Tag Archives: friends

A Little Patch of Blue Will Do

It’s been raining for a solid month. How do I know? Because the day my dad went to hospice–poured buckets. It rained until the day he died. Then it rained some more but we had a beautiful blue sky day for the funeral. Then it rained some more and then October was over but it is STILL RAINING. Here’s a haiku I wrote about the weather:

Rain rain more damn rain

Yep still raining rain rain rain

Rain rain rain rain fuck

(That is COPYRIGHTED, y’all, so don’t try to sell it to Hallmark.)

Even on a good day, I’ve already got a wagonful of depression to drag around. Add to that a layer of grief, a layer of rain, a layer of daylight saving time and a snotty cold and it has made for a really bleak week. Oh, then my doctor pointed out to me that I weight 20 pounds more than I did when Carlos was born. Cherry on top.

The grayness is eating into my brain. But right around lunchtime today, a weird soft glow came through my office window. I looked up to see a patch of blue hanging over the soggy trees!

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I made a RUN for it. I walked the longest way possible down the stairs, across an extra parking lot, around the E.D., past the puddle-covered helipad, up stairs and down. I crossed the street so I could walk without the old oaks dripping on my head. People I passed on the sidewalk looked like little squinty moles rising up into the light.

Then up ahead, another patch of blue:

marti's

The line snaked out the door but the wait is always worth it for Marti’s at Midday. When I ordered a half Paige (tuna melt) with a half/half mint tea, Marti winked and said, “This one’s on me.” I’ve learned to just say thank you when she does that and put what I was going to spend on lunch in the tip bucket. A few minutes later, she handed me my lunch, blew a kiss and said, “Love you.” Her blue eyes twinkled with loving kindness.

The rain began to plinky-plunk again. I really wanted to sit outside and enjoy the patch of blue sky while it lasted. Then I remembered that there are a few tables on our cafeteria patio that are covered. Victory! I claimed one for myself and pulled a book out of my purse:

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Check out that little patch of blue, huh? (It’s about two inches above Justin Theroux, for those of you having trouble focusing.) If you are watching “The Leftovers” on HBO, the book is well worth the read. I watched some of the first season and one recent episode from the second season. Lots of differences in the novel, so it’s interesting to compare how one had to be turned into the other. And Justin Theroux. There’s that.

So I was feeling pretty good, out of the rain, enjoying the last 30 pages of a book, my favorite lunch on the side. I choked up over one scene (No spoilers!) featuring Jill, the teenage daughter who has lost so much in the story. She stood up a person whom she was supposed to meet in favor of hanging out with a cute boy:

She felt a little guilty…but not guilty enough to do anything about it. She could apologize tomorrow, she thought, or maybe the day after.

I ran into some friends, she could write.

Or: There’s this cute boy, and I think he likes me.

Or even: I forgot what it feels like to be happy.

Yep. Sometimes I forget what it feels like to be happy. Today was a nice reminder.

As I got up to leave the patio, I saw one more patch of blue out of the corner of my eye. There sat my friend, Pat, also taking advantage of the shelter of the overhang so she could eat her lunch in the fresh air. Her back was to me and I thought about leaving her to her private time–she’s a nurse who doesn’t get a lot of down moments during the day. Just yesterday, she gave me a hug in the cafeteria. I wanted another one. She was another patch of blue on my trail.

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Look at that smile! Pat is one of those people who has been encouraging me for years. Whether it was through grief or motherhood or boring days or thilling ones, Pat never fails to tell me that everything will be OK and I will be too. We talked for a few minutes and she told me how much she enjoys reading these stories on Baddest Mother Ever. I got my hug and another one to spare. Thank you, Pat.

That lunchtime adventure really turned my mood around. I followed the “blue clues” and found myself a little happiness. This afternoon? It poured. As my dad always says–said–“It’s raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” I can’t change that. Any of that.

And that’s OK. I just have to find enough happiness to keep going. During those times in life when it’s raining and it’s been raining and it’s going to rain for another week, a little patch of blue will do.

Experiencing Otherness: My Trip to the Beauty Shop

I have this friend, Kathy, from way back in the 1990s. We met through work. She wrote software manuals and I developed training for the same systems.

Kathy and I got to be Friends-friends when she overheard me talking about playing Spades. Her eyes got all big and her hands started going all jazz hands (which is highly unusual because Kathy is very elegant and reserved). She confided that she loved playing Spades but hadn’t played in years, so that Friday night, four of us got up a little card game. And that was that.

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Her baby, Maiya, was the itty-bittiest baby I ever held, just about a week old. I got so scared holding that tiny little thing when she started mewling, but Kathy wouldn’t take her back. She said, “You gotta get used to it sometime.” Maiya’s almost done with college now. Kathy had two baby girls and a husband and a house and all those grown up things while I was just getting my legs under me. We stayed friends after I married and left town. Our little Spades group got together as much as we could. When Fartbuster and I divorced, Kathy talked me through it. When Richard and I met, Kathy cheered me on. When he got sick, she started praying for him. And for me.

A few months after Richard was diagnosed with leukemia, Kathy called me on a scorching hot summer day. She asked about Richard then I asked after her family. “You aren’t going to believe this when I tell you,” she said. “Vincent has cancer. Multiple myeloma.” I remember exactly where I was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking out over the backyard into all of that sunshine. How could this possibly be true? Two of us with husbands with blood cancer? Talk about being in the same boat, the one going right up Shit Creek.

Kathy and I kept in touch through the cancer journey. I told her what I knew about the path. Vincent had more options than Richard. His chemo worked…pretty much. I was ashamed to admit it, but there were some days back then when I couldn’t talk to Kathy. Her husband was getting better and mine was getting sicker. But I was glad for her and the girls and Vincent. It was just hard to have enough space in my heart with all that fear clanging around in there.

Well, Richard died. Kathy told me she couldn’t come to the funeral and I absolutely understood 100% why that would be too much. She couldn’t let the idea of dying into her mind when their hold on life was so shaky. I was glad for her family, that they had found a way out.

One weekend, I went down to visit and Vincent and I talked about painting (he was an artist and teacher). We were in his studio at the back of their house so he could show me some of his latest drawings. He pulled out a painting of a chanteuse, maybe Billie Holliday, done in purples and yellow. I commented on the range of colors that he used to create skin tone. He pulled out a companion painting of a young man in a bowler hat and bow tie, something reminiscent of the 1910’s. Yellow brought out his cheekbone, while purple made the hollow of the cheek. White wasn’t white–it was yellow. Shadows weren’t gray–they were red and purple. He tried to show me a crucial speck of green in the corner of the young man’s eye but the light in that room wasn’t strong enough. Vincent, so thin and cautious from the cancer, led me outside so I could see his painting in the sunlight. We marveled at how it touch so much color to make something as ordinary as skin. I stepped out of my own grief and felt alive that day, talking to a painter about painting. Learning again, feeling excited about the world.

Multiple myeloma is hard to beat. Vincent had a bone marrow transplant. It didn’t fix the cancer. Kathy and I talked more often but I couldn’t talk to her about being a widow. So we talked about the girls and the necessities and the good things.

Vincent died in October, at home. HIs students, his family, his friends–the whole town felt his loss. The funeral plans grew and grew and grew. When Kathy told me the date of the service, my heart sank. I was going to be out of state that weekend. She told me to go on the trip. She didn’t want me to miss any chance for happiness. But I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to help her through the hard days.

We came up with a better plan than me trying to be one more face in a thousand at the funeral. I took a Wednesday off work and came down to help her with all the things that had to be done. The girls were still going to school to keep things as normal as possible. I did the spare things–proofread the program for the service, helped her decide on a photo, zipped up his suit in a garment bag to take to the funeral home. She needed to run to the beauty shop to get her hair touched up but didn’t feel up for driving, so I drove her over.

The bell rang when Kathy pushed open the door to the beauty shop and every eye looked up to see us coming in. The owner gave Kathy a hug and patted her on the head. They started talking hair so I took a seat under the window. Once she was in the chair, Kathy introduced me over her shoulder and the salon owner gave me a small smile then got down to business.

That’s when a little girl sitting next to her mama on the row of dryers said, really loudly:

WHAT IS THAT WHITE LADY DOING IN HERE?

Her mama ignored her the first time. As the girl opened her mouth to ask again, her mama tapped her on the knee and shushed her. The whole place got quiet. I sat there alone with my magazine, trying not to be awkward.

beauty 2

Many months later, Kathy and the girls came over for the weekend. In one of our late-night conversations, I told Kathy about that moment in the beauty shop and how it had stuck with me. At that point in my life, that moment was one of the first times I experienced my own Otherness. She assured me that I hadn’t been imagining the icy feeling in the salon–we had crossed a line. Kathy’s stylist gave her the cold shoulder for a few months.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew me and my family. I went to a small school, a small church, a small hair salon. Everything and everyone around me was LIKE me. I grew up in a place that was still segregated by practice. Each half of town “kept to our own kind.” I enjoyed a position in the majority, in the ruling class (if you can call it that), so I experienced very little Otherness. That feeling of not belonging, of not being invited to the table, of trespassing.

When I wandered into that beauty shop–a place for black women, by black women–I did the trespassing and I realized I was Other.

What’s the point of this whole story?

Whenever we try to talk about racism in America, it’s tough because one side has a hard time seeing it–we’ve never been Other. And the other side has been made to feel nothing but Other. It’s our government and our schools and our lunch counter and our bus and our ourness. There’s us, then there’s OTHER.

Whenever some narrow-ass terrorist starts talking about “taking back our country,” that’s someone who is afraid of Other. The more I travel, the more chances I have to experience Otherness. The wider my circle of friends, the more I listen, the more chances I have to understand Otherness.

Racism won’t go away because we pray or legislate or circulate a picture on Facebook. Racism can only be overcome when we break down the essential idea that divides Us/Other.

That was a long one. I could use a scalp massage.

 

Telling Stories

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Another reunion weekend at Wesleyan and this one was a Big One. Twenty five years since the class of 1990 graduated. My last year as Alumnae President. I’ve got so many stories to tell but I need time to sit still and think about them. These were my remarks to the Alumnae Association on Saturday morning:

After all the pomp and circumstance, it’s good to turn to our sisters and say, “Good morning!” And I add, “Welcome Home!” because Wesleyan is home for all of us gathered here.

I’m usually rather extemporanteous with my speeches–I wait to be inspired by something during the weekend, some idea that comes close to the explaining the love that we feel here when we all get together. But this weekend has been even more busy than usual. It’s my 25th reunion (insert very loud WOO-HOO AND WHEEEE here)…and we have been staying up very late telling stories.

Kym, who is one of the most beautiful, wise and generally brilliant people I know, told us of the anguish she felt as she learned to wait and to abide while her father died.

Ystoriesvette, who we haven’t seen for 25 years, told of the joy of finding work that she loves, that keeps her growing. She made us laugh with the story of her soulmate proposing on the brim of the Grand Canyon, even as a tour bus clapped and waited for her answer. We laughed with her, past midnight.

We all could relate when Natalie talked about working 50 hours a week at the bank, but running home on her lunch break to bake muffins for her son’s cross country team. So we told her, “Sweetie–they have bakeries. Get you some money from the bank and BUY muffins, then take a nap.”

Two a.m., and Natalie crows, “Ashley! Tell us about that time you knew your marriage to Fartbuster was over! The one with the ice!” So I did. I told them of the epic blowout in the middle of the Atlanta airport when I stood back and said, “I don’t want this anymore. This isn’t the life I want for myself.”

Three a.m. rolled around but we just couldn’t stop telling stories. And I hadn’t written a speech.

But Friday night, at the Celebration Concert, I heard something that made sense of this weekend, that summed up the joy I feel when my sisters and I are together. Two members of the Green Knight class of 1980 sang “For Good” from Wicked. If you know the story, Glinda and Elpheba are two young women who meet at school:

“It well may be

That we may never meet again

In this lifetime

So let me say before we part–

So much of me

Is made of what I learn from you

You’ll be with me

Like a handprint on my heart

And now whatever way our stories end

I know you have rewritten mine

By being my friend.”

We need a place to tell our stories, a safe circle of people who love us and laugh when we laugh and cry when we cry. I have that circle and I love you, every one of you. Thank you for rewriting my story.

PK90

Nailed It

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It’s not really “home” until you hang stuff on the wall, right?

I spent a few hours today at my friend’s place, helping her hang stuff on the walls. She’s one of the Cool Kids. It’s been a rough year. Hanging pictures had been her partner’s task for fourteen years. Now it’s not. So the Cool Kids showed up, like we tend to do.

This wasn’t like the last Cool Kids operation where there was serious back-breaking work to get done. This day was about making an apartment into a home–finishing touches and being present. Susan brought the dog a ball. Nicole arrived with homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs, even a little bag of freshly shaved Parmesan for topping. Libby made a cake…with a nipple, but that’s a story for her blog. It sure made the birthday girl laugh. I brought prosecco, disposable champagne flutes, and a laser level. Erica contributed the hammer. Even Heather, who couldn’t be there in person because she was driving home from her father’s memorial out of state–Heather supplied a chocolate stout and sent pictures from the highway.

We sat on the floor with glasses of wine and listened to the ones with freshly broken hearts talk it through. We cried. We laughed. There was a lot of nodding and dabbing of the corners of the eyes. I rolled the ball across the floor for the dog. She brought it back. The dog wasn’t possessive of her mama, like she is when they come to my house. I think she knew Mama was safe. We are all in the same pack.

When it was time to get to work, we asked our friend how she wanted her home to feel. Where should the cowboy painting go if it’s her favorite? What should she see on the wall when she walks in the front door? What does she want to see while she’s lying in bed? How about this lamp here? That bookshelf there? What if we moved the couch to this wall? OK, what if we don’t.  Do you want something in the hallway or should this go in the kitchen?

She wasn’t 100% sure. It’s so hard to go from us to me. From we to I. To have to put that favorite picture in the desk drawer so it doesn’t hurt. I thought of the Michael Feinstein song “Where Do You Start?” that goes, “Which books are yours? Which thoughts and dreams belong to you and which are mine?” I sang that song over and over when I spent a day separating Fartbuster’s books into neat white banker’s boxes.

Hammering a nail into the wall is tough, because it’s a decision. It’s saying, “This is where I’m going to be.”

cowboyLibby whacked the first nail. Turns out that she and I have divergent approaches to hanging stuff. While I scrounged around for a measuring tape, stud finder, level, pencil…she eyeballed it and WHAM. Picture hung. Next!

And it worked. (Well, after I scooched it just a smidgen to the right and three inches down.)

I was the one who did the math and the measuring and the hammering when it was time to hang the cowboy painting, but it was Libby who took it one step further and hung our friend’s lasso and favorite cowboy hat on the facing wall to complete the tableau. I put the lamp in the logical place and she came right behind me and put it in the beautiful place. The place where it lit up the painting and brought it to life.

It all worked.

When you have a tribe, a pack, “your people,” you don’t ever have to face things alone. You get your tall friend to mark the wall and your short friend to hold the painting and your logical friend to use the level and your friend with panache to add the finishing touches.

On our own, we were afraid.

Together, we nailed it.

Painting Your Elephant

Scott and the parts of his elephant that he was contractually allowed to show.

Scott and the parts of his elephant that he was contractually allowed to show.

One morning at work when I was feeling particularly beige and suburban, like a…oh, I don’t know, like a beige Suburban, I stomped into Nicole’s office and whined, “My friends have the coolest jobs.  This man, Scott, that I know from GHP?  He’s an artist in LA and he’s spending this morning painting an elephant.  Not painting a picture of an elephant–putting paint all over an actual elephant and getting paid for it!  And me?  I’m sending emails warning people that they better return salad bowls to the cafeteria or there will be hell to pay.”

Nicole, ever the great friend and cheerleader, replied, “Well–wait a minute.  You just had that great weekend at Wesleyan with all the alumnae stuff and giving the speeches and parties.  That’s you painting your elephant.”

She had a point.  “Painting your elephant” has now become one of our shorthand phrases to each other.  The words we use to remind ourselves to take pride in our own kind of creativity.

My friend, Margaret, who blogs at Grit Girl Runs Fast, is the reason I have been thinking about painting the elephant this week.  She wrote about how she’s intimidated by some of her women friends because she thinks they are more accomplished or educated.  Pffffft.  But she doesn’t let that stop her from loving them.  She surrounds herself with people who make her want to grow.

Who make her want to….(wait for it)…paint elephants?

I know what she means.  Our GHP group, our tribe, met 29 years ago this week.  I love these people like I love butter but they intimidate the ever-loving shit out of me–ALL THE TIME. Look at them:

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January 2013, NYC

There’s Michelle who saves little babies who can’t breathe.  Jimmy raises the money that changes the world.  Ridge designs fantastic NYC store windows.  Sara, the poet.  Trajal, the choreographer.  Ginny, a psychologist who also finds time for community theater.  Jill is a big time business lady and bon vivant.  Deidre?  She’s an award-winning actress in LA who you’ve seen on shows like Southland, E.R., The Riches…and some Popeye’s Chicken commercials.  Seth is a defense attorney who performs Shakespeare in his spare time.

These are people who intimidate me.  But I find the courage to hang out with them because LOOK AT THE JOY.  And this photo was taken after a funeral.

These people are so alive that they sizzle with energy.  We talk ourselves hoarse.  We laugh until other people turn to see what the fuss is about.

These people are creators.  They make things that didn’t exist before.  They remind me that it is possible to spin gold from straw.  Check out some of this awesomeness:

Here’s what happens when Mike gets bored working in his yard:

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Here’s Bryn playing M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias (NOT her real hair):

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Here’s Shannah, reigning Romulan Miss Galaxy (NOT her real superorbital ridge):

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Julie in Austin with her award for best comedy pilot:

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This is Brantley, who’s currently in Switzerland on the European leg of his ukelele tour:

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Look at the smile on John’s face (second from left) that night that Ruth Bader Ginsberg came to see his play “Arguendo” then stayed around for the Q&A panel:

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And here’s me, painting my elephant behind a podium:

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Margaret–please keep hanging out with people who make you want to grow.  I’ve been doing it for 29 years and it’s working out just fine.

GHPeeps–Thank you.  I’m proud to know you.  I love you.

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The Cool Kids

We do a good bit of this...

We do a good bit of this…

If I have one wish for my daughters, it is that they will find a tribe of girlfriends like the ones I have found.  I’m lucky to have a couple of tribes–the GHPers from high school, the Wesleyannes from college, and lately, the Cool Kids from work.  “The Cool Kids?” you ask?  Yep, The Cool Kids.  All capitalized.

Along the theme of “choosing yourself” instead of waiting to be chosen–we named ourselves The Cool Kids.  It seems that not a single one of us (except maybe Susan, the elegant blonde and Nicole, the sassy one) was a cool kid in high school.  We were the B team, on the margins, always worried that we might be found out and kicked out.  So now that we are All Grown Up, we decided to become The Cool Kids.  Our table in the cafeteria is the one ringing with laughter, the one people walk by and say, “Y’all are having too much fun!”  Nope, no such thing.

...and a little bit of this.

…and a little bit of this.

How did The Cool Kids begin?  Well, I made a speech about employee giving at New Employee Orientation and I began by saying that my baby had kept me up all night (Vivi) then went on to mention that the cancer support center for which we were raising money had really been a great resource when my fiance was diagnosed with leukemia.  Heather came up to me at the break and said, “So it sounds like everything turned out OK?”  Um.  No.  Well, eventually, but….no.  She was mortified, but had the strange similarity of also having been a young widow.  We bonded quickly over that shared part of our past.

Then one day, Heather and  I were having lunch in the cafeteria and Jean joined us.  Jean is a palliative care nurse, and she and I had talked a lot after Richard died.  A week later, Erica, a nurse like Jean and a singer like Heather, came by and fit right in.  And Susan joined us a while later, the woman who used to intimidate the hell out of me because she was so wise and elegant–but funny and genuine too.  Heather started working for Jana and Jana joined us, too.  Libby and I started talking babies when Carlos came along.  And Courtney had a little boy, too.  Then Courtney hired Nicole and she fit right in.  After about a year of evolution, there we were…The Cool Kids.

Jean's Merry Christmas.  I still have a jelly worm in my purse.

Jean’s Merry Christmas. I still have a jelly worm in my purse.

What does it mean to be a Cool Kid?  It means that we fill in the gaps for each other.  Last year, Jean confided that she had never really had a nice Christmas.  So we got together and surprised her with a Christmas lunch with all her favorite things:  a Loretta Lynn album, a tiny tree decorated with jelly worms and dog biscuits, books, and dog toys for her Scout.  She couldn’t believe it.

When I was at home on maternity leave, Erica made me black bean burritos that I could eat with one hand.  When Erica went to Chile for five months, Heather kept her dog like a member of the family.  Libby and Erica get their sons together to play XBox.  Nicole and Susan swap baseball mom stories.

Two of us are adult children of alcoholics and a few of us need to hear those lessons.  Some of us know about grief.  Some of us know about divorce.  Some of us are learning about divorce.  Susan has been married for the longest time and she shares advice that begins with, “I remind myself, ‘Don’t Kill Wes…'”

Two of us have left that place where we all worked, but we still get together for Friday lunches.  A few of us just survived a hellatious few months on the job, with the help of our tribe.  Sometimes Jana comes to lunch with two phones, but she comes to lunch.  Sometimes Libby can only stay for 15 minutes, but she’s there.

Warrior Dash 2012

Warrior Dash 2012

When Erica is out of paid time off, Heather picks up her son from school and gets him to his playoff game.  Courtney brings books for Nicole’s son to share.  I pass Vivi’s clothes to Libby’s daughter and Heather sends her son’s toys to my son.  When Libby is making hairbows for her daughter’s softball team, she makes extra for Nicole’s daughter.  I buy books that I loved for Libby’s little bookworm.  If there’s a birthday, Courtney bakes a cake from scratch that would make Julia Childs pull her hair out in envy.  Susan once came to my house and decorated for a birthday party in the June heat because I had strep rash and was nine weeks pregnant kind of sick.

Go, girl!

Go, girl!

We cheer for each other.  When Nicole is running, I holler from the sidewalk.  When Libby wants to do something crazy, Courtney and I lace up our shoes and get muddy.  When Heather took a sabbatical, we mailed her a birthday party in a box.  When Jana won Boss of the Year, we shouted Hooray!  

Wrong one of us and get the stink eye from all of us.

Our friendship really shined through this weekend.  One of us needed to reclaim a rental property that she had been leasing to a person she used to be married to.  Ahem.  Not the best of situations.  He, despite a month’s notice, hadn’t done SHIT.  And let’s be honest–he hadn’t done shit for SEVEN YEARS.  That place was Single Man Nasty.  Like cheese that expired in 2010 and old underwear beneath the kitchen sink.  The toilet was so filthy that we thought about just buying a new one.

But down swept The Cool Kids, in a bustle of good intentions and steadfast “get yo ass outta here”-ness.  Jean loaded stuff on his truck and backed that trailer up like a girl who grew up on a hay farm.  Hit the road, Jack.  Heather put together a trundle bed that Erica had procured and when she didn’t have the right tools, Nicole called her husband to swing by with the toolbox.  Nicole and Jana snatched a knot in that kitchen, even bleaching the floor behind the refrigerator.  Courtney shampooed rugs while Susan crawled around on her knees cleaning stains out of the carpet.

Coolest Cleaning Crew Around!

Coolest Cleaning Crew Around!

Libby washed the blinds while Terri cleaned a ceiling fan that was black with dirt.  I spent an hour scouring muck out of the tub.  And Erica?  She may have gotten there late because she wasn’t going to miss church, but damn if she didn’t hit that forsaken toilet like it was nothing but a thing.  Cleaned it with a toothbrush and a smile.  I learned that if you have a nasty mess to clean, invite a couple of nurses to help, because they aren’t afraid of ANYTHING.  Through it all, we laughed.  The sweet aunt and uncle who brought lunch for our weary work crew said, “I’ve never heard such laughing!”

And in the middle of all that GROSS, Jean looks over at me and says, “This feels so good.  To help out, doing something together.”  I said, “Yeah, it’s one thing to love somebody enough to clean their toilet, but it’s a whole other thing to love somebody enough to clean their ex-husband’s toilet.”

There comes a time in every one of our lives when we look around and think that it’s all gone to hell.  I’m so grateful to know that when that day comes for me, I’ve got the Cool Kids.  A good set of girlfriends is the key to life.