Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day one thousand four hundred and forty eight . . . Doing what I can.

The days just blend and froth like so much whipped cream in a mixer.

Whirr . . . whirrrrrr . . . whirrrrrrrrrrr . . . clank!

And then it's done and you taste it. If you're like me you stand back and wonder, "can I put my finger back in and taste some more without washing my hands first?"

You think about all the people who might end up eating the whipped cream you just made. If it's just you--and lucky you if it is--then you might as well just have a handful. But if not, it's best to be polite--no matter how clean you think you are on a regular basis--and give your hands a rinse.

Perfect! Just as you thought.

My year just flew by like that. When I think of what I was doing last December it's astonishing to think that it all happened within 365 days. I was in New Zealand touring with the Young at Heart. It was a great trip, made even nicer by the inclusion of Jodi. We played those shows and came back and relaxed for a little bit and got ready for Christmas.

Then it was February and the earthquake hit Christchurch and I wept at my computer for a good long while. I cried for the people I met there and the beautiful buildings I saw, the parks and the theaters, the restaurants and the shops, many of which are gone now because of the horrible disaster.

Less than a month later Japan--where I was on tour the previous spring--got hit with the massive earthquake and tsunami. The destruction was unthinkable and the repercussions I'm sure won't be felt fully for years to come. I cried for those people, too. Halfway around the world seems like from here to the moon until you make the trip yourself.

We moved on into the springtime and baseball started like it always does.

I turned the ultimately insignificant age of forty one.

I went to Poland in July and toured there. I got to visit with my not-too-distant relatives. It was a wonderful time that I won't soon forget.

Jodi and I went on so many trips I have to check the photos in my computer to reassure myself that they all really happened in one year.

We had friends over to our house.

We were honored to be included in the library's annual garden tour. Four hundred strangers (and a few friends) traipsed through our pretty little postage stamp of a yard.

We had an end of summer party for the people we're close to.

Jodi turned another year older.

There was a tornado.

There was an earthquake (albeit a small one, though Jodi's mom felt it 400 miles away).

There was a hurricane.

And we moved into the fall and baseball ended like it always does.

We had a snowstorm in October and were without power for three days. Our poor neighbors to the east and south were without electricity for a week or more in spots.

A dear friend lost his father after a long fight with an all too familiar foe.

Jodi and I went to western New York and enjoyed fully the wonderment that is family at Thanksgiving. A new niece for her came this year to go with the twin girls her brother and sister-in-law have already. Her mom and dad took us out for regional specialties like "Beef on Weck" and sponge candy. We got to spend time with her great aunt who helped fill in the blanks on the robust limbs of her family tree. We made the rounds to both sides of the family's aunts and uncles, had wings at Duff's, a successful stop at Mighty Taco, and then we went home and got ready for Christmas.

And here we are, ten days from Christmas Eve.

It's also the eve of my Aunt Lynda's birthday. She would be sixty four tonight at midnight.

We went through a lot together, Auntie and I. It always seems strange to think of how much closer to me she was than just being my mother's sister. She was the father figure to me in both her demeanor and her philosophy. Though she didn't have as much authority over me as my mom did she could see where my mom was perhaps, how do you say, letting me get away with murder, and she tried to plug the hole of permissiveness as it were.

It unfortunately did little good and I ended up having to learn the hard way how my life was headed for a brick wall. I slammed into it admittedly headfirst, but not before mercifully being slowed down by a speed bump or two. And if I hadn't had those few scrapes to show me how fast I was really going I probably wouldn't have escaped that brick wall with my life. I'm not being overly dramatic here. This is real. I almost wasn't going to make it to forty, a not-so-insignifcant age if I do say so myself.

I did what I wanted. I did what I shouldn't have. And then I did what I could.

That is the way my life played out from the time I was old enough to understand the word "no." I told anyone who would listen that sobriety wasn't for me. I said the words with perfect diction. I said the words in an almost undecipherable slur. And then I hit those speed bumps, I evaluated the damage and then I had to take some of them back.

And here I am at five in the evening on December fourteenth writing in my little journal.

I'm doing what I can.

I'm trying to keep the east coast Johnson name an honorable one. God knows it's been in the newspaper for enough things over the last hundred years or so for a rainbow of reasons. From my grandfather becoming the president of the Kiwanis chapter of Fall River, to my grandmother heading the local seamstress union and fighting for workers rights (not to mention her "master ruffler" status that I just found out about) to my mom winning scholarships and taking whole classes of students to Poland, my uncle being aboard the U.S.S. Nautilus on the first manned nuclear sub for the navy, my aunt passing the bar, and to me for the successful shows I've been a part of and for the few embarrassing stumbles off the edge of the stage that I wish I could retract.

I've written a lot about my sobriety. I've also written a lot about my aunt. But they go so closely together sometimes. She was such an integral part of my success. She never told me "I told you so" even though she did. She never made me feel like I was powerless over my demons even though I thought I was. She never let me forget how much she and my mom loved me even though I could find ways to pretend that they didn't.

And she never gave up on me even when I had.

Her birthday was always something she celebrated with my mom. They lived together (in separate parts of the same house) from around 1975 until my mother's death in 2007. As I was limited with my transportation for so many years it wasn't often that I could make a special trip home between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But they would come to my house sometime around the fifteenth and we would go to dinner. Then my mom and I would make her stay in my bedroom while we put a few presents together and a take out a cake and light some candles. Then she'd be allowed back in to the living room of my small apartment and we'd sing "Sto Lat" the Polish birthday song. There would be gifts. There would be jokes. We'd rile her up and get her going because that's what my mom and I were good at. It was all for fun though you wouldn't know it at times from the expression on my aunt's face. But we'd have a good time and then they'd get back on the road and head home the two hours east.

My birthday is in May. I like it there because it's a nice halfway point in the year. It's a beautiful time to be outside and my mom's is the week after.

My aunt never did have it easy. Ten days from Christmas is not ideal for any holiday let alone your birthday. I suppose you notice it more so when you're younger and your parents have to split up the goodies with a little more practicality. Especially with two older siblings I'm sure there were fights over who wanted what for Christmas and why Lynda always got so much in one month. Judging from the old toys I've been unearthing--some to sell; others to discard--there were plenty of gifts for all the kiddies all the time.

But now that I'm older I can see that it maybe wasn't just the mere fact that it was close to Christmas that was rough for her. Maybe it was that it was so close to the start of a new year. I don't think of May when I'm in the month of December. But I think about how long I have until the end of the year a lot for all kinds of reasons.

And when I do get to the end of the year I try to sum it all up like a book report. I think of all the good things that happened. I think of all the bad things that happened. I think of all the things I wanted to do and all the things I was lucky enough and persuasive and/or persistent enough to pull off. I try to grade it, and I like to look ahead to the sequel.

It's a lot to put on one plate let alone comprehend the fact that one is now another year older.

And not that I feel like I'm "old," but someday I hope to be.

I am anticipating a day when I loathe the thought of another birthday cake, deliciousness aside, because it means I'm closer to the next decade of my life.

I hope someday to receive the AARP magazine in the mail and actually qualify for its demographic.

I relish the idea that someday I will be able to see the children of my friends become the age I am now, even if that puts me in my eighties.

And I like to think of these things even though the odds seem to be against me. I know that my breed, as it were, doesn't historically have a lengthy life span and I have to be prepared for that.

My aunt wasn't prepared for it. But she looked her fate square in the eye and dove in head first. She turned those last few pages of her life one by one with a heart full of love and the knowledge that this guy right here--Frederick Alexander Johnson--was on the track to doing what he needed to to keep the family name alive.

She didn't get to celebrate her sixty first birthday, but I'll make sure she gets a little recognition every year no matter what.

My mom always made the best whipped cream. I'd always fight my aunt for prize of being able to lick the mixer beaters. She ended up scraping the bowl and she always said that was fine with her. Give her the bowl and a spoon and it just put a big smile on her face.

I was always the one getting myself covered in the stuff . . . and that was always fine with me.

It's a few hours early, I know, but Happy Birthday, Auntie Lynda. Sto lat, too.

I love you. I miss you. And yes, I should have listened to you oh so long ago.

Thanks for reading,


PS: As I do every year I will be making a donation in her memory to her favorite charities: A Helping Paw and Habitat for Cats. She loved her cats almost as much as she loved me. And that's saying a lot.

For more information follow the links above. Thanks.