Tag Archive for: memories

There is an autographed, glossy, 8×10 photo of Bill Cosby on
my mantle. It has been there for years, although in the last several months it
has been face down so I don’t have to see it every time I sit down to watch TV
with my kids.
Many of the most cherished moments of my childhood involved
Bill Cosby.  Much of my childhood
was tumultuous, peppered with divorces and multiple moves and brothers and sisters
split up into different households.  My parents hated each other, but in the years before their
divorce, at least once a week my siblings and I would lie belly-down on the
shag carpet in anticipation while Dad packed his pipe with sweet-smelling cherry
tobacco, pushed the 8-track in, and settled in his favorite chair. We spent
hours listening to tales of Fat Albert, rolling around in hysterics and trying
desperately to stifle our giggles so we wouldn’t miss the next hilarious line
about the dentist or Buck-Buck Number 5. Those evenings were magical. There
were few things that we could all agree on – vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s
syrup and Cosby’s routines being the only two I can recall now – and we
listened to those tapes until we could recite them verbatim. I used to delight
in spontaneously rattling off a line in the middle of a boring road trip or
somber meal just to see everyone crack up.
After an ugly divorce from my mother, Dad and I had issues.
He was a complicated man who didn’t always do the right thing. He cheated on my
mom. He cheated on his second wife. He had a terrible temper and ruled with
shame and fear. He was also committed to teaching us to be better people,
coaching my brothers’ soccer team and letting me help him wash and wax the cars
and change the oil. He was serious and meticulous and didn’t laugh easily, but
when he did it was like Christmas morning and my birthday all rolled into one. I
was simultaneously terrified of him and desperate to make him proud of me. For
much of my life there was no more powerful force in my world than Dad.
 Mom had a lot
of really terrible things to say about him and nearly a decade after their
split when his second marriage began crumbling, my stepmother added to the
accusations. I was a senior in high school and a budding feminist. I was
disgusted by the tales of my father’s cheating and indignant in my defense of
my mom and stepmother. I began to distance myself from Dad, which was fairly
easy since I was soon to be off to college, anyway. I never confronted him,
certain that he would deny their allegations, and kept all of our interactions
purely superficial.  I didn’t trust
him and wasn’t about to put myself in a vulnerable position.
When I was 29 and expecting my first child, things changed.
I had been too afraid to formally disengage from Dad’s life since that would
have required having an honest conversation about why I was choosing that
route. Instead, I held him at arm’s length, determined to protect myself. But
as my belly grew, I began daydreaming about the life I wanted to give to my
child. I recalled my own family Christmases smack in the eye of a tornado of
cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents; torn tissue and ribbons and smiles
all around. I remembered that allies don’t always come in the form we expect
them to and, regardless of how fiercely I hoped to be the one my child came to
when she needed help, it dawned on me that I may not be the one she chose. I
decided that I wanted to give my baby the biggest, most loving family in the
history of the world. I wanted her to know her aunts and uncles and cousins and
grandparents. I wanted her to hear their stories and see their hilarious
antics. I wanted her to stand in the center of a room full of her people and
feel loved and protected and cherished, and I realized that that group included
Dad. My heart melted as I recalled some of my favorite moments with him  – playing Heart and Soul together on the
piano, hiking in the mountains on a sunny summer day, lying around cracking up
to Bill Cosby routines. I had forgotten how safe I had felt with him as a kid.
But I was unsure how to go about it. I would have to steel
myself for this conversation, this decision to let him into my life for real. I
figured I would have to confront him with all of the accusations Mom and his
second wife had made and ask him to answer for them. I lay in the darkness, one
hand on my belly, my anxiety ratcheting up as I imagined the awful fight we
would have. The baby started kicking furiously, turning somersaults and
flipping around.
Gradually it began to dawn on me: was there anything he
could say that would appease me? Could I imagine a scenario whereby he would
say, “I cheated on your mom because of ‘x’” and it would be okay with me? Could
I come up with any plausible explanation for some of the crappy decisions he
made as a parent? Anything that would make me nod my head and say, “Oh, I get
it. I totally would have done the same thing.”
The baby stopped moving and I went cold. It was in that
moment that I realized I had been vilifying my father for decades and he was
simply a human being. He hadn’t had a set of rules or guidelines for being the
perfect parent any more than I would.
Yeah, but did he do
his best?
the devil voice on my shoulder sneered.
The answer surprised us both. Yeah. I think he did.
When faced with this question I was forced to admit that I
didn’t honestly believe anything my dad ever did was motivated by hatred for me
or my siblings or even my mother. I don’t think he was ever trying to hurt any
of us. Not that his actions were excused or excusable, but it wasn’t my job to
make my father pay for his mistakes, especially those he made with his wives.
And so Dad and I started over. From that moment, as adults,
we began again, without mention of or atonement for past mistakes, with an
acknowledgment that we were both human and fallible. Our relationship as adults
was based on mutual love and respect and while I still wanted him to be proud
of me, I no longer needed his approval. Most importantly, I stopped judging him.
We had eight fabulous years as father and daughter. We spoke
on the phone a couple of times a month about anything and everything and he
never hung up without saying, “I love you, Kari.” Watching him get down on the
floor with my girls and play Polly Pockets and build Lego houses and sing goofy
songs, I often thought my heart would bust wide open. He was funny and
irreverent and would have done anything for his granddaughters. He was amazed
at how smart they were and wanted them to have every opportunity in life. More
than once, I saw threads of him woven into the fabric of my children – their
tenacity and determination came straight from him through me, I’m sure. Because
of my children, I was able to recapture the good memories of Dad. Before that,
I only saw the cheating and lying.
My father died in my arms after a brutal battle with lung
cancer six years ago. I spontaneously offered to write and deliver the eulogy
at his memorial service and for a few terrifying hours I sat on the guest bed
at my in-laws’ house searching for inspiration. What came to me was Bill Cosby.
As a kid, Dad was stern and serious except for those nights when he lit his
pipe and put his feet up and laughed at Cosby’s routines until tears rolled
down his cheeks, and that is what I told the room full of people that came to
pay tribute to my father. I chose Dad’s favorite routine – the one where God is
trying to convince Noah to build the ark – and wove the humor and persistence
of that bit into my acknowledgment of Dad’s gifts.
Today, I mourn for the tainted memories. I am relieved that
my daughters never took to my attempts to hang out and listen to Bill Cosby CDs
as a family because now I don’t have to dismantle that family tradition for
them. They are too young to have watched The Cosby Show or have seen any Jell-o
adds featuring Cosby, so all they know about that autographed 8×10 on the
mantle is that it belonged to Papa. I will throw away the CDs I’ve had tucked
away in my car for long road trips, naively thinking that the girls would stop
listening to their own iPods long enough to hear the “snakey lick” routine that
still makes me giggle, but I’m torn about how to handle the photo. Do I burn it
and repurpose the frame? Do I throw the whole thing out? And what do I do with
the memories? How do I reconcile the bonding that occurred over his comedy
routines with the possibility that, during that time, he was drugging and
sexually assaulting young women? 
Oddly enough, I’m very clear on how to handle such things
with my children. They are very aware of which music I refuse to buy because
the musician is not someone I wish to support.  The misogynist characters who build their reputations on
objectifying and, at times blatantly threatening women and girls are not
welcome to be heard in my car. One day as we drove to school, a PitBull song
came on the radio and my youngest quickly reached for the dial to change the
“You know, it’s sad, Mom. He is a horrible human being, but
he is a really good rapper.”
In our current era of social media and citizen journalism, I
suspect we know far more about today’s celebrities than we ever have
before.  It wouldn’t surprise me to
find out that many of the artists I listened to as a teenager did awful things
but were lucky enough not to get caught by the general public, and it makes me
wonder whether I would rush to get rid of all of their music now in response.
If I discovered that Robert Plant or Jimmy Page had committed terrible acts
against women or gay people or Latinos, I would be devastated. Would I never
again listen to “Stairway to Heaven?” I don’t know.
Can I separate the individual acts from the performance? In
the case of entertainers like PitBull and Eminem, it is clear from their music
that they espouse certain beliefs and claim particular entitlements. It has
been claimed that there
were indications
in Cosby’s routines as far back as 1969 that he wanted to
drug women. I remember the Spanish Fly bit and, honestly, I don’t remember
thinking anything of it at the time, mostly because the whole notion of Spanish
Fly seemed confusing and “adult” to me.
I am a firm believer in consequences and if it turns out
Bill Cosby did the things he is alleged to do, he deserves to pay harsh
penalties and he has a lot to atone for. But the organizer in me wants to know which file to put those memories in, or whether I ought to just bag them up and throw them out with the dog poo. 

Lola got her first chain letter (email) yesterday.

They were so much more work when I was her age.  I remember getting the intricately folded sheet of notebook paper slipped into my palm or underneath my textbook on my desk during class, excusing myself to the restroom to open it up, and feeling my heart sink.

I distinctly recall sitting in the bathroom stall contemplating my next steps. Once entrusted with the note, smeary with pencil lead and softened in the creases, I now had to choose 10 or 15 others to pass the message on to…OR ELSE.

Sometimes I was promised magical outcomes upon successfully forwarding the note – the boy I had a crush on would walk me home from school or my most fervent wish would come true – but more often there were dire threats should I fail to identify enough friends to pass it to.

The difficulty was embedded in the intricate social structure that existed for a girl in the fourth or fifth grade.  There were a multitude of ‘best friends,’ many of whom the note had already passed through. Choosing the wrong girls meant that I would either hurt someone’s feelings or look like an unsophisticated fool.  Not passing it along was not an option.  Boys didn’t count, even if they were my friends, because they would never keep the chain going. You had to pick people that would perpetuate the note, and you couldn’t give it to anyone who wasn’t cool or skip over girls in the established hierarchy.  I was somewhere near the middle of the pack, which made it hard because I was never the one to start the chain.

Inevitably, on the evening that I received the note, I would settle down on my Hollie Hobby bedspread with ten fresh sheets of notebook paper to hand-copy the message. By the time I was done, the callous on my middle finger would be throbbing and red, complete with pencil-imprint in the center, and my heart would beat along in desperation that I had chosen the “right ten.”  Finding a clandestine way to pass the notes at school the next day posed nowhere near the danger that not passing it did.  I didn’t want to die in my sleep, for goodness’ sake!

For all of that, though, I never faced the fear that Lola experienced when she opened the email from a trusted friend last night before bed.  Lola’s unique perspective on the world is often quite literal. She has difficulty sussing out nuances when it comes to threats or promises and discerning whether or not they are real, and while I am fairly certain that she didn’t truly believe some horrible fate would befall her before morning if she didn’t quickly choose five friends to forward the email to, she definitely felt some sense of foreboding.  It made for a very difficult bedtime routine.  Following a candid discussion of what chain mail is (complete with the admonition that it’s more of a scam to get people to pass on viruses or phish their email inbox than anything social like it was in my childhood), we went through two rounds of cheesecloth and a meditation before she would even consider laying down.  It was another hour and a lot of cuddling before she was able to get out of her own head enough to feel safe and fall asleep.  This morning, we’re crafting an email to her friends to ask them to please not pass those emails on to her and I am struck by how much more work it was for my generation to hand-write each and every note we were passing on. We had to put in a lot more sweat for our terror!

This one’s for Chris. He was that guy in high school that was consumed by music. He was the DJ for all the school dances and knew about concerts and new albums slated to debut before anyone else. More than that, though, he has a superhuman ability to listen to music with a critical ear and pull out the nuances of songs and melodies that the rest of us find “nice” or “pleasurable” or “awesome” and name them, describe them, flesh them out and give them life. Yup, Chris’ superpower is music. I love reading his blog because even if I don’t know many of the bands or songs he writes about, he gives them life in a way that nobody else can. And generally inspires me to stretch myself and my music habits. So, Chris, this one’s for you.

“Show me the way to the next Whiskey Bar,” Jim Morrison croons in that playful, choppy, dancing cadence and I close my eyes and imagine his unruly head of curls bouncing as he prances across the stage. While I own this song, I haven’t chosen to play it in a long time; maybe 20 years, if I’m forced to calculate.
I love The Doors. There is something about their music that sets me down squarely in a beat-up cabin in Central Oregon, watching the melting snow drip from the eaves as I shiver beneath layers of musty old quilts, thick with the smell of cigarettes and marijuana and sweat. It was during one such weekend that I read the biography of Jim Morrison and was alternately enthralled and disgusted by his life of excesses and childishness, his absolute genius with lyrics and poetry and magnetic, mesmerizing charm.
During the week I was a college student, dutifully plugging away in biology and chemistry classes on a Presidential Scholarship, fulfilling my parents’ edict that I get a degree and Become A Success. By 3:00 on Friday afternoons, I was often headed out to the mountains with my high school boyfriend and a carload of his skateboarding rogues, not to return to my other universe until Sunday night. I stepped out of the predictable and planted my right foot smack in the middle of a soggy, muddy place driven by the most basic desires. Sleep when you want. Eat what you want. Say what you want.
I knew I couldn’t exist in both places for long and reading Jim’s biography was the beginning of the end for me. I simply couldn’t envision a life run by carnal needs. Perhaps because this life was perpetually dark, or at least dim. The lighting in the cabin was poor thanks to the monumental trees that surrounded it and the beating the place had taken over the years. Sleeping late meant we were up late, squinting at each other, the light from the fireplace and the cherries of our cigarettes the only illumination. The mood of the music, The Ramones, The Doors, Sid Vicious, was always dark and angry or melancholy and depressing – even when it pretended to be a rallying cry to action.
I gradually moved away, spending more weekends on campus. Pleading exams or papers due, I was able to extend my days bathed in the fluorescent lights of the dorms or the sun in the quad. My boyfriend and his cohorts mocked me and their words felt a lot like the way I envisioned the inside of that Whiskey Bar.
Today, as I sit in a dimly-lit coffee shop and hear that spark of brilliance coming from the speakers that is Jim Morrison, I am able to stop a moment and remember what it felt like to lie under the quilt and listen to an entire Doors CD. Unlike then, I don’t feel the seductive melancholy pulling me to abandon the outside world and exist solely in Jim’s world. I can recall with some fondness the group of kids that we were, seeking our own rebellion and hoping against hope that it had something to do with following a rock star in to a world of indulgence and camaraderie that never had to end.

(Alternately titled “The Fourth, Part Two). Here is part one of this story.

After a year, Cameron is taken away. All of the new clothes my parents have bought him are packed away in the small suitcase he came with and he walks solemnly behind some woman out the front door of our house. His smile is gone, but it hasn’t been around as much lately, anyway. His head is down, looking at the orange shag carpet in the living room and he doesn’t turn around to say good-bye. I can’t say anything. I can’t breathe. I follow them onto the grey cement steps of our porch and hold on to the black iron rail so I won’t sit down hard.

I watch the door of the white van shut and the lady get in the front seat. The van sat in our driveway, engine chugging the entire time. Someone knew he would be packed already. Someone knew he would be ready to go when they got here. I can see Cameron’s one cloudy eye watching me. I can feel the thick ball in my throat as the van backs up into the street. I watch the smoke from the back of the van curl up past his window and make it hard to see him anymore. I can’t look. I have to close my eyes. I can’t go inside. I’m just standing here in the springtime sunshine feeling cold and little.

Finally someone tells me to come inside.

“Can I write him letters?” I ask my mother and my voice sounds high and whiny. She shakes her head and her eyes are full of tears.

I don’t understand. My big brother shrugs his shoulders to say he doesn’t know anything, either. My sister is too little to know anything. All I know is that Dad didn’t like Cameron very much and now he’s gone. Dad doesn’t like my little sister very much, either. And he is trying all the time to make my brother tougher. He was really pissed that Cameron could play soccer better than my brother could. Dad’s the coach and his own son ought to be the star player.

It takes a while but the cold ball in my throat finally settles in my stomach. I’d better be really good from now on.


This was the “scene” from my perspective as an eight-year old girl who knew that something was wrong. I knew that my parents were fighting a lot and things were not easy at home. Mom was unhappy and the kids were all walking on eggshells. This incident proved to me that it wouldn’t take much for our family to simply disintegrate. Indeed, it was shortly after this that my father moved out and they announced they were getting a divorce, although I don’t recall any of the specifics. Within six months, my father had accepted a job transfer in another state and I was even more certain that, one by one, we would all be picked off, our ties as family members dissolving as easily as the translucent rice paper wrapper on that Chinese candy we got at the store sometimes. From that moment on, I made it my mission to keep my brother and sister as close to me as possible and never do anything wrong. I didn’t want to be next.