Balcony View

Balcony View
This ain't Alabama

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Before my return to Huntsville, Lacy told me she wasn’t happy and was leaving Jeff.  A very sad thing to hear; Jeff and I get along great and I count him as a friend as well as a son-in-law.  Knowing this, the month I planned to stay with them while “in transition” was like walking on eggshells most of the time.  Jeff and I spent a lot of time together looking at houses for me, watching TV, folding laundry, and avoiding the subject.  I didn’t know how to be normal with him, knowing what was coming.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t been told, he just didn’t believe it would actually happen.  I knew it would.

I understand how hard marriage is.  How love for another person can’t always make up for the demons of prior relationships, or growing up in a dysfunctional household.  How a need for trust, respect, consideration, can cause a desire for independence.  How mutual stubbornness can overshadow what brought you together to begin with.  My own marriage was so full of pain that I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, especially my own kids.  There was lots of love in our house, but there were lots of demons also.

The week I moved my belongings from Chicago was the week Lacy moved hers into an apartment.  The convenience of having a big truck was too much to pass up.  She had purchased the few things she needed and arranged delivery in the same week.  I tried to be supportive as she shopped for necessities and got “her own place” set up.  It was hard.

Don’t get me wrong – I want my daughter to be happy.  Truly happy.  Period.  But that happiness coming at the price of another’s pain is not what anyone would want.  I knew Jeff would be terribly hurt, would not understand, would go through all the stages of grief, and would need shoulders to cry on and ears to listen, and I could not be either.  I would have to turn my back to someone I care about very much to support someone I love more than myself.

I can’t decide Lacy’s, or Seth’s, life for them.  I can no longer keep them from crossing the street without looking both ways.  Or eating too much Halloween candy, or climbing too high in the tree.  I can only be there to bandage the scrapes while biting back the “I told you so”.  I can only hope that they learned something from my struggles and their Dad’s and from their own experiences until now.   I can only stand by and pray they make good decisions, that they learn from their pain, that they become better for everything they go through.

Life is hard.  We’re all selfish, and we should be.  The tough part is learning how to be selfish without hurting someone else.  Everything is a matter of give and take, and it’s so much better when the giving and the taking are done willingly and happily.  When there is an equal balance between each.  And when you aren’t just willing to, but want to, put yourself aside for someone else’s happiness.  Without an underlying expectation of reward or return, and without holding it over their head at some future moment.  Look how good I am; look what I have done for you.

At least that's what I imagine a great relationship to be.  Not having had one myself, I could be wrong.


I finally have a grandson that I can hold, and hug, and that doesn’t cry when he sees me.  When I returned from my adventure in Chicagoland, Lennon was not used to seeing me, didn’t know me, and didn’t want to know me.  For a few months now it’s been a slow process of getting him comfortable around me.  His mom said he had a thing about dark hair, and that a dark-haired friend of hers caused the same reaction in him.  So I tried pulling my hair back when I was around him.  That helped some, but there was still a lot of apprehension on his part about getting too close to this goofily smiling stranger that looked like a Grimm Fairy Tale witch.

It was frustrating and lessened my joy of being around him, of course, but nonetheless just being able to see him, how he’s grown, and his interaction with his dad, was better than not seeing him at all.  Slowly, as he started to realize this person was going to be around so get used to it, he because less afraid of me.  There were a few visits where, by the end of our time together, I at least got a kiss.  Then one night, I went to visit while Seth was there with him.  Before I left, we sat on the end of the bed watching his favorite show, and I reached over and held his hand.  He didn’t flinch and say “noooo”.  Of course he was oblivious, watching Phineas and Ferb.  But it was something. 

A week or so later, I was asked to babysit him while his mom went to dinner.  Oh boy….big test.  Seth was there for the first hour or so, but when he left, I expected tears and cries of “mom!!!” or “dada!!!” and a miserable couple of hours while he was scared out of his mind.  Quite the opposite.  He didn’t seem to notice that Dada wasn’t there anymore and we played, and ran through the house, and watch “shows” and he was fine.  Still didn’t want me to hold him or be too close for too long, but it was wonderful.  At the end of the evening, I got a big hug and a big thanks from Mom.  Finally! Gramma can babysit!!

Just yesterday, I was at Seth’s when Lennon came to spend the night.  At one point I grabbed him and his “nigh-night” – which is any fuzzy blanket – and sat down on the sofa with him in my lap.  He didn’t cry, he didn’t squirm to get away, he just sat contentedly with Gramma.  Seth smiled, I smiled – it seemed the fear of the dark-haired stranger was gone.

I’ve imagined time with grandkids; watching them play in the yard, baking cookies with them, drawing sidewalk pictures with chalk, teaching them the things grammas teach grandkids.  I don’t know if there will be more than Lennon, which does make me a bit sad, but even if there’s only him, we will be best buddies and Gramma will be that fun old lady that he loves to visit.  I’ll spoil him mercilessly, let him do all the things he’s not allowed at home, stay up all night watching movies, learn to use a knife, get muddy from head to toe, drive before he’s fifteen.

This Gramma will be a partner in crime as well as disciplinarian, like my Granny was to all of us grandkids.  When Lennon, and any others that might come along, is grown, I hope he remembers me the way I remember her – laughing, shooing, teaching, inspiring….and making the best big ol’ teacakes in the world.


So, here I am, back to my roots.  It’s been strange, being back.  I guess after being away for exactly two-and-a-half years, it should be wonderful to be back.  It should be great to be home.  And it is in many ways.  I found a house that is pretty close to just right.  It’s very nice in a very nice neighborhood and lots of space for a household of one.   Nothing had to be done to move in, although it can use new carpet, and the linoleum kitchen and baths need updating, and the decent but not amazing cabinets can’t hold a candle to the beautiful hickory ones I had before.  Luckily everything is in good enough shape that I didn’t have to do anything but load my belongings into the space. 

Still I wonder if I jumped into ownership too quickly.  It feels good in my gut, so it must be okay.  Usually I can tell if it’s “right” or not, and there was nothing about this that didn’t feel right.  In fact, the only thing that didn’t feel right about the whole move was leaving Chicago.  I chalked it up to sentimental attachment to the place that so quickly felt like home; to the excitement of the city, to the view I never tired of and the ease of moving around town.  To the people and places I came to know, and the things I never got around to.  But I would be back where everything was familiar, where I have family, and friends, and real life.

So, here I am.  I look out the window and see my big backyard.  I listen at night to silence.  I walk around the neighborhood and look at house after house that pretty much look the same.  Sure there are mountains in the background, and friendly faces, and sometimes I hear a mourning dove calling, and I so rarely hear sirens that I actually notice them when I do.  I can even hear the passing freight train in the distance if I listen.  It’s all very nice; it’s all what I’ve known almost all my life.  So why don’t I feel better about being here?

I miss walking around town and discovering new sights every day.  I miss being able to do almost anything I want without getting in a car.  I miss deep dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches and chopped salad and the best buffalo chicken pizza and bruschetta in the world, at least in my experience.  I miss the train ride to and from work.  I even miss the office although almost everyone I knew is no longer there.

I recently acquired a roommate – a kitten that had been dropped off at a Vet office down the road.  I don’t know what his life was before coming to live with me, but I let him outside once and he seemed in awe of the grass and the leaves blowing around and all the SPACE and bushes to hide in.  After coming back inside, he would sit at the door or window and peer longingly at the big outdoors.  I feel like that – like I was allowed to discover this whole, big, shiny world out there, and now I’m back inside my house peering longingly at my memories of the city.

Yes, I should feel better about being back, and I feel some level of guilt that I don’t.  I sometimes wonder if I should have stayed in Chicago, if I would be happier, or feel more “at home”.  Then, I think about all the things I missed when I was there; my family, the mountains, the simplicity of living, having pets and a yard and the privacy of my own house.  I know that as Spring springs and I am able to dig in the dirt and bask in the Southern sun and mow my lawn and do all the things that have long been passions of mine, I’ll know that I’m in the right place.  I’ll know that my gut was telling me that this is where I belong.  And it was right.

final weekend

My final weekend in Chicago was spent with Lacy and her friend Kristen who flew up from Orlando to join us in our last blast in the city.  I had not been "home" in a month, working in Huntsville and living in Lacy's guest room.  Finally it was time to pack it all up and drive south.

I decided rather than pay a moving company to do all the work, I would just rent a truck, hire someone to load it, and handle the rest by myself.  Well, by myself and Lacy.  After a fun-filled 2 days, we spent all of Monday packing everything up.  Had to walk 3 blocks to Office Max twice for boxes and used every one of them.  Tore everything apart, broke everything down, and finally crashed exhausted and anxious for what Tuesday would bring.

Up early and taking a cab to the Penske rental place, with me sending up constant silent prayers that I could drive a 16' truck through the city streets without taking out anyone or anything.  So very, very thankful that there was no early snow event in the forecast.  We (barely) made it back to the condo after a harrowing stomach-in-my-throat drive down Chicago Ave with morning traffic.  I only almost clipped one car.  At least I think I almost clipped it...I didn't see any extra scratches on the rental.

The movers came and gave me another reason to panic; they were concerned about the size of the truck I had rented and whether everything would fit.  Judging the "rooms" that the Penske people said it would handle, I thought we were fine.  What would I do if everything wouldn't go??  Start selling off real quick?  Rent a 2nd truck?  Scream??  Thankfully there was no reason for panic and I don't know if the mover guy realized how much stressed he caused me.  I tipped them well anyway just for being really nice guys and handling everything quickly.

Quick goodbyes around and here we go.  Two Chicks and a Truck with a 10-hour drive ahead of us.  Whatever possessed me to do this?  Let me just say here that I handle most things pretty well, but where I lose it is when I have no control over a situation and it's not going as planned.  So anything....ANYTHING...going awry on this trip would just be overload after all the planning and working and stress I'd already been through.  Needless to say, as usual, my fears were for naught and we made it in record time.  Not a hitch in the trip at all.  Even with a short stop at the handy-dandy outlet mall in middle Illinois where Lacy bought a present for herself (a beautiful Coach purse that was on ridiculous sale), and I bought a skillet.  What does that say about us??

We pulled into the back yard of my newly purchased house, unlocked the door, and crashed on the newly shampooed carpet that was still a bit wet.  After a few hours of not-really-great sleep, we were up and unloading.  Seth came to help and the house was slowly starting to look more like a home.  Full of boxes.  That I would have to unpack.  I didn't even know yet where things went.  I prayed to the goddesses of household to guide me and help make quick work of it all.

Being the organized, efficient person that I am, I had invited my family to spend Thanksgiving, which, um, was the following day, at my new place.  Yes, I'm not quite altogether all together.  No matter - Tim and Vickie brought leftovers from an earlier feed and we made do, and had a great time of family fellowship and food.

After everyone left, and I was tired and alone in my new place that was familiar only because of my things being placed in it, and reflected on the preceding days.  The weekend in Chicago, the packing and moving, the time with family that I was happy to be a part of again.  The finality of it all; here I was, back in Alabama in a house hastily purchased after a move hastily accomplished.  Would I be "okay"?  Always.  Could I settle back to small-city life?  Sure.  Would this house be a home?  Of course.  Really??  We'll see.

catching up.....again

I've done some writing outside of this venue since my move, and I'm going to transfer them to Grits in the City now.  I guess I'm not sure how to continue the blog since I'm no longer "in the city", but I still have a life that has been influenced by my time there and I'm still very affected by my time there, so my story continues. For now.

I'll try and get these in some sort of order, but since my life seems to be mostly without order, that may be difficult.

I also have a lot of holes I need to fill in along the way from the past 3 years, so maybe I can also do that in the coming weeks.  Winter is a good time to write and reflect, and feel like you're doing something constructive.  I do appreciate anyone who takes time to read my feeble attempt at documentation.  Maybe this will help me fulfill a long-time dream of writing something worthy of publishing.  I'm not counting on it, but it would be nice.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I don't know how many more of these blog entries I'll make - probably at least one final one documenting what I hope won't be a too adventurous trip for Lacy and myself with all my stuff in a huge truck.  Worst case scenario, it will snow.  A lot.  I don't even want to think of that right now.

I do, however, want to mention the people I will miss, some a great deal.  There aren't a lot - I'm not a hugely social person - but there are a few that have touched my life in some way and who I will not forget.

I'll miss my building people.  Shelly and Terry, doormen extraordinaire, who have embraced me, my family and friends, and have made coming through the front door of the building a pleasure every time.  There's also Carol and Lazinya, and I can't forget sweet, handsome Val who was only there a couple of months after I moved in.  Also my neighbors, Norma across the hall, Gayle and her fiance' who's name I can never remember who lived next door to me.  There's the couple with the 2 kids - one born shortly after I moved in, and one just last year - who were always nice even though they did let their oldest run back and forth through the hallway while waiting on the elevator.....

There's also the couple who were Alabama fans because they have a daughter in school there, although the wife leaned toward Auburn and had an Auburn shirt.  There's the little girl on the 10th floor who I would see sometimes as I was going to work and she school - I watched her go from a chunky 6th grader who was afraid to ride the bus because the older kids picked on her, to an awkward 7th grader trying so hard to be cool, to the current 8th grader who has grown taller and slimmer and very pretty and definitely more confident.

There's the older woman who tries to know everyone in the building, but she asked my name about a hundred times in 2 and a half years.  I can't say anything - I don't remember hers either.  The lady with the beautiful golden lab that was so sweet.  The big guy with the tiny yappy dog, the guy in the wheelchair, and the strange guy who lives on 18 - the penthouse - and his crazy "theme" parties.  I won't miss the folks a floor down who were loud and obnoxious at times, or the ones a floor up who were loud and obnoxious at times.  I hope I wasn't as loud or obnoxious at times.

I'll miss my city friends:  Chris, Leo, Eddie, Lidya, and the others that I met at the Hop Haus and who became friends and who listened to me and my woes and joys almost as much as I listened to them and theirs.  Of this bunch, Leo who thinks the world of Lacy and Jeff, decided he was a U of A fan, left his fiancee' 3 times in the past year only to return with renewed resolve (every time), and has been a really good friend at times.  Chris who took a liking to us all the first day we met, and remained a friend after he had moved on to another job...crazy, funny, at times sad, I'll miss Chris.  And his girlfriend Monie who is sweet and young and impressionable, and who wants to visit me in Alabama.

Eddie....what can I say about Eddie?  Sweet, hot, a bit shy at times, and who I'll never forget for reasons I won't mention.  But I will say that I'll miss how he always tried to not charge me and was always overly generous with the alcohol and thinks I'm really cool.  And loved sharing buffalo chicken pizza with me.

Lidya and the other various servers and bartenders I knew over the time I was there; Hannah (crazy Hannah), Rachel, Ozzy, and the rest.  Scattered like leaves in the wind to other careers or bars around town.  Of course, I'll remember Tina, who always asked about my family, individually, even though she had never met them, and her partner of 7 years who made the Pride Parade a day to remember.

People that I met around town:  Genesis (sweet, talkative), Chris "Aflac" (finally gave up asking me out), James (ditto), Alex and Croy (another story), and several others who came and went over time.

A special shout out to Jessie, manager at Caribou Cafe' at Union Station, who would give me a double shot if I looked tired, and is an absolute asset to that company, and they'd better recognize.  The folks at Massage Envy who were so adept at working out knots in my shoulder and back, the guy at the 7-11 on the corner, and the great gals at Salon Excursion (Shellie, Yoon, Stella, Chloe, Manda, Su, and all the rest).

Another special mention - Erika, my darling, darling, Lancome rep who took such good care of me and who said I made her miss her mom back in California.  I actually had a voicemail from her last week so I HAVE to make sure I see her when I go back to move.

Oh boy - many, many work friends, some of whom I'll still work with from afar, and many who have left the company in the past few weeks (or will soon).  Cedric (a great boss), Roselette (congrats on your engagement and new job - and pooh on you for leaving - and thanks for being you), Mike, Kocur, Dave, Steve, Renelle, and many, many more - even Tiffany who is a pain in the rear, and Butzier who made my life hell for a few months.

My train friends - Megan, Grady, the Indian guy who I never got his name right, the lady from Australia who was so funny, and the rest.

And the people at Lou Malnati's for great pizza, Geno's for delivering great pizza, Al's Beef, Portillo's, Chipotle, Jake Melnick's, Yolk (crazy-hair guy....I was always afraid something would fall out of that hair into my plate), Eggsperience, Brunch, Green Door Tavern (Jessica, my first friend in Chicago), Club Lago (birthday kiss and fabulous food), Fado, RBG, "Eat and Drink Here" Bar on Clark, Steve's Deli, Bull and Bear (cut me off after 2 hours!!), Fat Cat's, Goose Island Grill, Cubby Bear, Lucky's, Messners/Wagon Wheel (Auburn games),  Glenn's Diner, Red Ivy, Sports Corner, Leona's.....more and more.  Okay, and the Houndstooth.  Happy?

Thanks to everyone I've encountered, good and bad, homeless, helpless, happy, sad.  The great majority have been friendly and accommodating and have made my experience even greater than it would have been otherwise. 

about face

So since my last entry, I did get an answer to my application for the VSP, and it was denied.  Denied, meaning I was not approved to leave the company with a nice package, but with a contingency.  I was asked "if we deny your application and agree to move you back to Alabama, will you stay with the company?".  Of course my answer was yes.  So in reality, I get the best deal I could hope for - I'm going home, not on my own dime, and keeping my job.  Talk about burden lifted!

When this was presented to me, it was not entirely a done deal.  So, I waited for 3 weeks to find out "for sure" what was going on, and when I would be expected to relocate should it come through.  I was on the train to work on a Friday morning that was supposed to be "D-Day" for all who applied and others who didn't but would be laid off involuntarily.  I got a call from a friend and co-worker in Huntsville who told me that the controller there had been laid off that morning.  I was shocked and confused; he was not supposed to be one that would be cut - he was, to our knowledge, solid.  Suddenly there was a fear of "who's next?".

When I got to work I sought out a former Huntsville manager who had taken on a new capacity which required him to be at the corporate office a few days per month.  He confirmed the story and told me of another Huntsville co-worker being cut.  He also explained that none of this had anything to do with me or the plans to move me back; the lay-off plans had been decided long before, and it was a benefit for the company that I was willing to help the staff by moving back.

So, it was with a heavy heart, but a glad one, that I accepted the offer to return, at company expense, in a slightly different capacity.  Additionally, I would be working with a colleague I had known for several years who had recently moved to Alabama and would now be my boss.  Oh, and by the way, could I be in Huntsville to start working in a week?

That was early September.  Now is late October, and in the past few weeks I've arranged to terminate my condo lease, moved in temporarily with Lacy and Jeff, and found a house that I'm closing on in 2 weeks.  I've scheduled movers to load a rental truck I've scheduled for the move, scheduled flights for myself and Lacy, scheduled to have the condo cleaned once I'm out, and Lacy and I will drive a 16' truck from Chicago to Huntsville a couple of days before Thanksgiving.  Pray for us. 

In between all of that, I've moved into my office at the Huntsville plant and am trying to get re-oriented to plant operations.  All of the staff is the same with the exception of the 2 that were laid off and the 1 that is now covering both Huntsville-based locations along with one near Muscle Shoals.  My former co-workers seem a bit unsure of me; they're not sure whether I'm one of them or one of "them" meaning those corporate people who are not to be trusted.  Fact is, I have changed.  In spite of feeling my goal in working "up north" was not completely fulfilled, I have gained a broader understanding of company operations, and of what is expected from the plants and why.  I'm like a half-breed; partly plant, partly corporate, and I think that should be an advantage to everyone.

So my move is in the works and I'm excited to be planning various projects for my new home and how it will benefit my family and myself to be back in Alabama.  I have a play-set in my new back yard for Lennon that the sellers have agreed to leave.  I have plenty of space for all my junk, and enough ideas on what I want to do around the house to keep me occupied for the next year.  There are downsides, things going on with my family that are unwelcome distractions, but at least I'll be around instead of 600 miles away.  I'm glad for that.

Yep, it's hard to leave the city that has been home, and I will miss so very much about it all - my work friends, my city friends, the condo and all that goes with it.  But I'm so very appreciative of the opportunities and experiences I've had.  I know now that I can embrace change and challenge and survive.  I took on the city with nothing but my own spirit of adventure to shore me up and proved to myself (and all who doubted I'd make it) that I'm strong and capable and secure enough in myself to make it work.

It's not a huge accomplishment - people do what I've done every day, and more.  But it's my accomplishment and the next time some unexpected opportunity comes my way, I'll tackle it full force like a mad linebacker.  I just have to wait for that next chance to come along; I might even go looking for it if I get bored in the quiet of Alabama.