Sunday, August 29, 2010

Turn Turn Turn

Since the last time I posted herein, a lot has happened in the Baskind household. My oldest daughter is learning to drive, and my youngest has begun private tutoring in preparation for her upcoming bat mitzvah; both are doing extremely well, which surprises no one. We've installed a new water heater and replaced two ancient toilets (circa 1976) with shiny, new, high-efficiency flush-u-lators. We struggled through a very hot summer with no air conditioning, save for a small window unit, which - I swear by all that is holy - has been my salvation, keeping my ladies from killing me in my sleep for the insurance money to buy a new heat pump. (Karen, if you're reading this, I just want to say that I would understand; just make sure I get that Viking funeral I want.)

Unfortunately, something very sad has also happened. Last month, Karen's mother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. Now, I have never made secret the fact that Karen's parents are not my favorite people - but this is not about me. Not even a little. This is about Karen. Amazing, beautiful, wonderful, strong, upstanding, magnanimous, amazing Karen. (Yes, "amazing" warrants double billing.)

I suppose I never really stopped to take stock of what Karen's mom meant to her. The dynamic of their relationship is uncommon, if not unique. Virginia was, after all, Karen's mother - she raised her, fed her, dressed her, played with her, did her hair - all of the things a mom does. But, in many respects, Karen was the "adult" in the relationship from a very early age. Virginia lost her hearing at age 2, and Karen became her ears as at a young age. In fact, Karen grew to be Virginia's guardian in many ways. When Karen's dad was at work and the Kirby salesmen came to the door, Karen was the one who had to shoo them away, as her mom didn't really understand the implied obligations of allowing them into the house. Karen understood, better than her mother, that they certainly did not have the money for such an expensive machine. And don't even get Karen started on the church groups she had to keep at bay. Every minister and preacher within a hundred miles believed they could "heal" Virginia's deafness at one point or another. The Jehovah's Witnesses would send out "deaf squads" to recruit all of the poor deaf souls in the area, bible-thumping mobs with just enough rudimentary sign language skill to persuade the hearing-impaired that they should follow them home to salvation.

No, deaf people aren't stupid, but many have a lot of "social atrophy" that is directly associated with their deafness. This is especially true of deaf folks from older generations and/or rural areas, who are often treated as if they are to be coddled and pitied instead of educated and encouraged. These deaf people are often regarded as if their lack of hearing is akin to retardation or mental illness. This was the case with Virginia. Her uber-religious family loved her, but they never gave her credit for being smart. (She was.) They CERTAINLY never wanted to let her go off and marry. (She did.) And they never, ever forgave Karen's dad for "taking her away."

This is just one of the special in-fighting situations that I was certain would make Virginia's funeral such a powder keg. And, when it came time for the viewing, let me tell you, I went into full-on "secret service mode". I circled the room constantly, looking for any hint of a confrontation, always coming back to Karen and the girls to make sure they were OK. I listened for stern voices and argumentative phraseology; I sniffed around to see who was drunk or stoned, so I could pay special attention to them. I quickly located people I knew I could count on to help me "restore order" if any actual fisticuffs broke out; there were a couple of cousins, maybe an uncle or two - I kept constant tabs on where they were, in case I needed them.

I didn't. all.

I believe there are two main reasons that nothing bad occurred. First of all, despite my general distrust of basic human nature, people were being just plain nice. No, the old rivalries and hostilities have not gone away, but hey were set aside, impressively. I did not see that coming, because I failed to take into account that these people, too, were grieving. I was so worried about my own ladies that I forgot that practically everyone in the room had lost a sister, cousin, aunt, childhood friend, coworker, or even perhaps a personal inspiration. People talked about Virginia as though she had fought insurmountable odds to attain a successful life. Funerals always exalt the dead disproportionately, and that day was no exception. People celebrated Virginia's life, as a vehicle for dealing with her death. As it should be.

The other - and more significant - reason nothing bad happened? Karen. In spite of her own emotional devastation, she was tirelessly, selflessly, abso-freakin'-lutely in charge. She and her sister took care of every minute detail in the week between the death and the funeral. Nothing had been preplanned, except that the funeral plot was in place, and even that posed challenges. Karen never stopped. She dealt with every aspect of the arrangements, from choosing the casket to deciding where all of the flowers would end up. She even pulled key people aside and made sure they understood that, until this was over, there would be no tolerance for any bickering. Karen brought peace to a situation only slight less volatile than a bar mitzvah in Baghdad.

I always knew she was a force to be reckoned with, but I had no idea that anyone could be so poised, so downright together, at such a difficult time.
As for my other ladies, they were absolute angels. Addison was fine at the viewing, but very affected at the funeral. She channels emotion like an empath, and I had to pull her away to calm her down a time or two. Aliyah prefers to be left to herself when she feels emotional, so I did my best not to dote. (Newsflash: I failed.) Both girls were sad, and beautiful, and perfect in every way. And both of them have been so good to their mother. I am more proud every day.

On September 1st, Karen and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Anyone who knows me already knows how much I love her, but I am constantly amazed at how she continues to impress me year after year. The amount of self-confidence and the presence she has developed is breathtaking. When did it happen? Was it during the same years that my first-born child turned into one of the funniest, most talented people I've ever known? Or maybe it occurred while I was busy watching my "baby" Addison blossom from cute little kitten to a gorgeous young lady with an infectious laugh and the pottery skills of a senior at an art college? I'm not sure.

Of course, I've grown, too. Mostly out...and around. I know I've fallen short of being the husband and father they deserve, but they still love me. This may be the most amazing thing of all.

I'm not really sure what the moral of this story is. I just know that I share my house with three amazing ladies, who are so impressive that it's downright scary. And I love them more than the air I breathe.

I really should get them a new heat pump.

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