Last Night I Dreamed that Dream Again

Last night I dreamed I went to Bowcraft again. Bowcraft is just one of those many New Jersey things. Bowcraft is an amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ.

The sweetest dream.

Before that, though, Cassidy was doing my homework for me, again. (in real life) The wonderful thing is that although I still leave things until the night before, I now get paid for my efforts. Also, sometimes I do things the morning they’re due, just like in college, but those papers usually led to high grades. Like my paper about September 11th after interviewing a man (a friend) who saw, heard and forever internalized the impact of bodies hitting pavement. And don’t get me started talking about my 12 page paper about Walt Disney’s life and legacy. I wrote it an hour before it was due and got an A+. These days, my writing is often a lot less intense and sometimes less inspired, although sometimes much more of everything. I don’t get grades anymore but I get paychecks. Sometimes they seem too high for what I do, and sometimes they seem too low.

That’s my thing to work out, though.

Anyway, Cassidy was helping me with my assignment, only he was in pain and he was grumpy. Eventually I took over for my own project and finished it wonderfully, but not before putting both kids to bed. It used to be easier, but now there are monkey shenanigans, stories, and the right order of blankets to be placed. My stories are often ridiculous – like passing gas stories or pranks I pulled – and sometimes they’re about 4th grade teachers and what my father was like when I knew him.

I have this thing, though, about the way I remember people and how they made me feel. Safe. Or not.

Sometimes the stories are unsaid – like when I sank down last night into one of her giant, pillow animal things and she said, “You can stay as long as you need..” And then she put her “Grandma Bella” blanket on me. Grandma Bella was my father’s mother and she passed away when I was in college. She had knit a blanket for the first grandchild, or at least the first grandchild within my own family. Grandma Bella never got to meet Scarlet Bella, but I think they’d get on just right – everything clicked into place – not unlike the robot Cassidy was making for me, until I took over and made it my own.

When Scarlet put that blanket on me, I sank down into a wave of grief – for all that has been and all that won’t be – but gosh, what WILL be. I sank down and I had the dream again – like a million different versions of a story in my mind.

I dreamed I went to Bowcraft again.

Bowcraft is just one of those Jersey things. Maybe even more isolated than that. Maybe just one of those central Jersey things. Bowcraft is an amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ. It’s not huge like Great Adventure. It’s not really tiny either. Actually, it’s sort of just right. It’s where I got over my ferris wheel fear so well that it turned into a ferris wheel obsession. I started low – stuck at the top with a view of a Chinese restaurant and an ugly highway. Since then I’ve learned to love ferris wheels that give you a stuck-at-the-top view of the ocean. Or mountains. I’ll never forget my first, though.

My paternal grandparents took us to Bowcraft a lot when we were kids. We lost them within a year of each other over 15 years ago. Sometimes, often, I’ll find myself dreaming and thinking about them. I’ll send my sister a text about a dream or memory I had of them and she’ll reply with something like, “Yes. I had an intense dream about Grandma last night too.”

You know how it is when you go places as a kid before you have a concept of geography, space and time. My other grandparents lived in the Fort Lauderdale area for six months of the year. One day we went to Orlando instead and I called it “the other Florida.” You don’t think about the factors that got you to where you are. You got there. You’re there. Places are feelings and atmospheres and memories. Sometimes it’s like the man behind the curtain to find out where and what they actually are. Sometimes I’d prefer to think of them as floating memories with snippets that catch my breath in dreams.

I always remember my grandparents in terms of the senses that still greet me in dreams:

Sight – The blurry sky above me as seen from the underwater depths of my grandparents’ community pool.

Sound – The alarm clock she had that used to play, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

Smell – A musty den on a rainy day. Shalimar perfume. Blue bayberry-scented candles.

Taste – Rainbow sprinkles. Pepperoni-topped chef salads.

Touch – Cool sheets thrown laughingly over my head as I lay in a guest bed on a summer’s night.

Feel (which is maybe also touch) – My head thrown back with the wind in my hair on that very first ferris wheel.

These bedtime stories lead to the sweet dreams – sometimes hers, sometimes mine – and always in between. This is what sticks. What you tell them, where you take them, how you greet them, how you treat them, how you treat their father too.

And how you tuck them safely into bed. Every night. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams.

Do you have places like that – to show up in your dreams?

Hey Now, Hey Now, Don’t Dream It’s Over

My dad’s Facebook status on Sunday: “On their wedding day June 24, 1945. Would have been 73 years a week from now. Mom passed May 24th at 92 and Dad passed yesterday June 16th at 94. Their love was so strong they refused to be apart”

I remember my grandfather's 80th birthday party. We had it at my parent's farm and back then, there were more great aunts and uncles alive and thriving.

14 years in the blink of an eye.

I remember my grandfather’s 80th birthday party. We had it back at my parent’s farm and back then, there were more great aunts and uncles alive and pretty thriving. I tell this story all the time – to my friends, to this blog, and even to the cashier at the co-op. It needs to be told: It was Poppa Joe’s 80th birthday and we were setting up his cake. My great uncle Milt, then 90, said: “He’s so lucky to be only 80. He still has so much life to look forward to.” I remember nudging one of my siblings and saying, “See that? 80 is the new 21.” I was 23/24 at the time, and felt positively ancient. I wasn’t.

I have a complicated grandparents relationship, which is definitely why I get weird about my kids and their six grandparents. On one hand, I want them to be as youthful and exuberant as they are now – pretty much forever. It’s like I think I have control over it. They’re porcelain figurines on a shelf and I’d get upset if you tarnished even one part of one of them. Sadly, they are all tarnished. We are all tarnished. On the other hand, I hold them to high standards. I don’t like when they flake out or push me too far or pull away from us. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Too much, too little, just right.

I remember my grandfather's 80th birthday party. We had it at my parent's farm and back then, there were more great aunts and uncles alive and thriving.

I had 7 grandparents – sort of. I had my father’s parents, who somehow thought after he died that they were no longer my grandparents. FALSE. And I had my mother’s parents and they were far away. Both passed away within the last six years, two years apart at age 100, and it was hard and weird and stilted. I don’t know how good I really am with grief. I feel so broken and cracked. We don’t know as much about my dad’s first wife’s father. Her mother outlived her by decades and for the last decade of her life, I didn’t have much to do with her. We sometimes came to terms with each other in my teen years, but mostly butted heads. I’m not proud of that – it is what it is. My dad’s parents are the ones above – only days gone.

When we were little kids, we saw each other a lot and we were in each other’s lives. I remember her 60th birthday – but I can’t remember if my parents were married yet. Were we party guests only, or was the party in our house? I regret not really knowing them for the last decade. My sister said she gets sad to think of us as little kids and I get sad too – we had so much promise ahead of us. Grieving and fatherless and following the lead of the sometimes broken, sometimes whole adults. Everybody had a weight on their shoulders and a cross to bear. My grandmother died on May 24th – the day we got Astro.

Three weeks later, her husband died too – as if called by her. They had an amazing love story. They knew each other as young kids and were almost married for 73 years. My older brother and I agreed it was a magical love story. Poppa Joe was an interesting man – everything that came out of his mouth was pure brilliance. I don’t know if I grieve for the man I didn’t know well, for the one I did, for my dad, or for myself as a little kid looking up to any strong male role models. I thinks it’s all of the above. It’s all over now and all I can really do is cry in my car and continue to make sure my kids know their six grandparents as fully as possible, while keeping us all sane, of course. Sometimes we have to bend, but that’s ok.

I’m good at bending. And I think they are too.

Today is the last day of school, and boy, what a year. Kindergarten for Des and third grade for Scarlet. She said she wouldn’t be able to sleep because she was so nervous. Her class was something special – her teacher was an angel on earth and her classmates all supported each other. People noticed it. It sucks that they have to be mixed up and put back together in jumbled pieces in a new classroom with a new teacher and new friends. I think it sucks even more to not have these chances. I believe in the strength and kindness of my kids and I believe it can be a good thing. Same with first grade for Des.

How the heck can it all be over?

Do you have complicated relationships with grief and with grandparents too?