwestern Ontario winter.  Cold as the Arctic outside but warm and deliciously cozy inside. Turkey roasting in the oven conjures up decades of Christmases enjoyed with our family.  This mouthwatering array of aromas reminds me to count my blessings.

I can close my eyes and smell Ma’s Second Debut face cream. Breathe in her presence.  Inhale it’s gentle loveliness as my lips brush against her cheek.  Just like I did every morning before I headed off to school as a kid.  This fine scent not only evokes memories of the softness of her skin but the kindness of her heart.  In her later years she treated herself to a weekly hairdo.  She would return feeling pampered and pretty, filling the house with the beauty parlor scent of freshly coiffed hair.  Set for the week.  I’m reminded that although true beauty blossoms from within, it’s also nourished with a dab of cream and a nice do.

When I wash with Ivory soap I think of The Old Man.  A grimy bar sat in the soap dish next to the bathroom sink.  As soon as he got home from work he washed off the grunge that clung to his face and hands after a long day on the road delivering Holsum bread and Persian buns.  He’d emerge from the bathroom a new man.  An Ivory man.  Pure and simple.  Now when I stand in the shower preparing for my day, lathering on this creamy white soap, I am reminded that hard work of any sort is honorable.  No matter what you do.  Sell bread.  Or shoes.  Fly to the moon.  Or stand on your feet all day.  Work, especially in service of others, is good.

Old Spice makes me think of Sunday mornings and going to church.  Once a week The Old Man donned a suit and tie, and escorted Ma and me to Christ Lutheran Church on Walkover Street.  We drove there, despite the friendly invitation to hoof it.  All week he wore his stiff blue twill uniform that smelled of flour dust, sweat, and when I was really young, tobacco.  But on Sundays, he dressed for the occasion.  He was a stylish confident man with his two favorite girls in tow.  Old Spice has always been a feel good scent memory.  Yet also contradictory. Like The Old Man, in many ways.  A peculiar blend of spirituality and carnal pleasure.  Old time religion and hedonism.  Fear of the Lord and the folly of the man.  Imagine all that in just one sniff.

The mauve lilac bush at 204.

The mauve lilac bush at 204.

There’s nothing like the perfume from a mauve lilac.  One hint and I’m instantly transplanted to the front yard at 204.  There, a charming little tree bloomed every year in June.  It marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. It was a symbol of freedom and carefree days.  A simple bouquet adorned Ma’s kitchen table and filled the room with such exquisite inimitable beauty.  I’m reminded of the wonder and splendor just outside our door.  The natural abundance of the earth.  It’s symmetry and grace.  And for that I am grateful.

Then there’s the fragrance of first love.  I can’t walk in the early morning rains of April or May without thinking of him.  Not every time.  For the memory to come, the rain must possess a particular scent.  A bittersweetness.  Sadness in the joy.  Longing in the reverie.  Then I go back to this love that was beginning to unravel.  So new yet tired of itself.  Still, all these years later I think tenderly of him.  Of us then.  I know the smell of him.  It reminds me to be inspired by love.  To carry on.  Love again.  And again.  Enlarge my heart.  Grow it bigger. Until it beats no more.

And oh, the sweetest of all perfumes.  My newborn babies.  Tender. Innocent.  Still so close to heaven in their scent.  Still so filled with the essence of the divine.  Without earthly tarnish.  Nor painful sheaths sullying their pristine souls.  Just perfection.  I have been blessed to enjoy this redolence three times.  Three times I breathed in their beautiful newness.  Each time I was reborn.

I’ve read that the science behind this sentimental journey originates with the olfactory bulb in our limbic system, which is associated with memory.  Called the “emotional brain” it allows us to conjure up memories in an instant just by smelling something.

I am grateful for this bulb in my brain that allows me to go back.  Not just remember.  But to be there.  Time travel does exist.  And the beautiful thing is, we all possess this wondrous gift of uncommon sense.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Saw God in Church.

Dressed in head-to-toe Communion white and looking so pious with bible in hand.

I’m a sporadic churchgoer these days. There were times throughout my life when I was a faithful attendee.  The Old Man, Ma and I used to go every Sunday. I was baptized and took communion.  I read Bible verses and some chapters.  But never the entire thing.  Not enough grey matter between the ears to keep track of everyone and everything. Especially all the goings-on in the Old testament.  So many begats and battles. Bloodshed and betrayals. Miracles and meyhem. Famines and bad things happening to firstborns. So complicated and confusing.

But the New Testament is a whole other story.  While it contains its share of death, denial and despair, there is also hope and love and kindness and compassion. Sacrifice and forgiveness. Yes indeed, the New Book is chock-a-block full of precious and useful life lessons regardless of your faith or personal beliefs.  Who could deny that loving one another is the ultimate purpose of all humans no matter where on earth they call home.

My favorite stories are the ones about Jesus, in particular, the Nativity and the night he was born.  I also really enjoy a good old fashioned Christmas pageant.  Especially ones enacted by earnest five year-olds. I never grow tired of such performances.

When I turned eighteen, and for the twenty odd years that followed, I went in hot pursuit of God.  My spiritual excavations took me far and wide on my interior journey.  I looked under every rock.  Behind every locked door.  Inside a plethora of books and passages.  I sought the holy, the evolved, the gurus, the teachers, mentors, ministers, the religious, the spiritual, the wise, the dedicated, the sacred, the masters, saints and the venerated.  It was an incredible journey of wonder and awe.  It both grounded me and threw me off balance.  It gave me confidence and brought me to my knees.  I was exalted.  And humbled.  But mostly grateful.

The family gathered after the Communion for Sunday dinner. The Old Man and I had already changed into more comfortable clothes for this photo. Ma in her apron over her Sunday dress.

At that journey’s end, I found myself in a little church in the countryside.  It was a familiar place.  It felt like coming home. It reminded me of the little Lutheran Church where The Old Man, Ma and I shared a pew.  It wasn’t perfect.  It didn’t satisfy all of my spiritual needs.  Nor did it fill my hunger completely, nor answer my endless questions.  But it was a place to dwell, to sit quietly and learn. To witness and rub shoulders with fellow seekers on this bumpy, often terrifying, road.

It was there that this happened.

I saw God in church. It wasn’t at all what I expected it would be.  It was such a quiet whisper of a moment.  Manifested in a simple expression of love between an elderly husband and his fragile wife.  I don’t think either of them noticed that something so incredibly extraordinary was taking place.  But I did.  The providential witness.

The congregation was about to sing another hymn. Everyone was seated and looking to the Music Team Leader for direction.  He asked us all to stand and sing our praises.  Obediently, all the adults in the church stood, except for one.

Ma and The Old Man on the steps of 204. One of the last photos together.

He stood with confident ease.  Thin and stoop shouldered.  Yet strong.  In conviction and constitution.  She made a feeble attempt to rise. Her heart was willing. A formidable match for his on any given Sunday.  But her tired, frail body was uncooperative.

Without skipping a beat, he reached for her arm and gently helped her to her feet.  There they stood.  Side by side.  Singing with hearts wide open with love and devotion.  As it had always been.  Now and forever.

The tenderness of this ordinary, natural and unassuming gesture touched me in ways that were more profound than any sermon or hymn or prayer.  I was overwhelmed by the presence of God.  Just two rows up.

There it was.  In a flash.  An instant.  Grace.  Sweet, kind, patient, loving and humanly divine.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Anniversary.

The Bride and Groom in the back seat of the wedding car.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that, “You can’t go home again.”  Part of me believes that is true.  Yet part of me thinks you can.  I just did.  It took ten years and a 50th wedding anniversary to make it happen.  But I did go home.  Not to 204.  Although I visited the place, stopped long enough to take one photograph.  Then left.

I hadn’t been back in ten years.  Two funerals and one wedding brought me there a decade ago.  I swore I’d never go back.  Without Ma and The Old Man and 204 there wasn’t much appeal.  Those ten years flew by so quickly.  Like a crimson maple leaf in the Northwestern Ontario autumn wind.  Here and then gone.

When E and I got married last year my brother and sister-in-law flew out for the occasion.  We were sitting around our kitchen table one evening eating pizza and killing ourselves laughing over the silly things that only siblings find amusing.  It was then that my brother extended the invitation to attend their 50th anniversary the following summer.  At the time I said, “Yeah, that would be nice.  We’ll do that.”  But secretly I thought, “Not on your life.”  It wasn’t because I didn’t want to celebrate this milestone with them because I most definitely did.  I just didn’t want to do it there.  Over the course of the year I considered the possibility of flying 3,000 miles to spend a week in the West End, not smack dab in the old neighborhood but pretty darn close.  As quickly as the thought entered my mind I dismissed it.  Shrugged it off like a nasty mosquito.  Of which they have many in that neck of the woods.  But as the date drew closer, somehow my heart changed. I thought of what this would mean to my brother and his family.  It wasn’t just an invitation to a party. It was an invitation to come home and spend time with someone who shared an unbreakable bond and love for Ma like I did.

The flight was booked.  I was going.

The engagement announcement photo.

Little back story.  There isn’t much of their wedding day that I remember.  It’s all very sketchy.  Impressionistic.  Fuzzy around the edges.  I was too young to have captured any of it permanently in the camera of my mind.  So I am reliant on the story the black and white photographs and a yellowed newspaper clipping convey.

At 11:30 in the morning on Saturday, August 18,1962 my big brother’s life was transformed.  It was at that hour that he became a husband to the most beautiful girl in the room.  Two small town kids who met and fell in love.  Soul mates. Best friends.  Keepers of true love.  There for each other through the hills and valleys of life.  A blessing to everyone who loves them.  They are the dear ones.

The beautiful Bride having her picture taken at 204.

The day began with sunshine, sweet anticipation, butterflies in the stomach, hair appointments, intimate moments with family at home.  Captured on film for eternity.  These personal snapshots were followed by formal professional photos at Pouncy’s Studio. The costs for this photographic session, $52.10.  And the album full of exquisite 8×10 black and white photos, $76.87.  Enjoying the experience of leafing through the perfectly preserved book of romantic sweet memories.  Priceless.  An homage to the enduring MasterCard commercials that I love.

Vows were exchanged at St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church.

The Bride with Ma and The Old Man.

Commitments made.  Promises kept.  The first kiss as husband and wife.  Confetti rained from the sky in adoration. The gorgeous bride in her white organza gown and radiant smile.  Cascade of red roses.  Crystals and pearls.  The tall dark and handsome groom in black tux and eyes only for the girl he loved, the woman who would be his love forever and always.  His dream come true. Her love at first sight.

The day’s ceremonies were followed by rejoicing and merrymaking where everyone danced into the night.  Cake was cut, bouquet thrown and off they went for the time of their life.  And what a wonderful life it has been.  Fifty years later and still in love.  Still dedicated to each other and an inspiration to all who cherish them.  They have shown us what a good marriage looks like.

The Wedding Album.

The anniversary celebration was joyous.  Lovely.  Memorable.  Golden. My niece orchestrated every detail.  From the delicious food, that she so lovingly prepared for days on end, to the colorful balloons, streamers and photo display to honor her parents.  Everything was letter perfect.  I can’t think of a better way for a child to pay tribute to the ones who love her so dearly.  What a gift.  Again priceless.

One of the highlights of the party.  Watching my big brother waltz with his best man. What was supposed to have been a reenactment of the first dance with his bride turned into a comical, zany and poignant moment caught on video by yours truly. Another priceless moment.

As I look back on those ten days spent with my brother and his family I am grateful for the time we had together.  I am grateful I made the decision to be a part of their celebration, to be a part of the happy memories.  I am grateful that I have a big brother who was man enough to weep when I surprised him at his doorstep.  He had no idea I was coming.  It reminded me that I need to show up more often.  Especially in the lives of those I love.  Until that moment in his driveway, when we embraced and he cried tears of joy, I think I had forgotten just how much I loved him.  There we were.  Ma’s kids.  Her first and last born.  Together.

My big brother with my niece and his pride and joy.

So Thomas Wolfe, I agree that I can never go home again.  At least not to the home that was once such a big part of my life, that shaped and informed the person I am today.  I can’t walk through the front door of 204 and say, “Hi Ma.  Hey Dad.”  Breathe in the scent of Ma’s ginger cookies fresh out of the oven, Sunday’s roast dinner, coffee brewing on the stove.  Kiss them on the cheek before I walk out the door.  Look back and wave goodbye.

But I can go home to remember.  To celebrate.  To honor.  To love.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Spring Traditions, New Shoes and the Easter Bunny.

Boo in her shiny new shoes and Easter best.

I love shoes.  There’s nothing like a new pair to hearten the soul. And the soles.  Snazzy sneakers for Saturday morning strolls with the dogs.  Dependable running shoes for weekday jogs.  High heels with pointy toes for strutting or stumbling depending on the height.  Cute comfy flats engineered for walking at lunch.  Freedom flip flops in every color under the sun that just make me so happy.  Summer sandals to show off my red painted toes.  Butt-kicking black boots with straps across the ankle and shiny silver buckles.  Cowboy boots.  Doc Martens.  Converse.  Leather, canvas, suede or rubber.  My love affair with shoes began early.  And came honestly.

Little back story.  When I was a kid, way back in the day, the arrival of Spring was a long time coming.  Much anticipated and welcomed.  Weary winter arms wide open.  Some years there were a few false starts.  Hiccups along the transitional path. Others years felt like it was never going to come.  We were taunted and teased by Mother Nature.  Occasionally, it seemed as though the season was by-passed completely.  We were catapulted right into summer like a rock from a slingshot.

But when Spring finally did arrive, there were a few things that I could count on.  The Easter Bunny.  Chocolate eggs.  Hot cross buns.  And new shoes.

In northern climates, the mere thought of Spring is reason enough to rejoice.  Celebrate.  Skip to my Lou.  Do a little Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah dance.  You were happy to surrender your snowballs in favor of cats-eye marbles, skipping ropes and red rubber balls.  You could smell the balmy potential for knock out ginger, dodgeball and red rover.  Your bike was waiting for fresh air to be breathed into its tires.  Peddle pushers and other cotton casuals, that had been hanging around all winter, were raring to go.   You could smell change in the air the second you stepped out the door.  Palpable.  Expectant.  Buoyant.  There were chirpy hints of green everywhere.  The possibilities were breathtaking.

In the midst of all this climatic commotion and hullabaloo, there was Easter.  I’ve always found this particular holiday to be a bit emotionally and intellectually confusing.  And perhaps that’s the point.  To Christians, this is both a sad and happy occasion.  Sad because of what happened on Good Friday.  Joyous because of the awe-inspiring event that occurred the following Sunday. An entire religion was built around this belief.  Despite the fact that we were Lutherans, this foundational theological presumption eluded me.  It was only years later that I understood this core tenet.    Doctrine aside, weather-wise I recall Good Fridays as being bleak.  Grey.  Cold.  Depressing.  And Easter Sundays were just the opposite.  Bright.  Warm.  Optimistic.  To add to all this dogmatic perplexity and emotional bewilderment, there was the Easter Bunny.  It was a head-scratcher for a church-going kid.

I have to admit, that as a child I was much more interested in the big EB than JC.  The Easter Bunny was something real.  Fun.  Exciting.  Santa Claus’s good buddy.  They were in cahoots.  I loved them both.  I looked forward to their annual visits.  And the gifts they came bearing. In particular, I loved Easter Bunny’s sense of adventure and cleverness.  Unlike Santa, who just deposited his gifts under the Christmas tree, Easter Bunny hid his all over the house.  Chocolate covered marshmallow eggs tucked beneath the cushions of the couch. Bright colored sugary eggs nestle behind the clock on the mantel.  Jelly bean eggs scattered hither and yon throughout the kitchen and living room.

Like Christmas Eve, I spent the night before the Easter Bunny visit imagining all the sweet treats that would be delivered to our house.  Just for me.  It was a night of salivation and sleeplessness.  The next morning I would hop out of bed (in honor of my long-eared hero), anxious to begin the annual hunt.  Ma would have a brightly colored woven basket ready for me to collect my hidden treasures.  Around the house I scurried.  Like a  saintly little Jack Rabbit.  Crouching and crawling to retrieve treats concealed under various pieces of furniture.  Standing on tiptoes to peer over the top of the taller things. Carefully reaching behind Ma’s nicknacks and ornaments to gather these sweet rare gems.  A special delivery made once a year by a giant white rabbit with enormous ears and a dapper pink bow tie around his neck.  It was like I had died and gone to Sugar Heaven.  It was exalted.  Majestic.  Downright divine.  I suppose in my young mind this was somehow the connection to God.  Only a Supreme Being could send someone so wonderful.  So magical.  So marvelous.  And so imaginative.

After the hunt was complete, and Ma assured me that I had discovered every treasure hidden, we had breakfast.  I never questioned her psychic ability to know this.  It was all part of the fantasy.  The wonder.  The make-believe.  After breakfast of eggs, bacon and hot cross buns, we got ready for church.  This involved a new wardrobe.  In particular, new shoes.

Back then it was tradition to get a new pair of shoes every spring.  It officially marked a farewell, not only to winter but to sloshing around in big heavy pile-lined galoshes.  I looked forward to the annual shoe shopping trip with Ma.  I would try on various footwear options but in the end it was usually the black patent leather shiny ones that seduced me. With or without bows.  Usually with round toes, straps across the ankle and gold buckles.  They were magnificent.  And I wore them proudly to church Easter morning.  Along with the new dress Ma made for me, white gloves, my spring coat, an Easter bonnet and white cotton gloves.  I was a vision of sartorial splendor.

Although Ma and I were the annual Spring shoe shoppers, my love for shoes actually originated with The Old Man.  Next to sports, sweets, and Vodka, he loved shoes.  He called them kicks.  Even as he grew older – when his stride became a shuffle – and the compulsive hunger for a new pair struck, he’d declare that it was “time for some new kicks.”  I suspect it was an urge as irrepressible as that for alcohol or orange filled wafer cookies.    It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the motivation behind The Old Man’s obsession with shoes.  It was simple.  As a child, he never had much of anything that was new, little alone a pair of shoes.  Everything was either second or third used.  Hand me downs.  Patched, stitched, re-patched and repeat. Worn with holes in the soles.  Broken laces.  Flapping toed humiliation.

The Old Man had shoes for every occasion.  And for no occasion at all.  He needed no rhyme nor reason for acquiring new shoes.  It was equal parts compulsion, exhilaration, triumph and satisfaction.  And once purchased, he lovingly and happily cared for them.  Polished.  Buffed.  And shined.  Lined up in a tidy orderly row.  Contained and coveted.  Something he could control.  They were his to admire and enjoy all the days of his life.  It seems with each new pair, he was given a temporary lease on life.

It’s also not surprising, nor coincidental, that The Old Man not only named his horse Tootsie but one of our dogs as well.  So great was his affection for his tender ones.

This Easter my grand daughter will hunt for chocolate bunnies and rainbow colored eggs, that the big EB will sprinkle about our house in all the usual places.  But before that happens, we’ll go shoe shopping.  This is not the time to break with tradition.  And as the Paolo Nutini lyrics express so fittingly, “hey I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything is right.”

Abby's new Easter shoes. 2

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Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Liberty Will Set You Free.

Liberty will set you free.

I started writing letters to God about twenty years ago.  At the time, I desperately needed to talk to someone and there wasn’t anyone in close proximity that I could tell this stuff to.  I could have gone to a shrink I suppose, but I’m not sure I thought this was all that shrink-worthy at the time.  In retrospect, it probably was.  It was just private, intimate, inside your head kind of material that you can’t really share with anyone human, no matter how much you love them and they love you.  So who do you turn to?  I remembered from those years at Christ Lutheran that Pastor M said you could always talk to God and he would listen – even to the worst of the worst.  Well that was me.  I was a long-time renegade from organized religion by this point, and the mere thought of getting down on my knees and praying out-loud, or even silently, was painful.  So I did what came naturally to me.  I wrote.

Little back story.  My first letters weren’t actually letters at all.  And they weren’t written in a Plain Jane Hilroy notebook either.  The first compilation of “prayers, petitions and pleas to God” were contained in a genuine bona fide journal. I can’t remember who gave it to me but I’m guessing it was my best friend B because we gave each other gifts like that.  It is one of those cloth covered dealios with sweet little flowers in pink and periwinkle and many many many daunting blank pages to fill. The word “LIBERTY” is engraved in gold leaf front and back, along with the words “Hand Made in England”, also engraved in gold leaf.

All this gold leaf and English pedigree seemed to not only endow this chronicle of my early interior life with virtues I surely didn’t possess but with magical powers as well.  And I have to say I still love the notion that by the mere act of writing in this supernatural diary I would be set free, just as all that gold leaf LIBERTY promised.  If there was a theme, some common thread woven throughout this first flowery treatise, it was the need for freedom and the desire to hit the road Jack. And of course, I needed God’s help to achieve this.  Really.

It is also filled with all kinds of “New Age” postulations, which looking back, make the older me both smile affectionately and cringe with horror.  A bit like looking at prehistoric photos of myself in bell bottoms.  What was I thinking?  Here’s the thing.  I’m not sure I was.  Thinking that is, at least not clearly.  But somewhere between the inside front cover inscription of “My Book of Gratitude, Love & Appreciation” and the last sentence “Thank you Father” some sense of clarity was achieved.  Not a lot.  But enough to begin this journey, to first get me the hell out of Dodge and then to begin having these daily conversations with God.

Dear God.  It’s me.