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{October 26, 2013}   I Love My Landlady

Peter Pan and WendyHer name is Wendy. Not Wendy, as in caretaker of the Lost Boys, but Wendy as in caretaker of the Lonely Middle-Aged Cat Ladies.

She is a widow, a 5-ft tall dynamo who does the hands-on maintenance for her three Victorian apartment buildings. She implements a lot of rules, so she’s certainly not for those with a problem with authority or those who like to “buck the system.” But underneath her Type A exterior, she’s a compassionate nurturer. She’s like that teacher you had in school who was so tough on you…you grumbled about her at the time, but you knew she cared about you and wanted you to succeed. Although she was annoyed at having to totally rehab the apartment upstairs when the woman moved out, she spoke with compassion and understanding about the depression and hoarding issues that dumped that problem in her lap. And she helped the overwhelmed woman with her titanic task by taking some of her discards to a local donation center.

Knowing that I have very little money to live on right now, she has given me clothes (we are close to the same size) and she has left vegetables at my door (grown in the backyard by her and one of the other renters).

I have met two of the other renters in my building, both middle-aged ladies with two cats. (For those who don’t know, it is difficult to find a decent apartment that allows pets, let alone one that doesn’t charge you a fortune to have them.) For Wendy, who has done her share of cat-rescuing, her decision to rent to us is doubly satisfying…she is rescuing cats AND their owners. (I’ll grant you that quiet, middle-aged women probably cause her less trouble than other types of renters, but I really don’t think that is uppermost in her mind.)

This weekend, the aforementioned two ladies are having a yard sale, and they have invited me to contribute and hangout with them. I will likely do that. I have had conversations with both of these caring ladies and we have some similar life-experiences. If nothing else, we can talk about our cats!

But more than likely we will talk about what it is like to have lost your parents or to not have siblings or grown children to depend on; what it is like to be middle-aged women trying to make our way alone and invisible in a difficult world. But thanks to Wendy, we now have each other.

It’s never too late for a new family.




For Father’s Day I worked on a photo collage of my father. Since he died, I think about him almost every day. My mother and I talk about how she meets people at the pharmacy, bank, and senior center who say they still miss him. He was a light in many people’s average days.

My father drew cartoons his whole life; he carried more than a few in his pocket that he could whip out at any time and show people. He never had them published; he was too busy taking care of his family and living life. At the wake, we displayed a notebook full of them and people lined up to look at them. Since he’s been gone we have found countless poems written on scraps of paper and the backs of envelopes; they were never published. The last few years of his life, he tried writing down his stories; he said he was working on his memoirs. He never finished them.

One of my biggest fears has always been that I would repeat his life, that I would be filled with regret for not doing what I wanted to do and not fulfill my potential. He had his moments — his poems reveal it — when he felt regret and disappointment. Yet my father did a lot during his 84 years. He saved several people’s lives by being at the right place at the right time and not hesitating to act: a neighbor who cut his leg with a chainsaw; an older man who slipped underwater at the gym pool. At his funeral I talked about how he cared for a neighbor’s dog that got hit by a car, and how I remembered his feeding a baby bird with an eye dropper that had fallen out of its nest. Stray animals always seemed to end up at our door; if they didn’t find a home with us, my father would find them a home somewhere else.

He made a lot of people laugh; he was adored by his family. What I have been thinking a lot about lately is that he lived an extraordinary ordinary life. I ponder how many people’s lives the “average” person touches during their lifetime? I wonder how many lives my father touched in his lifetime as an “average” man? How many meaningful interactions does a “lifetime” include? There are so many factors. Some people choose professions that are inherently influential: teachers, nurses, or ministers. My father was an office worker for most of his life, and yet, wherever he went he made friends. He interacted with bank tellers, cashiers, and waitresses; he made their day with his jokes, warmth, and friendliness.

I’m over halfway through my life and I haven’t saved any; I don’t think I have it in me (I’m not rational under pressure). I’ll never live up to him in that way. Although I am family-oriented, I don’t have my own family. I do know I have touched some lives because people have told me (some complete strangers that I did something for without thinking about it, others were acquaintances that I wrote poems for). I’m at an evaluating time in my life: old dreams have died and new dreams seem elusive.

Though I sometimes feel I have more of my father’s faults than his attributes, I now recognize it is worthwhile to aspire to be him and not dread it. We can’t all be movie stars, writers, or teachers, but we can all aspire to live an extraordinary ordinary life.



et cetera
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