Monthly Archives: April 2012

Where We Were 17 Years Ago Today….

"Jesus Wept" sculpture erected by St. Joseph's Catholic ChurchSeventeen years ago today, Chuck & I we’re living on a quiet cul-de-sac in Ft. Collins, CO.  When I say quiet, I mean, no one really spoke to you & it was very, very boring.  Colorado is an odd place to live, in that, if you “ain’t from around there”, you’re viewed with a bit of reprehension.  You’re an outsider who came in to develop & spoil the natural beauty the natives claim as their own.  God help you if you’re from California.  That’s the first thing we we’re always asked – “Did you come here from California?”  It used to irritate me until we moved & the couple that bought our house was from California.  They were just buying our house to “live in while building a more substantial home“, the woman uttered and walked around looking at it like it was her first experience moving into a home formerly inhabited by lepers.  Now I have a better understanding of how native Coloradoans felt.  In recent years, they have basically been taken over by people seeking a nice place to live with a cheaper cost of living.  But of course, what did that do?  Drive up their cost of living.  That became another peeve of mine when we lived there.  In 1993, I did not enjoy paying $4.50/gal for milk.  I know what you’re thinking!  The trails, the Rocky Mountains, skiing, whitewater rafting, DUDE ranches, for God’s sake!  You walked away from that??  Yes, yes we did.  All exorbitantly expensive hobbies to pursue.  Colorado had it’s good points & our first child, Ryder, was born there.  We were blessed with a terrific doctor and Chuck lived close to work, always a priority for him.  I had a well-paying & enjoyable job in Loveland, CO at a publishing company.  The excitement of expecting our first child was such a great time for us. Regardless of feeling unwelcome, we were happy & content.   And then we weren’t.

My mother had driven out for a visit & brought a friend to accompany her on the long drive from Enid, OK.  The day before they arrived I had been hospitalized with kidney stones.  The intense pain from them was causing contractions & I had to be on IV meds to control the pain, as well as the possibility of pre-term labor. I was in and out of the hospital for 10 days.  I would think I passed the stones & get home and realize I hadn’t & I would have to go back.  One of these realizations came to me in a bay at Sonic, sharing a meal with mom & Susan, her friend.  Holy hell, get me back to the hospital, #1 burger be damned. This put a huge wrench in our plans to shop for baby things and decorate the nursery.  I barely felt like getting up to go to the bathroom.  I felt terrible that mom had driven all the way to Colorado to share a happy time with me before I became a mom and she a grandmother.  She stayed the full time she had intended, spending time with me, both in the hospital & at home (& briefly at Sonic!) and then got up on her final morning in Ft. Collins,  said bye to Chuck & left me to wake from my Mepergan sedation.

About 9:15 I got up to lie on the couch & watch tv.  Special news reports were all over the cable and network channels & they kept showing a shell of a bombed structure that I initially assumed must be in Beirut, Lebanon or another country in the middle east, where fighting & destruction were a given nearly every day.  Then I heard the reporter say Oklahoma City. Surely not.  Must have been a terrible gas leak, I thought.  What destruction & oh, God, I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant and must endure the notion that a childcare center was hit? Firemen carrying out blood-covered toddlers?  My hormones went haywire.  The pictures were absolutely unreal to me.  This doesn’t happen in our country.  And I will be the first to admit, I thought, what militant “religious” group from overseas is responsible for this horror?  I was also struck by the fact that my mother is from Oklahoma as is a large part of my family on my dad’s side too.  See, my dad met my mom at church when he was visiting my uncle in Enid, Oklahoma, my mother’s hometown.  I have cousins galore in Oklahoma.  We’re they safe?  Especially my favorite cousin, Randy, who spent a lot of time in the city at that time?  I called my mom, who was headed back to Enid.  She had heard it on the radio but didn’t want to wake me if I was still sleeping.  Even worse, her friend, Susan, who had accompanied her on the trip had a sister who worked in the very federal building that was targeted & destroyed.  Phone lines were insanely clogged so she was unable to reach anyone to find out if her sister was at work yet that morning. (Thankfully, she was to be in late that day because of a meeting she had down the street & escaped injury or death.)  Luckily, all of my relatives escaped unscathed, though I think it was my cousin Randy who was nearby at a meeting when it happened & felt the blast.

In short, the entire thing was sickening.  An attack on our home soil that was perpetrated by one of our own.  We all get riled up and irritated at our government, or bosses, our spouses, our school administrations, etc.  but at some level, at the very core of our being, we are supposed to be raised to do what is right & not what is insane.  The notion that Mr. McVeigh knew of the day care center & referred to it as collateral damage sickens me more. It sickens me that the inevitable conspiracy theories were perpetuated & continue today.  I hate that the Oklahoma City Bombing has become the stepchild to September 11, 2001.  I’m sure a ton of people don’t even know that today is the anniversary of this horrific event.

My family moved to Little Rock, AR in January following the attack.  My mom followed in 2000.  Mom & I returned to OKC a few years ago to attend a wedding and before we headed back to Arkansas we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  If you find yourself in Oklahoma City for ANY reason, please take time to stop by. And please take your children.  Even if you don’t have time to take in the museum (which we didn’t), stand in the midst of those 168 chairs & gaze into the reflecting pool, stare in awe at the gates of time, &  the survivor tree. What touched my mother & me most, however, was the statue of Jesus weeping.  It isn’t officially part of the memorial.  It was erected by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which was one of the first brick & mortar churches in Oklahoma City.  The church sits adjacent to the memorial & was nearly destroyed in the blast.  But it’s presence is the perfect compliment to a beautiful monument dedicated to lives needlessly lost.

Remember the families of those people tonight when you’re sitting down with yours.

The Passage of Time

Lana & Noelle in the late 70's

Me (in dress) with best friend Lana in the 70's

As I mentioned in my last entry, Chuck convinced me, or rather bribed me, to go back to our hometown of Bernie for Easter.  It’s not a bad town.  It falls somewhere between Possum Grape, AR & Santa Barbara, CA, on the coolness scale, leaning heavily toward Possum Grape.  (No offense to the Possum Grapians – your town may be FABULOUS.)  The weekend ended up having it’s moments.  We attended Easter breakfast with my dad & his wife, Debbie & my childhood Sunday School crush served me milk.  Twice.  It’s the closest we’ll ever come to having a date.  I’ll take it.  He hasn’t aged one bit.  Chuck took it all in stride, though I’m sure I was a bit googly-eyed. Dad also had my long johns from Faye’s waiting as I had requested – EIGHTEEN,  just as I had asked.

My family visits us in Little Rock on a regular basis & we lost my grandma in 2009, so I had only one reason for going home.  I had known for some time I needed to pay a visit to my friends, Doris & Leroy, who were the closest thing I could have had, during the 70’s and 80’s,  to a second set of parents. They had four children, a boy & 3 girls, spread very far apart in age.  Lana, their baby, was my childhood best friend.  Our houses backed up to each other with an alley separating them.  Countless arguments ensued over who owned the alley.  We finally drew up a treaty and agreed to split it in the middle.  To this day, I’m not sure who really owned it. Or why it was so important for us to know. Doris spent many, many hours of our adolescence carting us to Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, the mall and movies.  She was a beautiful woman & still is.  She treated me like her own.  Their house was my house.  Leroy, Lana’s dad, is a very private & I’ve always felt, very misunderstood man.  He’s hardworking (still going at age 84 – “too young to retire”, he told me last weekend),  generous & kind.  He’s also one of the quietest,  gentlest men I’ve ever known.  He’s always had an air of mystery about him & I think he cherishes that somewhat.  He was one of the first examples I had of learning to go on living life as I wanted, regardless of what people’s opinions of me might be.

Lana has always been my best friend.  Our great grandmothers were quilting buddies and my Granny would put me in the back of her three-wheel bicycle, with a couple pillows to make the wire basket a bit more comfortable & ride me over to Lana’s Grandma Lora’s home, which just happened to be next door to hers.  Often Lana would be there & we quickly became friends.  We like to say “we met at two and three”, though in reality, we might have been a tad older.  We spent time at both houses throughout the years but Lana’s house was a bit more interesting.  You see, Leroy’s line of work was coin-operated machines.  He put video games, jukeboxes and, back then, cigarette and candy machines in stores, restaurants and bars.  At Lana’s house you could rock out to the jukebox, play Ms. Pac-Man in their family room, watch satellite tv AND by the time we were in 5th grade, swim in the pool.  He also had a storage building for extra video games and jukeboxes & we had a key and a token.  That meant we could play Frogger, Centipede, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man to our heart’s content.  Leroy was notorious for buying things that he got a great deal on, like 50 pairs of roller skates or an old green Cacillac Coupe deVille.  If someone needed money & had something to offer he could remotely use, or not, he’d buy it.  And when I say that Cadillac he came home with was green, it was chartreuse green with cream leather interior.  You couldn’t miss it.  He parked it in the yard beside their home & soon Lana and I were taking the keys and backing up and pulling forward, using the brake, blasting the radio, basically acquainting ourselves with the ins and outs of driving, with very little supervision whatsoever.  I will give all of our parents kudos for having faith in us.  Eventually we would drive it through Lana’s backyard, turn down the alley and make a sharp left into the side yard at my Granny’s house.  This prevented us from getting on the city streets & having to make an appearance in my dad’s courtroom for driving underage with no license whatsoever.  To get back to Lana’s home, we would back the Caddy all the way down my grandma’s sideyard and then pull back into the alley.  Eventually there were prominent ruts in the grass where we came and went. To this day, I am one hell of a car “backer-upper”.

Leroy would come home at the end of the work day in his S & W Sales truck, Tommy-lift rattling as he pulled into the driveway & get out with a big bag or two or three of quarters, taken out of the machines on that day’s rounds.  He made carrying them look effortless but let me tell you, if you stubbed your toe on them, you knew exactly how heavy they were. His attire was always the same & if I remember right, he wore a perfect 50’s-style Mad Men hat. Or a baseball-style cap.  If we were driving through the backyard when he arrived, he might grin, shake his head and go on inside to watch boxing & eat the supper Doris had made.  If Lana & I were “laying out” by the pool, increasing our chances of melanoma with SPF2 oil and blasting Casey Kasem’s Countdown, he might come peek over the fence, ask if we were having fun or “how was the pool?” and then go inside.  He was a man of few words, but you always knew he loved you and was proud of you.  In fact, you still do.  I haven’t meant many men in my life who communicate emotions intensely with only their eyes, but Leroy is one of them.

Lana and I spent much of our lives around age 10, in their family room around a big octagonal table writing plays, planning our future businesses (some things are just too embarrassing to share – sorry) & drawing sketch book upon sketch book of house plans, going as far as to describe the families that would live in these houses.  And I remember still, nothing made Lana more irritated than one of us designing a house with a hallway that ended in a wall.  I would have bet my life at that age that we’d be architects today. We always had a steady supply of Pepsi, yellow Lay’s with mustard for dip, and Kit Kat bars.  One day we went out for a while, came back and my Kit Kat was gone. We looked over in the big chair and Leroy sat enjoying a Kit Kat and a boxing match.  The man loved boxing.  And until recently the Kit Kat incident was still fresh in his memory & always fair game for a joke or laugh.  But that’s where this story gets heartbreaking.

The man I know and love & viewed as such a constant in my life that I took for granted he would always be there, is slipping away.  Emotionally, at least.  He will talk to you as if he knows you and he has the act down pretty good.  But once you step away or leave, he will ask Doris or Lana who you were.  And he’ll ask how he knows you.  During my visit, he did a great job of acting like he knew me.  And then he went to the restroom & Doris said, “He probably doesn’t know who you are.”  When he returned, she said, “Leroy, this is Noelle.  Lana’s friend that practically grew up with us.  Dorothy’s granddaughter.  You know, Norman’s daughter.”  A lump had already begun to form in my throat but he said, “I KNEW I knew who that was!  I’ve always loved Norman.  Of course it’s Noelle.”  That was enough to almost convince me that he hasn’t forgotten me completely.  For at least an instant, his eyes said that he knew.  Doris brought up the green Cadillac & I even confessed that we scraped a pole with it once, got white paint on it, drove it to my house & wiped the paint off with gasoline.  Sorry, Lana.  I’m finally free of that guilt!  Before I left,  I went over to him & gave him a huge hug for fear that it would be my last chance.  Thinking back on his 84 years of life as Chuck & I drove back to Little Rock, I realized one of the things I most admire in him is his undying faith that his kids will be ok.  He has four wonderful kids who have blessed him with grandchildren and great-grandchildren & although the road was bumpy at times, he seemed to have faith that everything would be fine & he will eventually leave this world leaving an awesome legacy behind.  I think all of us could use a little of Leroy’s faith in family & mankind.  I know I intend to try to find some somewhere.  It’s a small way of paying him back for that green Cadillac.

Happy Easter!

In a couple of hours, we’ll be headed to our hometown of Bernie, MO with the kids to celebrate Easter.  It’s also known as “Noelle has stayed in Little Rock for Easter as many years in a row as she can without pissing relatives off”, but saying “celebrating Easter!”  just sounds more jovial and is much shorter to type.  Anyway, there are a couple people I haven’t seen in a while that I want to see & it’s a change of pace.  Sometimes that’s good.  Also, my dad bought me long johns from my favorite bakery.  That’s the clincher.

Ryder is celebrating Easter with her friends this weekend, which in all honesty, will likely have nothing to do with the resurrection of Christ, Our Lord & Savior and more with sushi, burning gasoline & staying up til’ all hours.  Hopefully it won’t consist of anything that I, her dad or Christ, Our Lord & Savior won’t want to know about.  So, when she doesn’t appear in our Easter photos, you know why.  We adore her.  We just respect her independence.

I’ve been wanting to share some photos I took, of what I believe is perhaps the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever stepped inside in my life.  Although ostentatious churches of today really annoy me, cathedrals of old just slay me with their beauty, attention to detail, art and lasting construction.  Somehow, it’s just different.  When I went to New Orleans with my dad, Norm & his wife, Debbie this January, we walked much of the French Quarter on foot and we stepped inside The Cathedral of St. Louis  on Jackson Square, which is open to the public.  Even to ME!  I know, right???

My knowledge of Catholicism is somewhat limited.  I have many great friends who are Catholic, including a college roommate and a high school friend who converted to Catholicism when they married.  I know, unlike Presbyterians, there is no “transfer by letter”.  It’s a serious commitment & major process to become one.  (Perhaps other churches should learn from this.) I know you can attend mass on Saturday if you’re busy Sunday. I know they have confessional booths.  I know a child’s First Communion can be very lucrative for a professional photographer such as myself.  I know that Catholics will wear photographers OUT photographing a wedding, but they will reward us with a great reception.  And I know they have a rich history & gorgeous cathedrals.

This has to be one of the prettiest in the United States.  The organist was playing as we entered which only added to the experience and since I really have no words for how beautiful it is & I’m not sure I could ever convey how it felt, I’ll show you in pictures that I made via slideshow.

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Construction began in 1789 and the Cathedral was completed in 1850.  However, there has been a cathedral on the site since 1718 & the parish was established in 1720. (That’s another thing I know!  They have parishes!)

The last photo in the slideshow is looking out at the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square from St. Louis Cathedral.  This is one of few Catholic cathedrals in the US that actually faces a city square.  You can read more about the history here in addition to the St. Louis Cathedral website.  And if ever find yourself in New Orleans, you must step inside.  And leave a contribution in the donation box. 😉