The Working Title Is… For Scratch

It wasn’t until my Junior year in college that I faced any kind of sickness where the 766 miles between Milwaukee and Syracuse meant I would be without my Mom’s medicinal magic for the first time in my life. 

What is it about a mother’s touch placing that cool washcloth on your forehead, or the way she’d quietly close your bedroom door encouraging you to rest? I am convinced those simple acts of love held healing qualities of their own.

On this day, however, miles from either of our homes, the boy I had been dating – and who would eventually ask me to marry him – jumped into service.   He arrived at my row house with a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and a package of Keebler Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies.

I know I looked as horrible as I felt, and if memory serves, he looked a combination of frightened and disgusted.  With furrowed brow, he said, “I’m so sorry.  I asked at the store if they had the for scratch cookies because I know you love the ones your mom sends, but no one knew what I was talking about, so I got these.” 

Even the Nyquil fog and a pounding headache couldn’t keep me from giggling.  “Isn’t that the kind you said your Mom sends?  For scratch?” he asked.  I explained that from scratch meant homemade and that you start with the basic ingredients…flour, eggs, sugar.  You could see the light bulb go off in his head, “Ahhh, now that makes more sense.”  And a “for scratch” reference to our “le duh” moments was born and would stick with us forever.

So, this weekend, when I snuggled in with Netflix whose top suggestion for me was a limited series called From Scratch, I thought of Pat with a smile.  As I read the summary, I immediately realized that the storyline might hit a little too close to home, but it also said it was set in Florence, a city I love, so I thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a try.”

I’m glad I did, and I highly recommend you do too. It’s a beautiful and sometimes complicated love story…the love of a husband and wife, the love of parent and child, the love of extended family, the love of food and wine and the beautiful Italian language of love.

I ended up finishing all eight episodes in three days.  And I won’t totally ruin the plot for you any more than watching the preview would, but I had a few visceral reactions that have moved me to put pen to paper, or more appropriately, fingers to keyboard.

At one point in the couple’s journey, they adopt a child.  The scene with the birth mother is tender and touching.  The screenwriter scripted words that I can only hope my own birth mother would have uttered if given the opportunity. 

On Amy and Lino’s first night home with their newborn daughter, Amy is reluctant to let anyone else hold the baby citing the fact that forging an immediate physical bond with the adoptive parent is of utmost importance.  As Amy cradled that sweet baby in her arms, watching Lino and her dad assemble a bassinette, my emotions ran so strong, and I am certain I said out loud to the television, “That’s bulls*it.  Bond schmond.”

I spent the first months of my life in foster care and didn’t even meet my mom and dad until I was six months old.  And I am here to tell you, that “immediate bond” is nothing but a pile of malarkey, as my Grandma Hogan liked to say.  I loved my parents with my whole heart and soul.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them or mourn for the things they have missed as my daughters grow into accomplished women.  I often share my story with new moms, or with women for whom adoption guides their path to motherhood, with hope that they will be kind to themselves and know that the bond is forged through a lifetime of love…not just the first minutes or even months, nor is it shared DNA that is the conduit of love between mother and daughter.

I basked in the light of my mother’s love for almost 28 years, and it has now been 27 years since I last held her hand in mine. In a few months, I will have lived longer without my mom in my world than I did with her.  Who knew math could be so heartbreaking?

Last night, on a rainy Halloween with very few visitors to my door, I finished the last two emotionally charged episodes of From Scratch. To say they were heart wrenching would be a gross understatement. With hauntingly familiar scenes of confusing conversations with a multitude of medical professionals to having impossible-to-consider conversations with your children, I was ugly-crying on my couch. 

Until that is, what would be the final conversation between Amy and Lino.  I have no point of reference for that scene.  My husband’s disease advanced so quickly that we were robbed of that pivotal climatic goodbye.  I’ve thought about it a lot.  What I would have said, if given the chance.  Imagining what he would have said.

As Amy held Lino’s face in her hands, my ugly-cry morphed into that no-sound-producing-hiccup kind of cry.  After more than 12 years of considering it, I absolutely knew what my next line would have been.  I waited for Amy to deliver hers.  And then, a silence that seemed to last forever was finally broken by, “TRICK OR TREAT!”

Good God.  I quickly hit pause and ran to the door ready to shove a Twix bar in the face of whoever was there.  Apologies to the Zombie Cheerleader who was clearly shaken to see a blotchy middle-aged woman with tears streaming down her face downing peanut m&ms like her own life depended on it.  That poor girl will never forget this Halloween.

I resumed my place on the couch, took a deep breath and hit play.  “Thank you,” Amy and I said simultaneously.  “Thank you for your life. And for sharing it with me.” 

It was just as I had imagined.

The scenes that followed, however, bore no resemblance to my life.  Amy’s grief was so debilitating that her mom and sister had to help bathe her.  She couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time.  I watched those scenes unfold vacillating between pride over the strength I think I’ve exhibited and a fear that maybe a breakdown should have happened and is still brewing just below the surface.

This beautiful series served as a reminder that grief is a reflection of the love you shared, in both its strength and depth.  It is a reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one. That we should live our lives as fully and completely as possible.  We should burn no bridge.  We should forgive each other.  We should say thank you. Count our blessings. Love and be loved. 

We should accept the gift and promise held within each new day…always ready to write our own story, for, er, from scratch.




The Working Title Is…Lessons of the Journey

I can’t remember the last time I was more excited about an invitation. 

It’s been years since I’ve experienced live theatre. And I’ve never received a handwritten invite to a production before!

So, yes, I’ve been counting down the days until Chicago’s St. Andrew Elementary Second Grade production of Arthur’s Christmas. I’m on pins and needles anticipating the directorial debut of my favorite thespian, Clare Parks.

At some point, I thought to myself, “Might be fun to take the train!”  And it was, until just outside of the Battle Creek station when we came to a screeching halt.

It’s actually left me quite nostalgic. In August 2003, Pat and I surprised our girls with a train trip to Chicago, and somewhere between the Royal Oak and Detroit stations, the major northeast blackout happened, leaving us trapped on the train for more than 12 hours.

So no big whoop that this has been my view for the past three hours.

At least the club car is attached.  We didn’t even have that for the first five hours in 2003! I remember feeling very anxious back then…we were unsure of the cause of the blackout, and the events of September 11th were still a very recent memory.

I don’t know what word describes how I’m feeling right now.

Across the aisle from me are an adult woman and her physically disabled father.  She hasn’t stopped yelling at him since the train stopped. [Edited transcript] “This always happens when I ride with you! I should have never said yes to this trip.”

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m a huge fan of a well-placed expletive, but the way this woman is speaking to her father has the entire train car cringing.  She is unrelenting in profane complaints and double negatives. 

Her single act of kindness came when her dad asked her to reach down his computer.  He pulled up some website that showed real-time passenger and freight train activity. He tried to point out the trouble spot, but she quickly and decisively shut him up.

Not long after, I got caught staring in his direction. We shared a smile behind masks and he said, “I like to track the trains.”  As his daughter was (NO LIE) busy brushing her hair in the seat next to him, I said, “My brother is a huge train fan too, I get it.”  As he started to point out what was on his screen, the conductor came on the loudspeaker to explain the reason for the delay was a police situation on the tracks just outside of Kalamazoo. Minutes later when walking through our car, the conductor told my train-loving neighbor that this was the third suicide in the last ten days along this route.

I’ve already painted a horrible, albeit accurate, picture of his daughter so I will refrain from sharing her disgusting comments that followed.

Equal to my love of a well place curse word is my love of a good fight…one of words, mind you, and I am gearing up to put this bitch in her place.

My head is spinning and my internal voice has finally drowned out hers. But as my planned oratory assault reaches epic, launch-ready levels, deep emotion renders me mute.

I would give anything to be trapped on a train with my Dad. 

I would give anything to travel back in time…anxious and snackless…to be trapped on a train with my tiny girls who fell asleep in our laps while Pat and I held hands. 

I would give anything to hold Pat’s hand.

Three suicides in ten days along this one train route?  My God.

I would give anything to miraculously intervene in those troubled lives and help each person find the words to ask for help.

I would give anything to comfort the family members whose hearts are broken and who will face the horror of an empty chair this Christmas.

I would give anything to bring peace—of mind, heart, soul and spirit—to friend and stranger alike.

We started moving a bit ago. As my neighbors stood up to disembark at Battle Creek, I stood too. Toe to toe, I stared right into that woman’s eyes and said in a whimper, “Hope your day gets better.”  And in the true spirit of the season she said, “Jesus Christ, I need a f*in cigarette.”

The lesson of this journey has me counting my blessings, cherishing life, and praying for peace in the hearts of all. 

Yes, all.  Even the foul-mouth, grammatically deficient, wickedly unsanitary, public transportation-dissing, heartbreakingly paternal-alienating monsters of our world. Clearly, they are struggling with something too. 

May peace and joy surround everyone this Christmas.