Monthly Archives: November 2011

Marvelous Outcome

Posted in: General, Marvelous Outcome on 11/30/11 by

After months of worry, loss of sleep, and visits to three different veterinary clinics in the Bay Area, I am overjoyed with the results of a medical condition affecting our beautiful Red Exotic feline we call Leo.  I owe this all to the skill and care of Dr. Stacey Holtz and the staff at the Four Seasons Animal Hospital in Lafayette, CA.

My daughter Mariah named our cat Leonardo Da Vinci in honor of the master painter.  His breed of feline is picked most often to play the lead in cat movies because of their flat faces and big eyes.  Not only is he fun to look at but his disposition is sweet and loveable.  Mariah said last summer when we were dealing with a hospitalization of our other cat Yoshi, “If anything happens to Leo I would just die.”  I knew how she felt because I too find him irresistible.

During the summer, just a few weeks after Yoshi came home from the hospital, I noticed that Leo appeared to have a dark brown beard all around his mouth and cheeks.  It was very strange.  I had never seen anything like it.  Since our responsible veterinarian, where we live in Oakland, was out of town we were given information by the visiting vet at his clinic.  She told me this, “Leo has an infection causing the scabbing and inflammation around his mouth.  Perhaps he caught something from dirty dishes.”  I was surprised because I have had 13 cats in my adult life and I go to great lengths to feed them and care for them properly.  Leo and Yoshi eat from very clean dishes and always have fresh water available.  Before we left the office that day the female veterinarian had her technician use a comb to get rid of what she called dead skin.  I was too shocked to say much but I took home the antibiotic she gave me and administered it to Leo for two weeks.  The inflammation went down slightly but never really went away.  By the time we returned to see our trusted veterinarian Leo was beginning to bleed from his eyelids and lesions started to appear on his face.  It was awful.

Our vet took one look at him, did some tests in his lab, and sent us to an eye specialist in El Cerrito, CA.  After a through examination this wonderful woman recommended Dr. Holtz, a DVM specializing in Dermatology at the Four Seasons Animal Hospital, but before parting she said, “We are all partners in finding out how to help Leo.” Please stay in touch and have Leo’s records sent here.”   It really made me feel better to know that the doctors’ at all three clinics were caring, concerned and willing to share information to find out what was wrong with our beloved pet.

It was so painful to watch our precious Leo covered with abrasions all over his head and feet. He barely came out to see us and was more comfortable sitting in dark, quiet places.  Mariah and I knew he was suffering and all we could do was follow the routine with his medicine, change of diet and give him lots of love. This took several months of patience and prayers.  Dr. Holtz and Freddy her technician has made this whole process bearable.  Dr. Holtz was always extremely detailed, friendly, honest and hopeful.  She never promised anything but I would leave each visit with a letter of instructions and how to reach her with  questions at any time.  I felt confident that Leo was in the BEST hands, a veterinarian who dots her “i’s” and crosses her “t’s.”

Today we have a well, happy boy as you can tell by his picture.  It is so wonderful to see Leo playing, purring and being his usual adorable self.  To me it is a bit of a miracle.  Thank you Dr. Holtz!


Posted in: General, Thanksgiving on 11/23/11 by

I wish each of you a bountiful Thanksgiving.  Every November Bryan, Mariah and I celebrate this holiday at Eagle Crest Resort in central Oregon.  We love the wonderful people we have met over the years, the beautiful mountain views of Sisters, the sweet smelling Juniper trees and the delicious Thanksgiving dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Pine Tavern.  We feel blessed to spend our vacation in such a special place.   Every year at this time I reprint an article I wrote several years ago.  It is a story of my past that continues to make people laugh.  I hope you enjoy it.


“Will you stop it?”  I nervously repeated to my brother John.  “Stop it; I just want to get home before someone sees us.”  We were schlepping a huge wire shopping cart filled with a big bird, a big dead bird, and all the accoutrements for the next day’s Thanksgiving dinner.  The sign on the cart read, “DO NOT REMOVE FROM PARKING LOT.”  I was 13 years old and my sibling 11.   John was driving me crazy by jumping on the over-stuffed cart, watching him slip and slide down the icy sidewalks on the way back to our apartment.  We had been ordered by our mother to make this mile long trek to the super market because we had just experienced our first winter storm and she didn’t want to drive there with my step-father’s car.  She didn’t own her own vehicle.  We may have been poor but one thing my mother did try to do was have delicious meals on the table.   But, they came with a price, always!  The beginning of today’s outlay was; we were frozen to the bone as we pushed the cart through the snow dodging any kids playing outside who might go to our local elementary school.  We were both humiliated for not following the rules, (my brother less so than I) and for taking the cart. We didn’t want to be seen by any of our peers, and we were dreading the trip back.  Oh yes, we did have to return the empty cart and then walk home again.

In our house meal time was a huge production, even everyday meals. Holiday dinners were especially dramatic.  We had purchased everything on the list and didn’t dare sneak any treats for ourselves because once my brother had stolen a candy bar from the drugstore and my mother made him return it and apologize to the druggist.  I, too, had taken some colored cotton balls from a friend’s bathroom and was reprimanded severely.  Neither one of us wanted to face my mother’s wrath so we made sure we only brought back what she requested.   By the time we returned home, the final trip, it was cocktail hour.  She and my stepfather Charles had just begun to warm up from the bitter cold outside.  John and I unpacked the groceries eyeing everything that was needed for the Thanksgiving dinner.  We were starving.  Actually we were hungry most of the time.  The reason being; there were NO snacks allowed in our house and by the time we would finally eat dinner each evening it would be around 8:00–9:00 pm.  As we were putting away all the items in the refrigerator we spotted a box of Mavrakos Chocolate Turtles on the second shelf halfway to the back.  It was new, for we hadn’t seen it earlier.  What was distressing for two hungry kids was the sign that read, “PRIVATE PROPERTY, DO NOT TOUCH.”       

Wow, this fueled our anger and we began plotting how we could get some of those turtles.  We knew Charles had planned to offer chocolate to his guests and that it was hands off for us.  We were never allowed the same delicacies as he.  Charles had a lot more money than we did and he didn’t like to share. My brother and I were called “It” and “Ut” and were in the way of his codependent relationship with our mother.  The food for the Thanksgiving meal was a different story.  Because it was a holiday and my dear Aunt Letha and Uncle Wally were invited, we knew we would be fed.  But that wasn’t until the next day.  We couldn’t stop thinking about the box of candy.  We wanted to taste the gooey, rich, caramel and pecan chocolates.   So began our scheme.

John said, “I will get the chocolates from the refrigerator but I need to wait until they have had more to drink.”  It was about 4:00 pm and both my mother and Charles were glued to the kitchen where they had easy access to the fresh turkey and the liquor cabinet.  My stepfather had been sitting at the end of the table all day and was happy to direct my mother’s culinary skills. She was the chef but he insisted on acting like he was contributing to the cooking.  That evening, before the big day, I was asked to make sandwiches because they were busy cleaning the bird, and preparing special stuffing, vegetables and sweet potato dishes.  I did this gladly because my brother and I were so hungry and it meant we wouldn’t have to wait until 8:00 or 9:00 pm to eat.  As I was making the tuna salad I was eagerly observing their every move.  I noticed with each dish they created, the box of turtles was slipping further to the back of the refrigerator, almost out of sight.  My brother would feign interest in their progress, peeking into the fridge.  He too wanted to make sure the chocolates were still there.  We all ate our sandwiches at 7:00 pm and the two adults finished their work around 10:00 pm.  Of course each endeavor was preceded by a cocktail.  By the time they were ready for bed they were both pretty crocked.

Phase One was over, they were asleep.  We now were ready for Phase Two:  retrieving the box of candy from the refrigerator, taking our share, and returning the turtles without being caught.  John and I agreed to meet in the hall and from there we tiptoed into the kitchen.  We were fearful of turning on any lights so we felt our way to the fridge.  We opened it carefully using the inside light as our guide.  Our first hurdle was the turkey that weighed 20 lbs.; not easy to move quietly.  I held the door open with my back while each of us used both our arms to lift it out.  We were careful not to scrap the pan as we dragged it from its position.  What we didn’t do was agree on where to put it while we worked.  It was dark in the kitchen and we couldn’t see each others eyes, so for a few seconds we were left holding the bird midway in the air.  I was frustrated because I was afraid of speaking at all.  Finally I whispered, “Move it to the table.”  With a loud clunking sound it landed on the metal surface.  We both froze for a few seconds thinking we had been heard.  When nothing happened we preceded to move the other dishes out of the way.  We knew we had to work quickly and chose to leave all the food on the table.  John grabbed the Mavrakos and we tiptoed to my bedroom where I had hidden a flashlight earlier in the day.

The brown and white chocolate box was wrapped in a layer of cellophane.  There was a folded flap on both ends of the candy.  I took a nail file from my mother’s manicure set (she always left it in my room hoping the some day I would care for my nails the way she cared for hers) and cautiously wiggled the file under the fold.  It was tedious.  I knew I couldn’t tear the paper and take the chance of being found out.  I also was afraid Charles would awaken.  Vacillating between patience and apprehension, I opened one end of the clear plastic covering.  With my right hand I gingerly pushed the box through until I could pull it out without disturbing the surface.  It worked!  We were “In like Flynn.”  John and I were both so excited we could barely contain our emotions.  Inside were three layers of luscious cocoa brown turtles just waiting to be eaten?  We pigged out!  I must have eaten six by myself.  I didn’t count how many my brother ate.  When our cravings were satisfied, we were down to one layer.  Uh oh!  What to do now? I carefully folded the two pieces of parchment which had separated the layers and put them in my pocket.  To fill the space I lined the chocolates neatly in rows.  We then returned the Mavrakos to its plastic cover.  We were lucky, it slid right in.  I licked the flap and miraculously it re-stuck.  Feeling quite smug we retraced our steps and returned first the chocolates then the rest of the food to the refrigerator.  We each went to our individual bed and fell asleep feeling proud of ourselves.

The next morning everyone in the household was up early.  Charles was already perched on his throne, the heavy metal chair at the end of the kitchen table.  There was an empty shot glass next to his coffee cup.  These days he spent most of his time grunting and grumbling under his breath about the two “Things,” (my brother and I) he was forced to have in his life.  Warily he made a list of the appetizers, entrée, side dishes and desserts without ever making eye contact with either John or me.  He had organized the menu in outline form.  With great effort I tried to read what was on Charles’ tablet as I was concocting the cranberry salad.  I was especially interested in the last section:  D for Desserts.  There it was the last item on this lengthy bill of fare, Mavrakos Chocolate Turtles!   As he always said, “Save the best for last!”  This was before the days of fancy truffles when turtles were the finest offering for a special occasion.  Oh dear!  I was worried.

What I enjoyed the most about holidays at our house was decorating the dining room table.  My mother didn’t feel confident with design and it since it was evident to everyone that I was the artist she left this part of the celebration to me. She was the gourmet and she wanted her food to be shown as beautifully as possible.  This always went well because no one else wanted the job and I actually loved it. 

I started with the table. We had an old, worn, heavy, mahogany, monstrosity when opened up held twelve people.  Unfortunately I needed Charles help putting in the leaves.  He managed to pull himself from his seat in the kitchen because I think he enjoyed what I did with the decorations.  From the closet in our apartment that held linens I chose a beautiful beige crocheted cloth that my Aunt Letha had made.  My Aunt had generously brought over her silverware earlier in the week which we always appreciated.  For the centerpiece; I hollowed a pumpkin, zigzagged the edge, and filled it with miniature papier-mâché gourds which I had made ahead of time.  Each cloth napkin was rolled and tied with an earth colored ribbon and topped with a twisted ribbon rose.  I drew the name of each guest in calligraphy on colored paper placards.  Burnt orange tapers, wrapped in tissue paper from the year before, went into my mother’s silver candle sticks.  (We never burned candles; they were only for decoration, which made it possible to reuse them several times before they faded.)  I wished setting a table and beautifying the dining room could go on all day.  I much preferred this to being in the crowded kitchen where the atmosphere was progressively deteriorating the more my mother and Charles had to drink.  Usually cocktail hour started at 4:00 pm but on a holiday it began as the meal was being prepared.  In other words, it went on all day.

“KAY! KAY! KAYEEEEEEEE,” my mother shrieked.  “COME IN HERE!  You were supposed to make a pie!  A pumpkin pie! 

“You never told me that!”  I said and I started getting a stomach ache.  (I had so many stomach aches in my youth I wished I could wear a heating pad under my clothes.)

“Why do you think I had you buy all the ingredients for a pumpkin pie if you weren’t going to make it?  I don’t do pies!  I do cakes!”  My mother had already prepared a sumptuous chocolate up-side-down cake.  I was true, her cakes were amazing, but I knew nothing of pie baking and was totally taken aback with her request.  “Get busy, you still have time.  Use the ready-made crust in the freezer.”  Oh dear, I wasn’t a cook and didn’t feel comfortable in their kitchen.  When I read the recipe I was a relieved to see that this pie would miraculously solidify in the refrigerator.  It didn’t have to be baked.  

“But do I have enough time?”  I thought.  Our guests were due to arrive in three hours.  “Oh well, I’d better go for it.”  Fortunately this seemed like an easy method to make a dessert.  I carefully got out all the ingredients I needed, plus the proper utensils, and lined them up on the kitchen counter.  I had to pile a few items on top of each other because my mother was using most of the counter space.  I had learned in school to take my time and carefully read the measurements:  1 can pumpkin (15 oz.,) 4 oz. PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese (softened,) 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, and so on.  The instructions were very clear but I was a nervous wreck.  I did the best I could under the circumstances.  When I was finished, I hesitantly balanced the pie plate and put it in the cold refrigerator nearby the turtles.

When our guests began arriving around 5:00 pm I happily served them hors d’oeuvres which consisted of cream cheese spread in celery, sprinkled with paprika, which I had made myself.  At the time I thought that was a big deal and loved eating them as well. There was a five minute discourse as to the correct pronunciation of paprika.  Was it “papreeka” or “papraka?”  This drove me nuts.  I couldn’t care less.  Charles was in charge of the drinks which were mixed cocktails.   The booze flowed freely and the noise level increased with each hour of the party.  It was expected that my brother John and I would entertain the group of adults with our rehearsed vaudeville routine. There was a small space in the alcove between the living room and the dining room which we used as our stage.  The two of us loved performing and this was our chance to get some attention from our family.  What we didn’t expect was what we happened that night.

We put on our costumes and danced to jazzy music coming from our 78 record player.  It was so much fun!  I took myself quite seriously and thought I was the next Isadora Duncan.  My brother wasn’t much of a dancer but he was called rubber legs for the way he could twist his torso like a pretzel.  We always looked forward to these family recitals.  All of a sudden Charles began mimicking what he had seen at Vaudevillians Theater:  “Get off the stage,” he shouted.  “You are done, you are a has-been.”   At the same time he pretended to throw rotten eggs.  “Take this you two.  Take this!” 

My mother at first looked surprised and then to my astonishment she too began shouting.  “Here is a rotten tomato!” with a theatrical arm throwing gesture as if she were pitching a baseball.  All the guests participated in this improvisation to our horror!  We were devastated!  Both John and I ran to our room crying while the group, slurring their words, practically in unison, called us spoiled sports.  So much for partying and living it up with liquor!

Aunt Letha came to our room to try and patch things up.  She didn’t participate in the drama but she was too afraid of my mother and Charles to support our feelings.  “They were just playing and kidding around,” she said.  “They didn’t mean any harm.”   She was looking down at the chipped linoleum, kicking it with her foot, and she added, “Come back to the group.  It is time for dinner.”

Neither John nor I wanted to look at any of these people we called relatives but we were hungry.  We begrudgingly left our spot on the floor of our bedroom and took our place at the table.  The turkey with all the trimmings looked spectacular on the colorful table.  I felt a rush of excitement for the part I played in making the environment look so inviting.  For a minute I felt like I was in another world; a world of beauty, balance and harmony.  But it didn’t last long.  One of the adults said, “Oh Letha, isn’t this the bedspread you made for Aunt Martha?”  She was referring to the magnificent crocheted tablecloth I had chosen from the linen closet.  Everyone looked down at the table and immediately let out a roar of laughter.  I indeed had picked the bedspread which was thicker and bumpier than the more delicate tablecloth.  I felt terrible.  It wasn’t funny to me.

Most of the meal was spent with the sounds of silence, with the exception of the occasional lip smacking from Uncle Joe who claimed the louder the smacking, the better the food.   I don’t remember Grace having been recited not do I remember giving thanks for anything.  After dinner we paused for a least an hour for everyone to refill their high-ball glasses.  My brother and I crouched in a corner fiddling with a deck of cards.  We were dreaming of the desserts and couldn’t wait to take our pick.  We knew we would have to wait for the adults to get inebriated before they wanted the sweets but it didn’t take long. 

Soon someone said, “Where is that pumpkin pie I heard Kay made?”  I was kind of excited myself because I had never made a pie before today.  Charles piped up with, “We also have Jane’s delicious chocolate up-side-down cake and Mavrako’s Turtles.”  I helped my Aunt carry in the choices and back to the table we went.  In fact my mouth was almost watering.  Everyone wanted the pie over my mother’s chocolate cake.  I watched her carefully because I didn’t want her to feel my dessert was getting more attention than her up-side-down creation.  She didn’t seem to mind and was anxious to taste the pie.  My heart sank at the first slice of the knife.  It was absolutely liquefied; it wasn’t in the solid state it was supposed to be.  What happened?  I’ll never know for sure.  Did I measure wrong or wasn’t there enough time in the refrigerator?  Everyone insisted on trying it.  I couldn’t believe what happened next.  The whole family exclaimed how delicious it was, some even saying it was the best pumpkin pie they had ever eaten.  At the same time they were raving about the pie, Charles was opening the box of turtles.  “Hummm,” he said. “They certainly don’t give you very much for your money anymore.  They are about the same as the price of gold.  Enjoy, have a chocolate.”  So much for partying and living it up with liquor!


The Power of a Smile

Posted in: General, The Power of a Smile on 11/16/11 by

It was a cool, calm evening last Tuesday when I arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport.  I was returning home from a journey visiting my dear friend Mary Ann.  My plan was to sleep as much as possible during the 5 ½ hour flight back to San Francisco.  I chose an aisle seat to avoid climbing over knees or having to wake people up.  Although the flight attendant said the plane was completely full I noticed that the two seats next to me, the window and the middle seat, were vacant.  I was one of the last to board so I found that puzzling.

It wasn’t long before I looked up to see a couple bounding down the length of the plane both smiling; exhibiting an abundance of enthusiasm.  I thought to myself, here goes my dreams of lying across the seats but at least they are cheerful and busy with each other.  They probably won’t be interested in talking to me and disturbing my rest.  The young woman picked the window seat and the guy sat next to me.  We three collectively looked at our phones at the same time to note the local time was 6:00 pm.  The plane was just about to take off without any delays.

Within a few short minutes I was asked by the young man in a charming British accent, “Is this your first flight of the day?”  He barely gave me a chance to answer when he dramatically told his story how they both had been on an earlier flight scheduled to leave for S.F. at 11:45 am.  Apparently they weren’t a couple but had just met each other on the plane.  In his animated words, “We sat there, plane on the tarmac, cramped and tired for three hours without any movement and no food!  Finally the flight attendant announced that the several hundred passengers needed to depart the plane, it wasn’t able to fly.  Oh, I am Oliver, by the way and this is McKinley.” Both of them were excited, up-beat and laughing as they spoke about our ride that was about to begin within minutes.

When I asked how they were so fortunate to get seats on this already full plane, Oliver said, “As soon as we were put off the aircraft and I saw the queue winding around half the airport I immediately looked at my phone numbers stored from the past week.  Right there was the United number and I just clicked on it.  So while all the other hundred people waited in line to be rerouted I got a seat with just a few words.  I also asked for a seat for McKinley.  That is how we connected.”   Wow, I was impressed how positive they both were about the whole experience.

Just then we heard the familiar sounds of the engine revving and realized the plane was taxiing as it was preparing for take-off.  Vooooooooom, vooooooooom, vooooooooom, and then a slow drizzle sound downward to nothing and a then dead stop!  All three of us in our row let out a disappointed, “Oh no!”  Oliver was laughing as he exclaimed, “This can’t be happening again!”  McKinley too was shaking her head but with a smile on her face.  As for me, I was worried that any delay would be difficult for my husband Bryan to pick me up because he gets up so early to go to work.  What could we do; when we were told after an hour’s wait in our seats that the plane wasn’t going anywhere?  It had something to do with the generator.  The good news was the airline was going to get a new plane to take us to S.F.  It would be arriving in a few hours which made the reality of the delay easier to accept.

With that announcement the plane was unloaded. I noticed most passengers were busy on their phones rearranging their pick-up plans or connecting flights.  While I was on the phone to Bryan, Oliver, McKinley, and another woman I hadn’t noticed before, passed me quickly and motioned that I join them for a drink at the bar.  I was up for that.  What I couldn’t help but notice about the new woman in the group was her amazing attitude and the huge smile on her face.  All three of them were accepting the delay of several hours as an adventure.  I just followed along and figured wherever they were going was more inviting than another long wait on one of the hard benches near Gate 16. 

We didn’t walk far before Oliver opened the door to the United Flight Club reserved for 1st Class passengers and led our “group of four” to the hostess seated at the entrance.  In his wonderful English accent he graciously explained, “We (he turned to include all of us) have had two flights which were cancelled after we boarded, it has been a long day of waiting, and we deserve to be able to share in the privileges of Flight Club.”  (This would mean, a comfortable place to sit and talk with a beautiful free buffet.) The hostess at first stared at him without blinking and when she saw all of us smiling she agreed and we were allowed to stay.  Instead of a boring, tiring wait, we were going to have a party.  For the next couple of hours we all shared stories, food, and drinks and learned a lot about what was going on in each other’s lives.

What a great way to meet new friends; all because of a smile.  Smiling is infectious and leads to laughter and play.  I am grateful to have been a part of this fun experience.   






Joy of Connections

Last weekend I had the pleasure of joining a lovely group of women in Dana Point, CA for their monthly book club meeting.  I was the invited guest for the evening to discuss my book, “It Had To Happen This Way.”  This was a thrill for me because it was the first time since I published my memoir that I have had the opportunity to talk with people I am not accainted with who have read my story. 

The host of the evening was a former high school classmate of mine; a woman I hadn’t seen for 52 years.  Phyllis Bierman Wachenheim and I attended Clayton High School in Clayton, Missouri.  It was magical to spend time with Phyllis.  It felt as though I had been transported to another time zone.   I was so comfortable being with her.  After our 48 hours together I could not get her out of my mind.  She was the same beautiful soul I remembered from my youth.  Friendships we make throughout our life are invaluable but I am especially appreciative of my earliest connections.  According to Phyllis she was absolutely shocked by my story because no one knew of the deep, deep secrets I kept all those years.  It is because of these wonderful friends and their families that I had the courage to survive and now am healthy, happy and well.  I share these feelings in the story below.                                      

                                                        Joy of Connections

An invitation unlike any I had ever received; brilliant orange and blue with a greyhound bounding through a large letter C, which stands for Clayton.  I was being invited to my 50th Class Reunion in Clayton, Missouri a suburb of St. Louis.  I was overwhelmed with a fusion of excitement, fear, wonder and curiosity.  I could feel the rhythm of my heart, throbbing in my chest.   I knew it was going to be a journey of emotions.  Will I recognize my classmates, and they meIs it possible to catch up with 50 years of living?  Am I too scared to go alone? Giving it much thought, I decided to leave my teenage daughter and husband at home to fend for themselves.  What I hadn’t anticipated about this trip, was finding buried treasure.

The community of Clayton, Missouri is unique.  It always has been and is still today.  Even as a child I knew I was fortunate to live in such a cosmopolitan city.  But the fact of its sophistication seems to be lost on anyone who doesn’t live there.  Having lived in California for the past 40 years I have often spoken of Clayton with fond remembrance. No one ever seems to have heard of this marvelous city but that doesn’t stop me from gloating about my past.  Times were different in the 1940’s and 50’s when I attended Glenridge Elementary School and then went on to graduate in 1959 from Clayton High. Unfortunately our high school class wasn’t diverse ethnically; but the folks who were drawn to this community were liberal, open-minded and well-educated.   

“I have nothing to wear!” I spoke dramatically out loud to myself.  My days are spent in my studio/office and in my car.  I wear the same clothes, although comfortable, over and over adnauseam.  It just doesn’t feel right to wear fine clothing when there is a good chance of paint splattering or stains from dirt and dust clinging from soccer fields.  I want to be comfortable when I work but for this special occasion, I knew right where to go to dress myself.  In the village where I live there is a small shop run by a lovely woman who truly enjoys helping women feel confident in the clothes they choose.  She imports garments from Paris and Canada from talented designers at a fifth of the cost of New York or L.A.  It was great fun trying on many different outfits, mixing and matching, adding up to at least eight different looks.  As I lined my bed with all my purchases, choosing jewelry to compliment each outfit, I had a flash-back.  I had done this before in my teens with clothes I made for myself. I was in an entirely different state of mind back then; obsessive-compulsive. 

I thought, “Today I am a healthy woman and am eager to reconnect with my dear school friends who were instrumental in grounding me during the years I spent growing up hiding secrets behind closed doors.  Will they know how sick I was and are they aware of the unbalanced dynamics of my family life?”

The first day I arrived in St. Louis I rented a car and drove straight to my old neighborhood.  It was amazingly as beautiful as I remembered it.  When I turned left on Byron Street I was surprised to find that all the cars were pointing in same direction.  It now was ONE WAY.  It was surreal as I parked and got out of the car.  There wasn’t a soul in sight.  Do I have the right to investigate the premises?  What will people think if they see a strange woman casing their property?  It didn’t matter.  I had to see where it all happened: my father’s death at age 45 when I was nine years old, the intruder who got away, denial of my brother’s illness, several hospitalizations, and alcoholism permeating our household.  I found myself walking around the apartment building many times before I could focus on the windows at the back of the building.  What had always seemed like a black hole amidst a sea of green trees now had a different story.  I was able to stand there silently and forgive my parents and also forgive myself for any grievances and pain inflicted upon us. 

Then I remembered the reason I came to Clayton; my reunion.  What had saved my life (and not my brother John who committed suicide in 1988) was the loving link I had and still have with my neighbors and classmates.  I needed to explore the area of my childhood where the roots had grown deep enough to carry me through years of codependency and then through many more years of therapy and on to wellness.  Several of the parents of my schoolmates had helped out when they had become aware of the severe problems in our household.  I was invited to slumber parties (that is what we called them then), dinners, and sometimes even weekend holidays.  Because of the innocence of children these wonderful friends were not actually aware of what was going on in my home.  It didn’t matter, they cared, and listened, played, made me laugh, and gave me hope for a better future.  Because I was so often included with devoted families I actually believed that it could happen to me.  I hung on to this picture for 30 years. The children themselves, now adults, I was about to see in just a few hours.

The first event of the weekend was a luncheon hosted by one of my oldest and dearest friends.  Before arriving she had e-mailed me and said, “Kay, I have a surprise guest, just for you.”  My reaction was, “What if I don’t recognize her! Help!” To my delight it was my college roommate from neighboring University City.  We were roommates our freshman year at the University of Missouri, Columbia.  I hadn’t seen her since I had been in her wedding about 48 years ago.  Thus began the strange feeling that permeated the weekend.  I was suspended in a time-warp, hovering between youth and adulthood.  One by one our “girlfriends”, now many of whom are grandmothers anxiously joined the party.  There were sighs of glee, little hugs and giant bear hugs, but most of all a shared feeling of connectedness.  It was as if our friendship as children had carried us to this point today.  Interestingly at this age, we didn’t talk about degrees, careers, children, or grandchildren.  Our success has been in living our lives to the fullest with the fondest memories of our time spent together.

The atmosphere was electric at the spectacular kick-off cocktail party later that evening.  Classmates, wearing picture nametags with their graduation photo, and many spouses, crowded together happily.  As I looked around the room I saw the most youthful joyous faces.  Then, as in a dream, the fleeting image of the collective group with gray hair, wrinkles, and extra pounds.  But the reality was, everything had changed and nothing had changed.  For the next few hours we were kids again.

Saturday night was the reunion dinner celebration at a lovely Italian restaurant.  It felt like I was going to a ball.  We chose our own seat at large round tables accommodating about 12-15 people.  It was pointed out that at our table every person had gone to Glenridge, our elementary school.  We passed large plates of food that contributed to the intimacy.  It couldn’t have been better.  After dinner we honored 17 of our classmates who have passed with a chime and a moment of silence.  It was heartfelt and quite moving.  We were then asked to speak for one minute to share the highlights of our life. One by one as we went around the room it seemed as though there was a light coming from within, illuminating each guest.  Although I don’t remember the exact words that were spoken, I will never forget the flow of energy connecting the group.  It is an honor and privilege to be a part of this special Clayton High School Class of 1959.  I feel blessed.