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.