taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.

 

 

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meet me at luke’s diner in stars hollow on wednesday

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Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel aka Lorelai and Rory Gilmore in an autumn scene from Gilmore Girls

 

It’s like a TV miracle. One of my all-time favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, which died years ago, has been resurrected! Reborn via streaming services (namely Netflix), the mother-dauther/quirky-small-town dramedy brought in a huge following post mortem and will soon return to a TV near you. I’m giddy with excitement. Another reason to live another day! And to get a taste of what rubbing elbows with Lorelai and Rory, and Luke and Jess is like, small coffeeshops all over America are transforming themselves into Luke’s Diner this Wednesday, offering free java to customers. Can life get any better?

I was a Gilmore fan from the beginning, watching every season on the WB and then the CW, when the rest of the family and the majority of U.S. residents tuned in weekly to see who would become the first American Idol. I never saw a minute of season one of AI, never saw how Kelly Clarkson reigned over her competition, because I was too engrossed in the saga of a bunch of kooks in wacky, fictional Stars Hollow, Connecticut. What I loved about Gilmore Girls was not just its witty banter, and there was a lot of that, but its warmth. It was like checking in on your friends, cozying up to them in their living rooms (or the local diner), and catching up on the latest. I’m a huge fan of small towns and wished I could transport myself to this one, especially when life got tough.

On November 25, 2016, thanks to Netflix, we fans will get to do what fans of TV shows of the past have rarely been  able to do: We will get to see what has become of our favorite characters many years after the show went off the air after seven seasons. In four ninety-minute installments spread over the year and coordinating with the seasons (GG always featured the changing seasons in its episodes, which added a bit of warmth and authenticity to it), Gilmore Girls will revisit the lives of our friends from Stars Hollow and environs–Sookie and Michel, Lane and Mrs. Kim, Dean and Jess, and Emily but sadly no Richard (Edward Herrmann passed away on New Year’s Eve 2014).

As a warmup, this Wednesday I’ll head to the pop-up Luke’s in my hometown, pull up a mismatched chair at a ’50s style table, and order a cup of coffee and a donut, just as Rory and Lorelai used to do. Maybe I’ll rub elbows with the girls themselves, see what job Kirk is working at these days, or check out what’s on special at Doose’s Market next door. Whatever I do I will be filled with some great memories of times past and times to come.

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The cast of Gilmore Girls (in foreground) “Rory,” (second row) “Dean,” “Luke,” “Lorelai,” and “Jess,” (back row) “Lane,” Michel,” “Paris,” “Richard,” “Emily,” “Sookie,” “Kirk,” and “Miss Patty”

october mornings can make you feel this way

fall-leaves

I heard that the simplest prayer is to say “thank you.” I like that.

Walking today on what is a fairly crisp fall morning (by Southern California standards, anyway), I took in long shadows, leaves falling from a sycamore tree, the smell of breakfast sausage wafting from a home or two, and a golden retriever by my side. I thought, “This is pretty nice. This is all I need.” The simple things in life, for sure.

I looked up to see the bare hills that pass for mountains here and a bright sun breaking through a distant marine layer. I said my thank-you prayer before my mind started drifting to things that are challenges in my life: the lack of a steady paycheck, the worries that parents of teens and young adults tend to have even when their kids are the “good” ones,  my deceased friend whose second anniversary of her death is next Sunday, and her teenaged daughters, one of whom turns sixteen the following day. Before I could hit up the rest of the list, like the fact that Donald Trump could possibly become our nation’s president in another month, I stopped myself, took a deep breath, looked into the distance, and said “thank you” again. I have a way of dwelling on the negative so much that the dwelling has turned into a permanent home, with a fierce dog chained in the yard and a “This Property Is Condemned” sign posted on the door.

But today is not for those thoughts. Actually, no day should be. I must look at the positive: I’ve a roof over my head that will be paid for in another so-many payments, I’ve enough money in savings to tide us over in case of emergency, and I’ve a loving family and a gaggle of friends to boost my spirits. I may not have granite countertops or memories of trips to the Bahamas, but I do have all I need.

I must remember that next time my mind wanders to the negative. A thank-you is all it takes.