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August 15, 2005

Bending Sickle's Compass Come

I went to a funeral on Saturday. The deceased was the husband of my grandmother's sister, Silvia. So my ... great uncle? His name was Bob, and he died of a heart attack. He was 89.

I only went to the funeral to show support for my grandmother and Sylvia. Quite honestly, I didn't know Uncle Bob very well, and he was never really that nice to me. Perhaps because he didn't know ME that well, either. I don't know. At any rate, I wasn't going for him, but for his survivors.

So I drove down to Largo, stopping to meet my mom at the Women's Center at Morton Plant Hospital, where she was teaching a weekend Lamaze childbirth class. We drove down to the church - First Methodist - together, and planned on meeting my stepdad and brother's family there.

My mom and I walked in and greeted various family members - my grandmother, her eldest sister, Evelyn, her brother, Herb. Later I saw my Uncle Scott and his family (wife Lisa and kids Meagan and Zach). My mom and I went up to the altar, where the family had placed three or four collages of photos - glued to posterboard - from Bob's life.

This was when I learned that Bob was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, just like my grandfather, K.R., had been. I never knew that. In fact, Bob had stayed in the Army for 27 years, retiring as a major.

There was an entire collage of photos just from his WWII days - they reminded me so much of the old photos I have of K.R. Just the look of them - the faded black-and-white with touches of sepia - seems to denote a time that was much simpler than the time we live in now. The photos seem quaint and uncomplicated, much like the world was back in 1944 (at least compared to today).

My brother, Rob, his wife Terri, and my nephew Alex came in - Alex was dressed up wearing trousers, a white button-down shirt and a tie. He looked so adult. We sat down in a pew and I asked him when he had turned 25.

The service started and it was performed, coincidentally enough, by my former preschool teacher, Bonnie Lattimer. Bonnie - I'm an adult now, so I don't have to call her Mrs. Lattimer any more - became a minister after giving up the teaching profession. She was at the hospital (along with my mom) to support Silvia when Bob was at the end of his life.

The service was very nice. We sang two hymns; of course, being a heathen, I had never heard them before. I was suddenly very glad that I had taken band in middle school - I can read music, so I was able to muddle through the hymns on key and looking like I halfway knew what I was singing.

After the religious part of the service - which I got through without feeling very much emotion - Bob's family stepped up to the altar to give rememberances. First was his oldest son, Ronnie. He had a difficult time getting through his remarks, even though he had written them down. Then David, the youngest child spoke, followed by Cheryl, Bob's oldest child.

I think there's a difference between sympathy and empathy. From the moment I heard that Bob had died, I felt sympathy for his survivors. Even if I didn't care that much for him, he was certainly loved by his family and friends.

It wasn't until the rememberances that I began to feel empathy for his children and grandchildren. Until then, I hadn't even been close to crying. But hearing the pain, loss, and longing in these people's voices got to me very quickly.

They spoke of how Bob told stories to anyone who would listen. How he made friends no matter where he was. How he loved to sing - he'd sing to people instead of talking to them. How he'd always have a roll of cinnamon Certs around to share with others.

But mostly they talked of how much he loved Sylvia. I don't know how they met, or how long they were married. But every single person that spoke commented that Bob loved Sylvia more than life itself.

And in that moment, I realized a few things. I realized that I had been wrong in my assessment of Bob. Clearly, I hadn't known him very well. I should never had judged him as "not friendly." I also realized that it was my loss that I hadn't known him better.

Mostly I realized just how important our relationships with others are. We live forever in the memories and rememberances of others. I realized that when I'm finally gone, that I hope people have good things to say about me. I hope that all of the good outweighs the (admitted) bad, and that if some people come to my funeral just out of support for my family, that they leave thinking that they would have liked to have known me themselves.

At the end, the family formed a receiving line at the altar to greet the people as they left. This was the first time I had been able to speak to Silvia. She was always a small woman, and I'm tall ... I know she's old and frail but I felt like I could envelope her entire existence in my arms without even trying. I told her that I was so sorry for her loss, but that I felt like I knew Bob much better now and that I was humbled by the love he had for her. She thanked me and told me that she couldn't have made it through his death if my mom hadn't been there at the hospital supporting her.

I continued down the line and then got to Cheryl. I know I had met her before; I look a lot like my mother, so she recognized who I was right away. I gave her my condolences and she asked me how I was doing. But there was something unspoken in her words; I immediately recognized it, but I wasn't sure if she had meant her question to have the subtext that I was reading into it. So I just responded that I was doing well.

She looked at me again and said, "So you're doing OK?" Then I knew that she was actually talking about The Thing, and I said, "I'm doing really well - it will be nine years of remission in October."

Cheryl's sister, Regine, had been diagnosed with leukemia a month before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, so Cheryl and my mother corresponded during that time and supported each other while Regine and I were both going through chemotherapy. Both Cheryl and Regine were always so happy to hear that I was doing well, and that the chemo was working for me.

Chemo didn't work for Regine, though. She eventually opted for a bone marrow transplant, but it failed. About six months after I was declared in remission, Regine died.

Cheryl said that my recovery was a wonderful thing, and that cancer survivors are "wonderful people." Bob had had cancer, too, several years ago. I don't remember what kind; I think it was liver or pancreatic cancer.

Cheryl's comment threw me at first. Mainly because I don't really agree with her, although I fully understand what she meant. Some cancer survivors are bastards, just like everyone else. I didn't know quite what to say in response. I think I said something about how we just get handed this challenge to overcome, and all we can do is handle it as best we can.

I didn't attend the lunch afterwards; instead I went to my brother's house to hang out over there.

Later that afternoon, I told Rob and Terri that I wanted two songs played at my funeral - "MLK" by U2, and "Hey Julie" by Fountains of Wayne. This got us off on a conversation about Songs for Funerals:

Me: It all depends on how I die. For example, if I'm killed by a piano dropping on my head, you can play REM's "Fall On Me."
Terri: Or "Orange Crush."
Me: Right, and if I die in a train accident, you can play "Driver 8."
Terri: Or if you die in a car accident, we can play Primus' "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver."
Me: Now I'm thinking how I could work in "Winona's Big Brown Beaver."
Terri: You could have it playing softly at the beginning of the service.
Me: The instrumental version.
Terri: Right!
Me: And if I die after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning the bathroom, you should play Specimen's "The Beauty of Poison."

We do have an ... interesting ... sense of humor.

Then my brother detailed how he wants his body disposed of using a Viking-style funeral pyre. OR he wants a plexiglass casket that is buried within a lead sheath so nothing can get to him.

Me: How about we just mummify you, like King Tut? We can paint the front of your sarcophagus to look just like you.
Terri: But then all of his organs would have to be removed.
Rob: Yes, BUT, they'd be put into special containers solely for that purpose, so that's ok. And you don't have to paint the sarcophagus to look like me - just use death masks.
Terri: Like Mozart did.

My mom and I went out to Mama Fu's that night for dinner. Mmm, pad thai and potstickers. Then I drove home, stopping at Cold Stone Creamery for a cup of cheesecake ice cream with brownie, walnuts, and caramel mixed in.

There's nothing better than ice cream as a salve for your sorrows.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 01:11 PM | Comments (1)

May 16, 2005

My Cousin the Model

Did I ever tell you guys that my cousin Jamie is a model? She's also the mother of three, including twin boys. I don't remember why I did it, but tonight I Googled her married name and I found her composite sheet (I think that's what it's called) and her portfolio.

Jamie has been insanely pretty since she hit 15. She grew up, got married, popped out the kids, and now she looks like this:

Now, I'm not jealous or anything (well, except of her hair. I always coveted her pretty, pretty hair). I can fully admit that Jamie attained a level of hotness that I did not. The tradeoff is that I'm much, much smarter.

Which is precious little comfort when I see photos of that witch in her underwear.

I'm just kidding, J. I love you.

But know one thing – I WAS THE CUTER CHILD. Want proof? Here you go:

me and jamie.jpg

I? Much cuter than Jamie when we were kids. Of course, that ended by the time we hit adolescence. Hormones can be so cruel.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 10:27 PM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2005

Stepdad Update

My stepdad's biopsy came back positive for some sort of oral cancer (I'm not sure which type, specifically). The surgeon was not able to remove the entire lesion the first time - when you have a biopsy of something they like to get what is called "clean edges," meaning that they have normal cells at the border of the biopsy. This lets the pathologist know that the entire cancerous lesion was removed at the site.

Well, my stepdad's biopsy did not have clean edges. There were cancerous cells all the way to the border. So he has to go back in May and get more cut out (it's underneath his tongue) and have a biopsy of the salivary gland done.

If the gland is ok, and the surgeon is able to get clean edges on the second biopsy, then that's all that will need to be done. If either of those things go the bad way, I suspect he'll have to get radiation to the mouth.

That will not be good. Not at all. Most likely disfiguring.

So yeah. Not the best news, but depending on what happens in May, it might not be so bad.

This is from being a smoker, by the way.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 10:20 AM | Comments (2)

March 15, 2005


My mom called me at work this morning to tell me that my stepdad has to have a biopsy done tomorrow on a sore in his mouth. He was a lifelong smoker up until about 5 years ago, so we're a little bit concerned.

I'm just not sure what more can go wrong for the man. Heart problems, lung problems, prostate cancer, and now this. Any well wishes you could send this way would be appreciated.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 10:03 AM | Comments (2)

November 22, 2004

Three Sizes Bigger

Today I received my grandfather's annual Christmastime "update" letter that he sends out to his family and friends in lieu of a card (for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he includes a gift check, too). It's a fairly short letter this time, as he makes reference to being in good health but "slowing down some." Aww, Grandpa, you're allowed to slow down - you're almost 96.

The letter itself is typewritten and includes some color photos on the back (my aunt's handiwork, no doubt), but he always includes a hand-written message. This year he wrote:

Very much love to you always. I hope you stay well and happy forever.

Now I'm sitting at my desk at work with tears running down my face. It's such a simple sentiment, but it's so heartfelt, and it makes me feel very special.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

It's a Family Affair

Some good family news this weekend! First, I went down to Largo early-early on Saturday morning to watch my nephew's football game. He's playing for the Tigers in the YMCA recreational league for kids 7-9. Alex had an AWESOME game - he ran for one lonnnnnnnnng touchdown, then he had another long run which set up his team's other touchdown, which came when he passed the ball to a teammate.

His team scored two touchdowns, and my nephew was responsible for both. My nephew ROCKS. The running touchdown was the first he's scored in two years of rec football, and it made his mama tear up. All of us - his parents, me, my mom and my dad - were all cheering wildly for him. It was a lot of fun and you could tell that he was pretty pleased with himself (even if he was fairly humble about it).

I spent Saturday afternoon shopping with my mom. We went to PetsMart (where I bought a new litter box for the cats, aspen pine bedding for Scuddy, and a Cat Dancer toy for Caygeon), Marshalls (two pair of underwear for $3/each), the Avenue (three shirts, two bras, and a pair of underwear for $75 - love those discount coupons), and Sonic (two Diet Cherry Limeades, please!).

Saturday late afternoon was spent swimming/yelling/cannonballing into the pool with Alex. Then I had dinner and came back to mi casa.

Sunday I met my dad and my brother and his family for a Father's Day dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Good fun, good company. But I realized halfway through my drive down there that I'd forgotten their Father's Day cards, so now I need to get those in the mail.

And very good news this morning - my stepdad had his first post-radiation checkup with his oncologist, and his PSA level had gone down from 5.0 to 0.5. Almost non-existent! A high reading is indicative of cancer, so the fact that it went down to almost nothing shows that the radiation was very successful. His oncologist was very, very pleased - he didn't expect the PSA to be that low so soon after treatment.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 04:31 PM | Comments (8)

May 30, 2004

In Memorium

Today I am remembering my maternal grandfather, Kenneth Ray "K.R." Rowley, Jr. K.R. was a veteran of World War II, having served as the co-pilot of a B-17 "Fighting Fortress" bomber in the European theater during 1944-5. He was killed in 1951 in a plane crash at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., while riding along on a training flight in the Air Force's new KC-97 Stratotanker refueling plane. He was 27 years old and had two young daughters.

The New York Times ran a piece today about the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. yesterday (which I will be seeing in person on Saturday). I thought this passage was especially meaningful:

By some estimates, the dedication was the largest reunion of World War II veterans since the war ended in 1945. It was also probably the last of its size. Most of the 16 million who served in the United States armed forces in World War II have died, and those still alive, about a quarter of the total, are in their 70's or 80's. About 1,100 veterans who served in World War II die every day...

More than one thousand of these veterans die every day. More than 440,000 U.S. soldiers died in World War II - 3,000 died in one day, June 6, 1944, otherwise known as "D-Day."

I was watching Meet the Press this morning, and former senator Bob Dole was a guest. He spoke about the WWII memorial dedication, and mentioned how 90% of the cost was covered by private donations. He was asked why it took so long for the memorial to be built, and he - speaking as a WWII veteran who was greviously injured (he spent 39 months in a hospital and has lasting partial paralysis) - said that "we didn't want one."

And that really struck me about the generation of men and women who served in WWII or otherwise lived through it. By and large, if you read their stories (click on the Memories tab), or watch films and documentaries about the conflict, there is this overwhelming sense that these people truly believe they were just doing what they felt needed to be done. They didn't see it as some grand gesture. It was what the times called for, and they responded.

Dole also mentioned that during WWII, everyone made sacrifices, which he placed in contrast to the Iraq conflict. In WWII, people at home made do without some of the luxuries of life in order to contribute to the "war effort." These days, unless you're in the military, or know someone serving in Iraq, you're not asked to make any sacrifices at all. The most I'm doing, really, is paying more for gasoline.

Meanwhile, young men and women are giving the last full measure of devotion. Which seems out of balance. Shouldn't we all be asked to sacrifice a little, rather than a handful being asked to sacrifice everything?

Anyway, that's a different issue for another time. When I was in college I took a public speaking course. My topic was my grandfather, and what he means to me. I saved a copy of it, and just reread it. It's funny to read how I talk about him - my image of him is so idealized. It's especially ironic because I found out a few years later that he had not been entirely faithful to my grandmother, and they had only recently reconciled after a separation (due to his infidelities) a few months before he died.

Rather than typing it out, I've taken photos of the pages (you might need to mouse over the photos and click the resizing box that will pop up in the lower right corner of the image):

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

My grandfather is buried in the city cemetary in Spencer, Iowa, his hometown. I hope someone there put a flag on his grave today.

ETA: I looked up the webpage for North Lawn Memorial Park, where my grandfather is buried, and it says that "each Memorial Day is marked with a display of Veteran Flags, known as the "Avenue of Flags". Approximately 25-30 new flags are dedicated each year on Memorial Day. Each flag is named for a deceased veteran."

Posted by Highwaygirl at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2004

No Mo' Melanoma

My mom got the pathology report back from her second surgery and was told that they got all of the tumor, it wasn't very deep (i.e. it was Stage I) and there's nothing more she needs to do to treat it! No lymph node biopsy, no other scans ... nothing! WOO!

Posted by Highwaygirl at 02:04 PM | Comments (3)

December 22, 2003

Think Good Thoughts

My stepdad has prostate cancer.

It's not as localized as we'd hoped (it's on both sides of the prostate), but it doesn't appear to have spread outside of the prostate. So he's stage II (out of IV) on that, and the scale that grades how aggressive the tumor is came out to a 6 (on a scale of 2-10), so it's right in the middle - not slow growing (a 2), but not super aggressive either (a 10).

Now he has to decide between surgery or radiation. He's only seen a urologist so far, who recommended surgery, but the doctor also said that my stepdad should get a second opinion with a radiation oncologist. My stepdad has had a lot of problems with his heart and lungs, so radiation might be the better choice for him. The surgery would be major abdominal surgery (four days in the hospital, 4-6 weeks off work), which might be too risky considering his heart.

To sum things up: blah.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 12:20 PM | Comments (4)

December 11, 2003

Papa Bear

My dad sent me the cutest e-card ever. I love my dad.

Let me tell you a little about him. My dad used to read to me all the time when I was a kid. So much so that I was already reading by the time I got to kindergarten. My brother and I used to lay outside under the chaise lounge when my dad would catch a few rays (which is bad now ... bad!). There are numerous photos of my brother and I huddled together underneath the chaise lounge, with my dad oblivious to our presence beneath him.

My dad was an amazing father when I was in high school. I was a weird kid - I liked to shave the sides of my head, dye my hair all sorts of colors, spike it all up like Robert Smith, wear lots of eyeliner, lots of black, and lots of weird spider-themed jewelry. My dad's reaction? As long as I got good grades and followed his rules, he didn't care what color my hair was, or how many times I pierced my ears.

My curfew on the weekend was 2 a.m., and I had a car when I was 16. Those were amazing freedoms for a teenager, but they were borne out of the trust he had in me, and that I had earned.

My dad instilled in me a love of knowledge. My dad sent me money every month when I was in college so I could have my own apartment without needing to have a part-time job. He took out loans so I could focus on getting my degree and earning a high grade-point average, because he knew those things were going to be important when I entered the world of work.

My dad taught me one of the most important lessons I have ever learned - it is better to be respected than liked, if one must choose between the two. That belief has never steered me wrong, and I think about it often.

My dad helped me beat cancer. The only time I have heard my dad cry was when I called him on the phone to tell him that I had Hodgkin's disease. But he was unfailingly positive during my treatment, and especially after treatment, when I was so, so sick from the side effects of chemo - sicker than I ever felt from the actual cancer - and would question whether or not I was ever going to feel like a normal person again. He helped me embrace the concept of a "new normal," which was what I was going to have. And he was right.

My dad has always been willing to listen to me vent, or cry, or just question the world around me. He's always been there to give me advice. I don't always take it, but I love the fact that I know that I can always go to him for a wise opinion about almost any issue.

One of my favorite memories of my dad was when we were having a discussion about gun control. He asked me, "Do you favor gun control?" And I said, "It depends on what you mean by 'gun control'."

My dad said, "Julie, I respect you so much for saying that." That is, for not following some blind definition of the concept, but for questioning it.

I think that's one of the things I like most about myself - my desire to question the world around me.

I got that from my dad.

Posted by Highwaygirl at 07:59 PM | Comments (12)

November 25, 2003

Roots 66

My mommy sent me some links to Ancestry.com that contain part of me family tree! *waves small tree branch*

Alice James is my maternal grandmother. I don't think I appear anywhere on this site, but I haven't really tried to search it yet. My mom is the first listed "Living ROWLEY" and my maternal grandfather is Kenneth R. Rowley.

Oh! Here's my paternal grandfather, Robert Edwin Goodrich. I'm in here somewhere as "Living GOODRICH."

Posted by Julie at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2003

The Cutest Kid In the World

That would be my nephew, Alex. Who will turn 8 years old in a month. *sigh*

Here are some photos of Alex taken on Halloween:

Alex (with missing front teeth) playing with Maggie

Ninja Alex and Pumpkin Maggie ready to trick-or-treat

Full-length Ninja Alex

He'll shank your ass as soon as look at ya!

Posted by Julie at 06:56 AM | Comments (2)