The quasi-whim of Friday the 13th tattoos

I think it was Wednesday when I started seeing tattoo specials for Friday the 13th. One post on Facebook had intriguing flash— so I looked up the location. It was half a block from my gym and three blocks from my house.

I have wanted a Friday the 13th tattoo for quite some time. And I promised the teenager custom mother-daughter tattoos for her 16th birthday but between the pandemic and her age, it didn’t happen.

So I asked if they would tattoo my girl who turns 18 next month.

And the answer was yes.

I asked her— she was interested.

This is not a replacement for our custom mother-daughter tattoo, but it was my third and the teenager’s first tattoo.

She wanted the potion bottle that says “try me” and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to honor my own strength during my recent trials— and get the sword on my upper hip—or get the Zippo lighter in honor of my dad.

My dad died five months ago this coming Sunday and he smoked for almost sixty years. My husband and I toured the Zippo factory.

How better to celebrate and remember my own strength than to have a tattoo honoring my father?

And I inadvertently put it near where my name and birthday were on his arm. At least I think.

I also took three foster cats to the vet and lived to tell the tale. On Friday the 13th, I got a tattoo close to the anniversary of my father’s death by an artist nicknamed “Psycho Mike.”

It was a fabulous session and two fabulous tattoos at The Tattoo Factory in Easton, Pa.

Untitled: a post about lingering grief

They say with time it gets easier, and I suppose I have to trust.

But this week has been damn hard.

My first big injury without my father and my first bit of car trouble without my father.

Both times when I used to turn to my father.

I tried to reach out to my mother, but there’s just something about that relationship that always goes sideways. And I whatever I try to do to fix it fails.

I shared a poem I wrote about grief to Nancy, my blind friend, when I saw her today. And I think she’s anxious to see where I can go with it.

And first thing this morning— I saw this post from a very clean and well curated antique shop in downtown Easton, advertising its fresh wares.

Now I am not an antiques person, but V. Murray Mercantile puts a lot of effort into curating and presenting their merchandise. And this post featured a vintage Schmidt’s Beer lamp, which was my father’s preferred beer.

And I just wanted it. I wanted the beer lamp. I wanted it so I could think of my dad and the light he gave my life. And he could still give that light. And at the same time, it could poke a little fun at his struggles with alcoholism, because he knew his flaws.

Stroh’s Brewing produced Schmidt’s and closed in 1999, selling its business to Pabst, according to some quick, unverified internet research. That was the same year I got married. Apparently, they revived a beer called Schmidt’s in 2019, which ironically was the year my husband and I amicably separated.

I discovered this website which appears to be from the beer’s 100th anniversary merch shop, and feels like the internet version of a ghost sign: Schmidt’s Of Philly, but has a 2019 copyright and seems to be legit even though the history stops fifty years ago.

I signed up for the mailing list.

So the teenager and I went downtown at 1 p.m., fighting construction.

The store is only open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the lamp sold first thing.

I am crushed, but I know realistically it is my grief I am feeling and has nothing to do with a vintage lamp.

It’s about the little girl, who used to run from the house to her dad’s workshop with little brown bottles of beer whenever her dad asked for a cold one. He was usually tinkering with his Harley. Sometimes the lawn mower.

Either way, he usually had a Schmidt’s.

The UnChristmas

For the first time since December 15, I felt like myself. I’m still grieving. I’m still hurting, but by the time end of today (12/26/2021), the overwhelming hurricane of different emotions had pushed me into its eye. And I felt like me.

Yesterday was a hard one. My mother called early in the morning, wishing me a Merry Christmas. Really, my brain couldn’t even fathom why she would wish me a Merry Christmas when I was home alone and my dad is newly dead.

The holidays are always hard on me. They start with hope and usually end with disappointment. I had often said I wish I could ignore them all together. Just skip. And go to Paris.

There were no presents to open Christmas morning. I let the teenager open hers early when we needed some joy in the midst of funeral stuff. No decorations. I never got the Christmas tree up. I never listened to Christmas music this year— and I love Christmas music.

The world stopped when my father died.

The teenager has multiple pet sitting responsibilities. Something like eight visits a day. And her father just got his new car on the 23rd, so I had expected to have a car to visit family without her.

My nephew came down with Covid so there would be no gathering with that side of the family.

So my little funeral tantrum that led me to spend most of the service in my car apparently prevented my exposure to Covid.

I did have a bit of a something— a cold? A sinus issue? Backlash from not taking my allergy medicine for a week?

And I had hoped maybe I could go have some of Mom’s lasagne.

But by the end of her phone call, I think she hung up on me. I don’t know if she realizes it, but her last words were, “well, excuse me for being alive.”

That stung.

I thought she would understand how much I was hurting. She lost her dad when she was 21.

I spent the day alphabetizing and organizing some cards I’ve been saving. It tools about six hours, while watching reruns of ER and drinking coconut rum and pina colada lemonade.

The teenager brought home sandwiches from Sheetz. Other than that my meals were Christmas cookies and potato chips.

I went to bed around 8:30 pm and woke at 4:15 a.m. I did my physical therapy cobra poses and went downstairs to have my coffee.

When I arrived at work, my body struggled with anxious feelings, trouble breathing, difficulty regulating body temperature. I was no longer sick, though the post nasal drip is still very real.

When we got to Freestyle— our assignment for the day— there was no work for us. So a bunch of us had to transfer to Freestyle Pick and go out into the warehouse to pick our own work. And although the Freestyle carts are 80 items instead of 40 like ordinary fixes, I had a great time. I always liked picking. I arrived back in Freestyle not first but not last.

And I got to see the warming sunrise through the warehouse windows.

My guess is that I performed at about 90% in Freestyle QC/ship.

And then, at the end of the day they asked me to go pick again! And despite my back hurting a bit on the right side, once again I had a great time. The Freestyle/Direct Buy cart took me 45 minutes. I imagine the goal is 40 minutes.

That motion drove the feeling of panic away.

And before I left, I grabbed some hard-boiled eggs to share with the dog. I had asked the teenager to grab some jarred vodka sauce at the grocery store when she was between clients and she one-upped me.

She went to George’s Pizzeria and bought their homemade vodka sauce. My favorite.

And our cat foster godmother, now the teenager’s client and the teenager’s boss at Apricity Pet Care, left her a bottle of wine to bring home to me.

While the teenager finished her afternoon shifts, I made spaghetti. I sautéed a chicken breast and heaps of fresh broccoli, kale and spinach. I mixed it all up with George’s vodka sauce.

We ate like queens.

And then as I cleaned up the leftovers and packed my remaining work lunches for this week (Mr. Accordion stopped by and brought me his scrumptious halupkis that I finished today), the dog grabbed my favorite cat by the scruff of his neck and starting running around the kitchen with him in her mouth.

The cat was fine. The dog just wanted to carry him.

I poured some wine and grabbed some cookies.

And that is my unChristmas update.

Perhaps it’s time for a recap

Perhaps the dog says it best…

It’s been a week since my dad died. And I’m exhausted. We’re all exhausted. I haven’t taken my allergy medicine in a week (finally did tonight) and my head feels congested. I hope I’m not sick.

In news not related to grief, I returned to work yesterday. In retrospect, this was both good and bad. I needed rest after all of this craziness and I didn’t get it.

The checks for the incorporation paperwork and fictitious name registration for Parisian Phoenix Publishing Company have been cashed.

Darrell Parry’s poetry manuscript, Twists: Gathered Ephemera, opened to presales yesterday. And Gayle has been hard at work with cover designs for Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money. And Joan and the residents of Plastiqueville have been hard at work with the illustrations for Trapped.

Khloe and Louise

Currently I am in bed, under the heat blanket with multiple cats on my lap.

My week has included some beautiful text messages, like one from the administrative assistant at ProJeCt, and heartfelt cards and so many flowers. Phone calls. And sympathy food! Offers of halupkis and coffee cake and delivery of alcoholic egg nog and rum cake.

I have gained back the weight I lost.

My work performance today was almost normal, but my emotional state was… what’s the word? Unstable?

I called my traveling companion and told him all my tales from the funeral— and he told me it sounded beautiful and that he thinks he would have liked my dad and wishes he could have met him.

And a couple times today I folded this sweater, the same style and color I was folding when I got the call.

My days are full of loss and laughter.

I built a little shrine. A place for my dad to have coffee. Because I anticipate that sometime soon I will feel his presence here.

My mother gave me the photo at the funeral. It was from 1975. The year I was born. Probably around the time they got married.

I lost more than I thought

I try so very hard to find something beautiful to say even in the midst of pain.

I try to be grateful.

I try to be humble.

I failed today.

And that’s okay, but it’s also not, but you can’t flog yourself over the past.

So you get stuck.

In the hurt.

We buried my father today. My rock. My daddy. I feel like he tried to temper my flaws, gave me confidence when I had none, and made me laugh when I thought the world was crumbling.

I didn’t attend the services. I arrived eight minutes late for the family viewing time and by the time I made it into the chapel…

I left and sat in my car.

A lot of people loved my dad. He made everyone feel like he was their best friend. He made everyone feel like part of the group.

And he wasn’t there to make me feel like I belonged.

I’m disappointed in myself because I can hear his voice in my head trying to smooth things over, and he hated when I get emotional.

I resurfaced at the diner, with “Smiley” (one of our favorite waitresses) bringing us pancakes and fried food.

My sister Dawn, the back of my brother’s head, and the teenager

The first day of adieu

I spent most of my morning trying to be practical and do what needs to be done. And maybe get some breakfast before heading to my father’s viewing.

My morning coffee companion

The teenager went to her morning job— a cat sitting visit— and then had breakfast with her father and my college roommate.

I finally forced myself to eat an egg with some kale.

And I found myself sitting quietly.

Struggling to find shoes that fit.

We drove up to the funeral home and met my aunt and my uncle’s widow and her family. My older sister and her husband came next. And then my stepmom and her sister (and her extended family).

My uncle’s widow thanked me for my recent writings as they helped her adjust to the reality that my father has left his earthly life.

(Later, my stepmom’s nephew hugged me and his wife told me how beautiful some of my recent writings and reflections have been.)

Together, we entered the funeral home. And the funeral director apologized for being in her slippers, but honestly it brought me a sense of home.

We walked into the chapel, and my dad was surrounded with red and white roses and celebrated with so many flowers from friends, relatives and colleagues (some of whom even signed his nicknames for them instead of their given names).

Photos everywhere.

  • Photo 1: On the top, that’s a photo of my dad and his older brother, Earl Ivan Jr. or “Skippy.” The photo on the bottom right is my dad on microstock race night with my nephew holding the now teenager as a baby.
  • Photo 2: My dad holding the now teenager at the West End Fair, at the tractor pull. It was my first outing with the baby on my own. She was about 8 weeks old.
  • Photo 3: I had to take a photo to remind me of how peaceful Dad looked, with a slight smirk like he got the last joke. He just needed a remote and some pretzels. The teenager said before he passed on Wednesday morning, she could feel his reluctance to leave us, but the calm when he did.
  • Photo 4: My stepmom and my aunt, the last remaining sibling
  • Photo 5: the teenager and her dad
My brother and his dog

My mother came and said some nice things to my stepmom, thanking her for always being nice to myself and the now teenager, and my stepmom said we are easy to love.

My friends and Parisian Phoenix staff — Gayle and Joan— came. (And the whole day was a theatrical farce of people coming and going and not seeing each other.)

My college roommate slipped out with the teenager’s dad to grab sandwiches.

And my in-laws not only came but my mother-in-law, at my request, made chicken and potato salad and brought many other goodies. Including Memmy’s fruitcake and Uncle Lee’s baked beans.

It was a long afternoon — and people kept leaving things in Dad’s casket: cigarettes, a Harley Davidson hat, flowers, a racing patch.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Defining Friendship

Yes, this is another philosophical piece spurred by the death of my father. And it seems appropriate to use his passing as a reason to explore friendship, as the teenager says, because everywhere he went he made a friend.

One of my fellow crazy cat ladies brought me a matcha latte— having seen this social media post:

And several friends and in-laws have offered food or services (letting the dog out, making cookies trays or fried chicken for guests). I even have a sympathy sushi meal later today.

My college roommate, whom my dad called “Curly,” will be arriving from the Baltimore suburbs this afternoon.

Poppop couldn’t go anywhere without making a friend.

The teenager

So it makes me wonder— and remember— how many people gather around me in a crisis, even if I can’t always find someone for the everyday ups and downs.

Maybe the notion of friendship is not about how available someone is all the time, but who reaches out without prodding when you don’t even know how much you need it.

Nobody gives a sh*t, in a good way

I intended today’s post to be about my medical appointments, but grief and death have a way of sneaking into everything.

So, let me start this post by saying I’ve been released from physical therapy and let’s hope I do yoga and more weight training to improve more and free myself or even more pain.

I haven’t been to the gym in two weeks because first came the schedule change, then my trainer got sick and then my dad died.

My dad, visiting the teenager at her waitressing job

Today, my college roommate reached out to say she would drive up from Baltimore if I needed her. And I started to weep in the parking lot of physical therapy, because she and I have been extremely sporadic in our contact since we graduated. I never even told her when the teenager’s father and I split up.

I did finally tell her, but only after she sent a Christmas card.

So many people have been kind in the wake of my father’s death, but to have such an act of kindness offered just hit me hard.

And then, as I have often since we met with the funeral home, I checked for his obituary. This time, I found it.

Daddy’s Obituary

Now it could just be I’m grieving and therefore have a lower IQ than usual— I somehow got the dog’s bowls stuck together— but it is a little tricky to navigate the options on my phone to see the obituary.

And finally, my daughter looked at me this morning and said, “you know how you always say that my generation has an easier time with body acceptance… for me, that wasn’t social media or TikTok or anything, it was Poppop. He never said anything when I started gaining weight, and if I said something, he’d say, ‘Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.’”

And he’d know how to get those damn bowls unstuck.

Nobody gives a sh*t. Fat, skinny, you’re still my grandkid.

Jim Ackerman, “Poppop on the Mountain.”

Remembering how to Breathe: Homage and Adieu to my Father

My father has been dealing with illness for the last couple weeks, since Thanksgiving.

He was in the hospital twice over the last week, because a twist of complications from COPD and Covid made it impossible for him to breathe. And he wouldn’t eat or drink.

But a week before that he was here and fine.

And yesterday he was stable.

The hospital had sent him for a brain scan because he was delusional and rather hateful. And they discovered that somewhere between seven and 30 days ago he had a stroke.

Well, despite being stable, he apparently had a bigger stroke last night— and it left his legs paralyzed. And he developed pneumonia.

So… I drove to work this morning having last heard that my father was stable and my stepmom was asking family members if we could help care for him while he recovered.

I saw two deer frolicking on the Bizzy Hizzy lawn as I drove to the Stitch Fix warehouse. They were happy and bouncing around, and I was optimistic, Wednesday, after all, is my Friday.

I clocked in and headed to my assigned table and even nailed those numbers as I QC’ed my first few fixes.

I noticed the warehouse seemed hot and sticky and I suspected I smelled funny.

Then my step mom called. She had bad news. Dad was dying.

I walked up to some random supervisor and explained what was happening. Another person who seemed to be more in charge grabbed my Bizzy box and told me he would clock me out.

I had been folding a lovely jewel tone green sweater.

I called the teenager and told her not to go to school.

I drove home racing into a beautiful sunrise.

There was a drug raid at the house two doors down.

The teenager was burning a candle.

We drove to the hospital with no issue and the guard almost stopped us until I told him my dad was dying.

And then when we arrived in the room, my dad looked tiny and frail. He’s always been tiny but never frail.

And this towel in his room was folded like a swan. It seemed out of place, but serene.

We all sat there— my brother for a while, the teenager, my stepmom, her friends, and I— watching my dad gasp to breathe. They didn’t have his teeth in. My sister arrived around 10. She went to the bathroom. The doctor came into the room.

My sister said, “hi, Pop.”

The doctor hugged my stepmom.

And the teenager and I watched him stop breathing. And his death was that quick. 10:07 a.m.

I snapped this photo because if you look near that wad of cotton on his left arm, he has a tattoo of my name. And I might not ever see it again.

My dad was 73. And smoked almost 2 packs a day for almost 60 years.

I have received hundreds of condolences on Facebook today— so many little remembrances of who he was. A message from a high school peer of mine who used to do tractor pulls with my dad. Another high school peer who bought my dad’s tractor trailer. A Target peer whose mom worked for my dad and stepmom, and my dad used to try and explain the tools to him.

Aunt Sharon’s desk

We told my Aunt Sharon. But she said she already knew in her heart.

And we took Dad’s phone charger from his hospital belongings bag so my sister could charge her phone. His teeth are in that pink case. I also took a toothbrush from the hospital. Not sure why. I just wanted it.

And then we got ready for the funeral director.

And then with the viewing and funeral set, we went for pizza.

The people in the local pizza place gave us the pizza for free. My dad made that kind of impact on people.

We asked my mother-in-law if she could make her fried chicken and potato salad for after the viewing. She volunteered to make “Lee’s Beans,” too.

My stepmom’s sister arrived at 7, so after 12 hours I headed home. The teenager looked at me as we walked to the car.

“This is the first time we ever went to the car without Poppop standing in the garage to wave at us,” she said.