Amanda meets Opera

IMG_1490Nearly four years have passed since I coaxed Amanda to see her first Opera.  It was The Magic Flute composed by Mozart and performed at The Kennedy Center.  Amanda was eight years old at the time and quite skeptical about the whole adventure.  I bribed her with a dress from Needless Markup and a convincing argument that The Magic Flute was perfect for children, that she would be pleasantly surprised and it would begin her interest in this art form called Opera.

None of that happened.  While the melodic composition of Magic Flute is perfectly adorable and easy on the ear, the director always has the license to create whatever stage set up he or she wants and this director did exactly that.  Amanda couldn’t quite get past the colors and scenery the director chose…all quite frightening for an eight year old.

The Magic Flute is a story about the Queen of Night who sends a prince (of course) to rescue her daughter who is held captive by a cult run by a high priest.  Once the prince is there and learns of the high ideals the high priest has, instead of rescuing the princess, he decides to join the community as well.  In order to be accepted, they both have to undergo a form of initiation.  Think of it as hazing.  Some things never change.  They succeed.  However, Papageno, who traveled with the prince failed all the tests.  Sometimes, in life you don’t get what you think you must have but rather something better than you could ever imagine.

Many of us can relate to the character, Papagino, and how difficult it was for him to find love.  The coup de grace is when Papagina lets him know that she loves him just the way he is.

“Papagena/Papageno”

Think about that.  To be enough for someone just the way you are.

Amanda is now twelve and I asked her if she wanted to go to the Met and see Nabucco.  Placido Domingo was performing in the role of  Nebuchadnezzar and well, it is the Met, after all.  Surprisingly, she agreed.  It was a matinee and only three hours.  The music is lovely.  The story, easy to follow.  Halfway through the first half, Amanda fell asleep.  I was debating whether I should wake her up.  I chose not to.  The thought did cross my mind that her ticket cost me $241.00.  I didn’t care.  Not really.  It was about the experience for her to be there.  I knew she would wake up.  And she did and stayed awake for the rest of the performance.  What was worth the $241 to me was the memory she would take with her all the rest of her life.  She heard Placido Domingo sing, she was introduced to the Met and all this with me, her Yaya Val.

IMG_5312I will surely not be in her life forever and one day she will take her child or her beau to the Met and I hope she will say…”I heard Placido Domingo sing. It was here, at the Met, kiddo, with my Yaya Val.  He was something else.  She was too.

Amanda meets Opera.  Priceless.

 

 

No “Plus One”

It has been three years and five months since I lost my husband.  During those past forty- one months, I have come to know what it’s like to go places without a “plus one”.  At first, I wasn’t terribly upset by it.  Most likely, due to the fact that life in the first eighteen months was filled with tasks.  A multitude of them.  Purging a lifetime of possessions that didn’t seem to hold the same importance to me.  Selling a home I lived in for forty years.  Moving from the suburbs to the city.  Settling the estate. And then…the tasks were completed and I was forced to look at life that included no “plus one” square in the face. There were moments when I felt remarkably unencumbered and could not imagine ever answering to anyone again.  However, it wasn’t until I experienced  life’s events without a “plus one” that I fully comprehended how significantly lonely it was. That specific moment occurred during the wedding celebration of the son of my old and dear friends.

The marriage ceremony took place in Mexico on the Mayan Riviera.  I was pleased to be included in the celebration and glad to be able to attend. That is where the glad part began. But, it quickly dissipated with the realization that I was dressed in a beautiful dress yet opening the taxi door myself.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am totally capable of opening my own door.  That is not the point.  It just felt as if I was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

If you ever have been to Banyan Tree Resorts then you know where I was going was really someplace special. I certainly looked like I belonged there.  Yet, I felt as if I didn’t.  The experience was surreal.  It was fitting that the first event I should attend without my “plus one” should be this one.  Sue and Paul loved Jerry.  And he was crazy about them.  Sadly, that didn’t change the way it went for me being one of one while most everyone else was one of two.

Granted, there must have been a few one of twos that called each other names before they arrived. And others who wanted to go home with someone else:)  I am a realist and don’t believe in deluding myself.  However, I was navigating for the first time as a single in a world of couples. How does that look?  Here, let me paint you a picture….Walk around checking out who you plan on engaging in conversation so you don’t look depressed or interested in someone else’s date.  Decide when you are going up to the bar to get your own drink and then awkwardly wonder where to wander to next.  Is it the hor d’oeuvre table, the lounge area, the ladies room, or just standing next to a column?

Look…I am no wallflower.  And, I can get my own drink and anything else I want or need. That is not the issue.  What IS the issue, is this.  Do I want to be that person for the rest of my life?  The person attending events without a “plus one”.  It is complicated.  Being independent and feeling vacuously lonely in a couples’ world.  Getting dressed up for yourself or wanting to dress for someone else. It is a strange dynamic.  Paradoxical. Wanting your freedom and independence and yet, maybe not willing to pay the price for having it.

I don’t believe God designed us to be alone, but rather in community.  What, exactly, that looks like for me, I simply don’t know for sure.  What I do know, though, is that I took for granted the way it felt to walk into a room with my guy.  I often went through my life missing the opportunity to appreciate being one of two even if we were the ones that were cursing each other out moments before we stepped into the room.  Life is messy and, as such, I allowed myself to miss the joy here and there.

That being said, I have come to the place where I realize an independent woman who doesn’t need a “plus one” to survive life’s curve balls may want one for all the right reasons without losing herself in the process.

Recently, I met a man who just might be that “plus one” for me in all the ways that matter. I am going to trust God’s plan and see where it takes me.  One day at a time.  After all, today is all we know for certain.

La Boheme 3 for 3 at the Met

Introducing people whom I love to The Met is an item on my bucket list that I am thrilled to check off over and over again.  And…it seems to be that La Boheme remains the perfect introduction when the stars are aligned.  It is not difficult to see this opera at the MET as it is has played consecutively fifty-nine seasons and has only been left out of nine seasons. This past November it was performed at the Met for 1,275th time.

The first time I introduced The Met to one of my best friends was also her introduction to Opera.  Not to be overshadowed by the incredibly powerful and beautiful composition of Puccini, the weather insisted on making its own music with torrential rain.  I love walking in the rain, even when dressed for the Opera.  But, there is rain and then there is RAIN.  This rain storm was as dramatic as any scene in an opera as it was accompanied by steady wind.  So…try to imagine two women dressed to the nines with umbrellas trying to make it to Lincoln Center in one piece.  Luckily, we were smart enough to wear walking boots and had our dress shoes in our bags.  Even luckier for me was the fact that my friend, Athena, is Greek.  It takes women made of tough stock like ours to be able to tolerate the pelting rain and get to the MET with determination and a little bit of panache and actually be willing to repeat the experience.  Upon arrival, the only difference between Athena and me was that she refused to change out of her boots and I insisted on putting on my evening shoes.  She looked a bit odd, maybe even eccentric, in her stunning black cocktail dress sporting riding boots, but not fazed in the least.  We laughed out loud when we were finally seated.  It was then, I realized why I am so incredibly connected to her.

She loved the experience, all of it, or so she told me.  The pelting rain, the umbrellas that blew inside out and had to be trashed along the way, the running, the laughing out loud and of course, Puccini’s powerful love story.

The first time I saw La Boheme, I realized that I was not very original as that clever young girl attempting to get the attention of an interesting, handsome man.  In the third scene of Act 1, Mimi, knocks on the door of Rudolfo’s apartment looking for a light for her candle.  What follows is a cat and mouse game between the two of them that took me right back to my first real interchange with the guy who was to end up becoming my husband four years later.

Mimi fell instantly in love with Rodolfo and wanted to extend her time in his apartment. As she was walking out the door, she lingered for what appeared to be on purpose and her candle went out. Conveniently, she had to come back inside for it to be re-lit.  In the process, she dropped her key.  He found it but pretended he didn’t.  Each one purposefully extending the time they were spending together.  Cute little ploys, but the arias they sing during this cat and mouse interlude are anything but cute.  They are dramatic, lyrical, beautiful and magical.

Clearly, there were no arias when Jerry and I first met.  We didn’t sing a single note.  But we did play a game of cat and mouse, all our own. I had a ride home from the church event we were both at but I pretended I needed a ride home.  He obliged.  On the way to my house, he asked me if I was a good typist as he could use some help getting his term paper typed.  His regular typist was unavailable, he said.  Of course, I could type, I told him.  I never typed ANYTHING in my life.  His typist was, in fact, available.  And so our story began.

This is what I love most about Opera.  It is life on steroids.  Throughout La Boheme, the love story of Mimi and Rudolfo weaves its way into the hearts of the audience.  The love story is not perfect.  It is turbulent.  It is fabulous.  It is heartbreaking.  It is real.  And in the end, Mimi dies inches away from Rudolfo. At the moment he realizes what has happened, he goes a little crazy with grief and sings out her name with such depth and power that it creates a visceral response for the listener.  It has the ability to bring anyone who has been inches away from a dying person right back to that moment.

I did not belt out Jerry’s name in the hospital room when he died. But, just like Rudolfo, my heart had been seared.  The cord that bound us was broken.  It didn’t matter that the tie was frayed and discolored or that it was sewn together in places with threads woven in blood, sweat and tears.  It was a cord that had our names engraved on it.  Jerry to Valasie 5.18.1969.  Valasie to Jerry 5.18.1969.  I wish I was as wise in 1969 as I am now.  I wish Jerry knew in 1969 what he came to realize later.  However, just like Opera is life on steroids…

“Life is amazing.  And then it’s awful.  And then it’s amazing again.  And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”

LR Knost

The Zipper and the Widow

There are plenty of aspects of widowhood and the single life that become evident rather quickly when you move from being a couple to being one of one and the subtle reminders…they are no less impactful.  The first time I tried to zipper up my own dress was one of those subtle reminders.

Quickly, it occurred to me that wearing any kind of dress other than a pull over or zipper on the side kind was going to be a challenge.  It is often difficult to manage without the zipper help and this is true for most women except the double jointed, gymnast type ones.  I knew that simple fact, but I always had a hand that was eager to help zip me up.  In fact, Jerry loved to feel needed. Since I didn’t ask for help with most other things, it became a ritual in our house.  If I wore a dress, he was my zipperer.  I took that simple act for granted.  I asked.  He delivered.  Now, when I zipper up my own dress, it never ceases to remind me that I am a widow…a single woman.  And I often fail at zippering it up.  I would say that half the time I go out, the zipper is somewhere around the mid-way mark.  Lucky for me, I am also a sweater girl.  The moment of truth becomes obvious when I take the sweater off as I almost always forget that I am not zipped up.  Fortunately, I am surrounded by good friends who don’t judge, but instead finish Jerry’s task for him.

Itty Bitty Tiny Zipper Pull...so itty bitty you can hardly see it.

Itty Bitty Tiny Zipper Pull…so itty bitty you can hardly see it.

Such a simple thing, a zipper, and yet so powerful an image that moves one from two people, four hands to one person, two hands.  In the end, it isn’t about the zipper and the dress.  It is the hand I miss.

PS…Thank you Kay Unger for designing a zipper with a ribbon!

Best Idea Ever...a zipper with a ribbon pull!

Best Idea Ever…a zipper with a ribbon pull!

Lest we go MAD…

Opera is life on stage and if one wanted to see up close what a person gone mad looks and acts like, just buy a ticket to any one of the following operas:

  • Anna Bolena
  • Idomeneo
  • I Puritani
  • The Ghosts of Versailles
  • Wozzeck
  • Orlando
  • The Tsar’s Bride
  • Peter Grimes
  • Boris Godunov
  • Hamlet
  • Lucia di Lammermoor (the mother of all mad scenes)

The Mad Scene in Lucia di Lammermoor

It is not breaking news that Opera is life on steroids.  Betrayal.  Drama.  Intrigue.  Unrequited Love.  Suicide Pacts.  Death, Death and more Death.  Such a stark reality Death is that we have even personified it with a name and created a grim image to match.  There is no dearth of adjectives to describe Death.  It is feared.  It is indiscriminate.   It is relentless.  It is inevitable.

It has the power to make one go mad if this life is really, truly all there is.

We can be quite brave while healthy and strong.  Young and bold.  But as age takes away our vigor or life gets messy when we least expect it, more and more of us gravitate to believing in something, someone, someplace bigger than ourselves and the world we know .

Lest we go mad.

These past few weeks, the news has been filled with the death of two high profile young men, David Goldberg, 47 and Beau Biden, 46.  Last week, one of my best friends lost her not so high profile brother, Jim Lescher, 46.  Recently, Gonzaga College High School lost one alum, Neil York,  22 and one senior, Dom Pettey, 17.  Every minute of every day, there are people experiencing the death of someone they knew.  Famous.  Not so famous.  Infamous. Young.  Old.   In between.  No slowing down the clock.  No escaping the blinding pain of loss.

Reflecting on the death of her husband, Sheryl Sandburg writes in a facebook post, “I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning”.

When my husband died, my faith in God’s promise of victory over death kept me from giving into the void.  It reminded me to fully rely on God when everything beneath me was in perpetual motion and I just wanted to get off the roller coaster.  It reinforced the truth in my head and in my heart that I will see Jerry in a flash. That there really is life after death.

“It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again”

                  “See You Again” was written by Puth Jr., Charlie Otto / Cedar,Andrew / Thomaz, Cameron Jibril / Franks, Justin Scott

There is always a maker.  Everything we touch was made by someone’s hands in one fashion or another.  Why should we be any different?  Do I know what my God looks like or how he or she differs from yours?  I am not sure it even matters.  What I do know is that we were all created by God for a life such as this and for a place in paradise for all eternity that was freely offered to us and that THIS is not all there is.

Lest we all go mad.

You might reflect on this and conclude that belief in God is like hanging on to a binky.  A childlike attachment that one should outgrow.  We ought to realize, though, that children have a corner on imagination, freedom and unconditional acceptance based on intuition, instinct and the supernatural that they unwittingly, unfortunately leave behind in a hurried desire to grow up.

When I imagine passing from this world to the next, I often have this vivid image of God saying to me, “What is wrong with you people?  You leave kicking and screaming and I have to pry your fingernails to get you to let go when I have all THIS waiting for you!”  The Jersey girl in me would want to answer back, “You should have us emailed us a picture!”

And of course, since he is God and I am not, he will remind me that he sent plenty of clues long before I arrived at his doorstep.

Door #1…This is all there is

Door #2…”Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”  NIV Psalm 23

I choose Door #2.

Lest I go mad.

Black is Black

In this case, Orange is definitely NOT the new black.  Black really is black, pure and simple.  Synonymous with mourning.  Grieving.  And has been since Ancient Rome and Greece.

The choice to wear black during the year following Jerry’s death wasn’t so I could pitch myself in some deep, dank well of sadness.  Rather, I chose to adhere to my own reformed version of the Greek widow’s standard issue because I came to quickly realize that there truly is a valid reason for wearing black.

Returning to the real world is a good thing.  Wearing black doesn’t hinder that process. However, what it does do is give the person in mourning the opportunity to slow the process down in a way that makes the sadness manageable.  And that is precisely what wearing black did for me.  In addition, it reminded me of my significant loss everyday for the three hundred and sixty five days I choose black.  That simple act of wearing black helped me understand and accept that my life, the life I had known for forty-four years, was gone as well. I wanted to face that, not run away from it, but at the same time I didn’t want that to stop me in my tracks.  Just wanted it to slow me down as I moved forward.   Each day that I went into my closet to pick something to wear did that for me.

Black is Black

The simple act of consciously choosing black helped me move one step closer to my new life.

Burying the totality of my loss by pretending that wearing purple or red and hoping that could possibly mean that I was moving forward would not work for me.  I needed to take one step at a time and I didn’t want to forget that I had lost my husband, even for a day.  It didn’t depress me to wear black.  It did bother some of my friends and irritated my son and daughter-in-law, but that was mostly about their issues with my wearing black.  Preferring me to look happy and wearing color might hurry things along.  That black, somehow, made me look sad.  Probably did. They loved me and wanted to erase the sadness for me.  I get that.  But I wasn’t in the business of making anyone feel better about what I looked like.  I was in the business of making myself comfortable on my path of healing my wounded heart and easing my sadness and the color black did that for me.

Martyrdom was not my mission, here.  There were days without Jerry that were so much easier than with him.  But there remain still those days that are hollow and empty because the parts of our lives that I loved the most are buried alongside him.

Black was my bridge to the future.  It took me from my deep, visceral sense of loss of the only adult life I knew to the place where I chose to remember only the best of Jerry and me.  Where I can think of him in ways that make me glad we were a family.  Where I can say that I honestly and truly miss that part of him.

Moving on…it is what widows must do.  And I have.  Yet I don’t want to forget this man and I am not eager to replace him either.  The color black helped me accept a new life where I can wear color and still have Jerry on my mind every now and then as I go about the business of moving on.

Popcorn meets Opera

My first experience with Met Live in HD proved to be more enjoyable than I had anticipated it would be and so it made perfect sense to feed my addiction in-between live performances with this format.

Since it was not nearly as difficult to secure a good seat the first time I went to “Opera in the Movies”, it didn’t seem necessary to arrive an hour earlier.  Life never stops providing me with opportunities for learning even the simplest of things.  This was no exception.

The first Met Live in HD performance was a Wednesday evening during a raging snowstorm.  The second one was a Saturday afternoon and the weather was perfectly clear.  By the time we arrived, my friend and I had only minutes to spare leaving the only available seats so close to the screen that we found ourselves looking practically straight up the entire time.  Additionally,  there was so much metal in every variety of form that it felt as if we were in the midst of a Panzer division, a description my friend, Herman, coined to describe being surrounded by walkers, wheelchairs and canes of every kind.  This is the Saturday afternoon crowd., I quickly discovered.  The “In Bed” by 8PM crowd.  The serious Seniors “Opera in the Movies” crowd.  Who knew?

It would be my friend, Cynde’s, first experience listening to an opera and I was curious whether she would want to leave at intermission or be intrigued enough to want to see another.  The opera was Prince Igor and it had been nearly a hundred years since the Met last performed it.  The composer is Alexander Borodin, who has been described as a weekend musician, composing music was his hobby.  He worked on the opera for eighteen years and upon his death it was still incomplete.  Two other composers finished the opera relying on Borodin’s notes.  I loved the mysteriousness that truth created for me.

It is a four hour, twenty-eight minute performance which is about the same length of time as Tristan and Isolde.  But for some reason, it didn’t feel like a four hour, twenty eight minute block of time.  Not sure if it was the venue, the time of day, the field of poppies or the opera itself. It kept my attention and my friend’s as well.  Human frailty is woven throughout Prince Igor just like every other opera I have seen thus far.  Betrayal.  Abuse of Power.  Pride.  Death.  Doubt.  Guilt.  Fear.  For a few of these experiences, all some people have to do is show up for work!

Two out of two so far and happy to report that Met Live in HD is worth every minute of the time you will spend experiencing it.  Oh….unabashedly, I bought popcorn this time.

Which Side of the Bed?

The BedThis is the kind of question you ask someone when you are moving in together for the first time.  For me, it was something I never gave much thought to after May 18th, 1969.

He chose the right side and, by default, I spent the next forty-four years sleeping on the left side of the bed.  It didn’t matter which room it was in…our room, a hotel room or someone’s guest room.  The sides never changed.  Not until May 14th, 2013.

When you have spent the majority of your life following a specific routine, the pattern of doing so leads you from feeling comfortable to being secure.  There is no reason to wonder why one sleeps on the same side of the bed night in, night out.  It just is.  Until one day, it is simply not the same with one side of the bed empty.  Don’t get me wrong.  It is great to stretch out across an entire bed every now and then.  To have it all to yourself is a luxury, indeed.  But the operative words here are “every now and then”.  When you get to choose for the shear thrill of being alone in a bed…that is one thing.  It is quite another when you have the whole bed to yourself every night and there is no option of ever turning around and seeing that person who occupied his side of the bed there in his spot ever again.

The first night I went to up to my room to sleep in our bed alone, I studied that bed before I decided which side of the bed I would sleep on.  I knew a few basic truths.  I did not want to sleep on my side of the bed and see the other side empty.  And, I for sure did not want to sleep on my side of the bed and turn around to see that I was sleeping next to a dead guy.  Either way was not going to work for me.  The solution was easy.  I changed sides.  I crawled into bed on his side and it felt comfortable, right and not so vacant.  At 62, I became a right side of the bed person.

I miss his presence in that bed and have come to realize that I always will.  His arm around my waist. His leg up against mine. His breath against my neck.  Our conversations before we fell asleep.

The only constant in life is change.

Who would have thought that having to decide which side of the bed one chooses to sleep on could be so significant.  Yet it is.

Opera Live in HD

When I first heard that you could go to one of several movie theaters to see an opera performed either live or an encore from the Met in NYC or Covent Garden in London, the first thought I had was. ’Wow, who would want to do that?”  I mean, really.  Opera is not just about the music.  It is about the whole experience and how can you possibly achieve that sitting in a movie theatre.  So, I tabled the idea until reality set it.  New York City is four hours away and there are a limited number of operas to attend in my local area. While this may be shocking to most people who find listening to opera distasteful, there are those of us who actually go into withdrawal between performances.  Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.

When my friend, Scott, texted me and asked if I wanted to see Rusalka on February 12th, Live in HD, I was in that stage of Opera withdrawal and quickly texted back a yes. It was a wintry, snowy Wednesday evening when we met up at Tysons AMC theatre for my first experience at opera in a movie theatre.

Casually mentioning that I was going to try this venue to my friend, Veronica, she told me to be sure to get there at least an hour early because it is more popular than I gave it credit for being.

Scott and I arrived a little bit early and there was hardly anyone there.  This just reinforced in my own mind my initial sentiments regarding opera in a movie theatre.  How awesome of a venue could this be when maybe there were twenty people max in the theatre?!

If I had bet someone that I would hate it, I would have easily lost. On February 12th, I discovered I loved opera even from a movie seat.  The screen is huge so you don’t miss any set details.  The audio from the Met is outstanding.  During the intermissions, you have the opportunity to listen to short interviews with the conductor, the main characters, the set designer as well as some commentary about the opera itself.

To make the experience more than just another night at the movies, I did wear a pretty dress:)  And I was fairly reverent when it came to eating in my seat; I declined buying popcorn.  It seemed so sacrilegious that I relegated myself to M&Ms and a bottle of water.  Most of the other twenty opera moviegoers didn’t seem to have the same constraints.  There were tubs of popcorn everywhere.

Scott and I had a wonderful evening.  It disputed my own pre-conceived notion and what I saw and heard was beautiful. Renee Fleming starred as Rusalka, the water nymph. When she sang Song to the Moon, I forgot I was at the AMC theatre in Tysons Corner and for a few minutes was transported to the Met.  All for $18.00.  Big win all the way around.

The schedule for 2014-2015 Live in HD is out already.  I am filling my calendar.  Life is so much more interesting when you don’t confine yourself to doing what you always have done otherwise you get what you always have gotten.

If Walls Could Talk

What a story they would tell!  From extreme joy to the depths of despair, the walls of 12200 Dark Star Court have seen it all.  But, I highly doubt the walls of Dark Star Court witnessed any more of a swing of emotions than many other walls as they eavesdropped on their occupants.

When the moment of separation from the foundation that housed my family’s history over the course of forty years finally arrived, it was hard to believe I was still standing.  I expected to wail.  I didn’t.  The certainty that I could not put one foot in front of the other to walk away was so real in my imagination.  In reality, I could.  A ritual helped make it possible; a plan of how and when I would say good-bye.  One that needed to be rehearsed utilizing a visual that was powerfully vivid in order for me to rest in the comfort of knowing that when that day arrived I could actually walk away.

The day before moving day was filled with getting ready for the movers.  Sleep was hardly an option.  Adrenalin was the order of the day.  By the time the movers arrived, I was too exhausted to think about the final goodbye.  It was incredibly busy from beginning to end.  And I am certain that if Lisa Bradford didn’t visit me the night before to add reality to my world and if Jerry and Petie Hebenstreit didn’t arrive in the AM to not only offer me a temporary home for the things that were eventually going to Wintergreen but also to move them for me and if my guardian angel, Deb Gorham, didn’t show up in a pickup truck and ask these priceless questions:

  • What has to go to the dump?
  • What has to go to a donation center?
  • Where is the big stuff you need to get to Wintergreen?.

and if Rick Morrow didn’t come by to look at the renovations I had made in my house and ended up helping Deb load her pickup truck, I am sure that I would have never been able to accomplish all that needed to be done.

If you ever doubted God’s providence, you shouldn’t.  He sends people to help you in exactly the way you need help the most.  He paves the way for things to go as you need them to.  Maybe not always.  Maybe only Sometimes.  Leaving my home without being crushed under the weight of sorrow was one of those “sometimes” for me.  I was grateful it wasn’t a “not always” time for me.

One of my oldest friends sent me a New York Times article, “The Memory Stone” written by Olivia Judson.  It is the last of an eight part series and centers around closing up her parents’ home.  It was perfect for me because it confirmed in my heart that when a house  becomes a home it evolves into something that is so much more that the physical structure.  There is energy in the air that holds memories long evaporated in our minds.  Security that protects us may be invisible but present nonetheless.  Each time you shake the outside and all that weighs on you as you cross the threshold of your home you have the opportunity to leave behind the world and its reality and focus on what matters most to you.  The events within a home are not always pretty.  Life really is a messy affair. Regardless, it is still your home.  It is where you seek refuge.  It is where you often find peace.   And if you are lucky, it is where you experience grace.

When it came time to walk through the empty, cavernous, echoing house on 12200 Dark Star Court, I used Olivia Judson’s stone idea.  She wrote of using just one stone as an anchor to gather her memories;  I chose a handful of stones that we kept on a shelf from places we visited on family vacations.  As I began my walk, I started on the lower level.   A storm was raging outside and even that was providential.  The thunder, lightening and pounding rain was as if God’s orchestra was playing just for me and me alone.  I held one stone in my hand as I entered the recreation room and closed my eyes to see and hear the most vivid memories of our family in that room… First, when it was just an ugly room and I used one of the walls to function as a tennis backboard.  Later when it housed my brother and his family as they were transitioning to Northern Virginia.  Next, when it was my son’s bedroom as we were then four generations under one roof.  There in that room, Jon told me his girlfriend was pregnant.  They were only sixteen.  Eventually that room along with the rest of the lower level was renovated and became the haven for Jon’s eldest son, Andrew.  With my eyes closed I could hear him laughing with his St. Andrew and Gonzaga friends.  The room next to it was first an office for Jon when he was in grad school, then an exercise room and eventually a room for Jerry’s caretaker.   The bathroom was a HUGE improvement over the previous one where we found a bat swimming in the original commode.  Yes, indeed.  In Jerry’s last months, the large shower and bench was perfect for his fragile health.  I could hear him saying as he often did, “Val, you did a great job on this bathroom.  It works perfect for me.”  Then my prayer closet I built under the stairs.  How I loved my quiet time there and the grace He extended me by always showing up even when I didn’t.

Next, I selected another stone and walked through my living room.  Oh…those dinner parties for fifty or more people, the belly dancer, Santa Claus, Christmas Carols, Andrew’s amazing chops on the piano, the Christmas tree, garlands on the fireplace hearth, presents being opened, tea parties for baby showers, introductions of missionaries to friends over coffee and then some crazy pyramid promotion by a member of one of my tennis groups (yes…obviously not one of my finest moments).

The dining room deserved its own stone as well.  It was the scene of many gatherings.  I loved to cook and Jerry loved to entertain.  We did a lot of that over the years.  Big buffet parties, small dinner parties, birthday parties with crepe paper that sometimes graced the dining room ceiling long after the party was over.  I mean long after.  Many of those holiday gatherings were happy times.  Not all.  There were those moments that were full of unmet expectations.  Times when the food didn’t turn out right.  Or a bit too many passive aggressive comments expressed.  Someone mad at someone else.  A day that fell flat.  But the scales always tipped in favor of the good times.

The kitchen.  Big stone for that room.  It was where everything happened.  Where Jerry would walk in from work and go straight to the kids to hug and kiss them; Jennifer just four and Jon an infant in his carrier.  It housed the kitchen table that was the spot of all our discussions about the day.  It was where things could go south in an instant.  I closed my eyes and felt and saw the scene of so many good times and some crazy ones too. A place where the range could stop working on the day you were expecting fifty people for dinner yet house a Bunsen burner to save the day.  A place where Jerry would grab me around the waist and nuzzle my neck at the sink while I washed the dishes. Sometimes I was receptive, other times not.  A place where I prepared food for family and friends.  Where my generous friends helped me make tiropeta, dolmathes, kourambiedes, koulourakia and spanakopita just to name a few. I appreciated the help and loved the fellowship.

The den became the spot where our family gathered to watch movies, TV shows, play games, share conversations, work and on occasion read.  A typical list of things people do in a den.  But they were our things and that made them more than just what they were.  In my mind, I could go right back to the time Jerry and the kids were laying on the floor watching Dracula and a bat flew out of the fireplace right in front of the TV.  Yes.  It did.  It is where I rocked my first grandchild to sleep.  Eventually, it was the place Jerry rested most of the day those last few months in a chair and ottoman that became his refuge.  And I, his companion,  listened to his breathing trying to process that one day it would be just me in a silent room.

Each of the bedrooms got their own stone.  Jennifer’s room was first hers and then I was lucky she was willing to share it with me when things were rocky between Jerry and me.  Next, it became a shelter for friends of ours that lost their home. Jon took it over, then Andrew.  My guest room was first Yaya’s room, then my Mom’s and then my room when I felt the need to run away.  Jon’s room became Andrew and Sarah’s room, then Andrew’s room and finally an office for me that I rarely used.  Last was my bedroom.  Yes…if walls could talk.  It was a wonderful, sunlit, big room that opened to a sitting room.  Over the years we changed the furniture around multiple times.  TV in. TV out.  Bed under the windows.  Bed on the big wall.  Kids showing up in the middle of the night to crawl into bed with us.  Jon banging on the door in the middle of the afternoon with his tonka truck trying to get into a locked room and Jerry telling him that we were working on his Christmas list with Santa.  I left those tonka truck marks on the door for a long time.  They were good for a smile.

The walk through the house was almost spiritual.  You see, the time between the dash 1974-2014 was grand in so many ways.  The grandness of it shone through the ugliness.  That too is providential.  And for that reason I was able to say,  “Thank You House for being such a perfect place for us” as I walked through each room. It gave us walls to enclose us and provided a safe place for us to be ourselves.  It was always warm and inviting, strong and protective.

My home housed our memories in every crevice, in every corner.  They floated in the air suspended for me to grasp at any time.  That night as I closed the door behind me, I took them all with me.  Every one of them.  12200 Dark Star Ct was God’s gift to us and so I will add, “Thank You, God”!