Sunday, April 19, 2009

Laughter Amidst the Pain

Kelly, Molly. Jane, and Ben

Having people here for the service was wonderful. All the fixing meals, washing towels, changing sheets, shopping for food, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and cleaning were worth it because I got to spend time with treasured family members. I love being with my Aunt SA, who thinks the way I put fruit on a plate is amazing. She marvels at every little thing I do. I also loved the California adventure I had with my niece, Jane, and her husband, Ben, and the girls. I wrote about her here previously. They picked me up at noon from work, and we started with lunch at In & Out. Then thrift stores, where everyone found something to treasure and carry home. Next was See’s Candy. I bought Jane a pound of Butter Chews and Scotch Mallows, with some Peanut Butter Patties thrown in for Ben. Can’t do that in Austin! It’s easy to make her happy. She is beautiful, funny, kind, witty, and a joy to be around. I didn’t know her husband at all before, but I became quite fond of him on this trip. May our next time together be under happier circumstances!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Fond Farewell

My dad’s service honored both him and God. Many of his friends have already gone before him, or were too ill to attend the service. Others came to Mom’s service to support Dad, but these same people didn’t really know me, so they didn’t come. The people there were almost all people I knew well and I was really touched by who came. My aunt, his sister, of course. Cousins from Santa Paula. My cousin, Jon, flew in from Japan. Jon is funny and smart and has great stories. It was a joy to see him. Parents of students who didn’t even know dad were there. A friend from Bakersfield came and brought beautiful flowers. Dad’s dear nurse, who is my friend. Work friends. Church friends. Friends. Pastor Paul preached from Psalm 92 saying that Dad was like a cedar of Lebanon bearing fruit until the end of his life. This passage fit my dad well. Our friend/pastor from Turkey co-officiated. He had a special relationship with Dad. Brenna and Molly are both great writers and shared stories about their grandfather. Matt read Brenna’s words since she is out of the country. I really missed Brenna. I really miss my dad. Brenna will come home. Dad's in his permanent home.  

Stop reading here, unless you have nothing better to do. This may be only interesting to me.

Here's what I said about dad: 

At a time like this everyone says great things about their dads, but my dad was the absolute best dad. We had a special Dad-daughter relationship, and I will truly miss him.

At his graveside service we read The Prayer of St. Francis that he had wanted read: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. One week after he died I was in Assisi, Italy where St. Francis was from. My dad truly was an instrument of peace. One of the creeds he lived by was “give the other person the better end of the deal.” He almost never got angry with people and I’ve seen him raise his voice only a couple of times my entire life. He worked in the cut throat brokerage business which, it seems to me, would make you enemies, but no one ever said a bad word about my dad. The bible says to pray for your enemies, but I think the only enemies dad had were those evil people who were trying to discredit Richard Nixon.

He had a love affair with the automobile. He cried hard on his seventh birthday when he had asked for a real Austin car and didn’t get it. He was given a brand new Studebaker on his 16th birthday. Once he thought it would be fun to drive the family car, a Mercury down the ski jump in Rochester to see what would happen. He was a daredevil on the road. He could tell you the date of any event in his life by remembering what car he had at the time.

Another love was airplanes. He loved to fly. He would take us kids up for flights and when I was little I thought my dad could magically make the city grow smaller and smaller when we were in the plane. When I was ten he let me take the stick for the first time. He told me to pull back on it all the way, so I did and the plane went almost vertical and immediately stalled. The engine cut out and the plane started falling from the air. He knew, but I didn’t that the plane would regain power and straighten out, and everything would be fine. I was scared to death, and I looked over at him and he’s laughing.

On my 16th birthday he surprised me and took me out of school and took me to the DMV to get my driver’s license.

In 1975 Dad was one of the first patients ever to have heart bypass surgery.  It was a scary time for us. Open heart surgery was not routine like it is now. The doctors mended his heart, but it was broken again when he found out his pilot’s license had been revoked b/c of the surgery. He spent a lot of time  and money in court trying to  argue that he was healthier after the surgery than before, but he was never able to get back his license to fly. He became one of the first patients ever to have a second heart bypass and then had a third. The head of cardiology at St. John’s said he had never met anyone who had 16 bypasses. He had few arteries left in his arms and legs!

Throughout my life whenever I went through a rough patch Dad was there. I still have letters he wrote me with his beautiful calligraphy encouraging me and telling me how brilliant and talented I was. He saw me as a success when I couldn’t see it myself.

When I was a small child, he would leave for work at 5:30 in the morning. I would get up in the dark and eat breakfast with him, and then go back to sleep when he left, just so I could be with him. When he moved to Oxnard, Dad and I started having lunch every Monday, and we would talk politics, and investing and he would tell me stories of how he landed his plane on the railroad tracks, or of doing donuts on the ice in his Chevy in New York. He had travelled so much, and I loved to hear him talk about something that happened while he was in Estonia, or Poland or Thailand. He read a thick book every day, and always had something interesting to talk to me about. When Mom was in mental hospitals three different times, we were both devastated and became close allies. Although I shed many tears through those times, the time spent with Dad made it endurable. To have someone to suffer with made the anguish bearable.

On October 20 he had a massive heart attack and soon after that he came to live with me. There have been some pretty terrible times because I’ve called 911 ten times since then. If I never have to sit on a plastic chair in an emergency room again it will be too soon. But there have been wonderful times, too. So many times I’d come home from school, and he acted happier than a Golden Retriever greeting his master:  “How was school, Honey? Did Shelby get that job she wanted? Did Michael finally turn in his paper?” He told me over and over what a great daughter I was and how blessed he was to have me. He saw only people’s good sides, and sought out the best in everyone.

He told me how he’d gotten to do everything he ever wanted to do and if he died soon, he knew where he was going. His worst fear was not that he would die, but that he wouldn’t be able to drive again. To show you what a considerate dad I have—the escrow closed on his house a week before he died. He had already gone through his possessions and paperwork with me, and sold the grand piano and arranged for the museum to take the antique typewriters. Also, if he had died even one day later, I would not have been able to go to Italy. He was just the best dad to the very end. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Friday in Italy

St. Peter's Basilica

Juggler in Piazza Navona

We ate gelato every day, and our tour director knew the best places. (Some gelato is made from powdered flavors and not fresh ingredients, but not the ones we ate--they were amazing!!)

Sunset in Roma

Align Center

Today we had a free day in Rome. The bus dropped us off at the Spanish Steps at 9am, and our smaller group of 9 was going to the catacombs. Being with a tour group means that many of your needs are met: you don’t have to research hotels, the transportation is taken care of, and you just show up to meals and people serve you wonderful food. Without the structure of the bigger group it was like herding cats to try to get everyone going in the same direction. “Look! Shiny!”  NB wanted to peek “quickly” into a nearby church while we figured out transportation to the catacombs, and two others went with her. We waited forty five minutes for them to return. Then RO needed to go to the bank. “I didn’t know I’d need money for public transportation!” “You mean, you don’t even have a Euro on you???” Ten minutes later we were searching for J., who had wandered off. “Look over there! A statue!” By 10:45 we were on the Metro together. I love taking public transportation in foreign cities, and Rome is easy because it’s only 2 short lined—impossible to get lost, but doesn’t go to your destination.  Before we could engage a taxi, we passed a local market., ( “Bargains!! Must stop!!”),  which necessitated another trip to the bank. When NB asked where the bank was, the woman said “Around the corner. Around the corner.” Around the corner we saw nothing, so we asked another person, who said “Around the corner.”  I thought “That must be what people say when they don’t know where something is. But, no, it really was around the corner twice. The first woman wasn’t just repeating herself. Found the bank. Went back to the market, made the vendors VERY happy and were on our way in two taxis to the catacombs. Which were closed. It was noon, and they would reopen at two. After walking one direction, NB asked a woman pulling into her gated estate “Do you know where we could get lunch or find a supermarket?” “Oh, no English! My husband…” Points to car pulling up behind her. Yells: “Pietro, parli ingles a la signorini.” Proceeded in the opposite direction and found a sandwich shop where the waiter wrote “I heart Jilian” (or whatever your name was) in the foam of the cappuccino. We arrived at the catacombs four and a half hours later than expected, but we had had amazing, unexpected adventures on the way. I love figuring out local transportation, making myself understood by ordinary local people and shopping where they shop, and we had been able to do all of these.

The catacombs were where the earliest Christians were buried. Before the early church formed, people in Rome cremated their dead or left the bodies in the open air. Because the earliest saints believed they would need their bodies after they were resurrected, they started embalming them and burying them. And I thought all that was invented by the American funeral industry!  I wonder if they were pressured into buying the gold painted vault and the marble coffin instead of the cheap brick one. They built extensive elaborate labyrinths of graves with beautiful simple frescoes of Bible stories on the walls. I was deeply touched by these believers who believed the same things I did, and yet lived almost 2000 years ago. Even though the paintings of the stories of Jonah, Moses, Jesus, and the apostles were ancient, the meaning was clear. I felt part of something that transcended time. Once a day the tears hit me, and usually I’m in some really public place. Today I was deep in the tunnels, when I remembered my dad was just buried, too. The tears are uncontrollable. I give myself permission to grieve, but wish I had some alone space to cry, too.

After we returned to the city center, I experienced the highlight of my day: we visited  the tiny jail where St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned before they were crucified. Prisoners were kept in a dingy, rat-infested room about 7 feet square. There was a small hole in the ceiling where people could toss them food or necessities through a grate. The prisoners often died from strangulation from other prisoners, but more often they died from starvation. It was here that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians urging them not to be anxious or worried about anything. He wanted them to rejoice in the Lord always. How difficult it would have been to rejoice about anything in his situation!

It seemed fitting on our last day to have pasta and gelato and then walk across the river to leave just as the sun was setting over the beautiful city. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday in Italy

St. Peter's at night
Marsh and SW at the Coloseum

Sometimes I feel like I'm in Greece and not Rome, because I feel like I'm running a marathon!!! Today we saw the the Vatican Museum, the Sistene Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica, and then had lunch. Then the Coloseum, Pantheon, Arch of Constantine, Trajan’s Column, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Hall of Justice, Capitol Hill Square, Forum, and stopped for gelato. Whew! Off again and saw thePiazza Venezia, Four Rivers Fountain, shopped and had coffee at the Piazza Novata. Almost all of this is on foot--Rome is a big city! When we were more exhausted than the Roman gladiators after a fight, we stopped for dinner. And you would think then we would get to sleep, but, no!, went back out on a night tour of Rome including the Roman Baths and the Trevi Fountain and more gelato. We got back at midnight. I am very happy and very tired.

You know how when you stay at the Disneyland hotel and you buy something in the Magic Kingdom they send it to your hotel room for you? In Vatican City, you can buy something (like a rosary, or a prayer book), the Pope will bess it in the afternoon, and it will show up at your hotel later. I like the idea and I'm fine with all this, but the rest of the commercialism of the city (country? The Vatican is a country), bothers me a little. There are tons of overpriced plastic saint statues for sale and four dollar bottles of soda. There's pasta sold in the shape of something that only men have. (If I spell it out, I'll get the wrong kind of traffic on my blog.) There are calendars that show a closeup of part of a different famous statue each month. The statues aren't suggestive, but the calendars certainly are.

Our bus driver is so funny. Today the street was a little too narrow, so he got out and singlehandedly pushed a Smart Car about a foot closer to the curb while the whole bus cheered.

There is limited public transportation and the streets are packed with crazy drivers. Every time they try to dig a subway line, they find important ruins and building is stopped. We have the "Bus to Home" statue by the mall and City Hall, but they have art EVERYWHERE. It's weird when Michelangelo becomes ho hum. Oh, look another Giotto! Raphael has a very simple grave. So many others overshadow him.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wednesday in Italy

We journeyed to Assisi, home of St. Francis, patron saint of Italy, and patron saint of birds. The city was especially meaningful to me because Dad wanted St. Francis’ prayer read at his graveside service: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. It’s no wonder that St. Francis prayed this because he considered a heretic in his time. He fought against the corruption he saw in the Catholic Church and advocated Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. I thought about my daughter, Molly, today, too, because her middle name is “Clare” and St. Clare was also from Assisi, forming a woman’s order that was the counterpart to the Franciscans. At age 18 she rebelled against her wealthy family and the church and chose to go around in rags begging. I can just imagine how well that went over with her parents. She was either crazy or had true courage. Part of her famous prayer is:

Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of our hearts. Grant us a correct faith. certain hope, and a perfect charity, sense, and knowledge, Lord, that we may carry out your holy and true commands. 

Along with the other interesting facts about this city on the hill, our guide told us that a typical tourist activity is to pray in the basilica. So, in Italy, you eat spaghetti, look at beautiful art, buy leather, and say a prayer. St. Francis would have hated the “plasicization” (I know that’s not a word), of the faith: the glow-in-the-dark rosaries, and the plastic statues of St. Francis.

The ancient little town was darling with winding streets and quaint staircases. I really liked it there. We are now in Rome and gearing up for a marathon day. My family tends to go hard all morning and then relax a bit in the afternoon. On this trip I've seen that I have more stamina that I ever thought possible because we are walking from early morning to dinner at 7:30. Whew! 

Tuesday in Italy

I could hardly climb the four flights of stairs to my hotel room tonight because my legs were like mushy rubber bands! We started the day climbing 463 stairs to the top of the cupola of the cathedral. Small balconies originally used to construct the dome and paint the inside have been turned into opportunities for tourists to see the frescoes up close and personally and also to have magnificent views of the city. Of course, we had to climb the 463 stairs back down again! We saw the Uffizi Gallery which isn’t big, like the Louvre, but every painting is important: Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian and Michelangelo. Of course, the painting the girls liked the best was the one of Adam and Eve shown at the beginning of Desperate Housewives. The kids were troopers, and so is NB’s 83 year old mother, who at one point told our tired group “You all need a rest. Sit here and I’ll go explore.” Reid and I waited in line over two hours to see the David statue while the others shopped. It turned into an incredible experience for him when the 90 Spanish girls behind him found out he was from California. They treated him like a celebrity and got his email address and Facebook page. As he left the girls he said “I can’t believe what just happened to me.” Reid also thinks that gelato is the key to world peace. It IS delicious. So was the bow-tie pasta I had for lunch and the rigatoni with pesto sauce for dinner. Starbucks has trained me well at ordering cafĂ© lattes and cappuccinos, but being in these cute cafes reminds me how Jim isn’t here with me.
I feel so lucky to be here eating amazing foods and having my soul fed with this beautiful art. Learning Italian has been another joy, and usually people understand my Spanish and are eager to help me learn the Italian word. If I say “pequeno” (the Spanish word) they say “piccolo” and are overjoyed when I say it right. Every time I get some down time, the tears come, but I am thankful for the many, many joys of each day.

Monday in Italy

Our guide wanted us to experience an Italian city that did not rely entirely on the tourist trade, so on the way to Florence we stopped in Bologna. The surprising discovery to me was the fountain and statue of Neptune in the main square—it was exactly like the one in the city center of Palos Verdes Estates where I grew up! I knew that the fountain of my childhood had come from Italy and was an exact replica, but to come across the original by chance was very fun. I hate to drone on about the food, but the mushroom risotto I had for lunch was the creamiest and most delicious rice dish I had ever had. Another highlight was Foucault’s pendulum, which he used to prove that the Earth rotates. Jim would have really liked it, so it made me miss him. The beautiful 24 hour Renaissance clocks in the cathedrals and the many sundials also remind me of him. He loves time instruments.
We arrived in Florence and took a 2 hour walking tour of the city. This is the home of the powerful Medici family, and also of Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo. It is the home of Galileo and the author of Pinocchio. Little Pinocchio marionettes abound. Art is everywhere, from the beautiful white, pink and green marble cathedral to the beautiful statues and fountains in the piazzas. Because there is so much to see, and only two days in which to do it, it feels overwhelming. It would be like allowing two hours to see Disneyland your first time. I must come back.
Bits of trivia: In Italy they call him Napoleon “Malaparte” instead of Bonaparte. Italian students don’t do week long tours. Our guide says it’s because Italian students misbehave and are disrespectful. Most hotels won’t accept groups of Italian students for this reason.