Monday, September 30, 2013

Toughest Day of the Year...

…for me, is today, September 30th. For you see, my mom Joanie died 7 years ago yesterday, and my darling sister Maureen died 32 years ago tomorrow. Today, I live in suspension between grieving for what had happened, and grieving for what was still to come. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.

I spent Mo’s last day on earth, totally oblivious. I awoke to an early AM phone call from sister Carolyn. There had been a car accident in Atlanta. C was heading to the hospital and would call soon. I prayed. Let her be OK. Please God. And then came the answer to my prayer: C calling back: “Elise, can you come home today?” I remember flying to Atlanta that afternoon, praying again—this time that I would die too. That prayer wasn’t answered the way I wanted either.

Mo on her last day

Every year on September 30th, I would focus on my Mo. I’d play Billy Joel (her favorite) and cry. I’d re-read the box of letters I have from her, the last only days before her death. And so the September 30ths passed, decades full of them.

Then came September, 2006. Mom was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor. The doctor told us it was terminal, but that she’d likely live for weeks. Mo’s anniversary was approaching. Mom announced abruptly that she would be in Heaven with Mo by October 1st. No one believed her. And yet… at 2:15 PM on September 29th, Joanie reunited with Mo at last.

I want to write about the miracles: the sorrowful email from the boy driving the car Mo’s last night, who tracked us down through a website. Mo’s appearances to my grandma (Grandma hadn’t been told Mo had died). The many times in the past 7 years that I have felt Mom’s presence as if she were just in the next room.

But I find that miracles in this day and age are a pretty hard sell. All well and good for you, people seem to say. It’s tough to swallow, though. And I totally understand, because that doubter was once me, too.

Just as we create our story, day by day and action by action, so I believe God creates us, not once but constantly. Joanie and Mo created beautiful stories. It was crushing to come to the end of them. But is it the end? I firmly believe it is not. Somewhere, maybe just out of sight, my mother and my sister live on, waiting for C and me to join them. I’d love to scribble my story fast and make that day come sooner, but I can’t. So on I live, in the blessed story that has grown to include five amazing children. I am so comforted by them. I can wait.

I look at the clock. 4:50 PM. Come on, September 30th! Be done for another year! Let me put my mourning in mothballs because otherwise I couldn’t bear it. And Mom? Mo? Watch over us, until we meet again.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Stuff for Sale

Just got a call that I have been dreading. A neighbor’s son had contacted me weeks ago about a “project” he was working on. Could I give him a few minutes of my time? Certainly! I’m all for imparting some of my wisdom to the younger generation! I imagined a school assignment that required interviewing a person old enough to remember Herman’s Hermits (moi).

Nay! Turns out the lad has a different agenda. He’s out to sell me Cutco knives. I flinch, because I’ve been down that road many times before. My premiere foray into the world of razor sharp kitchen implements was a presentation by a young actor who was working for us, and still, surprisingly, falling short of making a decent living. So he shilled for Cutco. Next came the daughter of a woman I hadn’t seen, no joke, in 20 years. She, too, arrived on my doorstep with an assortment of cutlery. More recently, our dear young friend Hannah came a calling. She had a refreshing attitude: just let me cut some rope in your kitchen, blurt out my spiel, and we can all go back to our lives. Halfway through her Cutco speech, her cell phone rang. It was the offer of a better job! Hannah literally threw her knives in the bag and then and there called it a career.

For the record: my knives are old, and probably not as sharp as they could be (but then, neither am I). I am emotionally attached to each one of them—paring, chef’s, serrated—and have no intention of adding to my collection. But Cutco pays for every booking, even if nothing is sold, so why not listen to the kid?

My father was a furniture salesman, and not a very good one. He made a modest living selling Danish Modern sofas and tables to stores. We ended up furnishing our various homes with his samples, our living room adorned with chairs of black leather and chrome that you’d need a crowbar to get out of, and Rya rugs so thick that you wanted to mow them. I watched him come back from many a road trip, tired and defeated, and I vowed never to sell anything.

But here I am, selling myself at every turn. Buy my books! Book me as a speaker! I loathe this part of the business and wish I could hire someone to take my place. It gets really old. I wish I had a better product to offer. I lack the confidence to pound on doors, to cold-call, to do what I know it takes to successfully hawk wares. It’s a hard-knock life, being a salesman, and I applaud those brave enough to attempt it.

The Cutco Kid will be here any minute, showing me how his butcher knife saws through wood. I doubt I’ll buy, but I give him lots of credit for trying. I will sit, listening patiently, as I wish others had sat for my dad, long ago.

Tom Cunningham, salesman

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bumpy Landings

Over this past weekend, our family packed up, cleaned up, and left Lewes until next summer. After a two hour drive, we unpacked, cleaned up (how DO these houses manufacture dirt on their own while we’re away?) and settled back in Oreland for another year. It may have been a relatively short hop, but it was, as always, a bumpy landing.

Not that everything at the shore is peaches and cream. But there’s always the soul-soothing walk on
Four out of five--best we can do these days!
the beach to quiet racing brains and calm frazzled nerves.  The slower pace infects even the most ambitious among us, as the screened porch and afternoon naps beckon.  But as the last days tick inexorably by, we rev up to our usual frantic activity level, and we fret about what awaits us back in PA.

This September, the Seyfrieds are all about leave-takings: Rosie is off to Seattle for a visit this week; PJ just embarked on a semester in Marburg, Germany; Julie leaves Thursday for a 2 ½ month European backpacking trek which will take her from Italy to Finland, with several stops in between. Both Rose and Evan moved into new digs Sunday (Evan in DC celebrating the first time ever that he can afford to live without a roommate).

on the boardwalk, back in the day

We are NOT the masters of the smooth transition. When the kids were little, the first days in Delaware were tearful as they missed their rooms, their friends at home. Along about week two, they finally adjusted, and the next six weeks were happy indeed. Like clockwork, though, they fell apart when it was time to return to Oreland. Our heavy-laden trip back up Highway One (High chairs! Cribs! Playpens! Bikes! We would have benefited from a U-Haul just to transport the toys alone!)  was further burdened by the inconsolable weeping coming from the car seats in the back. Steve and I annually settled in for at least a week of nightmares and disorientation as we returned to a town without ocean breezes: “I miss mine beach! I miss mine boardwalk!” tiny PJ used to say, with deep emotion if not grammatical accuracy.

Today, Mom and Dad, too, experience bumpy landings. Steve returns to countless hours of booking shows, rehearsing, and preparing for his drama classes. My church schedule goes directly to insane, with so many things going on that I almost (but not quite) regret going away at all. It doesn’t help that it’s still really hot and we have no air conditioning (unlike the delightful AC in the Lewes condo); I easily sweat off the five pounds I’ve tried to lose all summer.

The only constant in life is change, right? Yes, but that’s not always good news for us creatures of habit. Nevertheless, our circumstances do change, often, and we must adjust.  And by and large, as Evan would say, “it’s all good.”

And so we come to the end of the runway, taxi for a bit, and prepare for takeoff again. Fasten your seat belts, everyone!