We held my dad’s 90th birthday party in the gym at the church building. Back in the sixties, the tiny congregation built the chapel with wood donated from my brother-in-law’s father who owned a saw mill. The building of the chapel, as well as the congregation that worshipped there, was, and still is, very much a family affair. Dicksons are plentiful in Arlington and a host of them attended my dad’s party.
My Uncle John, age 93, had to be led to the microphone so that he could say a few very difficult to understand words. Watching him from my place behind the table holding the birthday cake, it occurred to me that I will probably never see him again. He preformed my marriage nearly 30 years ago. When my mother was in car accident more than forty years ago, my Aunt Helen, his wife, picked me up from the hospital. She always called me ‘pal’ and she helped me make a quilt for my husband’s wedding gift. I’m not sure if she knew who I was when I hugged that night.
My dad hasn’t health or memories issues. He still stands straight. He doesn’t take any medications. His 1930 built house and his acre yard are in tip-top shape. Since Mary, my stepmother, no longer wants to bottle fruit or can vegetables, my dad’s garden is now mostly onions, berries, apples and tomatoes. He still drives. Although very slowly.
As my family drove away from Arlington, we listened to a CD my college age son made comparing Billy Joel to Ben Folds (is there really any comparison?) When I was a teenager, I’d been a Billy Joel junkie; I had all his albums. Listening to his music, driving away from the place I’ve always considered home, I had an overwhelming feeling of angst.
Here’s some of the lyrics of one of my Joel favorites.
Brenda and Eddie were the
And the king and the queen
Of the prom
Riding around with the car top
Down and the radio on.
Nobody looked any finer
Or was more of a hit at the
We never knew we could want more
Than that out of life
Surely Brenda and Eddie would
Always know how to survive.
The trip from Arlington to Rancho is long in more ways than one. We stopped in San Francisco, rode on a trolley, shopped in Chinatown and watched the Sea lions near the wharf. While at Ghirardelli Square eating mammoth sundaes, I watched a young man in the neighboring booth unbuckle his belt, pull down his pants, and massage his left buttock. He did this while carrying on a conversation and eating ice cream. After a few moments, he removed a hypodermic needle from his bag and gave himself an injection. The pants went back up, the belt buckled, and I wonder if anyone, other than me, even noticed.
Oddly, he reminded me of the sea lions. There are dozens of empty piers in the wharf and yet the lions crowd onto only a few. They fight for territory. The largest and usually loudest sea lion is constantly throwing competitors off the popular pier and into the bay.
San Francisco was cold and I rode inside the street trolley, protected by glass from the frigid wind, but I could see my husband and children hanging on along the side, laughing, taking pictures of buildings that I couldn’t see. At one point my husband jumped off so that he could take pictures of our girls. He ran and jumped back on.
Which brings me back to Brenda and Eddie, who got a divorce as a matter of course. Sometimes jumping back on just isn't an option.
Brenda and Eddie had it
Already by the summer of '75
From the high to the low to
The end of the show
For the rest of their lives
They couldn't go back to
The best they could do was
Pick up the pieces
We always knew they would both
Find a way to get by.
A long with the young diabetic man in Ghirardelli Square, the sea lions, Brenda and Eddie—we’re all picking up the pieces and finding a way to get by. Doing what needs to be done to survive. For my dad, Mary, Uncle John and Aunt Helen the only glory days left are the ones they can recall, which reminds me that while I’m busy getting by, I need to make as many days as glorious as I possibly can.
(Yes, my novel Stealing Mercy is available for download on most electronic readers. My son Nathan added his name to mine because he's a stand-up comedian and thinks he's funny. Actually, he is usually funny, but that's beside the point. For those wondering, I've ordered the proof for my A-Okay and soon Stealing Mercy will be available in paperback. And while this has nothing to do with Brenda and Eddie, my dad's birthday or San Fran I thought I'd mention it.)