December 2012

ON SOUNDS, AMY (THE SIG KAP GHOST) AND CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

It took awhile, but I realized there was a sound in my apartment that I left out in my last post.  When someone flushes the toilet upstairs, it sounds like there’s a waterfall in my living room closet. It’s so loud, it drowns out conversations and the tv. But that’s OK. I really love waterfalls. And I shouldn’t be watching tv anyway……

And Amy has allowed me into her life. Or, she’s having fun with mine. Maybe both.

At first, I didn’t realize it was Amy…thought someone was in the kitchen in the middle of the night rattling pots and pans. I got up, went to the kitchen, and no one was there…..then, I heard high heels clacking on the tile floor above me and figured someone moved faster than this old fart who had to put on clothes to leave the apartment. But the second, third and fourth time, it became obvious she was laughing at me.

And then there’s the thermostat. Ours don’t have locked covers, so the girls are always changing them. If they get a little chilly, they turn the thermostat up to what I call “Desert Summer,” and the three vents in my tiny apartment turn it into a sauna.

Those of you who know me are laughing, because you know I prefer fresh air even when it’s 104 degrees in Oklahoma or -20 degrees in, well, Oklahoma. I always have a window cracked, and usually keep the vents closed or covered so at least my bedroom has natural air.

(I’m not sure how Abbi and I got in the same family. I like fresh air, and would rather put a dozen blankets on top of me — or in the days of my no-heater-waterbed, a dozen under and over me — to stay warm and cozy. She blasts the heater and sleeps under a single duvet-covered featherbed.)

Anyway, in the middle of the night I realize I’m sweating and know in my heart of hearts that one of my Baby Girls’ body temps has dipped below 70 degrees, and she’s decided to blast the heat on the first floor and into my apartment. So, over and over again I get up in the middle of the night, put on a xxxl shirt that goes down to my knees, and head for the thermostat outside the 2-girl room……only to find that every single time, the temperature is 68 degrees and the heat is not on. Nice, Amy. Got me again….about four times so far.  I have the contractors coming out next week to put a locking cover on both the up and downstairs thermostats so first of all, the girls will have to leave the thermostat alone, and second, so I can laugh at Amy in the middle of the night. 

Most sorority houses are haunted. Some of the girls think it’s creepy until I explain to them that this is a sister who loved living in the house so much she doesn’t ever want to leave. Then, a light goes on in their eyes and they get it. Think it’s kind of cool. I’m trying to decide who I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night after I’m gone. I’d prefer to be a playful ghost, but haunting Ross Kilroy and driving girls out of his apartment in the middle of the night sounds like a good way to continue my community service. I’ll probably end up somewhere fun instead.

And now, for Christmas memories. These are in no particular order, but you know how my mind jump-shifts.

My dad was a special delivery postman. Our Christmas’ started at about 5am, because dad had to go to the airport to meet the first plane of the day, pick up the special delivery packages and deliver them. Yup. Just any old special delivery package got hand delivered on Christmas day. We’d open our presents, dad would go to work, and we’d go back to bed. Those mornings seemed especially magical because the only lights on anywhere were on the Christmas tree. The rest of the world was still asleep, and our little family was all that existed.

Years later when Bill and I were in Hawaii, my brother would call me from West Virginia when they got up. Of course, it was the middle of the night on Apoepoe Street in Pacific Palisades, but we knew we’d pick up the phone and hear, “Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Crithmas.” (My brother, Bill lisps.) I guess he was getting back at me for spoiling my beautiful niece, Michelle — maybe it was the 4-foot frog he had to lug around for her —

Growing up “Fidler” meant Thanksgivings at my Aunt Jane & Uncle John’s in Summersville and Christmas-afternoon dinners after dad got off work at Uncle Frank and Aunt Leo’s on Lee Street in Charleston. We’d all dress up, head down town with mom’s world-renowned fruit cake (because it had been basted and injected with the Apple Jack Brandy mom had someone else at the Board of Education where she worked go to the State Store because she wouldn’t be seen with liquor.) Uncle Frank always sat at the head of the table, and Hank sat at the other end. Hank always claimed the drumstick, and no one else dared touch them until he got his first. And we’d dig for the wishbone to hang over a kitchen spigot to dry out.

After dinner, Aunt Leo always wanted to get aound the piano and sing — and her high notes on “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” a mandatory staple, could shatter windows for blocks.  Mary Edith (Deeda), Hank and I would head to the attic that was Hank’s room and hide. Talk forever. We’d walk around the neighborhood checking our friends’ Christmas trees and Channukah bushes, and try to avoid the inevitable. When Deeda was old enough to drive, we’d head to Shoney’s or KFC in Kanawha City to meet up with friends who were also avoiding family get-togethers, but it never failed. No matter how long stayed away, we’d always return to hear Aunt Leo’s abrasive voice exclaim, “We’ve been waiting for you.” Then, on cue, mom would sit down at the piano and the singing would ensue. If you could call it that.

The last Christmas dad was with us, he gave me a bracelet made of nickels that I’d seen at a shop one of his fellow postmen owned. I’d asked for it then, and he’d turned me down. Told me later than it had been sold. Opening that box was so thrilling.

Uncle Frank had a video camera then, and that last Christmas is memorialized.

Some of my favorite memories are around singing — a trio with Mary Ellen Wellman & Prissy Lore to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” at the Charleston High School’s Christmas chorus concert, and being chosen as the soloist for the Concord College Winter Ball to perform with the Concord Commanders (big-band type group) , with  “Christmas Song.” Every time I hear “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, it brings a smile to my heart and the words come flying out of my mouth — in the middle of the supermarket, at The Grove yesterday, it doesn’t matter. That song will forever be a part of me.  Even after soloing with symphonies, performing in operas, and singing at clubs, those memories of my musical history are the fondest.

Abbi’s first Christmas in Hawaii was predictable.  She couldn’t understand why the sand on the beach was different from the watered-down sand in the bucket that held the Christmas tree, because by the time the trees got to Honolulu from Oregon they were already on their way to death’s door. That made for some interesting interactions. And of course, we had a new kitten who was learning to climb, and we’d discover little eyes peering at us from the middle of the tree.

Abbi had gifts from all over the place — my four best friends had 11 boys between them. Abbi was their little girl. She had enough lace and ruffles that we didn’t buy clothes for her until we got to the mainland three years later. But like any one-year old, she could have cared less about the toys and clothes and turned the boxes into places of magic.

She was about 3 years old when she announced to Bill and Me that, “These didn’t come from Santa, did they? You guys bought this stuff.” She never believed, and was freaked out by the first jolly old elf she encountered to the point that her pix is over Bill’s shoulder with Santa trying to get her to accept the gift we’d wrapped for her to receive at the Officer’s Club Christmas Party.   We told her not to ruin it for the rest of the kids.

Once I left Bill, things changed. There were years when he had custody of her for the holidays, and I spent those days eating grilled cheese sandwiches, watching football, and beginning work on taxes.

Then, she started in gymastics, and we’d always have a meet the next day. Once she abandoned that sport and went into competitive cheerleading, we’d leave the night of the 25th or morning of the 26th for Dallas and a week-long  NCA/NDA National Cheerleading Championships with her All-Star gym. She’d compete with a dance squad, cheer squad (or two), a Captain’s dance, and a couple of solos. First, there were the preliminaries, then the finals.  All she’d do for a week was change clothes. After awhile we decided there was no reason to put up a tree that would have be taken down the minute we returned, so we put up a wooden reindeer and 4′ tall Santa & Mrs. Clause to surround with presents. Her competitive squads were her extended family, and our times with them were special.

Now, she’s all grown up. We try to do something special each year– our first in California we rented a house on Newport Beach. The second, we spent aboard The Queen Mary. After that, she’d come to my place or I’d go to hers to cook. Abbi isn’t into turkey, but she endures it for Christmas. As long as I bake her banana nut bread and pumpkin pie.

This year is different on so many levels.  No matter how tough things got, we always had a special Christmas with special gifts. This year, after no paycheck for 8 months and the expenses of the 8-month world tour, we’ve decided to forego presents until after I receive my settlement that should come sometime between next week and mid-January.  We’re operating under the premise that Santa is in a coma or was shot down by an NRA spokesman. It’s also different because her boyfriend has moved here from Australia. Brett is a rare gem. Abbi is heading into a new life. And that’s exciting.

Within a few weeks, I’ll finally have my life back in my own hands. That brings a whole new set of issues, because I haven’t been in control of my own fate for over 5 years, and I’m not sure what to do. In a way, it scares me.

I want to travel. Go mining for gems in North Carolina. Swim with dolphins. Visit Gibralter (I know. Not on the top of many go-to lists.) Go on a cruise, or several. I’m at home on the ocean.  And there are three writing projects fighting for attention in my brain. We’ll see which one or two jump to the forefront. I have a couple of friends who write two books a year — while one is being edited, the other is being written. I’m hoping my mind will work well enough to do that, because I’m in love with all three of the projects.

I’m looking forward to having my head on straight enough to start marketing Diary of a Sorority House Mom. My head has been so into survival for the last year that I haven’t even sent the press release to my sorority’s quarterly magazine. It’s time.

And I’m looking forward to next Christmas. And the year between now and then. So many decisions to make. So much living to make up for. So many new discoveries. Who is Ann Hyman….and why is she on this planet?

The thing I’ve missed most over the last 8 months is being able to give back. I want so badly to contribute to Kristie Sullen’s “Save an Angel” foundation that rescues dogs, nurses them back to health and finds them furever homes, and Mary Arbuckle’s “Other Options” that helps AIDS patients and their families. I wasn’t able to adopt a family this year, and it breaks my heart. I’ll make it up to both of them. And I want to find a Veterans group to help. There’s got to be a way to find these men and women jobs and homes. I want to be a part of that.

And rejoining my writing groups — Sisters in Crime (SinC), Mystery Writers of America, So Cal Writers, as well as my Alpha Xi Delta alumna association. Time to leave the house and learn to connect with human beings again.

But for this year, Abbi & Brett will be coming to Fullerton for their first Christmas together and have a tradional dinner with mom. It brings back memories of all those years Bill and I opened our home to all the single Air Force officers and I’d make enough so each could take some leftovers home.

Even in bad/sad/lonely times, Christmas is special. It brings out the magic in life, and I’m all about magic. And happy endings. And even love at first sight…..maybe this year, that dream will come true, too. We’ll see.

And until next time, “May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmas’s be white (but not the blizzardy, ice-storm kind)”. And stay safe out there. You’re important to me.

 

 

 

THE SOUNDTRACK OF MY OWN LIFE

I’ve talked about this before, but Abbi introduced me to a punk rock band, Kill the Complex, in the fall of 2006, and I am their oldest groupie.  Their lyricist, Dann, captured my heart when he wrote SOUNDTRACK. It haunts me. It fills my heart. It resonates in my soul.  For so many reasons.   Check out their website — order their CD’s — but look for their old Butane CD. If it’s not still available, e-mail them and ask where you can get it. I have the whole thing memorized and sing their songs at the most inappropriate times.

Today we’re going to talk about a different type of soundtrack — the soundtracks that I’ve lived in for the last 6 years.

College campuses are a different phenomenon. The sounds of frat parties, ambulances and police cars, every possible form of music, giggling, and travelling parties fill the air. And I’ve learned the only time I can sleep through the night — even every now and then — is when I’m surrounded by a cacophony.

My newest digs are in Fullerton, Calif. It’s a totally different type of campus. The houses are small — they hold 15 – 20 girls; usually the officers. And the houses aren’t close to each other. They’re flung all around the university in no rational pattern, and all in residential neighborhoods. I understand that the frats have a “row,” but it’s nothing like The Row at USC. Nothing compares to The Row at USC. Every sorority and fraternity on campus is on 28th Street. Enough said.

As a matter of fact, my current house is so far from campus that they have to drive to classes. Nothing is in walking distance, which is also different. Usually, there’s a coffee shop or something — but I have to scope out some other areas in hopes of finding a fast food restaurant or a 7-11 within walking distance so I can get my morning Coke. You know how important that is to me. Without a good, strong fountain Coke in the morning, my evil twin could come out. But don’t worry. My Coke and Butterfinger diet is not making a comeback.

The funny thing for me is the variety of noises that are new in my life, and where they come from — or the mystery of where they originate.

We’re in a residential neighborhood, and within a couple of houses behind us someone has a dog that is either barking really loud, whining, or crying. I want to find the house and slap the owners. It reminds me of Hawaii where people bought dogs just to bark. They’d chain them to a tree or post with just enough leeway to reach the front and back doors. One day a dog showed up at our gate. Tail wagging, tongue lapping, so excited he was about to pee. One ear up; one ear down — looked like an Aussie hat.

He’d literally broken a very large chain-link metal “leash” around his neck to escape. We took him in and named him Israel, because he was delivered out of bondage. Of course, he had to have a less serious name, too. It was “Hairy Puppins.”

He was so protective of Abbi — Guarded her baby crib and would only let Bill or me get near her. He also kept burglars companies while they stole all my jewelry and our money. Heck. He was probably licking their hands. Being a barking-back-yard-alarm-system guard dog was not his calling.

We had to leave him when we rotated out of Hawaii because we were going to be on the road for two months. But we found him a good home where he’ll never have a metal collar again.

This behind-my-house dog is sad. That makes me irate. His whining and crying make it difficult for me to sleep. Or be awake. You know me. Eventually a phone call or visit is imminent. I don’t put up with people abusing children or animals.

And of course, my house is haunted. Her name is Amy. She hangs out in the girl’s kitchen. Every now and then, I hear noises coming from that area when no one is around. Though she hasn’t introduced herself yet, I have high hopes. I still miss Katie Horn and wish she’s leave the AChiO house in San Diego and come live with me. She was the best ghost ever.

Every now and then, a buzzer-like sound comes out of God knows where. Sometimes it’s in multiples and others, it’s just once. I’ve tried tracking it down, but to no avail. It sounds just like the buzzers on TV game shows — eeeeeeee.  eeeeeeeee. (That’s e like in “every,” not a long e.) I’m going to find it. It reminds me of the beeper that used to go off in the hallway at my first house. Dana Samuel was so obsessed with it that she’d sit in the hallway waiting for it to go off. Eventually, I’d sit and join her. It took us a week to find that it was a fire alarm with a dying battery.

But that was a predictable “beep.” Not a non-descript “eeeeeee.” I must find it. I must.  The girls don’t have a clue either — but they say it’s been here for as long as they can remember. Heck, maybe it’s Amy. Just can’t figure out what she’s trying to say with it.

And there’s the washing machine. Every time someone is doing laundry, I hear and feel the vibration. This would make sense, except the washer and dryer are down the hall, past two bathrooms, a two-girl room and the president’s suite — then, past a fire door and out in the garage. No earthly reason why I should feel and hear it running.

Or the garage door opening and closing, which are even farther away. But I always know when someone is coming or going.

The one that spooks me is a door that slams in the middle of the night. It freaks me out, because none of the doors make this sound when they’re opened and closed during the day. This one wakes me up. It’s ominous. Not just a little scary, but thriller-horror-novel-turned-movie spooky. I expect someone to be standing in the doorway to my bedroom with a knife over his head. Yup, it wakes me up. Every time.

And there’s the sound I pray will be have wherever I live. The one that takes me back to my grandparents’ house in Tioga, West Virginia. The mournful sigh or wail, depending on the source, of a train whistle. I close my eyes and find myself in the front bedroom of the Fidler manse hearing the train as it carried lumber and coal from Tioga to the rest of the world. Or in the main cabin of the B & O train as Uncle Jim and Uncle Mutt (Ok, laugh. I also had an Aunt Leo, Aunt Pink, and Uncle Buck. It was rural West Virginia. At least I didn’t have a Bubba. Or a Billy Joe Bob Jack.) engineered the train and let me ride along. I’d be covered in coal dust when we returned, and it just didn’t matter. Sometimes, they’d even let me shovel the coal into the furnace. It made me feel like the most important kid on earth. At that moment, in Tioga, WV, I was. I was a Fidler, and only Fidler kids were allowed in the engine of the train.

Listening to that train whistle, I’d wondered what it would be like to be the big fish in a tiny pond instead of a miniscule fish in the overwhelming city of Charleston. After dad died, I’d wonder what it would be like to live with my grandparents or my Uncle Frank, Aunt Leo, and cousin Hank instead of my mother…….

And from heaven only knows where, there’s a megaphoned voice that chirps about 4 times a day — like the ones at the metro stations, only there’s no metro station. I’m assuming it comes from one of the schools that surround my neighborhood, but who knows. It may be coming from the shadows of my mind.

There are the normal sorority house sounds I love. The late-night-early-morning congregation around the dining room table right outside my apartment. Chipotle, conversations, and laughter. I love walking past a room where there is no light under the door but there’s one of those middle-of-the-night-pillow-talks they’ll never forget. Girls who might never have met if they hadn’t signed bid cards for the same sorority, who become best friends sharing secrets, dreams, and angst in the dark.

The frat boys still try to “get over” and charm me in hopes that it will garner special treatment in time. They don’t know I’ve heard it all before. They also don’t know that there isn’t anything new in the fraternity/sorority world. Guys still steal composites. Houses still pull pranks on each other. And frat boys still try to charm house moms. In the immortal words an experienced house director friend of mine, “I’ve trained enough twenty-year olds in my day.” Nothing new under the sun.

There’s the clamor of girls rehearsing dances for Greek Week or some other competition. All night. Or practicing rush songs and dances well into the night. I do love rush. God help me.

There are sounds from other houses that I miss.  I miss the Sigma Nu’s at USC lulling me to sleep at night with their parties. They never let me down, and I loved them for it. Even when their snakes got loose on the lawns and we had to help them find huge boa constrictors sunning themselves.

The one I miss the most is Natasha Cuk playing classical music in the middle of the night when the stress of finals got her to the point that she needed the release. I’d lie in bed, close my eyes, and take it in. Inhale it. Revel in it. Hope she’d play forever. Though there was no way she had time to take classes, her talents could have put her on any concert stage. She’s model gorgeous. And one of the sweetest girls I ever had the privilege of sharing a roof with. I’d give anything to hear her play again…..but she’s in med school at UCLA now, and almost a doctor. My girls grow up so fast.

My life doesn’t operate well to quiet. Oh, it’s nice for a minute — like the first night I stayed at Laurel’s in Las Vegas and discovered both total dark and total silence. But it’s pretty obvious something that quiet and dark will never be a part of the Soundtrack of My Own Life. Dann’s song applies much more aptly than Simon & Garfunkle’s, “The Sound of Silence.” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not embracing retirement like many of my friends. Living with college girls is way more fun and interesting, and every day brings a new laugh and new adventure.

As you probably know, I’ve been emotionally bankrupt for quite some time now due to that damned law suit that won’t go away. To bring you up to date, all the data is in and we’ve filed our demand.  We’re waiting for a response from their counsel. It is in everyone’s best interest to end this thing and write my check before the end of the year. They haven’t been user-friendly with my case to date, but keep a good thought. There are mysteries that need to emerge from the recesses of my mind. Red herrings need to slap me in the face. Plots are longing to emerge. Characters are waiting to take on lives of their own. And I can’t wait to sit at a writing desk, computer before me, plants and birds out the window, a good cat fighting for keyboard time, and hours going by without realizing they’ve passed. There are three concepts nagging at me, and I can’t wait to see which one(s) jump off the page.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon. And until then, please be safe out there. Like the lovely Natasha and so many others, you’re precious to me. I’m lucky like that.