Sunday, April 25, 2010

Can I get an Amen?

Our weekend got off to a roaring great start when Alison vomited her hot dog lunch all over her lunch table at school on Friday.

By the time I got to her, she was still a little pale, but feeling better. I can't say as much for her lunch table companions or the poor sap who had to clean it up. I will spare you the spot-on description of the color and texture of said vomit and leave you with the knowledge that despite her pallor and fatigue, my delicate little flower was proud of what she'd wrought. Very proud.

While I suspected she was faking a little bit, she must have truly felt bad. When we got home, she went straight to her room, changed clothes and crawled into my bed -- the spot of healing at Chez Reed. Like millions of other Americans, she's a victim of the Great Pollen Drop of 2010. We may have over-the-counter, over-medicated her and her little body just couldn't take it.

So she missed the big sleepover Friday night birthday party -- the thought of which had gotten her out of bed and happily off to school that morning. We delivered the gift with her still in her nightgown, robe and my slippers.

Saturday dawned and she was OK for gymnastics, but the tummy quivered again on the way home. Nothing spewed, though, so she got to go to Jenna's for what had been planned as sleepover No. 2. Somehow Amy had guessed the girls would rather be at Tokash HQ rather than with me at the March of Dimes walk Sunday morning...

Amy was clued into Alison's issue with her faith last week, so she warned her that they all would be going to church. "But it'll be a lot of fun, Ali. We're celebrating a new facility and we'll have big party after."

The "lot of fun" ended up lasting two hours, complete with communion, or 'that bread thing' as Jenna calls it. (Neither of them are apparently as full of the power of the Lamb as they could be.)

At Jenna's church, they dip the host into the wine (aka grape juice) before they imbibe. Ali had already indulged herself in four pieces of Miss Amy's special toast, and she's used to the catholic dry wafer/juice combo. She didn't much care for the new version, but it must not have made a second appearance.

In between asking repeatedly if it was almost over yet, she and Jenna compared notes on other differences in their worship ceremonies and colored in their programs.

I'm certain that it was the thought of all that party food that was getting Ali through the service, but the ceremony took so long that they had to miss lunch if they were to make it to Jenna's soccer game. (Makes you think someone was paying attention, doesn't it??)

The Burger King saved the stomachs, but the icy drizzle that made my March a soggy flop didn't do much for the soccer spectators, either.

Ali came home asking for Ramen and a fire in the fireplace.

Already clued in by Amer, I asked her how church was.

"Long," she replied flatly. "Very long."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Out of the blue while we were snuggling in my bed reading a book, Alison looked up at me and said she wasn't going to give anything up for Lent next year.

Ever ready to play her straight man, I said, "Why not?"

"Because I'm not a Christian," she said.

I frowned at her. It's true that we don't go to church. I send her to Catholic school for a reason: I'm not qualified for these life lessons and I know it.

I have routine wrestling matches with my Pentecostal demons and tend to see more corruption in organized religion than salvation. I don't inflict any of that on her. I want her to get religious instruction from true believers. When she's an adult, she can determine what to accept and reject, but it'll be informed consent. (That's my rationale, anyway.)

So when she -- two weeks shy of 9-years-old -- told me she's not a Christian, I gulped. What the hell have they been teaching her at Christ the King? I mean the name of the school is Christ the King. Jesus!

I hid my dismay rather well, if I do say so myself.

"You ARE a Christian, honey. You mean you're not Catholic, don't you?" I said gently.

"Nope," she said confidentially. "I'm not a Christian and I'm not a Catholic. I'm going with Paleontologist."

I gulped. "Huh?"

"You know, I'm going with the idea that we evolved. You know, the dinosaurs, that we were apes and stuff?"

I gulped again. And wondered if I needed to review the CKS science book.

"You know you can believe in evolution AND believe in God," I said.



"OK then."

I closed my eyes. I might have prayed. I might have passed out. I'm just not sure. I'm pretty sure something like, "Help me, Jesus" might have crossed my lips.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Coping skills

I took last weekend off from blogging to put a more positive use to my shovel. Please overlook my delay in thanking each of you for your kind words and support over the past couple of weeks. Each gesture was a comfort and it helped me through a difficult time.

It usually takes some physical exertion to bring me back from the doldrums, so I had three yards each of top soil and mulch dumped off at my house. I was expecting it on the Saturday after the funeral.

Friday night, I got home late, and as I got out of the car and headed inside, I smelled that heady, rotten mulchy smell of spring in the city.

"Hey," I thought. "One of the neighbors is ahead of me."

I woke up to find the mulch and dirt was mine, waiting in two gargantuan piles in the driveway in front of both cars. It seemed like far to much stuff, but I had an early (and much-needed) hair appointment that I'd forgotten about. So I left it there, but was mulling over where exactly I was going to put it all.

Come Saturday afternoon, I was out there in the yard shoveling wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load first of topsoil then of dirt into my flat and nearly barren front yard flower beds. But I did have fabulous hair.

I'm not sure if it was my industry or my gray-less curls that attracted the neighbors, but it seemed like everyone on my street stopped by to comment on me as I passed them by or between shovels of dirt and/or mulch. They were all really curious about where I'd gotten the stuff and what the yard would look like at the end. "That's a lot of mulch," they all said.

None of them, however, offered to help. Even when I slyly suggested (ok, I was blatant about it) that I had another shovel. It was OK, though, I didn't mind all all.

I do like the first few times of working in the yard. Especially when you have issues that won't leave your head on their own. The sweat and the blisters work together somehow to clear your head. And, if you can see or stand up after you're done, you have visual proof of your efforts.

It took me all of Saturday afternoon to get the stuff dumped and distributed to three of the four areas in need of mulch in the front yard. I cleared the driveway by Sunday, but had a pile of mulch leftover in the back yard.

This weekend, I finally got that put down and discovered that I probably could have made good use of another half-yard or so of mulch. Not that I'm going to order it. I think the place looks just fine as is. My head is clear, thank you very much, and the blisters are nearly healed.

Ali dabbled a bit with me out there, and Jeff had me supplement the soil in his mint garden. But for the most part, it was me, the shovel, the rake, the wheelbarrow and the leaf blower. Could those four tools be the secret to good mental health?

When Wednesday came around, I was fairly excited. I thought for sure I'd see some movement in the Weight Watcher scale. And sure enough, I did. Up 0.6 pounds. I hate Weight Watchers.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Muscle has less volume than fat. I should be happy with the 19-ish pounds gone from my squat little body. Some parts of me are happy.

But geeze. This weekend I had Bunco. We had friends over for dinner last night and there was pineapple upside down cake. I'm doomed.

And now for other news:

Jeff took Ali to the movies last weekend. He told her she could take a ring pop in with her from home to have during the flick. As they're giving their tickets to the guy at the rope, Ali stops dead in her tracks.

Jeff looks back, "Come on, pal. Let's go in."

"Da-ad," she says, eyes darting to the left, fists stuck deep in her pockets where the ring pop was stored.

"What?"he says impatiently.

She tries again to surreptitiously point him to where her attention is fixated. He doesn't get it. "The sign," she hisses.

It's a sign that says "No outside food allowed." Eyes as big as the screen, she pantomimes her dilemma and won't give the guy her ticket.

Jeff looks down. He's figured it out but not clued her in. The ticket taker is on to the scheme as well. In a stage whisper, she says, "But I have a ring pop in my pocket."

Jeff glances at the ticket taker. He smiles down at Ali. "It's OK, pal."

She's not budging. The ticket taker says, "It's OK kid."

Finally, she goes in. They get their seats. She has her candy, which has a few shards and at least one falls to the floor. At the end of the movie, which is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the saga of a kid who makes misbehavior and sneakiness an art form, she tries to shoo her Dad out. He likes to wait for the credits to see if there are bloopers. She's insistent that they leave.

Finally, he asks why the rush. She points to the evidence of her crime. "Let's go before they come and catch us," she says.

As they leave the theater, Jeff, the bastion of great fatherhood, takes her hand and says, "Honey, the next time we do something to break the rules, it'd be good if you don't turn us in right away."

Yeah, "the next time we break the rules." Somehow I think Jeff won't be seeing his name on that Father of the Year trophy this year.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Arrangements

I asked my sister Donna what would you wear to bury David Bickel. We agreed that denim needs to rule the day. He'll be wearing them, and so will we, I guess.

For those of you who wanted to know, there will be a short grave site event at Friendly Grove Church at 2 p.m. Thursday. I say event because I don't know what to expect, really, other than to know for certain that there will not be a long-winded sermon. Knowing David, he'd throw a fist through the coffin and tell the preacher to shut-up.

This I do know: my brothers started a tradition when my Grandpa Bickel died. As we all left the cemetery, they got out their shovels and they did one last thing for him. When my father died, it was a larger group who took on that task. When my mother followed, a larger group still.

My city friends don't really get it. Hell, maybe I don't either. But I'll be bringing my shovel.

Thanks for all your kind words and thoughts. I've been asked to also say that if you feel compelled to "do something" please make a charitable contribution to the charity of your choice rather than sending flowers.

If there was committee working to cure obstinance, I'd donate to that. I'll probably send something to the Heart Association instead.

Monday, April 5, 2010


My brother, David, died today.

He was 47, the last boy born to Don and Lucy Bickel. My great Uncle Scott called him Davy Crockett. Most people called him “Dave” but he was usually “David” to me. Dunno why.

We played gin rummy when we were little. I suppose he must have taught me how. We were two years apart, but only a year apart in school.

When we were little, we were home alone for a year when all our other five siblings were in school. I don’t remember anything of that year, really, or the year when I was the only one home.

But I remember the day David went to Kindergarten. He got out and I sat alone in the back of our green station wagon. It had a hideaway seat in the very back where you could (if you were little) sit face to face with a friend, knocking knees. It was the first time I remembered sitting there alone. I sat there in that little seat looking out the back window as we drove away, that red door to Shakamak Elementary School growing smaller and smaller.

When we were in high school, David, like my brother, Donnie, saw more than his fair share of time with the principal. Sometime during his senior year, the principal and David came to an understanding and David just didn’t go back. I did his GED homework for him. He had to take the tests, though I believe we talked about how to sneak me in to do it. I don’t know that he ever read any of the coursework, but he passed the finals.

David tended to hang out mostly with my brother Donnie, who was the first boy, older than David by a year; older than me by three. They were rough boys. Country boys. They hunted and fished. They hit with their fists. Donnie tormented me. David didn't. He'd even hang out and play games with me or watch cartoons until Donnie convinced him that he should be outside with him.

Neither of them shielded me like big brothers do in fairy tales. They expected me to fight my own battles. Sure, wherever I went, they were perched like gargoyles outside a stone church, but I’d have to get bloody before they’d step in to help.

Once, when I was in high school, I’d been teased unmercifully all year by a senior girl. Unlike my hotter headed brothers, I took the verbal beatings and nasty notes all year without acting out. Finally, when the confrontation came in the lunch room. I ended up punching her. The same principal who’d helped both my brothers out the high school door early because they were trouble makers threatened her with missing graduation. I think he expelled her for three days. But me? He did everything but give me a gold star. Maybe he thought it was a just reward for my patience – that girl was a total bitch and I was generally a good student – but still.

Someone asked David why he didn’t run out from shop class (it was just down the hall) and save me from the bully and her even meaner, bigger friend. He snorted, made an obscene and proud (I’m sure) reference to the outcome and said: “Didn’t sound like she needed any help from me.”

David was a good guy. But it’s fair to say that he strayed from the Path more than a little bit here and there. He kept grudges longer than wild dogs keep fleas. He could be mean. He would rather beat someone up than admit he had feelings. And if he didn’t like you, well, you would do well to just avoid him. Most of the time, he’d avoid you, too, but if you pushed him, you came away the worse for it.

God knows I would never have been able to work with David. He had high standards and he had no give in him when it came to, well, anything. I don’t think I could have lived with him either. But he once had a wife who he loved, and she knew what she was signing up for when she married him. He never got over her cheating on him. I know it’s not my issue and I’ll never know that whole story. Nor do I need to. I couldn’t help today, when word came that he was gone, but wonder what his life might have been like had he not lost that relationship.

Somewhere in there before, after or during his divorce, he lost his business. He lost the house where my grandparents had raised my dad and uncles. He lost seeing his daughters every day. He ended up with a heart condition similar to that which claimed my father. His hard living days didn’t help him recover from it, but his heart had failed him long before it physically broke apart.

And that was a horrible thing to watch. When he was in a good mood, my brother David could spin tales better than anyone I know. He’d laugh and you’d laugh with him. He kind of lived a Dukes of Hazzard lifestyle. He outran the police more than once. One time, he and his pickup truck ended up in a lake – he was one street over than where he thought he was… I’m pretty sure the cops let him go that night. He flipped another truck another night, and he and his friend just stayed in it, somehow in their drunken stupor convinced the Rapture had come and they’d been left behind so there really wasn’t any need to hurry home.

Last year, he took Jeff and me on a tour of Jasonville, pointing out houses that had been built by Bickels. Some of them, he’d helped on, working with my Grandpa and/or Dad. Some were built before we were born, and some David had done on his own. While he was rattling on about these houses, he pointed out one that was owned by our old neighbor. I told Jeff that was the guy who’d gotten married the same day we had gotten married. David had attended that wedding instead of mine, and I was still a little miffed about it. “Charlie didn’t get married that day,” David said. We argued a bit. It was the story I’d been told. “I didn’ t go to your wedding, Cheryl, because I didn’t want to go to your wedding,” he said, matter-of-factly, continuing on with his tour of the town.

I was so mad at him. I was mad at my family for lying to me about it, and I was mad that he didn’t even realize that it had royally pissed me off. The truth is that David didn’t mean to hurt my feelings – he just never felt the need to prove anything to anyone. Attending family functions meant little to him. If you weren’t smart enough to know he loved you, well, by God, maybe he should re-evaluate. I’d bet my house that he never changed his opinion of me and my need of him from my high school fight. He was my brother. If I needed him, I’d ask.

He called me a week or so ago out of the blue just to talk. He was in rare form and had me laughing for about 45 minutes. I kept asking him what was up. He’s probably called me five times in our lifetime. No joke. I called my sister to see if she knew what was up. Nothing. He called me again last Thursday. He was upset about a silly property issue and by the time we were done, he was laughing, was actually taking my advice and seemed to be back to his old self.

Then, he ignored the pain in his chest (as he’d been doing for three years) and went to some race in Tennessee. His Pacemaker shocked him seven times before the paramedics got there. Somehow he kept from going to a hospital. Sunday, he agreed to go to the hospital, but it was really too late. He complained that he didn’t want visitors, but you could see that he did. He harrumphed and claimed that his response to the doctor who inquired about why he’d neglected his health involved something akin to “Because I just don’t like any of you bastards.”

The doctor, who’d taken care of him when his heart first faltered four years ago, told us that he wasn’t sure why David hadn't died already. He said it appeared that somehow there must have been some healing of the heart despite the fact that David had ignored medical advice and meds. I was hoping he hadn’t told David that because for sure, he’d never pay attention if he got it into his head that he could truly heal himself.

Turns out he couldn’t. He didn’t. And now he’s gone. My theory is that he didn’t want to live any longer than he had to if he wasn’ t going to be able to live a decent life. And getting winded going to the mail box wasn’t how he wanted to be. I think he called me to say goodbye last week. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what he was doing. And he didn’t know how to say it out loud. So he told me stories and said outrageous things and made me remember how much I liked him.

I’m glad I saw him Sunday. We joked a bit. I held his hand. And now I feel like I’m back in that damned station wagon, pulling away from the school.

He didn’t look back that day either.