In Memoriam

The doctor is not in. He is no longer accepting new patients. He is gone. There will be no referrals. You’re on your own. It’s just as well. No one could fill his shoes anyway. His title was honorary. He wasn’t really a doctor. He was a pipe-fitter, master mechanic, automotive hobbyist. He was known as Dad, Uncle Tracy, Mr. Tracy, and Honey. (His grandkids call him Honey.) To me, he will always be Dr. Tracy – the brain surgeon who earned his title teaching his teenage daughter how to drive a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission pick up truck as I sat between them. “If this truck is in first gear, then I’m a brain surgeon!”

When Dr. Tracy called me back in January to let me know that he was terminal, I was at the high school doing volunteer work. He seemed matter of fact and could just as easily have been telling me that he’d sprained an ankle.  Being the walking Kleenex commercial that I am, I sat down and started to cry.  He got upset that he’d upset me. I guess that’s always the way with any terminal disease, isn’t it? The person who is doing the dying always spends his last days consoling those who aren’t.  He said, “Now see? I shouldn’t have told you. I knew you were at the school, and I’ve gone and upset you. I didn’t call to make you cry or beg sympathy.” Well, then the tears were replaced by anger. (Yeah, I’m an emotional funnel cloud some days.)

“Look here, Old Man!” I told him (without shouting because he is still my elder.) “I love you almost as much as I love my own daddy. So, you’ll allow me the privilege of crying for you.” Aside from my dad, husband, and brother, there is no other man I’ve loved more.

It took a few weeks to arrange things here in Texas before I could get down to see him. While my five children are mostly grown, there are still 4 in high school, one of whom is “special needs.”  My siblings took turns heading from here to Mobile to visit with him. And then it was my turn. And I think for each of us it was similar. We arrived at the house and had something to eat at the kitchen table with him. Then we held down that kitchen chair talking to him, laughing with him, reminiscing with him until it was time for us to head back to Texas. Our cousins from Alabama, Mississippi, and even New York, traveled down to Mobile to sit on that chair and love on him these past few months.

Aunt Ginger and Wendy have both told me how “tickled he was” that we took the time to come visit with him. And I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we wished we could have done more. You see, Uncle Tracy was not our “blood relative.” He married our Aunt Ginger more than 54 years ago and he seemed to think that he was an “in-law” to all of us. He seemed genuinely surprised by the number of his nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews whose lives had been touched by him. Most of us had known him as long as we’d been alive and had gotten advice from him about various mechanical issues, or home repair issues, or just chewing the fat. He’s family. However it was that he joined it, by birth or by marital bond: He’d been part of it longer than any of us.

Our family is short by one tall member today. And while we mourn our loss of him, we rejoice that he is no longer suffering the pain that he endured for these last months. The good doctor will always be with us in spirit and in memory. And every time I start to drive after accidentally putting my car in third gear rather than first, I know that there is a brain surgeon smiling down from Heaven at me.

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The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.

 

 

THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

Like most of the “popular vote,” our family mourned the election results on November 9, 2016. My 11 year old niece was in tears, asking my sister, “But how could HE be elected? He’s mean. How could America elect a bully to be our next President?” Indeed.

She wasn’t the only kid to react this way. I have friends in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Arizona and everywhere in between who held their children on Wednesday morning, wiping away tears of confusion and disappointment that someone who bullies others in public and on television and LIVES the example of what they are NOT supposed to be, could be elected to lead our country.

I gave myself that Wednesday (and honestly, the following Thursday and Friday, too) to grieve Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election. And then I chose happy.

My sister has a sign in her kitchen that says: Happiness is a Choice. Of course, she keeps that sign on the counter right next to the knife block. So, I guess if you can’t choose happiness, you can always choose the butcher knife. Still, it’s a choice. I chose happy.

Am I happy that Donald Trump is our President-elect? Hell, no. But I am happy to have the next four years to find someone better to run against him in 2020. (Sidetrack: Wouldn’t that be an awesome campaign slogan? JOAQUIN CASTRO FOR PRESIDENT- Because hindsight is 20/20. I digress.)

Look, I am an American Muslim of Irish descent, married to a naturalized Egyptian. We have a disabled daughter and we live under the poverty level and we don’t have health insurance because it’s not offered at my husband’s job and we fall through the cracks of ACA because our dumbass state officials in Texas decided to “show them” and not expand Medicaid….EVEN THOUGH Texans are still federally taxed. So we’re paying for Medicaid in other states and not insuring the poor in our own. I had EVERYTHING to lose in this election. But I’m choosing happy.

My faith teaches me that I must be PATIENT. I can be patient for 4  years of a Trump administration. I can USE that patient 4 years to write letters, investigate and research better qualified Democrat candidates and help to promote them. If we move NOW and are patient through the next 4 years, we can help put forth far better qualified candidates to win in 202o. Hey, you third party voters. PLEASE, do the same. If you in the Green Party and in the Libertarian Party work hard at finding a better candidate NOW….start fund-raising NOW….to get better candidates than Stein and Johnson…..get the monies needed to build up a great campaign 4 years from now…..I’ll bet you have a shot. Hell, you guys come up with someone better than the Democrat nominee and I’ll vote for him or her. But
ALL of you, Democrats, Greenies, and Libertarians: Let’s start NOW. Let’s get out in front
of whatever is coming down the 2020 Republican turnpike and make some serious changes in our government. Start finding mid-term candidates for your congressional representatives now. Put some effort in early so that you can all make our Congress more honest; more representative of US, the voters. They work for us. Make them earn their pay.

This is a test. ONLY a test. Somebody wanted a big shake up and change to the status quo. They got their wish. Let’s take their wish for change a step further and use the next 4 years to work toward true greatness. We’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. Maybe we can build something new instead of just putting it all back together again. It’s not over. It’s a bump in the road. We can do this.

Precipitation-Induced Win

After having had such a busy summer where I felt as though I’d achieved only 10% of the tasks I’d given myself due to the unbearable heat, I feel like all of that has changed today. Why today? you ask. It’s been raining for the last 2 days and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, the rain is my jam.

It’s in the high 80’s now and I don’t feel like I’m trudging through hot mud. I have managed to wash 5 loads of laundry (complete with folding and putting away!) I have disinfected the kitchen sinks and counters after washing up all the “midnight snacks” dishes that TWO OF MY ROTTEN TEENAGERS LEFT FOR ME IN THE SINK! I have already started slow-cooking dinner, made my bed, had breakfast and figured out what my afternoon errand list looks like. Thank you, Rain.

I know that the rain of late has not been kind to our neighbors in Louisiana. Last I read, there were 8 or 9 parishes underwater. I do continue to pray for relief, safety, and a very long dry spell for them. But here in North Texas, I am grateful for the cold front that has brought rain our way.

And for those of you kind-hearted souls who would like to help out those people who have lost their homes, vehicles, pretty much all material possessions due to this flooding, please donate to the American Red Cross by CLICKING RIGHT HERE! Thank you for your kind generosity. 20160817_134925

 

Granny Jean


I woke up this morning happy. My Granny Jean had come to visit me in a dream. It was weird. Everyone was giving me birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper but when I opened them they were just pieces of cardboard with mud smeared on them. But Granny Jean was so sweet and kissed me on the head and gave me Little Debbie oatmeal creme cookies. Then I woke up.

It was nice. Ordinarily I have the type of dreams where I wake up in a cold sweat and a panicked gasp for air after being thrown off a large roller coaster that I’m driving my Buick on (yeah, I know) or I’ve been submerged under water for a long time and someone is holding me by my face with a gigantic hand. But today I got to see my late grandmother and she even gave me the greatest Little Debbie’s ever made! (Yeah, Wendy! Oatmeal Creme Cookies are the best. NOT those lame Zebra Stripes!)

Knowing about my Granny Jean might give you a glimpse into my personality. My grandmother, Mary Emma  Ward-Nicholas was fondly called Jean by my grandfather, Roy.  He used to sing that song “Jean, Jean, Roses are Red” to her. She was 39 years old when I was born. She was 39 years my entire life. I was pregnant with my 4th baby when she passed away…at 39 years of age.  She was a good Southern woman who wore shorts around the house with her knee high stockings rolled down and her supportive shoes on.  I remember spending the night at her house and staying up late to watch Johnny Carson with her while we both ate Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal. (Because really it’s more like a dessert than a breakfast food.)  She kept Trident gum in a tin shaped like an apple on top of the refrigerator and made a mean lemon pound cake in a bundt form that she lovingly called “Buddy Cake” after my granddad, Buddy. (We never called him Granddad. He wasn’t old enough to be our grandfather, but he would be our buddy.)

Granny Jean taught me how to make biscuits from scratch, several times. Because I thought I was too smart to write it down and eventually had to ask my Aunt Ginger to tell me again as an adult when I finally did write it down. Granny Jean is the only person I know who would ask you, “How do you like your oatmeal done?” Well, in our family you did have a choice. You could either eat it with a spoon or a fork. I always went with the fork version and would throw a fried egg on top. She kept her mayonnaise in the cupboard instead of the fridge and none of us ever got food poisoning from it…EVEN in the Alabama heat.

Whistling at my grandparents house was for OUTDOORS ONLY. We could actually get in trouble for whistling in the house. And screaming…forget it, you’d better be bleeding to death or you’d wish you were. Granny Jean loved to laugh and was always lighthearted.

The Nicholas grandchildren were all taught to be card sharks. Granny Jean played Bridge sometimes with her friends but with us kids she played Spades, Hearts, War, Rummy, Double Solitaire, and Bullshit! We went through a brief  phase where we played spoons but too many of us ended up getting hurt diving across the floor or kitchen table to grab up the last piece of silverware available. Rainy days, sunny days, ANY days you could find a gaggle of kids around shuffling and bridging a deck of cards like they were professional dealers in any Vegas casino.

Thanksgiving in Mobile was always my favorite. I brought my husband down to Thanksgiving at Granny Jean and Buddy’s house when we were living in Georgia. He’d never experienced that much Turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, etc before. The homemade pies lined the length of the buffet and while everyone else was watching the football game, Mohamed began to yawn. Apparently, he’d never experienced that much tryptophan, either. Granny Jean took him into her room and told him to lie down on her bed. Mohamed was embarrassed and told her, “That’s okay, Granny.”  She insisted and told him that there wasn’t a member of our family yet that hadn’t had a nap on her bed at least once. He zonked out an official member of the family.

When she finally died, I couldn’t make it to her funeral. I was too far pregnant with my daughter, Samiya, and we were living in Maryland by then. Daddy called me to tell me the news and then asked me if I knew where my sister, Monika was so that he could inform her. I told him that she had said something about going to have dinner at her boyfriend’s house. She later told me of the events that followed her conversation with Daddy on the phone. She said that she cried when she hung up the phone. Here’s the way it went with her
boyfriend:

Boyfriend:     What’s wrong? Are you okay?
Monika:         No. That was my dad. My grandmother is dead.
Boyfriend:      (Hugging her) Were you two close?
Monika:         I was her namesake.
Boyfriend:      Oh. Her name was Monika?
Monika:         No. (sobbing)
Boyfriend:      Oh. So her name was Jean?
Monika:         No. But she always liked the name Jean.
Boyfriend:      (Not the first time confused by our family history) How old was she?
Monika:         (Laughing now) 39!!!!!!!!!!

Yup. That was my grandmother. Still making us smile from beyond the grave.

The Memory of Scent

I was just going to close up on here and let my kids have a turn on the computer. But then suddenly I smelled the night jasmine coming in from the balcony door on the other side of the house. The doorman has a night jasmine tree planted just under our balcony. It’s LOVELY when the wind blows in off the Mediterranean Sea (which is about 12 blocks away) and hits that tree. We get to reap the benefits. It reminds me of walking in Amman, Jordan in the evenings on my way home from work.

Scents always trigger memory quicker than any word or song or  picture. The smell of Old Spice cologne makes me think of my dad. And whenever we walk past the pastry wholesale shop on our way to the butcher, I smell the aroma of cooking sugar and butter and immediately I’m back in Nikaia, Greece in KAIROS bakery where my husband worked when we first started dating. The smell of rain makes me think of shopping in Germany with my sister. And the smell of freshly cut grass can take me to any number of softball fields where I played on various teams growing up.  The smell of “Sweet Honesty” perfume by Avon makes me think of my mom in the summertime when I was only 8 and the smell of tangerines takes me back to St. Nicklaus’ Tag in Germany and putting my boots outside the door for treats.

The smell of peppermint candy makes me think of my paternal grandfather, Buddy Nicholas. And the smell of  pine trees, Frito’s, or pecan pie is an instantaneous trip to Mobile, Alabama. The smell of iced tea makes me think of my Aunt Ginger.  The smell of Baby Magic lotion makes me think of my firstborn son and how he loved to take a bath in the kitchen sink.

The smell of lemon Carpet Fresh makes me laugh, because my cousin, Jim, empty an entire box of it on the rug in the den one time and even after we vacuumed it all up, no one could walk into the den without their eyes tearing up for about three weeks. The smell of Poison perfume makes me want to vomit. (Someone bathed in it at work when I was pregnant with my first baby.)  And the smell of popcorn makes me think of sitting around our living room watching movies together.

The jasmine is filling up my head and reminding me that it’s not my turn on the computer anymore. It’s lovely. I’m going to go sit closer to the balcony door to enjoy it and the other scents of Summer.