February 26, 2011

The Little Drummer Boy

Just like most 10 year old boys, he held firmly to the belief that all girls (except Mommas) had cooties, and Superman didn’t have anything on his Dad. And then the unimaginable happened: his 43-year old hero of a Dad was suddenly taken away by a massive heart attack. With no insurance, no marketable skills and no resources to fall back on, his Mother faced the overwhelming task of raising two sons alone. She decided the best way to keep track of them while earning enough money to exist, was to promote and manage the rock band for the 10 year old boy and his 15 year old brother. Virtually overnight, music became the boy’s livelihood…brothers became breadwinners.

He was 12 going on 13 in the summer of ’68. The Little Drummer Boy had won the respect of all the older musicians he played with. Part of the boy’s talent was purely a gift from God, but much of it came from hard work and discipline. With his older brother shining as the lead singer and guitarist, the Little Drummer Boy worked hard to become the best he could be...even under duress. Like the time his big brother locked him in the basement with only his drums and the new Iron Butterfly album playing “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", over and over again. Three hours later, the door was unlocked and the Little Drummer Boy was rocking out the infamous 7-minute drum solo in perfect sync with the record.

Everything seemed to be going well enough for the single Mom and her musical sons. So when the Little Drummer Boy asked if he could replace his old drums with a ‘mod’ set, she couldn’t refuse. His choice was easy: a 1968 seven-piece Psychedelic Red Ludwig drum set with double kicks, a chrome snare and matching throne.

'The Click' - Borger’s answer to The Partridge Family - kept right on rocking until Jackie turned 20 and left home to spread his musical wings, and Dickie turned 15 and wanted to play football more than music. Working a couple of low-paying jobs, Mom tried to make ends meet...but they seldom ever did. Dickie, now a sophomore in high school, came home from football practice one afternoon to find his Mother in tears. She pleaded with him to understand that she had not meant to get so far behind on the monthly loan payments for his drums. Although they were nearly paid off, there was no money to make-up for the missed payments. It broke her heart to tell her son that the music store would be coming by to repossess his beloved drum set. Dickie was devastated. To him, they weren’t just drums;they were an integral part of his identity. They were his security…the one place he could go to chase away all the doubt and fear of never having quite enough. He ran downstairs for one last look at his beautiful drums, and in a rare surge of anger at the unfairness of life – he grabbed his chrome snare - and hid it from the repo man. (I love that part of the story!)

Flash forward 40 years to January, 2011. Dickie is once again in the market for a new set of drums. He has drums - a nice set of Sonors given to him by Jackie years ago that he shared with his sons, and a cheap electronic set - just for fun. For several weeks he haggled with a dealer over the price of a Gretsch drum set, never receiving much encouragement from me. Then one day on a whim, he googled Ludwig Red Psychedelic and...WALA! Angels began playing their harps, the clouds parted and sunlight streamed down upon an image which bore the exact replica of his old drum set - vintage 1968. Seeing the look of unadulterated awe on his face, my eyes filled up with tears. I told him it was a ‘sign’ - how could he not buy those drums? But to my surprise he quickly retreated, saying the drums were too expensive and that he would rather buy a new set at a cheaper price.

Well…I may not know much, but I do know this man. And I knew it wasn’t really about the fact that these drums were too expensive for the 55 year old man, but more about the painful memories of a Little Drummer Boy that had paid too high a price so many years ago. All the old insecurities and sad memories flooded to the surface. How could he justify spending so much money on the same drums that were taken away from him at a time when money was scarce and life was so unkind?

Of course I did the only thing I could - I ordered the drums without telling him. I knew that if they were sitting right in front of him, he would never let them go again. The drums were supposed to be delivered by 7 p.m. yesterday evening. By the time the doorbell rang at 7:15, I had chewed off three of my fake fingernails. Dickie opened the door, took a look at the two big boxes and said, “Robin, Ohhh, Robin…what have you done?” I spit out another fingernail and said, “I, uhh... wanted you to have some new drums. They’re uhh, black - but they were on sale – uhh, really cheap.” I stood off to the side, chewing through two more fake nails as he tore into the boxes.

I don’t know exactly how I expected him to react, but as he lifted a drum out of the box and got his first glimpse of Psychedelic Red...everything about him went instantly still. Then he very deliberately and oh so carefully returned the drum to the box, slowly lowered himself to the floor, laid down on his back and quietly folded his hands over his chest. “OH MY GOSH” I squealed! “Please tell me you are NOT having a heart attack!!” He slowly shook his head from side to side, and that is when I noticed the tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes and into his ears. I stretched out on the carpet beside him, gently put my head on his shoulder and placed my hand over his steadily beating heart. “You’re okay?” I asked again. “Oh…I am so okay” he said softly. “I just need a little time.” As I lay there beside him on the floor with my hand over his wonderful heart, I thanked God for this moment…knowing that it would indeed take a little time to fill up all those empty places hidden away inside the Little Drummer Boy for the past 40 years.

Yes, it was just that sappy. Just that sweet and poignant. And yes, the drums were expensive, but in truth - all they really cost me were a set of fake fingernails. Because the healing and the happiness that came with those drums…is truly priceless. Life is short. Life is hard. But sometimes if we’re lucky, we get the chance to go back and right the wrongs suffered by the ones we love.

Don’t you just love a happy ending?

February 19, 2011

Here I Am...Stuck in the Middle.

That's me in the middle - the chubby one wearing the dress - bracketed by my two handsome brothers: Dale (older by 22 months) and Kelly (younger by 3 years). Other than our DNA and pug noses, I've always felt our strongest commonality was the fact that we were all given androgynous names. Which says more about my parents than I care to examine right now.

Growing up, Dale was the older brother who terrorized me with such antics as loading my diaper with pea-sized gravel and persuading me to push raisins up my nose. Although the atrocities are endless, there are really only two I've yet to forgive him for: 1) peeing in my toy box with an aim so precise that my tiny teacups were filled to brimming; and 2) giving away MY tickets to a 1974 Elvis concert, thereby squashing my only chance to meet The King. The best thing I can say about pre-adult Dale was that he allowed me to hone my combat skills into an art form.

And then there was Kelly. Ahh...my sweet baby brother Kelly. The arrival of every one of my protective instincts coincided perfectly with his delivery...via the stork. Given his sweet and passive nature, those instincts have only heightened though the years. Kelly and I became the unified Defensive Duo in our unholy sibling triumvirate with Dale. We learned at an early age the advantage of pooling our limited resources against the common menace of our big brother. In fact, the only time I ever remember getting irritated at Kelly was the night I invited my 15 year old boyfriend over to meet the family. As we sat uncomfortably on the couch staring longingly at each other, my sweet baby brother walked into the room, took one look at my feller and said, "Hey Dickie...how's your hammer hanging?". I ultimately forgave Kelly when he admitted under duress that he had been encouraged in his bad behavior by...you guessed it...Dale, The Terrorist.

Kelly was the one I rushed home to after school each day to share and transfer all my new found knowledge. While Dale was the one who tattled on me at school for showing my panties on the swing. Kelly and I would play together for hours with my Barbies and his GI Joe. But only after wasting valuable playtime hunting and gathering all the doll heads Dale had hidden around the house like well-coiffed Easter eggs. I personally take credit for making Kelly the wonderful father and well-adjusted man that he became. The fact that Dale turned out to be just as wonderful and well-adjusted is one of the great mysteries of life.

Truth is, now that I'm all grown up...I could not love my sweetly seasoned bear of a big brother more. Our roles have changed somewhat...Dale the Bully is now Dale the Patriarch. He's the Caretaker, the 'Fixer', the Go-To Guy. This man who once delighted in decapitating my Barbies, would undoubtedly now be the first to step into the fire for me. There is no one who believes in me more.

Kelly, ahhh...Kelly is still his same sweet self. He's the quiet one in a family filled with obnoxious loudmouths. Because his measured way of speaking makes him seem so much smarter, he is the one we all go to for thoughtful counsel, knowing he will never judge but unfailingly support.

Me...I'm still the pesky little sister that misses no opportunity to make fun of my big brother...the bossy big sister that forces my little brother out of his comfort zone. It's still a puzzle how three people from basically the same lump of clay can be so different and unique...yet unfailingly come together as a united force, should the need arise.

Today, if we glance at each other, we might notice the lines and wrinkles time has left behind. But when we really look at each other, all we see is each other's hearts. Hearts that hold the shared struggles, triumphs, joys and disappointments of our conjoined lives. We share private family jokes and precious memories untouched by time. I know the exact buttons to push that will make Dale's face flush red with anger. I know what Kelly wishes to be, if wishes came true. I know I can beat them both in leg wrestling. We have our own understanding of the tribal laws and code of ethics established among ourselves over the years.

I will never believe it was a mere accident of birth that made us siblings. Instead, I am convinced that that God knew exactly what I would need to make my way through this fearsome world, and He loved me enough to put me right where I belong...stuck in the middle of my beloved brothers.

February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentines...

Because I have always been surrounded by lots of boys, Valentine's Day has always been a really good day for me...

Beginning with the first man I ever loved - My Daddy. I never knew what to expect from his whimsical, eclectic valentine gifts. Dad was color-blind and loved pretty, shiny, okay I'll say it...gaudy things. Most importantly, we shared a deep abiding love for sugar - preferably covered in chocolate, but acceptable in any form.

Dad's gifts ranged from a yellow-flowered clock with fake bees on the second hand...to huge boxes of chocolate that were meant to be shared, then inhaled, by him. As I became older, he began a trend of buying me music boxes. His favorites were little ceramic 'robins' that now sit on my dresser and sing to me spontaneously, just to remind me how lucky I am to be my Daddy's daughter.

I even scored the occasional card from my brothers. But truthfully only because Mom bought a card for them and forced them to give it to me. Of course, they took all the credit. Not only that, they also always managed to find the few chocolates that I had carefully hidden from my Daddy. (It's no wonder I've grown up to be a bitter old lady who hoards chocolate.)

There were random, spontaneous valentines along the way. Like the card I received when I was 15 from the older brother of one of my very best friends, sent all the way from the Land of College. It read, "Roses are red, violets are blue, and hoo-boy would I love to makeout with you". I asked him about it recently. Of course he had no recollection of propositioning an underage nubile girl. I've still got the card to keep me warm in my old age. Or to be used as blackmail for playoff tickets.

And then there is Dick. Or Dick-in-a-Glasses-Case, as it were...

For 38 years, this man has been laying his carefully created and/or chosen Valentine's Day sacrifices at my bunioned feet. Never a miss, never once failing to warm the cockles of my heart. Well, except for the year I received a dozen roses from a guy I had recently dumped. When Dickie saw the the roses, he called the guy to thank him. He called him collect. From me. Beyond tacky, I know. I still pray for grace and forgiveness.

One of my favorite valentine offerings from the Dickman came shortly after we discovered we were pregnant with our first son. He sent me a vase stuffed full of baby's breath with little red felt hearts. The card read, "Our baby's breath will soon be real". Yeah, he's good.

But there are no valentines that get to a girl...at least this girl...like the homemade, Elmered-glued valentines I received from my beautiful boy-children.The cards were precious; but it was all about seeing those sweet little shyly smiling faces proudly gifting me with their works of art, that always managed to swamp me. Every single valentine masterpiece now sits in a box on the floor of my closet. From time to time, I will stumble upon them when I'm looking for something elusive like the camera tripod or my swimsuit cover. And rediscovering them is like receiving them for the first time. My favorite, my funny Valentines.

"Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved."

February 06, 2011

Zip-A-De-Do-Dah, Indeed!

This morning I sat wrapped in my blanket sipping a hot cup of tea, watching out the window as my shivering neighbor shoveled snow. My half-assed attempt to tamp down the rising bitterness lasted only a few seconds. I wished evil on that snow. I imagined how much more satisfying it would be to watch my neighbor if somehow the evil snow could be made to feel each metal scrape of the shovel. Okay, okay...I know I'm whining. But it is a mighty harsh transition from the balmy 84ยบ temps of the Caribbean to the arctic tundra that is now the Texas Panhandle. Seriously, was it really just a few days ago that I was flying over treetops in the Virgin Islands...?

Given the choice between spending a day on the 'clothing-optional' Orient Beach or risking my life on a extreme zipline excursion through a dry rain forest while fully clothed, the choice - for me - was crystal clear. I belatedly discovered that the Dickman had been a bit more, uhhh...indecisive. As we passed the beach on our trepidous journey to the zipline I caught him pressing his face up against the window of the taxi, pitifully straining his eyes for a hopeful glimpse of boobies.

Our first inkling we were in for a true adventure came when three cab drivers in a row refused to take us to our destination. Finally, one brave driver begrudgingly agreed to make the 40-minute drive up the mountain to Loterie Farm, a breathtakingly beautiful nature reserve atop the island of St. Martin in the French West Indies.

Once there, we collectively flexed our glutes and sucked in our guts (well, as much as possible after gorging on cruise ship food) in hopes that our guide - The Birdman - would have no qualms about taking a foursome of 50+ year olds through the Flyzone Xtreme, an "eco-adventure for thrill seekers". Alas, all our gut and butt sucking was a waste of muscle contraction, as The Birdman turned out to be one of those guys that puts the 'ass' in passive-aggressive. He took one look at us, tossed out a bunch of harnesses and gloves and resumed singing along to the reggae blasting through his earbuds. I dared to interrupt him, politely asking if anyone had ever died on this particular zipline (inquiring minds want to know). His answer was, "Not so far today, but eef you cannot finish zee zip line you vill have to find your way back down zee mountain". Admittedly, his French accent did help soften the blow.

So there we were with our first hurdle: how to don the harnesses. We weren't about to ask The Birdman for direction, instinctively knowing if we couldn't figure out a harness, we would be labeled Zipline Losers. After hopping around like a bunch of knuckleheads, we finally got all 8 legs in the proper loops. And to our amazement, the very moment our loins became fully girded we were instantly transformed into Zipline Warriors. Just like that. What is it about wearing a crotch harness that is so empowering...?

Here's a photo showing Dickie & Dewey's best (and most comfortable) side, post-harnessing. (FYI: It is true what they say about cargo pants - they really are a gateway drug to fanny packs. Vacationers, BEWARE.)

Before we could say Geronimoooooo! we found our harnessed and cabled selves stepping off a perfectly good platform and out into thin air...zipping over and through the mango and palm trees. Not only did we defy the laws of gravity, we even proved a few. After becoming intimate with a few tropical trees while traveling the speed of sound, Susan and I actually discovered Newton's First Law to be spot-on. If you look closely you can see me --- I'm the maniacally shrieking dot in the distance...

We quickly became a team of Flyzone Rock Stars...Birdman, Dickman & Robin, Dewey & Sewey. The longest zip was about a 1/2 mile long, the highest more than 50 feet above terra firma.

Not only were we jumping and zipping, we were also walking like ninjas over suspended log bridges and cable tightropes AND dodging random droppings of monkey poop all along the way.

Here's a short clip of Dickie, Susan and Dewey demonstrating their various zip line techniques, i.e. The Spread Eagle, The Premature Stoppage, and The Perfect Landing:

At the end of our 2-hour adventure, we were drenched in sweat, high on residual adrenaline and I was proudly showing off my collection of bruises like medals of honor. Most surprisingly, we had bonded with The Birdman. Although he alternately ignored and abused us under life-threatening conditions, laughed hysterically at our lack of technique...he never once doubted our ability to meet the challenge of the Flyzone Extreme.