Away in a Manger

   I have always loved Christmas. Not religious Christmas.  Lights, camera, action Christmas.  Music, the smell of trees, decorations way over the top.

But one of my favorite Christmas memories has to do with a midnight mass I attended with my friends Tim (from England) and David (my next door neighbor).  Tim was the only Catholic.

It was a Polish Catholic church.  You’ll see why that matters in a moment.  We were being all adult and dignified.  Really.  We had no idea that we were about to turn into ten- year-olds.

The service began.  There was a life-sized manger scene at the front of the church.  No baby Jesus in the manger.  At a very solemn moment, a specially chosen altar boy had the honor of carrying the baby Jesus figure down the aisle to place it gently into its crib.

Unfortunately, karma stepped in and fucked everything up.

Shortly after the altar boy passed us, the head of the baby Jesus separated itself from the body, hit the floor with a bang and rolled noisily down the aisle, landing under the front pew.

There was a mad scramble up front, but I can’t describe it because the three of us turned into a giggling, snorting,hysterical blob of  juvenile humanity.

After a seemingly eternal while, we managed to pull ourselves together. Until a not very good tenor began singing multiple verses of O Holy Night in Polish.

At the end of the Mass, we filed quietly out of our humiliation into the dark cold outside.  And like someone pulled a switch, it began to snow.  Christmas doesn’t get any better than that.

For whom the bell tolls

Almost a year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Not surprisingly, this pissed me off.

In the next few months, hundreds of strangers would strip me to the waist and touch, push on, measure, cut and burn my right breast.  For the doctors, nurses and technicians, who were kind, efficient and professional, it was what they were trained for.  There is no training for humiliation, pain and fear.  Oh, and the anger. But I already mentioned that.

Outside the radiation treatment area hung a large bell.  When you finished your last treatment, when your breast was so burned that the skin was peeling and weeping, you were supposed to joyfully ring the bell. Really?  Like at Weight Watchers when they all clap for every ounce lost?  The bell seemed childish to me.

When I entered the radiation treatment room for the last time, the technicians asked expectantly, “Are you going to ring the bell today?”

I hadn’t rehearsed my answer, but in that instant all the fatigue, pain, humiliation and powerlessness took verbal shape.

“Hell no!  What I want is a completely naked, all-male brass band, and a huge brown paper bag crammed full with crisp one dollar bills”

The technicians were only mildly surprised.

Despite all the years of research, the miles of awful pink ribbons that make every October look like Disney threw up all over it, the treatments for breast cancer are only marginally improved versions of the mutilate, burn and poison used when my friend Nancy died in 2002

No amount of bell ringing will change that.

Best thanksgiving grace ever!

A Prayer Of Thanksgiving
By
Max Coots

Let us give thanks…

For generous friends…with hearts as big as hubbards
and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us we had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn — and the others — as plain as potatoes, and so good for you.

For funny friends, who are as silly as brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who — like parsnips — can be counted on to see you through the long winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around as like tendrils, and hold us despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past, that have been harvested – but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks. Amen.

Another Day I Didn’t Use Algebra

Math is not my strong suit. Anything much beyond “this little piggy went to market” begins to blur. And those awful, “if a train leaves Timbucktu at 9 a.m, how many passengers will be on board when it goes off the rails” problems make my brain hurt.

Going off the rails brings me to the public shame my math skills produced during my short but eventful tenure in corporate America.
The PR department, all two of us, were assigned to create a company-wide program to celebrate its first 80 years of business.

In a lightening-strike blast of brilliance, we called it THE SECOND 80. The elements were simple: a company history, a multiple-projector dog and pony show, a gathering up of community leaders in each town for a tour of the company plant, and a party for all the plant workers. Amazingly it was such a success that it won a national PR award.

My boss and I travelled from plant town to plant town, executing the program flawlessly.

And then, due to a scheduling conflict, I had to do one by myself.

It began well. The bus gathered up all the town leaders, from the Mayor down to the local hardware store manager, and I carefully counted them when they boarded. Off we went to the chicken processing plant. Ah, the glamour.

The plant manager greeted the town dignitaries, and they embarked on a plant tour. I stayed with the bus. You can only see so many craw-pullers and eviscerators hard at work before you become a vegetarian.

After the tour, the town leaders came back to board the bus, and I dutifully counted them again to make sure no one was abandoned at the chicken factory. When I was sure everyone was there, I told the bus driver to take us to the community center where the rest of the festivities were to unwind. I was proud of myself. So far, so g….

We were about a block away from the plant when I heard someone from the back of the bus gasp “nooooo.” More voices joined to created a muddled chorus of, “wait….stop the…good grief..bus”. I raced to the back of the bus and looked out the window.

The mayor of the town, a short, stubby woman wearing a blue tailored suit and high heels, was racing behind the bus on the graveled road, engulfed in a cloud of white dust, waving her arms wildly.

I had unintentionally created the much described “short bus. And I felt like its first passenger, condemned to “this little piggy” hell forever

Speechless in St. Louis

Horrible.  No.  Catastrophic.  No.  Horrendous.  No.  Well…yes..all of that..but

not enough….scary….terrifying…more than that.

Not enough to colorize your Facebook avatar..

or pray

flags keep changing…

That..No..

This

catastrophizing OCDer’s

worst thoughts

are acting out in

imagethe real world.

The Last Democrat in Kansas

image

This was my grandfather, when he was nearly 30 years old.  This card was his total political campaign, but he was elected to the Kansas Legislature as a Democrat.  Unusual, to say the least.

I never knew him, because he died in the great Flu Epidemic in 1918.  He was 30 years old.  The state Capitol was in Topeka, and his wife and three children, Robert, Merlin and William, lived in Meridan.  My father, William, was an infant.

The flu killed young adults with a terrible rapidity.  It struck my grandfather so quickly that he was unable to get home before he died.  Knowing that his life was ending, he dictated a heartbreaking letter of farewell to my grandmother, telling her how much he loved her, and to take care of the babies.

I am sure there was no way to measure her sense of loss. She was a young widow with three small children, left alone to manage the family business, Moser Mercantile.

I know he was a wonderful man, because he had a brave wife, great children, and a wonderful sense of humor.  I wish I had known him.

Remember to get your flu shot.

Spending Souls

I’m no prophet.  No oracle who pokes around in something’s innards and boldly predicts the weather, the future, or the rise and fall of the stock market.

And I never could have foreseen the outward rippling effect of a poem I wrote in 1987.  It has been used as a reading in churches all over the world. Last year, a brilliant young composer named Eric Lemmon set it to music.

At this moment, as I observe the clown car of presidential candidates, pouring out in their big, flappy shoes spouting hate, creationism, guns for everybody and other wacky-doo grade school notions, I think it might be time for the reappearance of this poem:

All this talk of saving souls,

Souls weren’t meant to save,

Like Sunday clothes that give out at the seams.

They’re made for wear; they come with lifetime guarantees.

Souls were made for hearing breaking hearts,

For puzzling dreams, remembering August flowers, forgetting hurts.

These men who talk of saving souls:  They have the look of bullies

Who blow out candles before you sing Happy Birthday

And want the world to be in alphabetical order.

I will spend my soul, playing it out like sticky string into the world,

So I can catch every last thing I touch.

Tattletale

One morning in late winter when I worked for the frozen- dinner folks, I hung my coat on the hook behind the door of my office.  For whatever corporate logic, my small office was right on VP row, where good deals were made and dilemmas were wisely resolved.  Usually.

That morning, some anomaly of sound made a top-secret discussion among several vice-presidents clearly audible to me.  What I heard was so stupid it made “hold my beer and watch this” seem inspirational.

It seemed that the USDA had ruled 100,000 pounds of salisbury steak dinners unsellable because the description on the side of the package failed to list pimiento as an ingredient.  What the VPs were proposing was the excavation of a huge hole and the burial of the perfectly good food.  Like with several backhoes.  In a town with a population so small that the burial would have major entertainment value.  It was to be highly secretive, which, I imagined, would have involved the killing of the backhoe drivers and witnesses. Even to me, a lowly peon, this seemed short-sighted.

So I flounced (ask my husband, anger makes me a powerful good flouncer) down the hall into my boss’ office, and with righteous indignation, I tattled!  Not only did I spill the details on this top-secret, idiotic plan.

I threatened to call 60 minutes.

Well, the rest of the story went something like this:  My boss went to his boss and they both decided that this could be turned into a PR win if we could locate a Food Bank who could handle that food.  Which we did.  We not only saved the population of a small town and a bunch of backhoes.  We fed a lot of hungry people.

And inadvertantly, we established what turned out to be a tradition.  The company donated to that Food Bank every year.

Sometimes, tattling is a very good thing.