The Third February 27th

It’s become a tradition to write a letter to my Grandma every year on her birthday. This also serves as the third installment in my February series about significant people.

I think of you often. Mostly the good times (though we had our share of tough ones, too). I hear your exuberant voice every time I play a game of Yahtzee, and I smell your awful perfume when I bump into that one lady at work. In those moments, I always notice a glimmer of sadness followed by a snicker of joy. Rather than consider those instances a reinforcement of my grief, I choose to accept them as reminders of your continued presence in my heart and life.

When I think of all that is going on in the world right now, I find myself mourning the absence of our inevitable discussions. I know we would have common ground on many things and passionately disagree on a few. There would be tears, loud voices, hugs, and laughter. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good, heated debate with someone where it’s safe to say anything because you’re confident that it won’t change the relationship between the two of you. I know this void will take the longest to fill because of the depth of trust it takes to cultivate such a relationship. It feels like a piece of me lies dormant since I lost you as a mental sparring partner.

I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately because I don’t know what I want to do with the next phase of my life. I know what I want to accomplish…I just don’t know how I’m going to get there. In a perfect world, I’d go to your house to sort out my mind. We’d watch Singin’ in the Rain for the bazillionth time and talk about how much we want to dance like Gene Kelly. Or we’d strut around the living room while Rod Stewart’s Hot Legs played through the speakers. We’d be silly and free and light-hearted…and sometime in the midst of all that joy, the voice in my heart would give me answers to the dilemma in my mind.

You never gave me the answers I needed…you created the space for me to find them. I want to create that space for others who need the freedom to let go for a while. Maybe in that process I’ll find some answers of my own.

My days aren’t always rosy, but I’ve had some pretty great adventures this year. You’d be proud. One of these years, my letter will say I finally made our trip to Italy.

Until next year: Sunshine loves you infinity plus seventy-one.

Of Bingo and Boldness

Here is installment 2 of my February series:

 

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” That line from Shakespeare always makes me think of Dorothy. She stood 4 feet 10 inches tall in her prime. She shrunk a bit with age, but she claimed her full height all her life. Her personality could rival those of men twice her size.

Dorothy was a nurse in the World War 2 era, worked hard, loved her parents, and was devout in her faith. She spitefully told the story of how she was born left-handed, but the nuns in her Catholic school tied her arm behind her back until she learned to use her right hand. As a senior citizen, Dorothy would joke around with her priests, but give nuns the side-eye…probably a little grudge held from those early years.

She wasn’t afraid of hard choices. In the prime of her life, she took in children and raised them as her own. One of her good friends had a rocky marriage and Dorothy agreed to give some of the kids a place to stay for as long as needed. At least one of the children stayed for the long haul…my grandmother. Dorothy loved her as her own child, and became a “grandmother” and “great-grandmother” over the subsequent decades. I never knew my grandmother (she died young), but I knew Dorothy.

Oh, Dorothy was a force. She had zero tolerance for crap. She spoke her mind freely. Most of the priests in the archdiocese knew of her…and grew to love her. Inside that tough old bird exterior was a heart of gold. She had a soft spot for the rambunctious and rebellious kids, whether in church or within our own family.

My favorite thing to do with her was bingo. If she didn’t have a ride from a friend, we’d take the public bus to the parish or the Knights of Columbus. I learned all about the ritual of bingo. People are serious about their cards, the set-up of their lucky troll dolls, and the quality of the snacks for sale. I preferred the Knights of Columbus because they sold pizza and the sodas came out of the tap. She rarely won money, but the social aspect of the game was a big part of her life.

When I spent time with her, we didn’t do a lot of “kid” stuff. She lived her life and I tagged along. I got to observe her independence, tenacity, and unconditional love. She stayed in touch with in-laws, exes, and step-relatives long after other parts of the family cut them off.  No one dared give her a hard time about it because they knew they’d get a tongue-lashing or one of her infamous stares.

Dorothy lived on her own until the day she left this earth. She never had a spouse and she once jokingly referred to her hope chest as the pit of despair. I’m sure she had lonely moments, but she never regretted her life. She built a family and a rich legacy of love. She didn’t have much money, but Dorothy volunteered and served throughout her life. She taught me not to waste a minute because there’s always someone who could use some help.

When I decided to throw myself a 30th birthday party, I remembered the twinkle in her eye when she was up to something. That night I gave a tribute to my grandmother who’d passed the previous year, but there was a also a subtle tribute to Dorothy. The event took place in that old Knights of Columbus hall where she taught me all about bingo. I had a soda from the tap just for her.

It’s Time to Rock the Bald!

The St. Baldrick’s foundation has been near and dear to my heart for over a decade. They raise money for childhood cancer research mostly through head-shaving events. When people ask what I like about myself, my hair is one of my go-to answers. It’s thick and garners lots of compliments. It’s a piece of my identity.  I’ve offered to shave my head in solidarity with loved ones battling cancer, but they never took me up on it.

In 2011 I decided to raise money for St. Baldrick’s and shave my head. As I sat in the salon chair (with a bunch of people watching) I had a momentary panic. Then I remembered how many people lose their hair due to illness or chemo…and they have no say in the matter. It was an emotional and empowering experience.

This year, I’m going to shave my head again. I’ve increased my fundraising goal because the money for research is what it’s all about! I’m so happy to say that my friend Sonja is going to join me on this adventure! She is one of the sweetest, most caring people I know. This is her first head shave, and I’m excited to follow her experience. Maybe she’ll write a guest blog post about it!

So, will you help us raise money for childhood cancer research? We have separate pages for fundraising (and I’ll link them below), but we’re going to shave our heads together. We’re still setting up a location, but we have a date! Saturday July 7, 2018.

Help us fund the research needed to put an end to childhood cancers.

Click here for my page.

Click here for Sonja’s page.

Joy and Jazz

During this month of love, I thought I’d profile a few people who matter quite a bit to me. They’ve all passed away, but they helped shape the person behind The Fantastic Introvert. It might help you understand why this site covers such a variety of topics. On this site you’re likely to see a product review followed by a deeply personal story…because that’s the kind of person I am.

Without further ado, here is installment #1:

I enjoy finding adventures and memories in unexpected places with people who matter to me. I attribute some of that joy to my experiences with a man I called Fahfie. In technical terms, he was my stepfather’s stepfather…but he was so much more to me.

He taught me to find the joys in life. I have many memories with him, but my favorite took place when I was approximately eight years old. We hopped into the car with a picnic basket and set off for a large bookstore. The two of us wandered through the stacks until we found a bit of a clearing where a trio of jazz musicians were preparing to play. As they performed, Fahfie would quietly point out different techniques or musical elements that he enjoyed. I was a kid raised on classic rock, country, and pop…so jazz was a completely new world for me. It was a world I was ready to explore.

Eventually, it was time to eat the picnic that rested in the basket. You’d think we would eat in the coffee shop of the store or in the car, but Fahfie wouldn’t entertain those options. He stepped away and spoke to the store manager. Next thing I knew the two of us were following the manager to the back of the store into the area reserved for employees. The manager led us out back to the loading dock and promptly left. Fahfie set up the picnic with great fanfare on the dock. We ate with our legs swinging off the edge of the dock and you’d have thought we were in the grandest place in the world.

I had several opportunities to put on fancy dresses to attend the symphony and shows with Fahfie, and while they were amazing experiences, I’ll always have a fondness for that first concert among the books. It’s not just because that was my first exposure to jazz (though I’m sure that’s why I chose the clarinet when I joined the elementary band). See, Fahfie ate in fancy restaurants with important people…but on that day I was the important person and he didn’t want to be anywhere other than on that loading dock. His attention was focused on that moment, not on other things or other people. It was also incredibly fun to “break the rules” and eat in an unconventional space.

Fahfie believed I had things to contribute to this world when I was young and he made sure I knew it. He introduced me to fine food, art, and music because it was never too early to learn. He challenged me to grow, but he also showed me how to pause and enjoy the present. He took time to enjoy a meal with people and to laugh. Life must be a balance.

All of the ways he invested in my life not only contributed to my knowledge…they reinforced the belief that I mattered. The knowledge was great, but the confidence that came from feeling significant is what I needed most.

I carry those lessons with me to this day. I give my best when I’m at work, but when I’m spending time with people I strive to give them my undivided attention. I also remember that I have to take time to enjoy the good parts of life. Sometimes when I’m stressed, I’ll grab some nice chocolate and play some jazz to remind myself how to smile.

The next time you’re with people who are important to you, put the phone away. Spend some undivided time. You might discover something!