March 23, 2014
“Noon isn’t great for me,” Sissy says over the phone. “I’m going to church.”
Since our mother’s passing on Christmas Eve, my pragmatic sister has begun visiting a Spiritualist church near her home in Massachusetts. After Mom’s funeral, she found herself back in New England and bereft of a firm current of belief to ride. Our mother was a Spiritualist. Sissy and I were baptized as Greek Orthodox as children, attended the Catholic Church with the Irish side of the family and then the Baptist Church with the man who became our father. Religiously speaking, we sprang from a mysterious cesspool bubbling with mixed messages and varying customs. From the heady smell of YiaYia’s incense and Greek chanting to Nana’s progressive folk-singing nuns, and on to a touch of fire and brimstone in later years, we have experienced it all and come to the conclusion that the sweet Baby Jesus wants us to behave ourselves and try to do good. We are believers in God, but we have had to travel many different paths to get there.
Mom was booted out of the Catholic Church and hung with the Greeks after getting a divorce in the 60′s, joined the Baptists in the 70′s and her divine coming of age wasn’t until the 90′s. Mom shrugged off the Catholics, “They’re just making things up! And I don’t see any of the coming around with that Catholic CHARITY they all brag about” Gave up the Greeks, “The food is good and all but I don’t know what the hell the priest is talking about and the services are three hours!” And the Baptists? “I’ll dance all damn night if I want to!”
She finally slid into her own home plate religion that embraced both the foundation of Spiritualism and the teachings of Buddha. Because it also involved Mom’s ardent love of Coast To Coast AM’s radio host of the paranormal, Art Bell, it was formally known to us as “The Holy Church Of Mind Your Own Business” lest we should attempt to torture her about this last point.
So we did.
“Mum, how do you know what Art Bell broadcasts is true? Have you ever even seen a ghost?”
“Ever seen a million dollars in cash?” she shot back.
Mom smiled. “But you believe it exists, right? Or at least there’s a possibility?”
Touché. Years later, when Mom was in the hospital, I would spend many long dark evenings tuned in to Art Bell on Sirius radio as I traveled the lonely Alligator Alley from Tampa back to Miami. That Bad Thing, the crippling anxiety that an unnamed catastrophe was hanging over us, rode along with me. Perhaps my subconscious hoped Art Bell could stave it off. Or I may have been having a nervous breakdown.
“How about 4?” I ask my sister Gale. If you follow the blog, you may recall Gale was legally adopted by my parents as an adult and therefore escaped the calliope of religion we had ridden. Gale is ambivalent about her religious beliefs.
“I’m not sure I believe…” Gale began back in December.
“Uh oh,” Sissy said under her breath. “Here we go.”
“OH YES YOU DO!” I said. “Yes you do!”
Sissy calmly interjected, “Well, I do believe in God, but I’m not sure I actually believe in the traditional sort of cloudy Heaven with….”
“OH YES YOU FUCKIN’ DO!” I shouted. “DO NOT SAY YOU DON’T!”
“OK then,” both Sissy and Gale said.
On this, the weekend of Greek Independence Day, I should tell you that, as the old in-family joke goes, “You know you’re Greek when you are aware of the concept of freedom of speech but you think it applies only to yourself.”
Does that mean it doesn’t?
As a side note, Jesus does not care how much I swear. He understands that I spend twelve to sixteen hours a day with truck drivers. He has many other issues He’s handling and His expectations from me have nothing to do with a silly four-letter word.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuckedy Fuck Fuck.
See? I’m still here, un-smoted.
He expects me not to fuck people out of their money, their hopes or their self-esteem, to leave intact their feeling of belonging to a community. To be kind when I can and apologize when I am not. And mean it.
And He turns a bind eye to the fact that I may well be a little bit of a know-it-all, but it’s for the greater good.
“So says you,” Sissy thinks but never says.
“How about 4?” I ask my sister Gale again.
“Hmm, not too good. How about 5?”
Five o’clock it is then. This will be the time when we three attempt to link up via Skype and Facetime so we may open the seven large boxes of Mom’s clothing that are staring at me accusingly from the middle of my living room. I am the host of this wardrobe conference call and it will be my job to hold up each item of clothing to the cameras and my sisters will consider what they may like to keep. I have been avoiding it for a long time.
Six weeks ago, over on the West coast of Florida, Dad became edgy about Mom’s things.
Late January 2014
“Do you want to donate Mother’s clothes to charity?” he asked.
“No,” I answered flatly.
“Well, what do you want to do with them?”
“Nothing,” I said stubbornly.
“We have to do something with them,” he replied sternly. “I need the space.”
Dad doesn’t need the space. At ninety, he’s pretty much got his wardrobe set. Golf clothes and a few pressed shirts and suits in case someone else gets married or divorced and he is required to attend either or both of those events. I understand he is doesn’t want to look in the closets, it has become too painful.
“Whattya need the room for?” I asked, trying to make him laugh. “Are you moving a bunch of strippers in?”
I heard him snorting and then a huge belly laugh. “Yup, you betcha and they have a lot of go-go boots and feathery outfits!”
It’s probably been sixty years since my father has been to a strip club. Things have changed a bit since then. But I understood. My stepbrother offered to pack up the clothes as I was working on a TV pilot in Miami.
“Send them to my office, please. Use my FedEx account.”
The heavy boxes arrived a week later and stayed in my office until March. I tried to pile them off to the side so no one would notice them.
“Hey, what’s in the boxes?” my boss asked. Terry Miller is one of the kindest men you will ever meet, especially for an executive producer. He’s also very patient with me and my various calamities over the past decade. If someone I didn’t particularly care for asked, I probably would have said tersely, “My dead mother’s clothes,” but Terry isn’t that person.
“Uh, uh,” I fumbled.
“Didja buy something good?” After my Mom’s ashes were shipped to the office weeks ago, he probably felt he was safe from any hysterical jack-in-the-box announcements.
He’s been a loyal, compassionate friend always but especially since Mom’s passing. Flowers, prayers and a full meal sent to my parents’ home after the funeral that he and Simi arranged on short notice. He was smiling at me and I felt bad because I knew my mouth was going to blurt out something stupid.
“The boxes are, ah, my Mom’s clothes.”
Terry looked at me, shocked.
“But it’s fine, I won’t freak anyone out!” I said quickly.
He shook his head. “No, it’s fine that they’re here, but uh, maybe you want to move them around a little.”
We both looked over at the boxes. The show we are shooting is circa 1978 so we’ve spruced up the office with vintage celebrity and movie posters. “The Godfather” “Jaws” and Farrah Fawcett, to get us in the mood. Unfortunately, the boxes were piled up next to the mini-fridge and directly under the nude centerfold of a 1970′s Burt Reynolds.
“Ah,” I nodded. “Well, if I put them in the middle of the room, someone might sit on them.”
Terry considers this. “True…that would be bad.”
“Besides, it’s just Burt and Mum loved him so much…” my voice trailed off. So did my boss after a beat. Simi stuck her head into the office.
“Nice goin’, why didn’t you just say it was wardrobe? Now he’s going to feel sad for you.”
The last thing you want to be in show business is the sad sack. I shrugged, “I choked.”
“Shape up!” Simi demanded. “You’re off your game!”
Then show wrapped and I finally had to bring the boxes home.
March 23, 2014
Today it is time to open them.
I have three hours to wait for my sisters to get online. I boot my computer and click over to Dark Matter, Art Bell’s website. I do this for three reasons.
1. I still have never seen one million dollars in cash.
2. The room suddenly smells like Mom’s signature perfume – Estee Lauder’s Cinnabar.
3. There have been some pretty strange things happening since Mom died.
Author’s Note: It happened that the boxes were moved to my house on March 17th, St. Paddy’s Day. I didn’t plan it that way, it was just convenient for my production assistants. I was wearing my shiny shamrock earrings and a single strand of bright green beads to celebrate with myself. I planned a green ginger ale float with food colored sherbet for my repast as who wants to drink a beer alone? The PAs brought in the boxes and one was so heavy it hit the floor with a thud. The corner of it split open and only one thing escaped. A single strand of bright green beads just like mine. Mom’s St. Paddy’s Day beads. Think what you like, I have two witnesses.