Being Considered

            Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how many times those words pop up.

            For many of us, it began when we were quite young. “Being considered” to acceptance into a private elementary school. In some religions, you are “considered” for participation in Holy Sacraments.

            You’re “considered” when applying for a scholarship, job or internship. Same when trying to get your first credit card as well as when purchasing a car or home.

            Admittance into the college of your choice requires a waiting period while you are “being considered”.

            Over and over throughout life we sit around, waiting impatiently, as our merits are being weighed. Are we smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Even though physical appearance is not supposed to be a defining characteristic, it is if your skin color isn’t right or you weigh too much or aren’t “manly” or “womanly” enough for whatever image the college/job/internship wants to project.

            At my age I thought I was well past “being considered”. I’m a retired wife, mother and grandmother. I’m not trying to join any clubs or organizations. I have my routines that are familiar and comfortable. I’m not looking for adventure. I just want to be accepted as a write.

            This week I received a welcome email from a literary magazine that I’d been longing for. A story I’d submitted was “being considered” for publication, contingent on my making the recommended edits.

            Of course, I made the changes and resubmitted the story, knowing full well that it will still fall into the category of “being considered”.

            Ever since I began sending out stories, I’ve sat, with baiting breath, hoping to “be considered”. It’s what every writer dreams of. Knowing that someone, somewhere, sees value in what you’ve written and wants to include it in some type of publication.

            So, I won’t complain about “being considered”. Instead I will count my blessings as I wait, with fingers crossed, for the next word.

Your Reply, Please

If I knock on your door,

a total stranger,

and when you see my old-lady face,

will you offer me a cool drink

and a simple slice of bread?

Or

will you cringe in darkness,

terrified of what my visit

might mean to the safety of your family?

If, when going down a steep flight of stairs,

I trip before you and

tumble over and over until

I am a jumbled heap of bones,

will you stop and offer care

like the Good Samaritan?

Or

will you step over me as if I

do not exist and

continue your journey to the

Neverland of your office?

If I appear before you as a tiny child

with huge eyes, tears streaking my cheeks,

hands openly imploring,

will you turn away without first

digging in your pocket for that

handful of change that constantly rests

in the folds of the fabric?

Or

will you bend down on one knee,

look me in the eye and ask

what you can do to offer relief?

If I am ill and dying, a frail old woman

with nothing to offer but my stories,

will you stay a while and listen

without checking your watch every few minutes,

wondering when the ol’ windbag will

cease to breathe?

Or

will you come every day to be by my side,

offering consolation and comfort

until my dying day?

If God appeared attired in majestic robes

and called your name,

would you leap up with exultation

and shout, “Here I am, Lord.”

Or

would you run away in fear,

hiding your face from God’s tender eyes,

knowing all the sins you harbor inside

for ignoring your fellows when

they needed you most?

Now is the time for action.

Now is the time to open your eyes

and truly see what wondrous

opportunities God has given us

to help one another reach the golden path,

together,

arm in arm,

step by step,

as we strive toward the heavens,

to live forever basking

in the glory of God.

If I call your name,

Will you answer?

Wedding Fears

            I did not grow up dreaming of my future wedding. In fact, I swore that I’d never marry. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, one where my parents seldom spoke civilly to each other and to me, my impression of marriage was quite bleak.

            On top of that, I didn’t read romance novels or buy teen magazines that offered dating advice. Wearing a fancy one-use dress didn’t appeal to me. Walking down the aisle while everyone watched terrified me.

            I didn’t want to be beholden to someone like my mom was to my dad. She had to beg him for money and then turn in receipts to show where the money went. When I got older, I understood: my mom would have spent every dime. My dad had that privilege.

            If he wanted a “new” car, he’d buy it. When stereos appeared on the market, he bought one of those. He replaced car after car, stereo system after system. Too bad if my mom needed new shoes. I was embarrassed the first time I saw her wearing shoes she’d retrieved from a dumpster.

            Arguing was a sport in my house. My mom yelled at me. My brother and sister did as well. Mom reported any behaviors she found disagreeable to my dad. When he came home from work, he’d yell at me or beat me. And then he’d lecture my mom for being such a poor parent.

            My mom chased Dad with cast iron skillets, trying to whack him on the side of the head. My brother kicked me in the stomach and squeezed my arms so tightly that he left bruises. My sister would swing her legs back and forth, over and over, striking my legs with her corrective shoes. Between them all, I had bruises over much of my body.

            Why would I marry? Why would I ever bring children into the world? It was the furthest thing from my mind.

            Until I met Mike.

            When my eyes connected with his, my world turned upside down. His face lit up, his blue eyes sparkled and his body posture, casual, not stiff, drew me in.

            We became work partners and often accompanied each other out on cases. Both of us were shy and quiet, so there wasn’t a lot of conversation. His calmness, his quietness, was a relief. Every moment spent with Mike was a joy.

            Within a month of dating, we were engaged. Six months later we married.

            In the interim I had to plan the whole thing, and not knowing anything about marriage etiquette, I was in way over my head. I also had almost no money to buy a dress, veil, flowers, rent a hall and buy food for guests.

            Mike helped, thank goodness, but he knew about as much as I did.

            I was terrified the entire time, afraid that I would make such a hug mistake that he would change his mind.

            I visited a few bridal shops and soon found out that I couldn’t afford a store-bought dress. My mom was an excellent seamstress, so off we went to the fabric store. We picked out clearance fabric and trim, then a pattern that met my requirement’s: simple in style and that covered my upper body. Not too long, not too short.

            I discovered a bridal shop in a lower-income area that had a veil that would do. I wanted nothing long and dramatic. No pins to hold it in place. No frills around my head. Pretty much a duplicate of what I wore for my First Communion.

            Finding an affordable hall was a challenge. I made call after call until one fell into my price range. It was a dismal place. Very little lighting and a million dust motes. A plain slab floor. Scarred and scuffed pretend wood walls. But it was available and affordable.

            I bought flowers; the smallest bouquets possible. Just enough for the altar. Nothing grand or glorious. Food was either made by my mom or purchased in bulk. We sliced salami and bologna, roast beef and cheeses. Made tiny meatballs and spread crackers on cheap tinfoil platters. Deviled eggs filled the refrigerator, and the day before, we diced fruit for an army.

            Plastic tablecloths and bland napkins, plates and utensils.

            During my free time, I copied songs from the radio onto Mike’s 8-track tape player. That was the music for our wedding.

            Mike’s family helped out. His brother bought watermelon to serve as fruit bowls. Jell-O salads were made by his sisters. I know that they bought more, but I was too scared to pay much attention. Oh! And our guests brought food as well.

            The reception was more like a family potluck.

            Mike and I decided which vows to memorize and attended mandatory pre-marriage classes given by the Catholic Church. He knew Bishop Cummins from his school days at Bishop O’Dowd High School, so Mike asked him to officiate. We both knew Phil Josue, a good friend with an excellent singing voice. We paid for the organist, but it was Phil who brighten our marriage.

            I forgot to mention that I didn’t know what kind of fabric bridesmaids wore, so I picked out the most god-awful green taffeta with white polka dots. At the time, I thought it was pretty, but the main reasons I chose if was because it was cheap and there was plenty of it.

            Then I made them wear white wide-brimmed bonnets with green ribbons. The best part was that Mike’s sister Pat made the bouquets. They were beautiful.

            Prior to the wedding ceremony, Mike told me repeatedly that no one would care what he wore: they’d be looking at me. So I made his side wear white tuxedos with frilly shirts. Poor guys!

            When the day arrived, I was a nervous wreck. The evening before my family had descended on the hall, decorating what little we could, and dropping the food off in the hall’s refrigerator.

            Standing in the vestibule, seeing how many had come to see us wed, my heart pounded. I grew faint and felt like I was going to topple over. The march started and off I went, fingertips brushing my dad’s arm. He had reluctantly allowed me to marry Mike despite my mother’s objections. I would have preferred to walk myself down the aisle, without the guy who’d ridiculed me and beaten me, but convention called for Dad.

            Seeing all those eyes on me, made things worse. By the time I was handed over to Mike, I was seeing spots. Breathing was hard. My mind froze. I didn’t understand a word Bishop Cummins said. When Mike recited his vows and they weren’t the ones we’d agreed on, I tried to memorize the syllables as they came out of his mouth. My turn came, I did my best. We were married. I could breathe.

            Walking with Mike down the aisle brought tears to my eyes. My fears receded. I was no longer property of the people who’d mistreated me. I was not Mike’s property either. That was something we’d discussed. I was married to a man who loved me for who I was and who I would become.

            While getting married was one of the most terrifying events of my life, when it was over, I was the happiest person on earth.

Vacation Turmoil

            When I transferred to USC at the end of my freshman year of college, I went as a math major. I enrolled in Russian language classes as that was seen as necessary for the field. It turned out that I was pretty good at it.

            Not surprising, I guess considering that I grew up reading and speaking Latin at church. My high school in Ohio offered Latin, a class that I excelled at. I would have continued the study, but when we moved to California, it was not offered.

            I switched to Spanish, a language that I found extremely easy to learn. I completed three years, then when I enrolled at the community college, chose Spanish once again. The professor told me to switch to a higher level of Spanish, which I did. I aced that course, but that was the highest level the school offered.

            I didn’t want to return to Spanish in college, so that’s how I ended up taking Russian.

            Every semester I took another Russian class, not just language, but also in literature. I fell in love with the characters and stories that opened up a whole new world to me.

            That was when my dream began to one day go to Russia.

            I would have continued my degree program in Math, but the department chair destroyed that for me. This was in the 1960s, well before women fought to study whatever subject interested them. The chair told me that no company would ever hire me no matter that I was a straight A student.

            Disheartened, I realized that I had to switch to something that would still allow me to graduate on time. My only option was Russian.

            In time I passed every class the department offered. My spoken Russian was a bit rough, but I could read and write perfectly.

            My professors encouraged me to apply to grad school. I was accepted at the University of Illinois. The professors there wanted to meet me, so I spent what little money I had to fly back there.

            When I walked into the office, I was greeted by five Russian speaking professors. My mouth froze. Nothing came out. I felt and looked like an idiot. I realized then that I would never be able to get a Masters or even a PhD.

            My next humiliation came when I interviewed to be a Resident Advisor in the residence halls, the only way I could afford to go there.

            I was humiliated when I couldn’t answer question after question.

            I flew home knowing that I had no job offer and with no money, would be forced to return to the family home. A place where I was humiliated on a daily basis.

            Back at USC, my spirits soared when a flyer appeared inviting everyone to a talk by the Peace Corps.  I excitedly went, thinking that I could get posted in Russia!

            After listening to the talk, I left full of hope that I’d get to see the country I’d be dreaming about.

            I applied. Submitted all the documents, including health reports. I was turned down. Not because I couldn’t do the job, but because I’d had major surgery on my right wrist in which a chunk of bone had been amputated. The recruiter told me that I would be a liability.

            After graduation I set my sights on being a translator. I imagined myself traveling with visitors from Russia, going with them to Disneyland and other fun places. There happened to be an office near where I lived.

            I applied. However, when I was asked to come for an interview, I quickly found out that my Russian was so formal that I couldn’t speak in informal situations.

            At that point I thought I’d never get to Russia. Until I heard about the military language school in Monterey.

            I enlisted in the Army Reserve as a language specialist. I figured I’d put in time until I could get into the language school.

            Working as a translator for the Army was harder than I’d expected. I was given piles of intelligence documents to translate. One assignment was to try to figure out how many telephone poles there were in certain areas of Russia. That proved to be nearly impossible and incredibly boring. I was the only one in my division who knew Russian, so I worked alone in a dank, stuffy cubicle.

            Meanwhile I applied to the school in Monterey. I was denied.

            Realizing at that point that I’d never make it to Russia, I requested a transfer to the photograhy lab, a place I learned to love.

            In fact, the skills I picked up there led to a part-time job as a photographer. Also a number of ribbons at the county fair. I still love taking photos today.

            I married and became a mother to three wonderful children. Times were often tough financially. Sometimes there was no money for milk. I watered down juices, bought off-label canned and boxed foods, and mixed powered milk in with the jugged. Clothes came from thrift stores and our cars were well used.

            There was no way I would ever get to Russia, although I still harbored that dream.

            And then in 2020 a deal came up with a cruise company that would achieve that dream! We paid for our tickets, applied and paid for our visas, then began thinking about all the wonderful things we’d see.

            Two months before our trip, the pandemic brought all travel to an end.

            The company cancelled the cruise, but allowed us to transfer funds to the same trip in 2021.

            That was also cancelled because of omicron. Once again we were allowed to transfer to the 2022 trip. Our visas are only good for three years, so if we didn’t go to Russia this year, we lose our money.

            Here we are less than two months away from going to Russia and Putin invades Ukraine.

            We hurt for the people of Ukraine and are sickened by what Russia is doing. How dare Putin take over a democratic country! How dare he cut off Ukraine on three sides and send in his masses of military might!

            We want to cancel the trip. We’d like to visit Russia someday, but there’s no way that I want my tourist dollars going to Putin’s country.

            However, we have to wait for the cruise company to cancel or we would take a huge financial hit. We may have to do that anyway.

            It’s sad to have held on to that dream for over fifty years only to have it dashed by a power-hungry despot.

            Maybe someday, long after this war is over, we might think about going to Russia, but I don’t think so. I don’t see us reapplying for visas and without them, we can’t go.

            My story is one of a dream denied. Not as serious as lives killed and a country overrun, but on a small scale, devasting.

My Love of Music

            I bought my first radio when I was in Middle School. It had taken a long time to save up the money as my allowance was only twenty-five cents a week, ten of which had to go to the church.

            When my brother discovered Grit magazine, a weekly newspaper, I was able to earn more money. We went door-to-door trying to get subscribers. When the papers were dropped off at our house, we loaded them up in the baskets of our bicycles and road all over the rural town of Beavercreek, Ohio making deliveries.

            That simple job allowed me to finally buy that radio. I listened to popular music and fell in love with Ricky Nelson, Glen Campbell and the Shirelles. I memorized the lyrics and when no one was around, sang along.

            Music became my refuge. It took me away from my dysfunctional family’s woes. I felt the singers’ highs and lows. Their heartaches and joys.

            When my family went on picnics, that radio came with me. I didn’t have headphones, so I could only listen when I had permission.

            When my dad bought a record player, I used my earned money to purchase 45s and 78s. I didn’t have a lot of records, but those I did have brought me great joy.

            I attended a Catholic School until the end of seventh grade. A boy, whose name I don’t recall, invited me to a dance at a neighboring Catholic school. This was my first experience with a live band. While they were just a little older than me, and to me recall, not that good, I was enthralled. And I wanted to sing.

            That boy took me to dance after dance. Some were pretty miserable affairs with maybe ten people in attendance. Others had disco balls and flashing lights with great food. It made no difference to me: I had a wonderful time.

            The next year I transferred to the public school and never saw that boy again. For some reason I was enrolled in choir. I had never sung in public except for the Gregorian chant at church. Imagine my terror when the teacher demanded that we stand up, one-by-one, and sing the National Anthem.

            I knew I couldn’t do it, but I practiced in my bedroom. I was convinced that I was off-key and my voice cracked whenever I came to a high note.

            When my turn came, I froze. My butt refused to come off my chair. I trembled so badly that I don’t think my legs would have held up my weight. (I had a lot of weight!) The teacher called on me. My eyes filled with tears and my body refused to stand.

            The teacher smiled, encouraged me to try, then moved on to the next student. She never did make me sing in front of the class. She did figure out that I was an alto, however, by standing near me during class.

            By now I had fallen in love with a variety of popular singers, including the Everly Brothers, Roger Miller, and The Temptations. I bought the teen magazines that featured stories about the artists and included the lyrics to all the top hits.

To my joy, I discovered fan clubs! With a simple letter I could request autographed photos! I sent off letter after letter and when the photos arrived, I taped them to my bedroom wall. All my favorites were there, and since I had the lyrics, I could sing with them, never missing a word.

I never took a music class in high school. I thought about it, but my focus was on getting into a university with a full scholarship. My courses were tough: lots of math and science. Spanish and Social Studies. No fun electives.

Another problem was that my younger sister had grown older and controlled what happened in our shared bedroom. It seemed as if every time I turned on my radio, she appeared and demanded that I turn it off. If I didn’t, she whined to my mother who’d then threaten to smash the radio if I didn’t comply.

My developing love of music stalled.

When I enrolled at USC sophomore year, I took my radio and a record player I’d bought with me. By then I had a fairly extensive collection of records which I played whenever my roommate wasn’t around.

My parents thought that having music on distracted me from my studies, but it was the opposite. Music calmed me. It soothed my fears. Playing favorite songs quietly in the background gave me the energy to put in long hours.

Although I thought about taking a Music Class, once again, just like in high school, it didn’t fit into my major’s requirements.

I dated a guy for a short time who loved music as much as I did. He took me to concerts at UCLA. We rode in his VW Bug with the radio blaring, screaming out the lyrics. He took me to used record shops where, with very little money, I bought tons of records. Thanks to him my collection grew.

He never took me to a school dance, though. When posters advertised a dance in my residence hall, I decided to go. Alone. It was hard for me to do this. I was still overweight and saw myself as ugly. I figured that even if no one asked me to dance, I could enjoy the music.

The cafeteria was transformed into a disco ball. Someone had hung up decorations all along the walls and streamers hung from the ceiling. I was amazed but also thrilled. The one thing I hadn’t planned on was the huge number of students who would come. The place was packed.

I grabbed some snacks. Listened to the music. Wanted to dance. But I was ignored. When OJ Simpson and his gang of football players came, I snuck out. I knew that this was not my crowd.

On campus was a Neumann Center that held Mass on Sundays. I had never heard guitars and drums at church before. There was something about the folk-style that called to me and before I knew it, I was singing. In public.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I my kids were away at college that I bolstered myself up and joined the church choir. I didn’t know how to read music, but one of the singers, Patty deRidder, who was also the First-Grade teacher at the Catholic school, taught me. She told me I had a beautiful singing voice and encouraged me to solo.

I never would have taken that leap on my own. However, one Sunday no other singers came to mass. That meant I had no choice. Oh, was I terrified! But I did it.

Next thing, I was a regular soloist. Sunday after Sunday I stood at the ambo and lead the congregation in the psalm.

I remember one time when I’d rehearsed the psalm at home, over and over until I knew it quite well. When it’s time, I climb the steps to the ambo. The pianist begins playing and I freeze. She played something different! I know that my eyes got huge as I stood there in shock.

I shook it off, then sang the psalm I’d rehearsed, forcing the pianist to adapt.

Over the years my taste in music has expanded. I love country, but I also love Christian and some contemporary pop. I am not a fan of classical unless one of my grandkids is playing it. And I definitely never thought I’d like rap until I saw the musical Hamilton.

Looking back, I can see the important role that music had played in my life. It calmed me when times were tough. It brought solace when I was down. It lifted me up when my spirits were sagging. Most importantly, it showed me that I could sing. That my voice was strong enough, sure enough that I could stand before my congregation and lead them in song.

I don’t listen to as much music now as I did in my younger years, but it’s always there in my mind, in my heart.

The journey to get here was long and at times challenging. I am grateful to the boy who took me to dances. To the teacher who saw how terrified I was. To the choir member who encouraged me. To all the various choir directors I worked with over the years who saw in me what I still struggle to see: that I could bring joy to others through my voice.