R.I.P., Darling Dini

Pensive Dini

It was a month yesterday since I had to make the painful decision to put my 13 year-old cat Dini to sleep. She’d been battling some intestinal and other issues for awhile, but nothing that ever made me think that she wouldn’t be around for quite a long time. The weekend before I took her into the vet, she was listless and spending a lot of time alone. This wasn’t Dini. Dini was the most lovable cat I ever met. She adored being held, kissed and loved. She was not standoffish at all.

So, when I brought her in on that Monday, she had lost even more weight, was dehydrated and running a temperature. As the doctor was examining her, he discovered a mass between her kidneys that wasn’t there on her last visit in November. The x-ray showed just how large this mass was and the doctor suspected that it was an intestinal tumor. At her age, surgery would be risky and not guaranteed to be successful.

I knew what I had to do and it was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever gone through. I petted her, talked to her and kissed her as the doctor administered the shot. A day hasn’t gone by that I don’t think about her, cry over the loss of her or expect to see her. Christmas will be especially hard because Dini loved lying under the Christmas tree.

From the minute I brought the tree up from under the house after Thanksgiving to when I took it down in January, Dini could be found under it rolling around on her back or batting a low-hanging ornament. This last Christmas, I literally had to block her from going under the tree while I was still putting it together. She actually put her paws up on my shoulder and tried to muscle her way past me. Here you can see her with Bella from a couple years ago.

Bella & Dini

Dini was born in the neighbor’s backyard. One day I spotted about four kittens jumping through the grass and plants as their mother looked on. Then, they were gone. Months later, one of the kittens came back. As soon as I could, I caught her and got her fixed. She got her name while recovering at the vet’s. Somehow when one of the assistants had the cage door open, Dini wiggled out and was lost in the office for a week. They left food out and eventually found her. The unnamed cat now had a proper name: Houdini, named after the famous magician.

She remained an outside cat for about a year until I was brave enough to try to introduce her to Bella. After a short time of Bella’s hissing, Dini settled in. She and Bella were sisters for the next 12 years.

I was really worried about Bella after Dini died. Would she get depressed? Would she stop eating? Luckily, her appetite has been very good and she seems okay. Sometimes it seems like she’s looking for Dini, but I’ve tried to give her a lot of extra love and attention.

People have asked me if I’ll get another cat, and I don’t think so. Bella is 15 years old and I hope that she lives a long time, but after she’s gone, I don’t plan on getting another pet. It’s too painful. I’ll content myself with loving other people’s pets. So, to all of you animal lovers out there, hold and kiss your babies even more. You never know when it will be the last time.

Rest in Peace, Dini. You were the best girl. I love you and miss you so much.

Just Like Yesterday

Two events this weekend remind me that sometimes things that happened a long time ago feel like they took place just yesterday. The first of these events occurred exactly 22 years ago today. On February 2, 1991, my Dad died of a heart attack. He was 56 years old and I was 25. This is a picture of us a little less than two years before at my graduation from San Francisco State University. At the time this picture was taken, he was newly sober and we were repairing our relationship. I was re-discovering the man that my mother said she married and the man that I had almost forgotten. This was the man who taught me to throw a baseball, to swing a bat and the man who took me to Giants games at the spur of the moment on a random school night, if my homework was done.

Dad&Me001

I had missed that man for too many years, but in the short time between 1989 and 1991, all the hurt and anger dissolved and we were enjoying each other’s company again. Needless to say, his death was quite a shock to both my mother and me. But, I’m so grateful for those two years. At least I didn’t have anger and guilt on top of my grief. He was okay. We were okay.

The second event is the appearance on Sunday of my hometown San Francisco Forty Niners in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. When I think of the Forty Niners, I also think of my Dad. When my Dad was watching a game, it sounded like five guys were in the room. I can clearly hear him yelling every time the offense tried to run a sweep and they failed or when Joe Montana connected with Freddie Solomon or Jerry Rice on a long pass. He hated most television announcers aside from Pat Summerall and John Madden. If Pat and John weren’t doing the game, he’d turn off the sound and listen to the great Lon Simmons on the radio.

Dad would often take part in football pools. I remember answering the phone many times and hearing the clink of bar glasses as some guy in a raspy voice would quickly ask, “Is Frank there?” And I, being a smart ass like my Dad, would say, “Dad! It’s Jimmy the Icepick for you!” He didn’t win very often but one year he won this Forty Niners jacket. He wore it all the time and I’ve kept it in the hall closet ever since he died.

Niner 2Niner1

My Dad died the week after the 1991 Super Bowl in which the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills. I didn’t know he had won money until he was dying in my arms. As we were waiting for the fire department and ambulance to arrive, my Dad was going in and out of consciousness and I was trying to keep him calm. My mother was a nervous wreck in the kitchen, asking if we’d need money at the hospital. Somehow my Dad heard her and whispered to me, “Money. Envelope. Desk.” He had just picked up his winnings the day before.

I thanked him and told him not to worry about us. He got very quiet and when the paramedics arrived and I moved out of the way, I knew he was gone. His face had turned gray and he wasn’t responding. He was declared dead an hour later at the hospital.

There hasn’t been a day over the past 22 years that I haven’t thought about him. I often wonder what he’d think of the current state of politics or how I’ve turned out. And I miss him every day, today and tomorrow especially. Maybe I’ll take the jacket out of the closet and slip it on for good luck on Sunday.

So Dad? If you have any pull up there, see what you can do about a Niners victory, okay?

Oh, Christmas Tree

This is my Christmas tree. It’s a 7 foot, artificial, pre-lit number that I’ve had for about three years. Growing up, we always had real trees. And while I miss them, I like the fact that I can put my tree up after Thanksgiving and it looks just as beautiful past the New Year. No saggy, dry branches or shedding needles. To get the smell of the tree, I buy a real wreath and hang it on the back of the front door. Voilà!

I’m a bit of a snob about Christmas trees, decorations and the like, so it wasn’t an easy decision to go with an artificial tree. I used to scoff at people with who had them. I used to say it was like having “a Bobble head Jesus in the manger”. It just wasn’t right. Now, I just make myself an eggnog, sit on the couch and revel in my excellent taste in ornaments.

Now, let’s talk about ornaments. I’m very picky. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I never liked the idea of having a tree-trimming party because I knew that I’d probably hate most of the ornaments that people brought me and even if I liked some of them, I knew I’d end up re-arranging them properly after everyone left. It’s much too stressful to smile at the tacky “Surfin’ Santa” ornament and exclaim, “I love it!” Then you have to put it up every year because you know that friend will look for it next Christmas. It’s much easier to buy your own ornaments.

You may be asking just what my ornament and decorating rules are. Excellent question. Thank you for playing along. Feel free to adopt these for yourself if you’re so inclined.

1. Stick with classic, old fashioned ornaments

For me, this is Victorian. Among my collection I have porcelain Santa faces, Tiny Tim holding a plum pudding, assorted angels and an antique bird.

There are none of the following on my tree: Disney figurines, folk art animals, cats on skateboards, Santa engaging in any un-Santa like behavior (i.e., surfing, riding a motorcycle, doing the hula, etc.)

2. Ornaments must rest securely and perfectly on a branch

This means that there is enough room below the ornament for it to hang as it was intended. No forcing an ornament into a space where it ends up resting on the branch below. That will not do. You must have a mix of long and short ornaments to make sure proper placement can be achieved.

3. Minimize the number of ornament sets

In essence, try to buy more individual ornaments instead of those boxes of identical green balls, red stars and silver bells. I admit to having some of these sets, but each year I cut down as I buy more individual ornaments. If you must use ornament sets, be sure to space them out around the tree and for goodness sake, don’t put two of the same set next to each other!

4. Don’t skimp on the back of the tree

Yes, I know it may face a wall or a window, but true Christmas tree connoisseurs will look at the back of your tree and judge it just as much as they’re judging the front of your tree. So be sure to decorate it just as seriously as the front. And don’t try hiding the ugly ornaments back there. We see them.

5. Take your time with decorating

This is where that artificial tree helps out. This year’s tree took me about three days to properly decorate. Part of the reason is because I’m getting older and I get exhausted and crankier much faster. But mainly it’s because I want to take care with each ornament and find the right spot for it. It’s not just for show that I do this. It’s because each ornament holds a memory for me.

 

 

 

When I hold this rocking horse, I remember when I bought it at Harrod’s when I was in England in 1990.

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of my few concessions to a non-traditional ornament. I made this bell out of a milk carton in kindergarten. It reminds me of my teacher, Mrs. Schmale and how sweet she was to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This crocheted Santa was made by an old German lady named Mrs. Mockel who lived across the street from me when I was a child. Her daughter and son-in-law owned the corner grocery store. It reminds me of all the great neighbors who helped shape me into the person I am today.

Perhaps the old-fashioned theme of my tree is about more than the types of ornaments I display. It’s about what those ornaments represent. They remind me of the past, whether that was my own past growing up in the 1960s and 1970s or a time when ancestors of mine decorated their trees with candles instead of lights and utilized whatever materials  were available or popular at the time.

So, if you’re celebrating Christmas and are starting to trim your tree, be sure to enjoy it and make the tree your own. What do you want it to express to the world? It doesn’t have to be like mine (although it would do my ego good). It just has to bring you joy when you look at it.

May your hooks be strong, your branches be firm and your memories be pleasant. I wish you the happiest of holidays, Surfin’ Santa or not.

Talking to Trees and Other Life Forms

I’ve been told that I can talk to a tree and get it to talk back to me. In my experience, oaks think they’re all wise and enlightened but for my money, it’s the redwood that is the king of the forest. Redwoods possess a quiet confidence that comes from knowing that they’re truly badasses. But I digress.

I chalk up my non-shyness to three things: being a Leo, being part Irish, and being part Italian. (The German part of me only kicks in with my love of order and things running on time.) If you were to ask me to name which qualities I like most about myself (aside from my sparkling wit, magnanimous nature and my humility, of course), an outgoing personality and an unquenchable curiosity would be those qualities.

I was reminded twice in the last week of how grateful I am to be a curious people-person.  The latest was yesterday while waiting for my mother at the doctor’s office. As usual, I started a conversation with the person next to me. He was an older man and we started off by talking about the score of the Giants game. (It was scoreless at the time.) I found out that his name was Angelo, that he grew up in North Beach and that he went to Galileo High School. I told him that I was from the Mission, that my parents went to Mission High School and that I went to Catholic schools.

Then his wife came out into the waiting room and we got to talking. I told her where I had gone to grammar school and to high school. As I mentioned the name of my high school, St. Rose Academy, a woman waiting at the front desk turned around and it was my Godmother. Not only that, my Godmother knew the people to whom I was talking! They lived in the same neighborhood.  It is a very small world indeed.

This is the kind of experience I’ve always had as a fourth-generation San Franciscan. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to since natives are a vanishing breed, and that saddens me. But, I just keep being open to new people and conversations.

This brings me to messages that both my mother and I received on our answering machines earlier this week. A man with a heavy Boston accent named Charlie called and was looking for a Frank Rutterman. He mentioned sports and something about a reunion. Mom ignored her message but then I got the same call.

It isn’t often that Mom or I get a call for my father since he’s been dead since 1991. But since this guy Charlie asked for Frank, I thought that perhaps he just mispronounced the last name and he was some old baseball buddy of my father’s. So, I figured, what the hell, I’ll give him a call back.

After some initial suspicion from Charlie’s wife as to my identity and why I was calling, Charlie got on the phone. Alas, he’s about 10 years younger than my Dad and the Frank he was looking for didn’t play baseball. He ran track. It seemed that Charlie’s track team was being inducted into the some Massachusetts state Hall of Fame or something and he’s been trying to locate some of his old teammates.

Once we knew that my Frank and his Frank weren’t the same guys, he asked me about my Dad. I told him that my Dad played baseball and that Ted Williams was his favorite player. Charlie then told me that he had a 1956 Ted Williams baseball card that was worth about $8,000. I told him that I grew up loving the Red Sox because of my Dad and that I only wish Dad had lived long enough to go to Fenway Park with me when I lived in Massachusetts.

Charlie and I talked for another 15 minutes or so. I wished him luck on finding his Frank and he thanked me for calling him back. He said that I sounded like a “helluva girl” and that he really enjoyed our conversation.

When I hung up, I quietly thanked my Dad for not only introducing me to the joy of baseball, but also for encouraging me to be friendly and to get to know people. If he hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of sharing a little bit of him with Charlie from Wakefield. Thanks, Dad.

 

Hey Dad. Wanna Have a Catch?

 

 

Baseball season is starting and as always, my thoughts turn to my father. As some of you know, my Dad instilled a love for baseball in me as soon as I could hold a baseball and put a cap on my head. This is a picture of my Dad back in high school just about 60 years ago.

 

 

In my baby book under age two, my mother wrote that my favorite song was “Bye, Bye Baby, the song that opened San Francisco Giants radio broadcasts on KSFO. As you can see, I started early. As soon as I could stand, Dad was tossing a ball to me. He taught me how to catch and how to hit as well. He often said that he did this, not because he secretly wanted a boy, but because he believed all children should be coordinated and develop a love for sports. The photo at left is of me at age 3 wearing my trusty Giants cap. It seems that my little friend Monica was going for more of a Jed Clampett Beverly Hillbillies look.

This year marks the 21st baseball season that my Dad hasn’t seen. A lot has happened in our national pastime over those years and I often wonder what his thoughts would be. One of the things I miss most is talking baseball with my Dad. He took me to so many games at Candlestick Park and we sat everywhere from the luxury boxes to the bleachers. His favorite spot was behind homeplate so he could describe to me what the pitcher was throwing. I learned everything I know about baseball from all those times with him. They are memories that I treasure.

He would have hated the strike in 1994 but would have applauded Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak in 1995. The steroid era would have disgusted him, especially with hometown kid Barry Bonds at the head of it. I think he would have initially disliked inter-league play (mainly because he despised the designated hitter rule), but would have come to enjoy seeing the Giants play the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. The idea of the All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series would have annoyed him and struck him as “PR bullshit”. I can’t say that I disagree with him.

He would have loved AT&T Park. He never got over the fact that the Giants left cozy Seals Stadium for God-awful Candlestick Park. He always said, “They left perfect weather here in the Mission for cold and fog out in the Bayview. Political bullshit.” I can hear his voice now saying, “Hey, Kel. Wanna catch the streetcar downtown and see a game?” How many times he came home from work on some random weeknight and asked if I finished my homework and asked if I felt like hopping the bus and heading out to the ‘Stick. It was the 1970s and the Giants were horrible, but I always wanted to go.

When the Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, he would have cried like I did. His tears would have been mainly because Ted Williams hadn’t lived to see it. My tears that night were for my Dad for the same reason.

 

 

But, by far, sharing the World Series victory of the Giants in 2010 with him would have been great. He would have loved that team. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and the rest of the staff would have thrilled the old pitcher’s heart. And he would have loved the spunk of the rest of the guys.

So, in honor of the start of the 2012 baseball season, here’s the scene from Field of Dreams that makes me cry like a baby every time I see it. I’d give anything to have a catch with my Dad right now.

Baring My Soul About Bearing Arms

This is a 9 mm Smith & Wesson M&P. I bought it three and a half years ago and I’m not sure I want it anymore. The gun itself is very nice. The recoil isn’t too bad and there are interchangeable grips; a helpful feature for someone with small hands like me. The dilemma regarding ownership is purely a moral one.

Just like I didn’t come from a camping or skiing family, I didn’t come from a hunting or shooting family either. Oh sure, my Dad had a .38 Special he kept in his dresser drawer for protection living in the ‘hood and for shooting cans when we’d go on vacation to Guerneville on the Russian River. Luckily, he never had to use it in self-defense. It was never locked in a safe, or had a child lock on it. He did keep the bullets somewhere else, however. Back then, child-proofing involved a talk from Dad:

Dad
(showing me the gun)
This is Daddy’s gun. It’s not a toy.
Don’t touch it. Do you understand?

Kelly
Yes, Daddy.

That was it. He did try to teach my mother to shoot it once while we were on vacation. It didn’t go well. Even with such a tiny gun, Mom kept dropping the barrel and Dad worried that she’d shoot her foot. Or his. Hence, the lessons ended. When he died, Mom and I didn’t want the gun around since neither of us had the skill or the desire to shoot. So, we turned it in to the city of San Francisco for cash.

Fast-forward to 2008 and I found myself contemplating learning how to shoot. Part of my reasoning had to do with not wanting to be afraid of firearms. There was a lot of talk at the time about the Second Amendment and gun rights in general, so it got me to thinking that I should give this “right to bear arms” thing a whirl.

I took classes, bought the gun and for about a year, I went to the gun range almost every weekend. I found it empowering and humbling. Until you’ve fired a gun, you have no idea about the power that it expends. There is definitely a skill to target shooting and I loved challenging myself. I was also pleasantly surprised that the stereotype I had in my mind about “gun people” wasn’t what I experienced. At the range I frequented in Silicon Valley, the demographics included all age groups, men and women, and all different races and ethnicities. I realized that this was the Bay Area, but still, it was refreshing.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself not only disinterested in shooting but actually pondering the karmic ramifications of gun ownership for me. The main question is, am I inviting unwanted violence into my life by merely having a gun? I’ve always been someone who gave credence to the belief that we manifest what we focus on. And if my focus is on shooting a gun and getting better at it, am I somehow inviting the universe to provide me with an opportunity to do just that, but not at a paper target? It’s a frightening thought.

I’ve wondered if I’d have the same karmic dilemma if I decided to take self-defense classes or martial arts. Is there a difference between these two situations? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I’m really curious to get some input from any readers who have an opinion one way or the other.

Making the Skies Friendly for Adults

I’m sure that most of you have heard about the recent actions of a JetBlue captain when confronted with a disruptive child who wouldn’t calm down before take-off. If not, read about it here. To summarize, he threw the child and her family off the plane. All of us who have suffered through a flight with a child kicking their seat or screaming until dogs in other countries start howling, rejoiced.

What I was most surprised to see, at least on Twitter, was that even the general reaction was favorable. This is progress. People with children are sensitive to criticism about how children today behave and how they as parents, well, parent. I understand that. I’d probably feel the same way if I had children. The fact that I didn’t see an outcry over JetBlue’s actions made me wonder if parents are finally seeing misbehaving children as the rest of us do: as overly-coddled, whiny little brats.

 Maybe this explains the success of Pamela Druckerman’s book about the ways of French parenting, Bringing Up Bébé. It’s been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for three weeks and counting. In the book, Ms. Druckerman discusses the differences between how French and American parents see and treat their children and see themselves as parents. From what I can gather, a pilot wouldn’t have to throw a French family off a flight because of little Monique or Marcel.

 This news story also got me to thinking about an idea I’ve long had for airlines. So, listen up, JetBlue’s Dave Barger and Virgin’s Richard Branson. I think this could be a moneymaker for you. (Feel free to cut me in on some of the action, okay?) I have long thought that airlines should market “Family-Friendly” flights and “Child-free” flights, so that those people with children could have a flight geared towards keeping their children entertained and engaged with other kids. You know, special movies, games, etc. It’s the same idea behind movie theaters having family movie nights. By the same token, the main appeal of child-free flights would be, well, NO CHILDREN! Woo hoo! I don’t have to sell that one very hard, do I?

 When I used to suggest this idea to friends in the past, I was accused of hating children. This is not true. I don’t hate children. I hate the behavior of misbehaving children and the seeming obliviousness of their parents when they misbehave. I will admit to not having the patience gene when it comes to children. I’m impatient about most things. This doesn’t negate the argument for what I think is a fabulous business idea.

 I think this is a much more positive solution than the other one I’ve come up with: The Brat “Watch List”. Just like Homeland Security has a database of names of individuals who want to terrorize our skies with bombs and the like, maybe there should be a database of misbehaving children. Perhaps airlines should set up a “three strikes” type of policy. You get warned and/or reported twice without being thrown off a flight but, if it happens a third time, it’s back to the terminal for you, Junior.

 If it took off with airlines, it could be expanded to movie theaters (except on those designated family movie nights) and restaurants. The possibilities are endless! Going out in public could once again be enjoyable for adults! You can thank me now. And, Mr. Barger and Mr. Branson? I’m open to negotiation. Call me.

 

 

With Age Comes…

Wisdom? Peace? Loneliness? Death? Anyone who knows me at all is familiar with my angst about age, time passing, unfulfilled dreams, etc. It’s been a constant lament for as long as I can remember. Most often, it only hits me twice a year: on my birthday and on New Year’s Eve. Those are logical occasions at which we take pause to whine about the past, lament how the present sucks and fear what the future holds. What? You don’t do that? It’s just me?

I’ve had more opportunities to contemplate what my future holds over the past year or so. Let’s just say that I re-discovered the irony in one-hit wonder Timbuk 3’s song, ”The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”.

In 2011, I helped my mother recover from a major back surgery, I hurt my own back in the process and then I was fired. So far this year, I remain unemployed, I’m now helping my mother recover from arthroscopic knee surgery (which has not been without complications, by the way) and I’m still trying to get my back better.

All of this has given rise to many tears, Yoko Ono like screams and other frustrating coping strategies on my part. And it has led to me asking some rather difficult and depressing questions. Would you like me to share a couple of them with you? Of course you would, you lovely masochists!

Question #1:  Is this how my life is going to be from now on?

If this is true, then my future is one of constant care-taking of my mother, spotty employment if any at all, financial stress, physical pain and basically no life, no love, nothing. Woo hoo! Now, who wouldn’t want some of that?

Question #2:  What’s going to happen to me if I need care-taking in the future?

I don’t have children, so there’s no hope for sympathetic and loving offspring to take care of dear old Mom. These are the moments when I wish I had wanted children. Then again, I probably would have spawned ungrateful brats who just wanted their inheritance. I don’t have siblings, so I don’t even have anyone to guilt or blackmail into helping me. And finally, if, as Question #1 explores, my life is devoid of love, then there’s no significant other to whom I can look for comfort. So, what then happens to those who have no one?

The images that come to mind when trying to answer that question conjure up scenes from a Dickens novel or talking points from the Santorum and Gingrich campaigns. Or I picture myself fighting off polar bears for the last space on the ice floe and I don’t like my odds. For one, they have sharp teeth and claws while I have well-flossed teeth and short nails. Second, ice = cold and I’m a wuss from California.

So, kids, how’s this for the humor blog you were anticipating, huh? It is said that comedy often comes from tragedy. And while nothing over this past year can be considered tragic, thank goodness, I am, nevertheless, ready for a good, hearty laugh.

Yes, Sister Gabriel, There is a Santa Claus

This is me back in 4th grade in 1974. I can hear the giggles and see the pointing all the way across the blogosphere. God, that was a bad look for me. Although, the hair and sweater may have made me an excellent candidate for a spot with the Bay City Rollers. All I needed was a little tartan and a Scottish accent. What do you think?

It was before Christmas when this woman, Sister Gabriel, my 4th grade teacher, decided to drop a bombshell. No, she wasn’t retiring immediately and thus making 4th grade safe for children once again. That would have been too wonderful. Her announcement wafted over our heads menacingly like the smell that occurred when she made a boy named Tony sit on the heater to dry his pants after he peed them. And it was just as disturbing.

I can’t remember what led up to it but this is what she said:

Sister Gabriel
There is no Tooth Fairy. There is no Easter
Bunny, and there is no Santa Claus!

 Miscellaneous Children
(Whimpering and Screaming)
No!

As you can imagine, we were distraught and all ran home crying to our parents. Kids back then weren’t as jaded or grown up as kids are today. Our childhoods, and in many respects our innocence, lasted longer. All of my friends still believed in Santa at the age of nine, so Sister Gabriel’s announcement caused a bit of a moral dilemma. On the one hand, there was this authority figure, and a nun to boot, telling us this “truth”. On the other hand, she was a mean old biddy who hated children. What to think, what to think.

When I informed my mother what Sister Gabriel had said, she was very upset, saying that Sister Gabriel had no right to say such a thing, who did she think she was, etc. Then Mom calmed down and proceeded to dazzle me with her explanation.

Mom
Well, I feel sorry for Sister Gabriel
because the only thing she’ll get in
her  Christmas stocking is coal.

That was an excellent passive-aggressive response, wasn’t it? Fake concern for Sister Gabriel’s stocking contents while delivering an insult. Give my mother some props! Mom then went on.

 Kelly
But, is she right? Is Santa a lie?

Mom
Let me ask you a question.
Do you fill your own
Christmas stocking?

 Kelly
No! Who fills their own stocking?

 Mom
That’s right. Mommy doesn’t fill
hers and Daddy doesn’t fill his.
Let me ask you another question.

Do you see how my mother has mastered the art of deflection? Like a smooth politician, she never answered my original question but went on to distract me with other questions and answers. Brilliant!

 Mom
(continuing)
Do you fill Daddy’s stocking?

 Kelly
Of course not!

 Mom
How about Mommy’s stocking?

 Kelly
No! You’re silly.

 Mom
Well, if you don’t fill your stocking and you
don’t fill Mommy’s and Daddy’s stockings
and Mommy and Daddy don’t fill their
stockings, who fills them? Hmm?

This reminds me of those annoying word problems in math class that would include lots of extra information not needed to actually solve the problem. Instead of focusing on the trains traveling in opposite directions, I’d always get hung up on what the conductor’s name was or what kind of sandwich he was eating. Now I see why.

 Kelly
Well, it has to be…Santa!

I proceeded to hug my mother and I ended up believing in Santa Claus for another couple of years. Mom gave me more than answers that year. She gave me the permission to continue believing despite the protestations of others.  And she gave me love. These two things have always been the most treasured gifts. They certainly beat coal. Do you hear that, Sister Gabriel?

I Was a Christmas Cover Girl

The photo above is my first and last modeling job. While my friend Adele Uddo is a parts model extraordinaire, I peaked at age 3. Ah, well, such is the fickle finger of fate and fame. (Ooh, you know how I love alliteration!) I was a cute little kid, though, wasn’t I?

I guess that technically this wasn’t a modeling job per se, despite the fact that I was the December 1968 cover girl. Where did my cuteness appear? Time? Reader’s Digest? No, it was in this specialized publication:

 

Not familiar with it? Well, let me enlighten you. This was the monthly periodical that was put out by the company for which my father worked. It was a brewery called Lucky Lager. Labatt’s Brewery out of Canada was also part of the company. My Dad was a pressman in the duplicating department, responsible for all of the printed materials.

Apparently, a call went out among the employees asking if anyone had a child who would make a good model for the Christmas edition. So, being the proud father that he was, my Dad brought me in and I was chosen. One of my earliest memories is being at the photo shoot.

I remember that it was a warm day, probably late summer. My Mom, Dad and I went to a photography studio and boy, were we in for a long day. The only other memory I have from that day was staring at that candle in front of me, FOR HOURS. The photographer would give me a break every once in awhile but very soon, I’d be back, staring.

Thinking back on that now, 43 years later, it’s astounding to me that I was able to do it. How many three year-olds do you know who would have the patience, good humor and good manners to pose and re-pose for hours upon end? I don’t know any, but then again, I wasn’t an ordinary child.

According to my parents, I was the kind of kid they could take anywhere. I was polite, I only spoke when I was spoken to, I didn’t touch things, I didn’t scream, whine or otherwise act like a brat. I was every parent’s dream.

Were my parents tyrants who instilled the fear of God into me? Hardly. From as early as I can remember, I just preferred doing things that would make them happy. It made me happy. I could never understand it when I’d see other kids throwing tantrums and behaving like little jackasses. What was in it for them? They simply managed to make their parents angry and annoy everyone else in earshot. However, their behavior did make me look even better by comparison. (As I’ve said before, I’m a Leo and an only child. This means that I ADORE being thought of as wonderful.)

I understand how lucky I was that I had parents who loved me, paid attention to me and treated me like I mattered. They were interested in what I thought and how I felt so I didn’t have to create chaos to get their attention. When you’re being ignored, I guess even negative attention is attention. I feel for those kids when I see them acting out now, even though their behavior tries my patience.

My parents weren’t well off. They lived in a one bedroom flat in San Francisco’s Mission District for 27 years. I spent the first 17 years of my life there. My bedroom was really a dining room, but I didn’t even notice. My childhood was full of love, laughter and learning. I was a very happy child in general, and I loved my parents so very much. I always knew the feeling was mutual, even during those times that were a little more challenging. I think you can see the love in these photos from that Christmas in 1968. I sure can.