And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Packed Month

It has been almost a month since I have written anything here, a month that has been packed with everything from joy to sorrow and all points in between. I've been in rehearsal for a community theater show (now on stage, weekends through March 24 at the Pineapple Playhouse in Fort Pierce, Florida...."Small Talk- the musical," playing Tina, a gum chewing, ditzy New Yorker) - hard work, lot of hours, but always a lot of fun too. Community theater brings people together who might not necessarily meet any other way, although this show has several school board personnel involved who'd crossed paths in that arena. It requires commitment, more than anything, but also the ability to be taught, directed, focused, and flexible. Community theater enthusiasts possess these  qualities to varying degrees along their journeys, and therein lies the challenge: for old-timers to be patient with newbies, for newbies to develop a little thicker skin, for no one to think he or she is so talented that there is no room for improvement, for directors and audiences to remember that everyone is, after all, a volunteer who could be doing something else at the moment but chooses to be there, hamming it up for the audience.

So that was THAT excuse for not writing sooner. And not even the best one. How about this? We're moving next week. We'd put our home for sale online and the very first couple to ask to see it, decided to buy. Then decided not to. Then decided to buy again. The sale involves the need to also rent, until their own home sells on the west coast, which means we must vacate sooner than anticipated. And it all has flowed fairly well, with my husband David getting the heavy lifting done, taking loads and loads of stuff we won't take to an apartment half the size of the house it's all been occupying for two years.

Because of the need for finding another place to live, pronto!, David asked me not to take on more substitute teaching jobs. In a way, I've had an easier few weeks, only going to a choice few teaching gigs, where I knew the teacher, was especially asked, or called by the Catholic school -- it is such a joy to go there, I try not to turn them down. If you ever thought there is really no difference in secular and parochial, public and private, education, guess again. The students there have, in many cases, grown up together, known by teachers at all levels. There is prayer before classes begin, a continuity and stability and support from the administration that is seldom seen elsewhere. And how could it be? When public school administrators do a great job, they are often shuttled off to a "troubled" school to fix things, rather than given the opportunity to continue to flourish where they have been such an asset.

Soapbox interruption: I am a public school employee, support public education with my taxes and my energy, but I do wish someone would find a way to make it more user-friendly! Teachers are buried in paperwork, behavior problems interrupt their day with limited resolution, kids are moved along more quickly than their little brains have been able to keep up with, testing is too often seen as the end-all solution. Politics becomes too much involved, with unions out for their members at the expense of the students. Parents blame teachers, teachers blame parents, students blame each other. It is a mess with no easy fix. I do think that if ALL schools returned to basic teaching, having enough textbooks for students to take them home at night and study (novel thought!), requiring homework to reinforce what was learned in the classroom, and improved teacher-parent communication, things could turn around. Sure...on what planet?

In the midst of packing and rehearsals, enter something hurtful that stopped me in my tracks, pulled the rug out from under my feet, took my breath away, bewildered me. One of the most hurtful things to ever happen to me, at least in many years, and it was followed fairly quickly by something even moreso, but for very different reasons.

My father-in-law, Bud Gillette (born Edgar Graham Gillette, but called Buddy or Bud by family, including his children) had to interrupt his radiation treatments due to shingles, and never really snapped back. At 88 (or 89, depending on who you ask) he'd have good days and bad days, prior to this, but the pain of the shingles seemed to grease the slope down which his health slipped, fairly rapidly. One day he was confused and uncomfortable, but talking. The next he was at the ER, and the next in hospice. Almost two weeks in hospice, kept pain-free by the wonderful workers there, he drifted into eternity with a smile on his face. What a gift for those who were there! Many of the family were able to visit many of those days but Bud was largely non-responsive. Mom and my sister-in-law Donna were there for his final breath, during another long night, and it was an awesome experience for them.

Bud had been legally blind for years from macular degeneration, but his eyes brightened at the end. His countenance was transformed. My mother-in-law, for 68 years Bud's wife Joyce, said his mouth moved as if saying "Dad. Dad." Bud idolized his father, who died at the ripe old age of 93 (with the heart of a 40 year old, said his doctor). Others think he might have been saying "Adam," our son who went before. Whoever he saw, it was obviously a blessing to him, because he smiled. Peace and joy at the end...what better way to see a loved one pass away? As Christians, we believe that we will be reunited with him in Glory -- not the bent, blind, man we loved who had the remnants of an electrical accident, but Bud reborn, healthy, tanned as if just stepping off his handcrafted sailboat. He raised five children who gave him 12 grandchildren, who in turn, gave him 23 great-grandchildren. That's quite a legacy from the island boy who shot game for his family and joined the Navy as a teenager.

Even with the joy and relief that his sufferings are over, of course there is sadness. Bud was a great storyteller, and those stories are gone forever. He saw so much, from the Great Depression, to World War II, the building boom in Florida. Born in Sarasota, he married into one of the few native St. Lucie County families still around. My husband's family has been in Florida practically since Jesus was a boy, as Clairee said in "Steel Magnolias."

Now, family from all around the state and down from North Carolina are gathering together to honor Bud at a service tomorrow, and some of them will help us move this week, and I have a day off coming (it's been a month since I visited the Parallel Universe in which there is no drama, no phone-unless-there's-blood-involved, no responsibilities for a few hours, only relaxation and doing-whatever-I-want). I also have my sister arriving from a trip overseas and the promise of a good visit and lots of stories brings happiness in the midst of the stress.

In months to come perhaps I'll share some of Bud's stories with you. Years ago I bought him a little recorder and asked him to use it so I could transcribe them, especially for the little ones coming up who haven't heard them. I encourage you to do something like that with your elderly loved ones. Sad to think, but they will not always be here. There is a treasure trove of stories about the early years of their lives, the WWII generation, that will be lost soon, if someone doesn't make sure they don't. Perhaps in your family, that someone is you.

I've gone all over the place, which is (I think) understandable given my circumstances. I've got lines and songs to remember, timing to think about, preparations to make, boxes to pack, utilities to switch over (which I just remembered this afternoon), mail to forward, necks to hug, a man I knew and loved for over 35 years to say a final goodbye to. And then...back to "normal" life as I know it. Always a little stressed, but filled with such surprises of joy and love that going on is possible. I've vented a bit, and now it's time to get out the false eyelashes and turn into Tina again. The show, as with life, must go on.