Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Once upon a time, a pretty dang long time ago…

…30 years, to be exact, this happened:
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Er, I mean this happened:
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It was an amazing day and I just knew with such certainty that it would lead to an amazing life!
It had all begun six years previous, when Tom was an RA at Santa Cruz dorm at UCSB, where I was a lowly sophomore.  I had such a crush on him that I did things like sneak pictures of him when he was doing his laundry.
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Eventually, I convinced him that he should ditch that other broad and be with me.  Thank goodness for my powers of persuasion!
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…and by the time I graduated two years later, he had relented and was beginning to get used to the idea of “that redheaded girl” being his g-g-g-irlfriend.
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A year later we went through some turmoil that would, in the end, “seal the deal” and then this happened:
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Since then, it’s been (mostly) the amazing and wonderful ride that I had predicted.  Sure, we’ve had some rough patches; what couple doesn’t?  But for the most part, this journey called marriage has been fulfilling and happy and a whole lot of fun.  It helps when you’re best friends from the start and I was lucky to have chosen a man who is absolutely deep-down good and kind and compassionate and caring.  (Most of the time… sheesh – he’s not perfect!)
And hey, look at the four characters we created together!
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Not bad for a couple of kids in love, eh?
On our 25th anniversary I posted about the “25 things I’ve learned in 25 years of marriage.” Do I have five more for our 30th?  Sure, and they reflect where we are in that marriage:
26. Make new traditions together.  We’re talking about getting an RV and doing some traveling, just the two of us.  We’re done with raising kids and remodeling houses!  Let’s PLAY!
27. Plan for your own financial future.  For so many years, “planning for the future” meant saving for four college educations.  Now that that’s behind us, we’re putting considerable effort and resources into planning for our own future.  It’s not exactly romantic, but it’s important.
28. Perish the pettiness.  I’m not sure why, but petty arguments tend to get nipped in the bud these days, by both of us.  Whereas we used to each feel a need to win and earn one-upmanship, we now let things slide a whole lot more.  The little things just aren’t as important anymore.  I wish we would have learned this years ago.
29. Appreciate each moment together.  More than ever, I am cognizant of the possibility that I could lose Tom suddenly and without warning at any moment.  It is a terrifying thought. And that’s all I want to say about it because it is THAT terrifying.
30. Keep the romance alive.  Toward that end, look what Tom gave me last night!  (OK, in truth, I actually saw it first and asked him to come back to the store with me…)
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As I told Tom this morning, I’d marry him all over again.  Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, the decision to marry him (after I persuaded him to ask me!) was the best one I ever made.
Happy anniversary m’dear (which is about as pet-namey as we get).  Here’s to (gulp!) 30 more years together!

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Two days before our 30th wedding anniversary and I can finally say it: we are DONE remodeling houses!

Tom and I have owned three houses since we’ve been married and I can honestly say that most weekends in those (almost) 30 years have been spent “working on the house.”  Our first house in Oceanside, California was brand new, so most of Tom’s work in that house was spent outside, building a yard.  It was his first big project and everything he did, he did alone (I was inside wrangling four kidlets!), just figuring things out as he went along.  Here’s the yard a few weeks after we moved in (look at preschooler Elisabeth and toddler Peter!):

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(That’s Tasha, our only non-Golden Retriever dog.  We eventually ended up giving her away because she couldn’t be completely trusted with the kids… probably because we were too busy with said kids to train her properly.)

And here’s the yard just before we sold the house in 1993, five years later (and yes, it took the full five years to create this):

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(Kat!)

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(Aleks!)

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I loved that yard and that house and that neighborhood and our neighbors and all of it.  I think I’ll always be able to say that some of my happiest years were spent in that house.

From there, we moved to another brand new house in another brand new neighborhood, this time in Richland, Washington.

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Tom did plenty of work inside, but it was mostly of the “make-it-feel-like-ours” variety.  I don’t even have any “before” photos of our back yard, but imagine a whole lot of dirt, dust, and sagebrush – because that’s what Eastern Washington consists of! 

When we sold the house in 1995 a mere 18 months after buying it (Tom hated his job at Hanford and hated the area, calling it the “arm pit of Washington State), this is what the back yard looked like (and that’s Aleks, Kat, and their cousins Tina and Barry):

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…and this is Peter supervising the moving process:

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In summer of 1995, we bought this house in Woodinville, Washington:

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It was the first “old” house we’d owned(if you could call a 1978 split-level “old”) and it needed massive amounts of work, both inside and outside.  We would have loved another new house, but the market sucked in both Richland and Seattle and this (gag) split level was all we could afford.  Neither of us liked it all that much (except for the to-die-for yard and forested acre), and Tom insisted all along that “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”  But we took a deep breath in 1995, started in on the process and did all this (13 years of house renovations in one blog post)!  As I exclaimed at the end of that post, the only things left to do at that point was to replace the god-awful front door and paint the house.

Both have now been done and this is what our house looks like today:

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And today I can say that, except for the typical “home maintenance” stuff, we are DONE!

Done, I tell you!

Ha!  Ironically, Tom just kibitzed  this post and he insists, “Oh, no we’re not done!” 

I have forgotten, it seems, that his plan for this summer is to create in this backyard space beneath the new deck…

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…a babbling stream that meanders around big stepping-stone boulders which lead to the flagstone patio with new fire pit.  (He’ll remove the fire pit and patio that he and Kat built years ago and replace that area with the new stream with boulders, and he’ll put flagstone on the slab where the hot tub used to be and build a new fire pit there.)

So I guess I was wrong.  On our 30th wedding anniversary in two days, Tom will still be building and remodeling!  I have a feeling Tom will always be building and remodeling – and as much as it seems I might complain, I am actually extremely grateful to be married to such a handy, talented, creative, hard-working man who has made many a house a true home for his family.

Scan153, March 04, 2006

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Opa’s bequeathing “with warm hands”

My father recently sent this ring to Peter…

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…accompanied by this letter:

“Dear Peter,

I have decided to pass on to some of you grandchildren things that mean something to me, and that come with a story that must be told. As “Muttchen,” my pseudo-mother used to say: I want to do so “with warm hands.”

It was in March of 1945, just weeks before the end of the war.  I was 16.  My mother had already died.  I was put into a slave labor camp for “half-Jews,” as they called us.

Now Chemnitz, my home town, had just gotten the same kind of “terror attack,” as the Nazis called it, as Dresden had suffered weeks earlier.   My boss, where I had been assigned from the labor camp, was most understanding, if most secretive, about it.

“Go,” he said.  “Check out what happened.  Just be back by Tuesday at the latest.”  Of course there was no telephone, no other news, no transportation.  Only chaos everywhere.  One just had to make do, somehow.

Our house had been burned out, turned from a burned ruin into mostly rubble.  I found my father’s body in the boiler room, caught in the space between the floor and the furnace, one leg dangling, clearly broken.

My father’s body was the only one in the big ruin.  I was told later that when the house was on fire everyone got out, including him.  Then he had to crawl back into the basement to retrieve a small suitcase with Romanticist art that he was working on.  His whole life now had been his art collection; he just HAD to get those pieces.  In that moment an explosive bomb hit the house, ending his life, making the three of us orphans.

After escaping the Nazis for a dozen years, now, two short months before the final defeat of Nazi Germany, he was killed by an Allied bomb.  Just what the Nazis had always wanted.  But any war does that: produce tragic ironies like this, a thousand times over, everywhere.

My dad was wearing a suit, vest, and tie.  He was a very formal person and would not be seen in anything but “proper dress,” not even at night in the air raid shelter in his own basement.  When I found him, he still had his metal-rimmed glasses on, one side broken.  His fingers were apart, indicating that he had not suffered.

I knew there must be one thing he was forced by law to always have on him – his ID card, with the big letter “J” to identify him immediately as a Jew, with the forced name of “Israel” added.  I took it and I still have that infamous ID.

He was wearing his diamond tie pin so that his tie would be orderly and in place where it belonged.  I took it.  Years later, in Munich, in peace, I designed a ring for myself and had the diamond of my father’s tie pin mounted in it.

That ring is what I give to you today.  Today, when wearing it, I know that what had meaning to me was not my father’s dying as much as his death.  I knew then that his most romantic, often-quoted motto would somehow follow me: Goethe’s most utopian idea that “life, however it may be, is good.”  He, a Jew under the Nazis, persecuted, with two sons in Nazi slave labor camps, through all the chaos, kept this idealized faith.  And for years it gave me the strength I needed to shape the path of my own life, without parental guidance.

With love,  Opa”

I read the letter first because Peter happened to be in Munich, of all places, when the package arrived.  As I read the letter to Tom, tears welled in my eyes and a lump in my throat, and I couldn’t finish it, handing it to Tom to read the last paragraph for himself.  I could tell that when Peter read it upon his return from Germany, he was equally, though less overtly, touched by it.  Later Aleks said to Peter, “I think Opa gave you the diamond from his father’s tie because you’re someone Opa would have been really proud to introduce his father to.”  The lump returned to my throat when I heard that.

With the ring and the letter came some official documents for me, as the executor of my – perfectly healthy (for an 85-year-old) father’s will.  Maybe it’s his own very formal, very organized, very…well, German father coming through in him, but my father’s almost obsessive attention to “getting his affairs in order” have been somewhat annoying to me.  Once every few weeks he sends another document for me to read and file, many focusing on his adamant wish to be allowed to die without any heroics when it looks like the time is coming – and to let him go if the time comes suddenly.  “I have stared death in the face repeatedly as a young man,” he insists,”and I have no fear of it now. But I DO fear being kept alive by those damn doctors…”  I think some of that comes from watching my mom go through something like 28 separate chemo treatments and slowly wilting away in front of us.  He doesn’t want that for himself or for his family.  I’d be honored to be at his side for any length of time, just as I was for my mother.  But I only visited as my mom died slowly over four years while my father spent what he refers to as “a thousand sleepless nights” during those years, and he doesn’t want that for Lou, his adored new wife, or for us.  I respect that.  But please, Dad, don’t be so busy organizing and preparing for your death that you forget to live your life! 

(It feels good to write again.)

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