Friday, October 26, 2012


“Memories light the corners of my mind,
misty water-colored memories of the way we were.” 
Alan & Marilyn Bergman

“Already old Fred’s face was creasing up in the soft expression
of someone who has been mugged in Memory Lane.”
Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they well up at the most inconvenient time and you find yourself in tears or angry and sometimes they bubble up and you find yourself laughing or blushing. All sorts of things can trigger a memory. One of the strongest triggers for memory is odors. For instance, the combination of stale cigarette smoke and diesel fumes takes me straight back to being 12 years old and waiting for the bus to school in England. Don’t ask me why but it does. I know that 40 years from now if I get a whiff of Estee Lauder’s White Linen perfume, it will always remind me of my mother getting dressed for church.

Part of what steered me towards this subject was a particular memory that came up recently and has stayed with me for days now. It is of my elderly grandmother demonstrating the Macarena. Every single time I think of it, I hoot with laughter almost without meaning to do so. It would help if you knew my father’s mother. I have talked about her on this site several times. She was born in England in 1920. She survived World War II there and married my Canadian grandfather and eventually ended up here in Washington State.

She embraced American citizenship wholeheartedly as did my grandfather. They settled down, worked hard and eventually retired to a lovely old apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. In July of 1992, my family moved back down to the Seattle area from the Olympic Peninsula. I got a job in downtown and went to live with my grandparents so I was close to work. They were very good to me that long hot summer and the only time I felt a bit put upon was during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. My grandparents watched every minute of both of them. It was agony. I spent every night of the conventions out on the stoop of the building.

Four years later in 1996, I was still living in the apartment on Capitol Hill and my sister had joined me there while she was going to the University of Washington. My grandparents were living close to my parents south of the city in order to get the extra care they now needed. As I blissfully watched everything but the conventions that summer, my grandparents were once again glued to the television.

As I am sure you are all aware, goofy things happen at the conventions. It is a red letter year when some bizarre event from one convention or the other hasn’t made the national headlines and 1996 was no exception. “Macarena” had spent 14 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1996. The song was everywhere along with the corresponding dance and at the Democratic National Convention, “was frequently played between activities, and large groups of delegates and other attendants would be seen doing the Macarena dance.” [Wikipedia]

Enter my grandmother. In the summer of 1996, she was 75 years old. She also had suffered from a slow progressing form of Parkinson’s disease for several years. As a result, she shuffled when she walked and she had a pronounced tremor. She had sat watching the convention for a week. She heard the song over and over and saw the delegates doing the dance so that when my sister and I arrived home to spend the weekend with our parents, she was ready for us.

We went over to see her as we always did when we came home for the weekend. She practically met us at the door and she was FULL of gossip about the Democratic National Convention. But mostly, she was determined to show us the dance they kept doing. So she stood up and proceeded, “Now they keep doing this dance and they put one arm out like this.” A right arm was shakily thrust out at shoulder height. “And then they put their other arm out like this.” A left arm did the same. “And then they put first one arm and then the other arm behind their head like this.” She almost overbalanced with both arms bent and her hands grasping the back of her neck. “Then they put one hand on their hip like this.” A right arm trembles all the way down until a right hand is resting on her right hip. “And then the other one.” A left hand joins the other but on her left hip. “AND THEN they waggle their hips about.” My 75 year old grandmother managed a hip waggle that would have been the envy of any of the girls in the Macarena video. At this point, all of us are laughing and laughing hard. It was just as well none of us had a full bladder because odds on that one of us would’ve had an accident.

Nearly twenty years later, I can still see in my mind’s eye my gran doing the Macarena and it makes me smile every time. Thanks for the memory!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

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Friday, August 10, 2012


I was listening to NPR on my way home from work recently and they were doing a piece about the Berlin Patient.  He was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and in 2007 he received a bone marrow stem cell transplant from someone who was immune to HIV.  It turns out about 1% of white people are immune to HIV.  Since his transplant, the Berlin Patient has tested negative for HIV ever since.  They test him regularly and the interview with him was about how they are hopeful that they may have finally found a road that will lead to a cure for this dreadful disease.

What I found intriguing and made me go down a long and winding side road of thought was this: when they asked the man why he continued to participate in testing which was intrusive and time consuming, I anticipated that he would answer something to like "so I can help others who have HIV and hopefully find a cure for the many people around the world stricken with this awful disease" or something along those lines.  Something noble and worthy, that's what I expected his answer to be.  Instead, in a moment of naked and frankly disturbing honesty, he said "I am motivated by guilt."  I actually gasped when he said that.  Instead of a great thankfulness to be alive, he felt guilty.  He carried a huge burden of self-loathing that he had lived while others had died and that was why he continued to participate in testing.  He wasn't motivated by anything good or noble, he was motivated by guilt.

I was flabbergasted and vaguely disappointed by his answer largely because I could not even begin to understand it.  I have heard of survivor's guilt and while I kind of "get it" at the same time I don't.  Obviously I have not walked a mile in this man's shoes and have no idea what brought him to a point where he was motivated by feeling guilty for being alive so I decided to do some hard self examination and look at what truly motivates me.

I finally came to the conclusion that the thing that gets me out of bed everyday was love.  The reason I get up, stagger around while feeding a dog, a cat, packing a husband's lunch, getting cleaned up and off to work was because of the love I have for my husband, my family, my home and my faith.  I was a little concerned when I started down this road that I would find out that I was motivated by something really foolish like money or "stuff" or discontent or even fear.  One never knows when one delves into the depths of one's soul what one will find lurking in a dark cupboard under the stairs.  The more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that the thing that mattered to me was a happy life and that happy life is because it is filled with those I love.

I thought further about what if I didn't have some of the people and things I do have in my life, would I still be so motivated by love and I don't know the answer to that question.  I hope so and I think so.  I thought about if I were to have health trouble and had to rely and be a burden on other people, would love still motivate me.  Again, I like to believe that it would.  I gave further thought about the people I have lost and realized that the memory of the love I had for them and they for me continues to be a driving force in my life.  I thought about why I obey the rules and laws of the land and while fear of punishment is certainly part of why I do, the thought of disappointing or hurting the people I love is the truer reason why I do.  Lastly, I thought about what a large part faith plays in my life and that when one is forgiven much, one loves much.

When I finally came up for air after so much deep cogitation, I felt better about things.  The mundaneness of day to day life can weigh us all down at times and to know what keeps me getting up everyday helps me continue on even when my spirits flag and the flesh is weak.

I am also motivated by a good laugh but that's another story.