Yesterday morning, my mother, Catherine Calder, passed away.
Although she was being treated for something at the time, I think it was all her health problems of the last few years finally coming together at once.
She was a Head Start teacher’s aide for roughly 25 years. I once calculated she had approximately 1,500 students in that time, in a town of only 17,000 people. You couldn’t step foot on the porch or out of the house without some young person coming up to hug her or say hello.
She deeply involved with her faith, her church, and her family. When I saw her less than 2 weeks ago, at a family reunion, she was still talking about working on church projects.
I’ve always felt like I was lucky enough to inherit the best traits of both my parents. And my mother has left me with compassion, optimism, creativity, and a good moral compass.
There will be calling hours (10am) and a memorial service (11am) for her at the 1st UMC in her home town, this coming Tuesday.
I swear it was father’s day when I started trying to type this. But then… computers.
My father really was a computer nerd. Of all the things he got called in life, computer nerd seems the most unlikely. He grew up as that little kid from the Grapes of Wrath. Honest… I have the pictures of him, somewhere, looking like an Illustration from my grade school history book’s section on the Dustbowl. And with the military, and the drinking, and the women, and… I don’t know how computers ended up in there.
Then again, I’m pretty sure if they’d come around a bit sooner, my maternal grandfather — Papa — would have been all about personal computers too. This was a man with a workbench. This was a man, we found out after his passing, that helped build medical tools for the hospital, when they didn’t exist yet. He was also a great man of the community. Church member, Danish Brotherhood, etc.
I don’t know that I could call my father a great man of the community. I’m sure he had his social circles. Most of the great stories, though… most of the memorable moments… they were solitary actions.
(Then again… great stories about less than wholesome moments my grandfather had, also exist. But they scandalize my aunts every time I mention them.)
I came from these men. And there are times I can’t seem to escape that, not that I try. But suddenly, it’s like their ghost seizes me and I find myself doing or saying something, and realizing it’s some aspect of them that I barely realized was inside me. I am stubborn, and I persevere. I try my best to help those around me.I am both closed off, and an amazing extrovert. I get drunk with friends, and I wake up at 5 in the morning to shovel my neighbors’ walks.
I am very lucky to come from these men.
I absolutely loved Christmas growing up. I loved the snow, when it happened. I loved the town being decorated. I loved the family gatherings. I loved buying just the right presents for people. I loved wrapping my sister’s presents in ridiculously sized and shaped packages.
Three years ago, I was living with — and still together with — Heidi. She was adamant about not celebrating Christmas, really. But I bought us a tree, made some decorations featuring our cats, and put up some lights. There’s even a picture of us sitting in front of it like dorks. I bought her a few presents, with advice from her mom. Very low key. And I missed my family… the first time I wasn’t back in my hometown for Christmas.
Two years ago, Heidi and I were done. I was still living there while trying to close on my house. But I had no reason to stick around DC. So I went back to NY. My father was gone by then, so it was my sister and mother. And those two certainly have their fair share of conflict. Nothing more awful than a million other families, I’m sure. But it really brings me down on Christmas to hear nothing but bickering and fighting.
Last year, I was asked not to come back to New York for Christmas. They worried that if there was snow, it would be too hard to get me the 45 miles back to the airport. It’s really very depressing to be asked not to come home for the big family holiday, for any reason. I was in my new house, by that point, but my roommate and friend Paivi had just moved out a couple months earlier. So I sat alone on Christmas day.
This year, my mother mentioned in the Fall, that she had someone who could possibly drive me to/from the airport. So in November, I sent both her and my sister an email. I asked them to confirm that ride, since I needed to not get stuck in New York… I have work, a house, a cat, a girlfriend, and a life, to take care of in DC. I know it sounds a bit obnoxious to insist on a ride. But I did remind them that I spend thousands of dollars a year and travel thousands of miles a year, and not once had my immediate family ever been to visit me in DC, in the 17 years I’ve lived here. So a ride was the least they can do, in my opinion. (While I wasn’t bitchy about it… no, I wasn’t subtle. It’s family… who else can you be as direct with). The only other request I made in that email was that I not have to listen to them bitch at each other over the holiday. The whole point of coming home for the holidays is family and closeness… so if I couldn’t expect any of that, I had friends here who could make for a more loving atmosphere. I didn’t ask them to be friends, or to even talk. I just asked them not to bitch about each other.
I don’t know what I expected. I’m sure I expected something along the lines of them explaining why they were right about whatever they were fighting about this year. Or maybe telling me I was being a prick. Or maybe apologizing for not being able to promise anything. But… what I got… was nothing. No response, from either of them. I even followed up 2 weeks later with text messages. Still no response. It’s now Christmas eve, and the closest thing I’ve had to a response is a 2 sentence note from my mother saying she would get back to me about it later. I think it was better when they just asked me not to come home.
I have a girlfriend this year. And Jennifer is wonderful. She is very loving and comforting about such things. But she also has her own family, and they are in Louisiana. And so is she, now.
I don’t like Christmas, much, now. I still send presents up to NY. I still get a tree and put up some decorations. But there are no happy feelings behind it.
Why write this? I kind of wanted to document this whole thing to get it out of my head. And I kinda just felt like it.
Recently passed the anniversary of my father’s death. And like I’ve seen several people do in the last few days, I was tempted to post a picture of my father on Facebook or somewhere, as a memorial. But very quickly I decided I don’t want to celebrate someone’s death… I’d rather remember their life.
On my way back from a family picnic in NY. Looking at the photos… my family is so very white.
The family reunion was at the bass club in San Angelo again this year. Same old everything, but that’s kind of the point. Took Heidi. Family likes her better than they like me. But they’re quite disappointed to learn i’m not gay.
Taken at the family reunion in Texas this weekend.
Today, I’m wondering if the hardest part of losing someone is that you keep having things you want to share with that person.
My father died on January 5. It’s a horrible thing to contemplate. It’s a macabre thing to discuss with the doctors. And it is without a doubt, the worst feeling I’ve ever had, when it finally happened.
And yet I’ve had very little obvious reaction. I cried the morning it happened, and came close a couple times in the following days. The funeral and calling hours were difficult, but more for dealing with all the people and their reactions. I miss him, and can’t really grasp the idea that I will never see him again. We never talked frequently to begin with, since neither of us handled phone calls well. Maybe it just seems like another lull between calls.
It really seems like it should have affected me in some obvious, drastic way. The only thing I might even mildly associate with it was shutting down a bit. Reverting slightly to the closed off nature I’d been trying to shed. I’m hoping it’s temporary.
I said to his wife: In his last 10 or 15 years, he travelled, he had a woman who would put up with him, he had new toys, he got back together with his family and his roots. He had friends and indulged in vices and hobbies. He had pets and grandchildren. I can’t think of anything else in life that could have made those years better for him. He did what made him happy, and that’s all I find important.
Please don’t offer me advice or reassurance in the comments to this. This isn’t reaching out for help. This is just talking.
From left to right: his daughter Reta, his brother Jerry Don, his aunt Alene, his sister-in-law Linda, his uncle David, and his wife Ann.
David “Chunky” Calder
June 1, 1940–January 5, 2010
My uncle is dying. He’s a good man. I’ve often said he’s the white sheep of the family. But I don’t really have much I want to say about that here.
It sounds like he’s out of it at least as much as he’s coherent. I don’t know which side of that is worse. While it’s awful to see your loved ones without any idea what’s happening around them, I can’t imagine being coherent enough to know that you only probably have a few days to live.
I no longer have a ten foot long hole in my wall. So I got that going for me.
(Plumbing that doesn’t leak: Good. Cat locked in bathroom for 3 days: Bad. Seeing the debris from the last time the wall was opened lazily dumped in the space behind the wall: Bonus.)
That’s it. I am officially not going to have fun any more. Fuck it. In the middle of Dragon*Con, I got a call telling me my mother had been taken to the hospital. If she’d waited 30 minutes more, she coulda died. But by the time I got the call, she’d been stabilized. And lets not forget that after 3 great trips with friends and family, all in one month, I get the shit kicked out of me by a condition I should not have and doctors can’t explain. And while I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for friends, I get a call telling me that my father had been taken to the hospital the night before, also on death’s door. (Again, stabilized and in ICU by the time they called). So no more fun for me, ’cause all it means is some bad shit is gonna happen.
I wish I could really be that dramatic.
Yes all those things sucked beyond belief. But for better or worse, I handle that kind of crap with relative calmness. I didn’t fly off the handle, because what good would it do. I didn’t hop the next plane to home, because each time I heard, it was already past the tensest hours. And each time, I was literally surrounded by friends, doing something that made me feel good. That’s what I really needed. (And most of you are out there. So… thank you and stuff.)
But holy fuck, if anyone out there is listening: I really don’t need anything more right now.
I went to another world a few weeks ago. I think the natives call it Texas, but it’s hard to tell, since their language is so difficult to understand. Thankfully I have family there. Their language is kind of funny too, but the hand gestures make up for it. Keeps me coming back every year.
Family. Those wonderful people with severe brain damage, that you wouldn’t turn in to the cops, (unless there was a REALLY big reward). Absolutely, every single year, I look forward to going to Texas. I look forward to talking to these people. I look forward to eating too many dead and cooked animals. (Mmmmm… steak-fried…. everything). I look forward to the dry winds kicking up red dirt as they blow through mesquite trees. I look forward to sunsets… well… where I can see the sun set. I look forward to seeing my little cousins, and their children, growing up and making me feel older every year.
I look forward to it every year. I must be a tiny bit masochistic. Because every year, you can be sure of a few things. You can be sure Shorty will be at the center of somebody’s stink, wether it’s his own, or someone’s wife. You can be sure that somehow a dish-to-pass lunch will become an epic battle only to be won after long hours of fighting… something. You can be sure that somehow, one of the three black people who live in Texas will stop by, resulting in a group of otherwise intelligent and forgiving family members suddenly reverting to grade school racist humor. (It’s not the opinion of black or hispanic people that bothers me — to each their own — so much as how pitiful and forced it usually sounds coming out). You can be sure someone will break down over an event that only half the people there were even alive to remember. You can be sure any family meeting will break down. No. Matter. What. You can be sure that much of this year’s reunion will be spent evaluating last year, and arguing over how to plan for next year.
There’s a real stink I’ve noticed since my first year there. And every year, my cousins seem to notice it more. These aren’t really family reunions. Not on a broad scale. For myself… I can make it whatever I want, because I’m just that pigheaded. But the way things are run, it is a group therapy session for one set group of my aunts and uncles. I can’t even put it on all of them. It’s very definitely a specific group. But as a result of that group’s actions, they make it all about “the children of Cliff”. I see that when children are something to be entertained, instead of involved. I see that when they can’t let go of the reins of what amounts to a pot luck dinner, because they feel like they’re being put out to pasture. I see that when the entirety of the extended family, and every family friend, have stopped coming, because they’re clearly not a part of it.
I think things are a bit skewed for me. I still tend to think in terms of the other side of my family, from NY, where I am actually on the younger end. My youngest cousin there is already a college graduate. But in Texas, I come from the far older end of the family. I don’t think I’ve met any cousin who is older than me, besides Candace. (Though, granted, since I can’t even remember most of their names, I’m not gonna claim to know all their ages). So while I’m thinking in New York terms of a vast group of people in my generation who’ve all gone through life already, I’m actually dealing with a Texas family where I’m one of the groundbreakers for the generation. (Not in epic events, just so much as life experiences). So while I still think it’s perfectly legitimate for me to be offended at being treated as some incompetent child, for those of my aunts and uncles who can’t seem to think in anything but generational terms, then overall, my cousins are still young and unproven. And if you want to speak the truth, a few of the older cousins haven’t exactly done particularly well for themselves. There’s people in prison, or headed there. People doing very stupid and hurtful things to their families. People not exactly inspiring confidence in my aunts and uncles.
But it’s not about generations, for me or those cousins that want to help. We’re talking individuals, not groups. I don’t think it really is for even that core group of people around whom all the arguments and ghosts seem to gather. An aunt made a very good point, after this year. That there were certain issues that this group wants to deal with. But that is it. Just issues. just things to talk about. But somehow their issues have gotten tangled up with trying to organize a gathering of a vastly larger group of people. If anything, I would consider that a prime reason to give over the weekend to somebody else… anybody else. Just so they can all sit back, without being able to hide behind dubious amounts of organizational work, and say what they have to say. And not bring down the rest of the house of cards, when they falter.
But they don’t. And they won’t. And they’re my family. So I love them anyway, and I’ll be back next year. But I won’t go to any more family meetings. I won’t offer to help. (I will help, but I won’t offer.) I’m not there to try to come to terms with a dead man. ’Cause… you know… no matter how much you want it to, that just can not EVER happen. The dead do not change.
Unless you’re Mormon.
I’m there for the wind and the food and the talk and the children and the sun.
So far, this trip could almost be called pleasant. The airport employees have been cheerful. The crowds weren’t particularly bad. Waiting at the gate in DC, a woman was brought in with a service dog the size of a Buick. It must have been part great dane, though I’d never seen its coloring before; a speckle of black, white, and silver. Near as I can tell, its primary attribute was the ability to be sturdy support for a woman who was obviously less than steady.
I just knew, when I was waiting on the plane, that the woman with the baby would be my seatmate. You know, babies are babies. But she was fairly well behaved. Had the most amazing royal blue eyes… crystal clear.
DFW gets a bit nicer every time I”m here. Looks like they finally finished most, if not all, of the people-mover. A nice replacement for the old tram. This gate may just be the nearest convenient one for a shuttle bus, but it almost looks like we may be taking a plane into SJT that holds more than 8 people.
Meanwhile I’m sitting directly below a T-Mobile hotspot sign, watching the crappy connection flicker in and out. Not like I’m gonna pay for it anyway. Why the fuck do they make it so difficult to sign up, and then lock you into more of a plan than you need. Give me a screen when I open my browser where I can Choose the number of hours and enter my credit card number at a fee of maybe $2/hour. No… I have to go create an account. Sign up for a plan. Or buy a card from someone. Kinds screws with the whole on-the-fly aspect of wi-fi.
There’s a heavyset old woman, with hair color that God never dreamed of, in a straw hat/blazer outfit that a Walmart greeter would scoff at, manning the Information desk. Texas has a very weird identity. Sort of a mutual hallucination of a campy western mixed with James Dean with a Clue. All rebellious, and proud of a norman rockwellish heritage that probably never existed. Eager to have you believe they live hard and don’t take shit, even though they’re the most laid back and friendly people I’ve met. I think they’d agree with the friendly part, if it was on their terms. Remember, they became their own country before they became a US state. “We’ll get around to it when we damn well please”.
I’m acutely aware that I’m burning precious battary here, and my brain seems to have run dry for the mo’. More later. I’m off in search of open wi-fi to get my porn fix.
Note (1 day later): Putting up the first of the pics now.
My aunt is a great woman.
As a minister in east nowhere, New York, she’s taken a very unpopular stand on gay rights. People have called her crazy, foolish, impetuous, and selfish.
She will very likely be removed from her job. At the very least, she is a social pariah, which is a difficult position for any minister to be in.
But no one ever earns respect for following company policy. Humanity has never been uplifted by following the community consensus. And there is nothing meaningful in doing what is expected of you.
She is very much a leader, indirectly telling her congregations that ‘we are wrong about this, and we need to do something about it’. To take action in the face of adamant opposition requires great will and character.
I am not worried about her future. The last decade has shown her to be a woman of great strength. It would have been much more damaging if she had not found the will to take this personal stand.
She makes me proud. Couldn’t say why, but I think her parents would have been as well.
I have finished constructing the Christensen 2002 picnic picture gallery.You can find it in the navigation bar on the left or by clicking here.
As usual, clicking on any image will bring up an enlargement of the entire picture.
If you find yourself in a place where ‘yonder’ is an accurate measurement, ‘Old Man …’ is a proper title, and erecting an awning over your trailer makes it a house, then you know you’ve ended up in Robert Lee, Texas.
From growing up in New York, to working as an Art Director in DC, I don’t usually find myself having to carefully avoid rattlesnakes and scorpians. But that’s what I went through to see family. And, …
4 hours on a plane.
4 hours trying to get to the right gate.
4 hours on the Robert Lee highway.
144 hours scratching bug bites.
8 hours in a car with relatives
2 hours eating briscut
80 hours of sweat
2 hours selling raffle tickets
20 minutes turning off the AC again
I am greatly comforted by the fact that I had such a hard time coming up with even that list. I apparently had a good time in Texas. My family was in good spirits this year. While there was much manure spread, there were no major arguments.
In past years I really wondered about some of them. Some of them pissed me off. None of them could be accused of being sickly sweet. But each year I see them more and more as people who all want to do the right thing. They go to work every day, and try to raise their own happy families. Once a year they want to come together and restore what time almost tore apart.
In past years I think they were motivated by their own mortality. The older ones are much older. The younger ones never got to know a complete family.
Now they seem to be scared of what comes after them. As I’ve said for years, the next generation of Calder’s does not have the bond the older siblings share. There is no common history. No common trauma. The ones that do continue to show up are ussually the ones who had exposure to other parts of the family outside the context of the reunions.
But as much as I love going to Texas each year, I couldn’t give you the name of more than a handful of my cousins. I could name no more than 4 or 5 who would come to a reunion by ourselves. And it’s a much more diverse group than our parents. We come from many places. We range from small children to people in their 30s.
I have spent the last few years soaking up everything I could about my family; a family that didn’t exist to me before 2000. But I only hope that I don’t have to wait for the mortality of the next generation to catch up with it before it comes together.
i can’t think of anything to write. i can’t think of anything to write. i can’t think of anything to write.
I had an English professor in college who had us keeping a daily journal. Told us even if we couldn’t think of a word to write, we should fill a page with “i cant think of anything to write.”.
I can’t say this was the brightest professor in the bunch. A lot of the time, I would sit down before class, and fill one page with “i cant think of anything to write.”, then change pens. I would fill another page with “i cant think of anything to write.”, annd change pens again. You get the idea.
And to think I got some bad grades in college.
This just comes to mind because I’m not really in the mood to write, but I have to. Otherwise I go stale. I’ve found just rambling here keeps my imagination going in almost every area; a very important thting since I make my living in a creative industry.
I guess coming up with all the new synonyms for “stupid” that I use here really makes my brain sweat.
There are things I don’t really talk about here. They ussually have to do, in some negative fashion, with people who are very close to me. Because those are the very people who are mostly reading this. But it leaves the whole thing kind of stale at times.
My first reaction, of course, is to just say “screw those people” and write whatever I want. Some of them would take it in stride I’m sure. But there are those who already view my ramblings as more than a bit vitriolic. I know I would be persona non grata at most family functions if I started discussing the theatre of the miseries that many of my mother’s relatives seem to be.
But at the same time, I don’t even really discuss the good things. The other half of my family, being the other half of this coin. Despite my father being dimly viewed by so many in my mothers family, his own family is incredibly optimistic and outgoing. I don’t remember the last time Ruth stopped smiling. Gary brought together the senior citizens home known as his siblings after most of them hadn’t seen eachother in decades. And the announcements I get are in the form of wedding announcements and births and such.
These are all important people and important event’s to me. They’ll be left out less here. And I find after writing all this, I’m not really worried if they’ll be offended. I’m not planning on airing godawful (and damn boring) dirty laundry here. So if you see your name here and think I’ve talked too strongly about you, you either know how I feel about you and nothing will have changed, or you don’t know me well enough to begin with.
And considering what it takes to get me to shut up, I doubt that it’s my fault.
Supposedly there are those out there who think I am about as stable as an Argentinian government.
My friends have been telling me this for years, but this time it comes from an unknown source in New York, where I grew up.
I’m positive it isn’t my immediate family, because none of them would pass up the chance to call me cuckoo to my face. And the source of this news is unacquainted with the majority of my friends and co-workers. Which leaves the assorted secondary family members; cousins, aunts, uncles, and assorted married people.
My immediate and continuing response to the news has been:Thank God!. I lived in that setting for at least 18 years. After a brief hiatus at a place superficially known as a school for higher education, I got the hell out of Dodge. You can even ask my mother how upset I was when my initial departure was delayed just a few days.
Life in central New York is so humdrum, so uneventful, and so colloquial, that it could make a hot-water-bottle constipated. Ignorance, apathy, and bigotry run rampant.
And the idea of ‘trying’ doesn’t even occur to most people.
I was raised spitting distance from a nuclear weapons storage facility. I’m a cracker who grew up thinking white people are bad. We were so poor that poor people took pity on us. I went to a high school that I hated more than any experience in my life, and would gladly burn to the ground if only they hadn’t built it out of brick. I went through an education system where I was rewarded the most when I did the least work. Physical abuse, mental abuse, and sexual abuse were everyday occurances in the area where I grew up. I put myself through four years of obscenely expensive college only to learn more about my field in the first six months of employment. I moved 400 away from every one and every thing I knew. I occasionally have to talk with guys who have M16s over their shoulders just to walk the streets or get to work. People drop jumbo jets on my head. I live in the middle of the biggest political madhouse on earth, and have yet to meet a politician I could take seriously.
These are the things I will mention in front of strangers.
And you wonder why I am less than coherant?
Don’t mind me. Again, I have nothing to say. But it’s either this or I fold my laundry. And well… we know that isn’t going to happen. Hell, it’s a minor miracle that I got it washed on time.
And you wondered what the smell was… Not my laundry!
(was my dirty dishes.)
I can’t wait to see my father’s house. He and his wife are those people who just sort of vomit lights all over their property. It’s very cheery in a gaudy, american way. Like I said to Sara, I dont go for those serene, white strings of lights. I need the big, flashing, multicolored strings. If I could find a set that also sang off-color christmas carols, I’d be a happy camper.
I utterly depressed myself today. At the Fashion Center at Pentagon City — an overly inflated name for the mall — I was looking for a gift for my father. But I couldn’t find a book store on the mall map. So I figured I would wander around the entire place until I found it. Only, I never did.
What does it say when the place has entire stores dedicated to cigars, to baseball hats, to candles, to soap…
but no books?
Why is it getting so hard to buy books? You can argue that buying them online offers more books than ever before. But I mean… where are all the bookstores going?
I only know of two used bookstores in DC. And one or two general first run bookstores. In a city of half a million people.
Ray Bradbury was wrong. We won’t have our books taken from us. We’ve already forgotten about them.
I’ll be taking horse and buggy to New York for the holidays.
I do so love torturing my mother. She has a slight heart attack reading the language I use here sometimes. Kind of funny considering the language I use in person around her.
At least somebody out there is shocked.
need negates ability. or so it seems.
I am sitting here with nothing to do, trying to think of what I can write to use up the last 20 minutes of work. And of course my mind is a blank (shutup sara).
I tried reading other people’s logs. But I can only handle so much of that. Too many bubbly high school runts, or people as bored as me who choose to release that boredom into their writing. (Here’s a thought: Poetry is an art form. Some of us really don’t make good artists).
I’m happy with the project I’m working on now, however the client won’t be back for a week and a half. Which means I’ll just keep futzing with it until then.
I’m feeling a little less fuzzy tonight. I took off early from work to get a haircut. Since I was out in Bethesda anyways, I stopped by my uncle’s place to say hello.
Do I lead a thrilling life or what. ‘Scuze me while I take my Geritol.
I mean, God help me, I even cleaned my apartment tonight! If thatisn’t sick, I don’t know what is.
I’m really looking forward to the family reunion coming up. I know I went and met all those people last year, but this year is different. My father will be there. I will probably for the first time be able to hear about his life first hand.
And of course, there is the opportunity to pick on Linds, and watch Shorty make a royal ass of himself.
But first, I have Jethro’s wedding this weekend. I’m off to Rochester, which would be more exciting if there was anyone left in town I knew. Even Nicolas is busy with his parents this week.