Saturday, February 16, 2013

Where is love? An invisible bird's on my shoulder

     SOMEHOW, some day, somewhere.
     The lyrics to that memorable “West Side Story” song always make me think of my mother, Ellen, and my youngest sister, Robbie. Heretic though I claim to be, I like to think that somehow, some day, somewhere, I’ll see them both again.
Cavorting on a cruise ship, from left: Robbie, Ellen and Cookie.
     I miss them. On a recent, rare melancholy rainy San Diego day, I thought of them:   Of all the plays they’ve missed since they died – mum in 2008 and Robbie two years later in 2010.   Of how much joy they received from travel – we had many trips together.  Thinking how they'd both have voted for Obama.  Of of how they struggled to stay happy – each with her personal demons – depression, troubled relationships and more. Thinking of how damned funny they were, how humor helped patch them through.  Both were wise-cracking dames, quick with the one-liner.
     Neither suffered fools.  Both loved children.  Robbie was a doting and supportive step-mum to an adopted son and daughter during her 22-year marriage. She excelled as an advocate in her childcare profession.  Mum was a lauded counselor, pursuing advanced degrees in social work and counseling well into her forties. Both were devoted to family and friends.  Robbie as a married woman enjoyed hosting all of us to elaborate Thanksgivings, much as mum had done when we were youngsters.
     THE TWO were deeply connected to one another – Robbie was the much adored baby of the family and she and I were the “bookends,” oldest and youngest. Rob loved to hear mum tell the story of her impending birth, on a wintry January Friday evening while the family was preparing for a basketball game.
     Mum died of heart failure at age 79.  We had hoped we'd have her as long on Earth as we did her mother, my beloved gran, Olive.  Yet mum lived eight years less than gran.  Which of course prompts my wondering: how long have I on the planet? Carpe diem.
     Robbie was 47 when she died – suddenly of an accidental prescription drug overdose on her way back to our Montana home.  A toxic mix of two powerful drugs took her from us but I think she died partly of a broken heart.  She never recovered from our mother's death.
Robbie loved the water and taught the Yorkies to swim.
     I owe so much to both of these irreplaceable, compassionate women.  Both loved Europe and getting there on non-stop, first-class flights.  Both loved theater – we saw “Fosse” together in London, “Anything Goes” in New York and many shipboard revues and musicals, the three of us holding hands, sitting side by side, laughing, applauding.  The acorns fell close to the tree because gran took our mother to plays and musicals as a babe in arms.  In 1964, mum held baby Robbie on her lap for Rob's first Broadway play.  It was at the Imperial Theater in New York City. Center-orchestra, Row D tickets to “Oliver” were $4.95! Robbie loved "Where is Love," the soulful song young orphan Oliver sings, yearning for affection, hoping for parents.
Cookie, Nick and Nora outside Robbie's home in Davis, Calif.
    AFTER THE musical, we dined at Sardi’s.  The next day, we toured the city. Daddy carried Robbie into the torch of the Statue of Liberty and all over the World's Fair grounds. He loved to tell the story of the policeman who approached him outside the "Pieta" exhibit when he couldn't get Robbie to stop crying.  Mum had taken the rest of the brood inside the gift shop to purchase miniature statues.  After a long conversation, and mum's return, the policeman was convinced that Rob wasn't being kidnapped.
     Both mum and Rob were lifelong dog lovers and adored the Yorkies, Nick and Nora.  Robbie was the conduit for bringing them into my life.  I’ll always be grateful to California – not only for providing Keller and San Diego as my winter inspiration – but for producing Nick and Nora.
     In November of 2005, the day after my husband, Billy, died, Robbie flew to Phoenix immediately, scooped me up after we delivered Bill's body to the crematorium, and suggested a week in Davis, while we awaited Bill's ashes.  Our four ancient dogs had died in the months of Billy’s final fight with cancer.  Smedley the sheepdog, Max the pound rescue mutt, Eddie the basset and Ruth the retriever all lived into their late teens.  To have them all die – then my daddy, then Billy – was “a powerful visit to the world of death and grief” as my grandpa Gus might have said.
   Days before he died, Billy wheeled his IV into his office and made a print-out on the Yorkshire terrier, suggesting a pair would be good pets for me after his passing.  “You could call them “Carry” and “On” he penned in his farewell note to me, knowing I'd be flying with them.

Nick and Nora spent a lot of time in Davis, Calif., with sister Robbie
and Cookie.  Robbie's professional connections found the Yorkies. 
     WHEN ROBBIE received an in-house memo about two Yorkies for sale, we raced over to the house in Sacramento and met my future pups.  I wrote a check that evening. The pups spent much time with Rob in Davis.  She taught them to swim and helped potty-train them while I was in Europe.
     My mother loved the pups, too. Nick and Nora quickly worked their way into her heart. They were sleeping at the foot of her bed that cold January night she died at home in Montana, surrounded by 18 Cosgriffes and the Yorkies.
     Neither Robbie nor mum saw my home in San Diego.  Neither had a chance to walk the beach here with me and watch the gorgeous La Jolla sunsets.
    THEY DIDN'T see “Threepenny Opera” at the Lyceum, or “Sweeney Todd” at the Cygnet or “The Lion in Winter” at Northcoast Rep.  My gran, the family’s champion dog lover, adopter of hundreds of strays and player of both church organ and “bordello piano,” might disagree with that.  “In heaven,” she once told me, “one may see a play or hear a concert at a whim.  And since there is no concept of time, one can see and hear what one wants, at one’s chosen pace, whenever one chooses.”  Presumably, without intermission!
        She also believed in time travel and the ability to visit from the beyond. “Everyone we love is with us forever,” she told me.  “All we have to do is think of them.”
Cookie and her mum, Thanksgiving at Robbie's in Davis, Calif. 
        She believed spirits stick around and can be communicated with. “Think of them as little birds on your shoulder.  Talk to them.  Tell them what you’re  thinking.”
       I welcome the Robbie Bird, the Mummy Bird.  Come pet the Yorkies.  We'll hit the beach, grab a cocktail and appetizer at La Jolla Shores while the sun sets. Then we’ll head for a musical.   Maybe book our next European cruise. Somehow.  Some day.  Somewhere.

COMING WEDNESDAY: Cookie and Keller take a road trip to Hellhole Canyon Preserve, with a nod to the flora and fauna of that little known part of California.
Do sign up for the Wednesdays and Saturdays blog if you haven't yet. And  watch the sunset in a different place each night!

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