From Nashville, With Love

(hit play – turn it up, way up)

“Hot, fried, and awesome. You know you’re in the right place when there’s live country music… at the airport!

I’d been in Nashville all of four hours when I sent this text back west to California. Four hours. Hardly enough time to fall properly in love with a place. I’d glimpsed the muddy Cumberland River, deduced that the tall AT&T building was the Nashville skyline, looked down a hot, still 4th Street and wondered where the hell everybody was on a Thursday afternoon. Downtown Nashville. Not a soul in sight.

Nashville

But I was. In love.

There’d been that live country band serenading me as I walked my red boots through the Southwest terminal. The best devilled eggs I’d ever tasted at lunch. The only item not fried at the friendly Southern where the hot chicken burns, and the cocktails go down way too easy. There was that southern accent flirting with me in the hot, steamy air, the twang that melts every bone in my body, and enough y’alls to send me to heaven and back again. And there was Johnny Cash. Just there. On the street. In an abandoned parking lot.

cash

We have murals in Oakland. They’re beautiful. They brighten the darkest underpasses, and bring colorful life to bare street corners. They’re of typical Oakland-ish scenes: Lake Merritt and the geese, Fairyland and the famous Grand Lake Theater, and the most iconic are the giraffes on the structural pillars holding up the 580 freeway. I don’t know what they symbolize, but in Oakland we have giraffes. In Nashville they have Johnny Cash. And Willie Nelson.

willie

Tennessee calls itself “the state that made country music famous.” This was my dream trip: Music City.

I’m not usually the trip-planner – I leave that to my husband. I don’t have a list of places I’d like to visit, or sights I must see. We’re a large, beach-lovin’ family so most vacations we pile into the minivan and motor down the California coast. If we have an opportunity to go somewhere adventurous, he and the kids have the strongest opinions. I let them decide. We always have fun.

I’m also not a milestone-marker kinda gal. Birthdays are birthdays – whether you’re 10 or 25 or 37 or 60. Yes, celebrate, feel special: party, balloons and cake, happy birthday, the end. (Except if it’s your bar or bat mitzvah – then it’s a really big deal, spiritually, religiously. Or if you’re 70 plus. That seems like more of a reason to go all out to me, having loved and endured and lived, really, for decades).

But suddenly never-turning-40 me was almost turning 40, and it felt like some kind of milestone. And my country-music-loving heart was starting to long for a visit to just one dream destination: Nashville.

Screw not marking a milestone – I wanted to go to Nashville. For my 40th. With my husband. And my friends. And absolutely no kids.

“It’s going to be like a dream come true,” I emailed a friend a few months ago. And it was.

I had imagined watching country music greats perform live. Dreamed about seeing those large, bearded guys with sunglasses and enormous cowboy hats pulled down so low you could see only their mouths move, tapping their weathered boots and playing the fiddle faster than a train hurtling down a track at midnight. I had wondered about this seemingly mythical southern city, where a guitar was practically the state emblem and whiskey flowed like water. Fantasized walking in my red cowboy boots past a honky-tonk bar, catching a tune and tapping my own heels to the country beat.

But I could never have imagined it would be so perfect.

The Charlie Daniels Band at the Grand Ole Opry May 9, 2014

The Charlie Daniels Band at the Grand Ole Opry May 9, 2014

I never dreamed it would be The Charlie Daniels Band singing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” that I saw live at the Grand Ole Opry. A speeding midnight train had nothing on that fiddle. Could never have imagined that the honky-tonk bar from my fantasy was every few doors on Broadway, with a live band downstairs and a different one upstairs and where guys and gals of all ages turn out in their country finest – classic to hipster – and dance the night away: two-stepping, hip-swaying, clapping, spinning and twirling to more country music I could ever have hoped to hear.

honkytonks

And I could never, ever have imagined how it would feel to be in the City of my Dreams, with people who love country music, Nashville, fried food and classic cocktails like I do, who wanted to buy boots and go to the Johnny Cash Museum. With people who had arranged kids’ schedules, and sitters, and skipped work on Friday, given up Mother’s Day with beloved kids and moms on Sunday, schlepped from New Jersey and Oakland (and damn it’s a schlep), and who wanted nothing more than to celebrate just like I wanted to celebrate, who wanted to celebrate me with me. People who know me, who love me (or maybe know me yet still love me!), and whom I love.

I could never have imagined how that would feel. Like the first lick of caramel ice cream, water-skiing on the lake, tight hugs, love letters, warm pajamas, bonfires and marshmallows on the beach, winning a trophy, sweet juicy peaches, kisses and a breathtaking purple sunset all at once.

Josh and Lisa sang to me in the hotel lobby, a song they created specially for me, to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” – they were nothing short of foot-tapping, finger-snapping a-ma-zing. Deb and Larry crooned the beautiful tune “A Life That’s Good” from my favorite show (Nashville, obviously!). Amy stopped Jared, The Matte Gray Band’s lead singer, on his way to the bathroom so that Bill could take a photo of all of us with him. When a country band can play Garth Brooks, White Snake and everything in between, that’s fantastic to the max. It was perfect. All of it.

I hate when trips, any trips, come to an end. I get moody and sad when it’s time to pack. I sigh heavily. Mooch a little. Ryan usually shoots me a warning look, one that says: “Don’t go down that wishing road.” He knows how much I hate to go back to “real life.” How I “wish I could stay here – wherever here – forever.” He reminds me that even the any “here” of my wishes would eventually become “there” – the place I have to go back to.

But I sat on the plane heading back to California so full of happiness I probably could’ve floated the whole schleppy way back home. I wasn’t sad it was over. I wasn’t wishing I could stay “here forever.” Because it was a dream come true… in ways I could never have dreamed.

From Nashville, with love.

(thanks, Deb, for this line)

Zom-body to Love

source: unbiasedtalk.com

source: unbiasedtalk.com

I love to love. To feel love. It’s a warm, happy, feeling that fills me from the tips of my toes to the very ends of my hair. Often it overwhelms me in intensity, or moves me to tears of wonder. Sometimes it feels far away, unreachable, and then even in the happy I feel sad. But still, I love to love.

I was not an emotional type as a child and young adult. Didn’t cry much, not even when a pet died. Felt awkward in situations heavy with feeling, blinked back the tears that threatened to spill when the movie was so sad. Hugged and kissed family and friends, but in a happy-go-lucky way, keeping it one layer light.

But as I’ve married, given birth – pregnancy, labor and delivery have no regard for emotional discomfort! – aged, experienced, argued, reconciled, lived… that intricately latticed fence that kept my messy tears and intense loving feelings “up there” has been weathered down, its two by fours weakened by the hot sun and pouring rain. The lattice is cracked, blistered, decomposed.

And now here I am – exposed to love.

I love to love. And to show my love. For my family, near and far. For my friends, also all over the earth. For my graying, aging, blind little doggie. For my kids’ teachers, and my rabbi, and my hairdresser. By saying, doing, writing, or just feeling.

This month, writing daily from A to Z, has been one of the most fulfilling, soul-destroying experiences of my life. I have amazed myself with my discipline, my creativity, my perseverance. And have disappointed myself with my creative lack, my inability to carve out time to write, my willingness to give up. There have been days when the words have bubbled happily forth in no time at all, but more when I’ve searched for every drop in any corner of my heart, mind and soul. It has been a month of memories, dark and delightful, of intense emotion almost from the start. I have cried, raged, felt joy, defeat and accomplishment – often all those, every day.

And today is April 30. Z-day. And what I feel, at the end of it all, is simply: Love.

Zom-body to Love by OPI

Zom-body to Love by OPI

This is my final post in the April A to Z Challenge. Thank you for joining me on this crazy, colorful ride through the alphabet. To read all my A to Z posts click here

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry

Great conversation, loud laughter, fun stories. Inside jokes and quick-witted comments and the type of easy, comfortable banter that comes from many years together, from shared experiences and milestones, difficult times, tears, proud moments, pure elation and happiness. From close friendship.

The air is dry, and the trees are tall, and it’s rustic and gorgeous.

Tahoe, California. Spring. 2014.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

Was it really twenty five years ago that I was half a world away, breathing air as dry, amongst trees as tall, hanging out in somebody’s rustic bunk, cocooned by esoteric jokes and hysterical laughter and the closest of friends?

Lapalala Wilderness, South Africa. Fall. 1989.

Fifteen years old, on a week-long wilderness program in the Limpopo Province with my tenth grade class, it was the very best of times. I loved all those school retreats to simple, woodsy places in the Highveld, where it was very, very cold in the early morning and at night, sweltering hot in between. When we were woken at the crack of dawn, and saw the mist rising with the African sun. Ate cornflakes and toast with thick peanut butter and bananas for breakfast, and then packed it all up for a long hike to learn about the Toothbrush Plant, and how to belay down a mountainside. Walking in smaller groups of twos and threes, paired off with my crush of the moment, or sharing wild hopes and dreams with my BFF while the hadedas called to each other in the broiling heat.

Lapalala Wilderness

Lapalala Wilderness

Mixed tapes played Men at Work and Phil Collins, Roxette and Milli Vanilli on portable boom boxes. We dismissed every rule late into the night, breaking curfew the very least of it. The girls snuck into the boys’ bunks (never the other way around), and we told secrets and broke promises and huddled together to keep warm.

My 25-year-old memories haunt me lately. I keep coming back to that year, 1989, when life just worked. For me. It wasn’t always like that before, and almost never again, but that year the music was right, and school was okay, and my siblings were fun and my parents understood (or they pretended to) and, most important of all at 15, my friends were perfect in every way.

Twenty five years later many of those friends are still perfect to me in every way. As I gaze out at the impossibly tall Tahoe pine trees, I ache to have them closer to me – we are scattered all over the Earth – to share inside jokes, and laugh at nothing, and sing Land Down Under out of tune at the top of our lungs.

A burst of laughter pulls me away from 1989 – I focus on the faces around me. They are warm and happy, smiling and talking. Faces I know and love. Here I am, twenty five years later, half a world up and away, with friends that are perfect to me… in every way.

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry by OPI

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Jinx!

“Jinx! Double jinx! Triple jinx! Personal jinx!”

They scream this out every time two or more of them say something at the same time. I used to play that game as a kid. There was something thrilling about being in sync with my friend or sibling. Like: how cool that we’re thinking about the same thing AT THE SAME TIME! No. Way.

It’s still cool.

I don’t like to feel alone (I wonder if anyone does really…?). I feel scared and sad, forgotten and neglected, when I feel alone. Like I have to face the big wide whole world by myself and it overwhelms me. Feels impossible. I am much warmer, calmer, happier when I know that someone is thinking of me, someone has me in mind, someone is empathetic toward me. And it’s even better if they’re thinking of me at the same time as I’m thinking of them. But that doesn’t happen often. No. Way.

Sometimes it does. It does happen. And when it does I am that eight-year-old kid again – thrilled and happy with a great big grin on my face because how cool! And also because I’m reassured that I’m really not alone.

The song a faraway friend mentions to me that is suddenly playing on the radio. The adorable muppet-like video saying hi I love you you’re awesome I’m so glad you’re my friend that shows up in my inbox on a morning that seems impossible – Toronto now feels like it’s round the corner, and suddenly the morning is not so impossible.

“So weird, was just thinking of you and wishing you were down the road and I could see you…”

She is my best friend from life. We’ve known each other since first grade, which is my whole life – I remember very little before then. We’ve been silly together, cried together, confided in each other, been mad with each other, and laughed and laughed and laughed together.

hands

When I received this text from her, my heart filled with warm and happy. She had been on my mind, so I sent her a message. Asking how she was, when could we talk? And she had been thinking of me, at that exact moment. She was not alone. And I was not alone. Jinx personal jinx!

Our phone conversations are long and deeply satisfying. I wish we were lying on the carpet listening to Depeche Mode together but this is a close second. The time zones and miles between here and there fall away, and if I close my eyes and just talk, she is right here with me.

“Nick, remember when we sent Mr B a…” “Valentine’s Card!” I finish for her.

We are both shrieking with laughter, our words falling over each other’s. We giggle together for many minutes, remembering that gigantic card we sent our English teacher in high school. We took a proud photograph of ourselves with it, and somehow that photograph ended up in his hands. Busted!

She remembers a 16th birthday party we had together – the social event of the year, she said – and I remember a Saturday night hitchhiking in Johannesburg (I know, so not okay). Sometimes our memories overlap, and sometimes they don’t, but always they are special, binding us together above the broadband that connects us.

Thinking of you. Sending love. You ok? Had a feeling, just wanted to check in… Messages like these join hands and hold me close. Whether it’s a day of smiles and sunshine, or one that is dark and difficult, these missives to and from those I love and who love me feel all kinds of wonderful. As if I stretched out my hand, and felt those warm fingers interlace with mine – from across the Bay, from down the road, to the North and down South, and over the ocean.

Jinx!

Jinx by OPI

Jinx by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Ninety-eight and still has chutzpah!

He can barely see. One eye is completely covered by a cataract, and the other looks pretty blank to me. Those big ears of his do not hear much anymore. He definitely can’t hear me calling him. His bladder has shrunk. Or disappeared altogether. His bones are old and his hair is almost white. So for a 14-year-old he’s in pretty good shape!

Of course, that’s 98 in dog years. Or is it 98 in people years and 14 in dog years? I get confused. All I know is that there’s a multiple of seven involved. And today is his fourteenth birthday. I’m feeling strangely sentimental and emotional about my aging dachshund, whose bark drives me crazy and who is causing way too much unnecessary stress between me and Ryan – it’s that shrinking bladder, the midnight and 3am excursions outside, the high-pitched bark at nothing and everything because the poor creature can’t see much… an aging dachshund is eerily similar to a newborn baby. Been there, done that!

Pretzel was our first.

It was a beautiful spring day much like today when we drove up to Santa Rosa to get him. He was teeny. He fit in my two cupped palms. His mom’s name was Ruby and his dad was Spike – they were all small standard, red, short-haired dachshunds. Just adorable. I don’t remember how we chose Pretzel. But we did. And on the way home he curled up on my lap, tucked his then-short nose and feet in toward each other, all twisty and pretzely. By the time we got back to San Francisco, his name was Pretzel. Perfect.

(Weeks later I discovered there was a children’s book about an extra-long, heroic dachshund named Pretzel, written and illustrated by Margaret and H.A. Rey. Serendipity. We have several copies of that book. It’s one of our favorites. Along with The Halloweiner. And Schnitzel von Krumm.)

Now I’m not a crazy dog-lover. I like dogs. I do love some dogs. I always had a dog growing up, and I think a pet is wonderful to have in a household. They love you unconditionally. To love and take care of them is incredibly fulfilling and heartwarming. They bring life and warmth and fun and gentleness and craziness, and hair, and extra work, and mess and happy licks and wagging tails and lots of walks and special moments of quiet and peace. And before I had kids, and when I was working from home, Pretzel was my life and I may have become a crazy dog-lover – which is easy to do in a crazy, dog-loving city like San Francisco!

I took him to the beach and when his short, little legs couldn’t carry him anymore I scooped him up and bundled him into my fleece. We spent hours in Dolores Park each day, and made friends with every dachshund and chihuahua in the City. He slept in our bed from night one, curled up right next to me or at my feet – and I have not met a dachshund parent anywhere in the US, London, Sydney or South Africa whose dachshund does NOT sleep in their bed. They are bred to burrow, and since they are not running down rabbit holes or hunting badgers in these urban environs, they burrow into sheets and blankets – warmest bed-partners ever. Even Ryan agrees.

Babies in strollers were no competition for jaunty Pretzel on those San Francisco hills. That proud little dachshund could barely strut three feet down Union Street without being stopped and petted and questioned and tickled. My new-mommy friends were not impressed as their bonny, bouncy six-month olds – cute as they were – were blatantly ignored. Want attention? Get a dachshund!

We had fun times, Pretzie and I. He was friendly, and social, high-energy and obedient. He barked a lot when the doorbell rang, and he would pee if he got too excited (doesn’t everybody?) but he quickly became part of the Gilberts, like all pets integrate into their families. On his first Rosh Hashana with us, I hosted a large buffet-style dinner. “Can I give him my leftovers?” asked my sister, one of Pretzel’s biggest fans. “Absolutely not!” I replied. I would make him his own plate of brisket and kugel! By the end of the evening that little belly of his, already mere inches from the ground, was dragging.

My proud Pretzel does not have my undivided attention anymore. During the last twelve years he’s slipped lower and lower on my list of Beating Hearts That Need my Love and Patience. His loud, incessant barking whenever the doorbell rang caused immediate spasms in my jaw as I shushed him because a baby was sleeping. He would steal the kids’ food. He’s been skunked twice – admittedly that’s more my fault than his, but man, what a pain (tomato juice does not help)! His nails need clipping, his teeth need cleaning, he has a weak-ish heart. He is no longer my first. He’s my very, very last.

Of course I still love him. And care for him. He still sleeps in my bed – although he can’t jump up anymore, I have to lift him. I pick him up under his arms just like he’s one of my kids. And I carry him down the stairs – those long spines don’t manage the descent so well over time. He doesn’t bark when the doorbell rings because he can’t hear it – not that it would matter, nobody is taking a nap no more! And he has more people than ever to love him – most notably the youngest. I often find the two of them twisted around each other on the couch, one stroking the other’s ears.

Pretzel cannot see the food that drops on the floor right near his long nose, and he can’t jump up onto my bed – but this morning I came home to discover that nose had found its way high up onto the dining room table and into the gift bags full of hamantashen (cookies I’d baked for the Jewish holiday of Purim). He had helped himself to a few. Now that is chutzpah!

He is 14/98 years old today – and it is clear he is not going anywhere, this doggedly determined dachshund. Till 120 they say in Hebrew, when someone has a birthday. Pretzel, may you live till at least 120: a full, fun life, surrounded by so many who love you.

Pretzel2