Grow, Dammit!

You’ve heard the adage bloom where you are planted? Well, that sort of rubbed me the wrong way, I started thinking about what kind of growth one should expect in the time of corona, with COVID for soil. And no fertilizer!

My dad had a great sign that he staked in his garden, it said Grow Dammit, sums up his aptitude on nurturing to perfection. Now I’m thinking that might be our new motto?

After spending the majority of my quarantined time commingling with my spouse I’m rethinking the rash decision to coalesce my parent’s ashes in a posh urn up at the lake. Glancing up at the bell-shaped ceramic vase, I scan for signs of discontent, but all appears placid and calm as the lake. Anna Quindlen says, “the single most important decision you will have to make is not where to live, or what to do for a living, it’s who you will marry,” and maybe remind your kids unto death do you part?

I jest. Slightly.

The truth is my parents thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company (I’m sure they are thrilled to be eternally potted together). They did not realize it at the time but living in the shadow of their love story was the best gift they could have given Nancy and me. They built a worthy foundation, and even though I’m as ancient as hell, it continues to inform my life.

I admit I do not run to dab perfume behind my ear and pinken my lips before Larry walks in the door like Mom did for Dad, but I smile if we’re not in a fight. I’m sure he’s just as charmed.

Don’t think I’m so naive as to think my parent’s marriage was perfect, it was not, and like everyone else, day after day they to had to decide if they would coax the good out each other, or the bad. Some days I think the entire deal pivoted on my Dad’s sense of humor and a decent amount of wine.

If this seems abstract let me solidify my point, every relationship I’ve ever had I hold up to that of my parents, not intentionally, it’s what I know. Larry not only made the cut, he overachieved in my opinion, and I’ll tell you why. He’s steadfast, hardworking, and not prone to gossiping, in fact, he rarely speaks, but that’s beside the point. He’s the one I dare to dream with, laugh until I pee my pants, and even though we fight so fiercely I start googling lawyers on my iPhone, maybe that’s where we Grow Dammit, in the long crawl back to each other. He’s a good man. This for me is the essence of a quality individual, because everyone has the capacity to be wicked, it’s the ones who choose not to that interest me, and he makes great…coffee.

Thinking back on my family of origin helps me identify the origins of some of my most deeply held beliefs.

Family dinner was a standard practice when I was growing up. The four of us ate together almost every night. It was expected and protected, no phone calls, no leaving the table before being excused, and no food left on your plate (even if it was liver). On occasion my Dad used the dining table as a podium and his message was always the same, “if you grow up to be half as smart as your mother you’ll be fine, she’s the smartest person I know, and the best mother.” I remember thinking poor Daddy, he’ll never be as smart as Mom, and we all depend on him?

Dad was a generous provider, but the message he left with us was even more profound, his devotion to my mother was “somewhere between a physical reflex and a neurological response (Anna Quindlen).” I loved that about my Dad.

My parents started their life together in the shadow of the Korean war, the Great Depression, and the end of the Golden Age. A new era of liberalism would replace that of compliance and conformity. Maybe that’s why I’m so confused.

And we’ll build this love from the ground up, now ’til forever it’s all of me, all of you.
Just take my hand and I’ll be the man your dad hoped that I’d be. Smyers and Mooney

Walking down the long aisle of Mission Santa Clara on our wedding day, flanked by both my parents, I could not have imagined the length and breadth of our journey together, those passages I prefer to forget, right next to the unforgettable ones. There were visits to the emergency room for ear infections, stitches, and broken bones, but also skidding into the parking lot, water dripping down my legs, and coming home with a new life. We had absolutely no clue, but we did it anyway, and when the storms came we knew they would eventually run out of rain. Losing jobs, reinventing ourselves, holding the keys to a lake house, all doors in the long corridor of life that we dared to open, as my brother-in-law David Wood was known to say, “it’s all good.”

We still have riveting discussions about politics, novel career paths, risky investments, dinner options, but today most of our conversations go like this:

Are we going to the lake?

I don’t know?

We talked about it yesterday.

I wasn’t listening.

You never listen.

You always say that.

What did we decide?

I can’t remember.

My daughter Kelley and her fiance Tim had to make the heartbreaking decision to reschedule their wedding during this pandemic. We are all feeling their despair and I look forward to the day I can watch her make the long walk down the aisle of marriage. It’s strange how we cleave to our old ways of being in the world, before the virus, the quartine, the mayhem of canceling our lives. Maybe this is how we hold it together when imprisoned by the harsh tactics of a virus, one that terrorizes us with fear, “Stay put, stay inside, stay away from each other.” Yet I’m plagued (couldn’t resist) by the memories of what was once my reality.

The labor of letting go reminds me of childbirth, I remember having to surrender to the contractions, the pain, the pressure of something I created ready to survive on its own, the only thing left for me to do was to push, push a part of myself out into a chaotic world. If you know me at all, you know I resist severing cords, because separation from a beloved way of being means confronting the unknown. How do you unthread an entire vascular system in a few months?

All I can say is thank God I found the “one special person I want to annoy for the rest of my life (Rita Rudner),” and while I’m still certifiably sane, if Larry and I are potted together for all eternity, I want a swanky urn from Bloomingdales? If you’re trying to bloom in the middle of this blasted pandemic, but need a sign, feel free to use Dad’s “Grow dammit.” 

Previously Published on cheryloreglia.com

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