Eulogy for my mom

Written around June 20, 2021, after the death of my mom, Frances Joann Morris, on June 17, 2021. She was the reason I had the courage to leave Omaha at 18, and the desire to return in 2017.

**********

I was with Mom twice when she died. Both times involve her teeth.

The first time was in 2018, when she had atrial fibrillation. We were in the hospital and they gave her a drug to regulate her heart rate. They weren’t happy with her progress so they gave her something else. I was the only with her at the time, and I was eating some cottage cheese from her lunch tray. I turned away from Mom and heard this loud gasping-type sound. I turned around and her lower teeth were sticking out of her mouth.

I kind of laughed and said, “Mom, do you want to take your teeth out?” She didn’t answer, and I noticed her eyes were vacant. I called her name again – no reply. So I ran out into the hall and – no one was there. Absolutely empty. So I yelled, “Help. My mom needs help.”

Within seconds people were running towards the room – by this time, her warning indicators were no doubt blipping and beeping crazily. A nurse began giving CPR and Mom began to revive. I pushed my way through several people because I wanted her to see a familiar face when she awoke.

She opened her eyes and looked at me. Then she looked at the nearly-20 strangers crowded into the room and in a sweet, childlike voice said, “I fell asleep.”

The second time she passed – six days ago – I was with her when she became quite restless. At about 11:30 pm she woke up and I asked if she wanted to take her teeth out. She said, “go ahead,” so I took out her bottom teeth, but I couldn’t get her top teeth. She fell back to sleep, but when she awoke again a short time later, she pulled them out and handed them to me, as if she had processed what was going on. A short time after that she opened her eyes, but we could tell she was not fully conscious.

In those moments, I imagine Mom was going back in time. I see her as a child in her farmhouse, smelling the fried chicken her mom was cooking, playing with her brother Bernie, holding her sister, Judy, smelling her grandfather’s tobacco, plinking out some tunes on the piano, then falling asleep reading her favorite book. I see my grandfather lifting her in his arms and carrying her out to the kitchen table for supper.

The supper table is enormous, and as Mom opens her eyes, she sees everyone she ever loved, including her mom and dad, my dad, her brothers and sisters, her daughters, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even Charlie and Max, her cats, are slinking around looking for some chicken treats. The table seems to go on forever and she sees friends and neighbors and even some descendants not yet born. She wakes up and looks around this amazing table of love that she helped create, and she says, in a sweet, childlike voice, “I fell asleep.”

The thing I miss most

Wow, do I miss music. Yesterday, I was driving home from getting groceries, and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique was playing. It was The March to the Gallows (the movement where the guillotine falls), and the percussion and brass were just pounding and sounding their macabre death tunes into my bloodstream. Meanwhile, winds and strings were going crazy with the anxiety of a path that only goes to one end and I cried at the sheer beauty of it. (Thanks, KVNO.)

I remember one summer in college I was hired for the University of Iowa Summer Band Camp. I lived in the dorms with teen girls as a resident advisor. I taught the flute players lessons, I ran errands for the executive director, AND I was the assistant to the orchestra conductor. 

I wish I could remember his name. 

This conductor programmed The March to the Gallows, which was perfect because it’s meant to be played by a huge orchestra, and summer band camp boasts nothing if not large numbers. I listened all week as he prepped the kids to play this difficult piece. He put the strings and winds through careful and methodical repetition of the tricky and winding passages. He bolstered the brass sections’ courage to aim their sounds (with beautiful tone) for the cheap seats. He fed encouragement to the clarinet player, who has the honor (and terrifying moment) of playing the ‘idee fixe’ (theme that runs throughout the symphony) right before the guillotine chops off the composer’s head. 

On the day of the concert, the conductor had a dress rehearsal with the kids. He didn’t want them either to peak or blow their lips out. So he made them SING their parts – even that big clarinet solo. Imagine 100 high school kids willingly singing, tapping, and clapping their parts – dynamics included – in a super resonant room. It was one of the most effective and memorable rehearsals I’ve ever been privileged to hear.

The first time I performed Symphonie Fantastique was with the Cedar Rapids Symphony – my first job out of college. I haven’t performed it since, though I have practiced the flute and piccolo parts, which show up on orchestra auditions quite frequently. I was supposed to play it last year, with Lincoln Symphony.

Yesterday in the car, I started crying because I didn’t get to play it last year. I cried because the music is so damn beautiful and compelling and visceral. I cried because I miss making music. 

It’s not that I’m not playing my flute, but there is something completely perfect about pieces like March, where you get to challenge yourself, play at your best individual level, and then put it together with other people doing the same.

My music experiences have ranged from ordinary to sublime. When it’s your job, you face the same things anyone does – the comfort and occasional boredom of tackling known or easy tasks, the exhilaration or anxiety of new challenges, dealing with the contributions and foibles of your colleagues. Usually, it’s just another day. Sometimes it’s absolutely, perfectly, providentially sublime.

I’ve felt this way since I played my first rehearsal with the Omaha Area Youth Philharmonic (circa none of your business). Listening to music affords me all the emotions, but performing is where magic, heaven, bliss, and meaning reside. I will be playing until they pry the flute from my cold, dead hands.

Ho Ho Blah Blah

Disclaimer: I am not religious. Whatever you believe is fine, but if it’s supernatural, I’m out. Except for Supernatural, the tv show – I love those Winchester boys.

But at this time of year, my profession runs me into a lot of religious situations. In the more progressive venues, there are Holiday Extravaganzas, comprised of 67% religious music (how many ways can you stylize ‘O Holy Night’?) and 33% Rudolph/Silver Bells tunes. You’ll be wished a Merry Christmas, but you’ll also be wished Happy Holidays.

Then there’s the traditional concert, which is 92% Christmas, and Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride.’ No “Happy Holidays” here. It’s all about the crèche.

The closest I get to secular is Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker.’ But the music is so challenging I think there are a lot of prayers being said by the performers around me.

This year, I played for a unique (to me) service. Formerly called Blue Christmas, it was a Service of Remembrance. Its dual purpose was to remember those who have died, and acknowledge that this time of year can be made difficult (or more difficult…..or impossible) for many, due to loss.

It was a simple service – some scripture, some songs, and the lighting of candles in remembrance of loved ones. The sermon acknowledged that loss can completely alter your memories and experiences of a holiday. The preacher realized his loss (on Christmas Day a few years past) didn’t have to keep him from being joyful, even as he still mourned the loss not only of his loved one, but of his love of Christmas. 

It was a church service, so there was talk of deities. Instead of tuning out, I simply replaced God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit with the word love. Love can get us through these times. Love can comfort us. Love can restore our joy. To be honest, it made me rather melancholy. I don’t like this holiday. I’m not sure why, but it feels sharp to me since losing my cat Isabelle right before Christmas, with Oliver following the next November. And there are so many people…..all the time! I’m simply one of those people who finds this season emotionally draining. 

So I lit a candle. I lit it to remember Charlotte Rose, Oreo, Aunt Judy….and the two cats I still grieve daily.

That small spark of candlelight lifted my spirits, and I felt a bit of energy (joy? love?) flame inside me – and then flow out of me, destined for the world, I hope. Whatever you believe, I encourage you to express your love for those near you, and those you’ve lost. It doesn’t mean you’ll be ready to wear an ugly sweater or listen to a Firestone Christmas album, but I think it’ll ease the holiday blues ever so slightly.

The Power of a Song

A few years ago, I lost my s#*t. I woke up one day, and felt so not-Amy that I went to my doctor immediately. Over the next few weeks and months, I struggled to get things back to normal – whatever that is. It was the start of my thinking about moving back to Omaha. It was a time of questioning my life choices. It was my mid-life crisis.

The details are for another time, but in working through the worst of it, I made a discovery. “Peace of Mind,” by Boston. I know it’s an old song, but I had never really heard it. And in those days of emotional unrest, I would play it over and over again, wishing its words into my existence. If you asked me today, how I made it through that period of my life, I’d answer that song, good friends, and pharmaceuticals (legally prescribed).

It’s not the first time a song has moved me forward in life. Long before Allie McBeal introduced the idea of a life theme song, I had one.

My senior year of high school, I auditioned for the Omaha Youth Symphony. I won the first chair position. I was shocked, because I hadn’t even made the Symphony the year before. I went from no chair to first in one year. Of course, I had been practicing like crazy, and I had a great teacher, but I was still surprised.

Almost as soon as the rehearsals started I was challenged by the second and third chair players. A challenge is where the players in question have a ‘play-off.’ It meant I could go from first chair to third chair. The conductor would pick some music for us to play, and he would decide (again) who would be first, second, and third based on this play-off.

The second player had been in the Symphony for two or three years prior, and was the ‘heir apparent’ to the first chair when the other players graduated. The third was a newcomer to the youth orchestras, and she was an excellent player. So I was definitely nervous.

The day of the challenge, I went to school as usual. I left a bit early and went to my Oldsmobile Omega. I was the only one in the parking lot, and after starting the car, I turned on the radio.

“I’m alright, nobody worry ‘bout me.”

The Kenny Loggins song blasted into my brain, and I knew I would win the challenge. From that moment on, that song was my theme. If I had something difficult to face, I would play it, sing it, dance to it – whatever it took to get my mojo in the right place.

Other songs have serendipitously roamed throughout my entire life, and they stick with me more than others. “Once in Love with Amy,” sung by Frank Sinatra, was the song that my parents played to me as a child. In high school, “Aimie,” by Pure Prairie League (the only country song I’ll admit to listening to regularly) was sung to me by a bunch of classmates. It was spontaneous and affirming (and a touch embarrassing). In law school, “I Fought the Law,” was a fun anthem, but after law school, it was (and is) perfectly on-the-nose. “I Am Woman” is the song I most want to invent a dance routine for.

These songs are my playlist as I go on daily walks around my Omaha neighborhood. A lot of times, I don’t even know how they’re going to inspire me once I finally drag myself out the door (I hate exercise). But I never get tired of hearing them, and more importantly, being uplifted and inspired by them. And it all started in Omaha.

 

Anatomy of a flute figurine

I don’t go to the thrift shop quite as often as I used to. By thrift shop, I mean any one of the Goodwills, Thrift Worlds, Thrift Americas, and other randomly named discount shops peppering the metropolitan area. I don’t have a favorite shop, because every time I pick one, I find something fabulous at a different one. I’ve sworn off the myriad Goodwills more than once, only to find myself near one…..and parking.

But as I said, I’ve been going less. It’s partly because I use thrifting to stock up on craft supplies, and I haven’t been crafting too much lately. And, I have so. much. stuff. already. In fact, I need to donate some of it back. So my need for going has diminished. My need for (or addiction to) shopping can often be staved off by roaming around on eBay or Etsy or Zulily, although when I have the urge to get something tangible, thrifts are a solid go-to for cheap.

But there’s one unique thing I have found at thrift shops, and the only way to get that thing is to go again and again. Often, I come home empty-handed, but since moving to Nebraska, I seem to have come into a golden era of acquisition.

I’m speaking, of course, about flute player figurines.

I started playing the flute when I was 10 years old. Before it was determined that I would be a music major in college, be a professional flutist, or even play the flute in high school, I received my first flute player figurine from my mom. It’s one of the two white figurines below –  sadly, I can’t remember which one. Ironically, the very first flute player figurine went to my sister, Mary, who played piano and clarinet (below, right). Eventually, Mary was forced persuaded to give the figurine to me. Now, of course, it lives with her again.

Over the years of my life, I received many figurines, and I began to buy my own. Many were Hallmark ornaments or statues. My mom frequented an Omaha gift store, where she found quite a few. Eventually, she and I would keep an eye open wherever gifts and collectibles were sold – antique shows, flea markets, garage sales, and souvenir shops.

In the 80s, I joined the Hummel Club so I could get the ‘members only’ flute playing figurine. In the 90s, I went to Maine with my parents. We stopped for gas and they had a tacky gift store loaded to the gills with cheap collectibles. Mom got tired of looking at all of it, but I scoured every shelf and eventually found a treasure. As I said to Mom, “If you don’t look on every shelf, you miss the monkeys playing the flute.”

When eBay was invented, I spent a bit too much time and money adding to my collection. But it wasn’t until I moved to Richfield, Minnesota that things really changed. I lived three blocks from a thrift shop. I had never really considered thrifting in the past, thinking thrift shops were filled with unwanted and unloved cast-offs covered in a layer of grime. But MY thrift shop (as I still think of it) was awesome. It seemed like some old lady was donating her entire estate of vintage cool stuff at least once a week. I found amazing sheet music – in one stop, I purchased a bunch of woodwind quintet music someone had donated.

But the big thing eventually became flute player figurines. I can’t remember the first one I bought, but I can imagine my reaction, because I still have the same reaction today when I see that distinctive posture (and believe me, I can take in a large room in a glance, and tell you if there’s a flute playing figurine among the offerings). Inwardly, I clap my hands and yell, “Yeah!” Then I walk as quickly as possible – before someone else can grab it – and snatch that figurine out of the jaws of anyone who might think she deserves it more. I check the price, although that’s usually moot, and then I begin a very thorough check from top to bottom for flaws. Sadly, many flute player figurines have breakage. It is often the end of the flute, since it sticks out. It’s like a magnet for hitting the corner of a wall.

If it’s not broken and I don’t already own it, I buy it. And you’d be amazed how many new ones I find. If it’s not broken but I have it, I will still buy it if it’s vintage-ish. This is because vintage pieces seem to vary slightly, primarily in the way they are painted.

If it is broken in any way, I face a big decision – is it still worth the financial investment? I have many figurines that are chipped or cracked or broken in part. I’ve repaired some, like the marching band girl below, and others I have bought if they are unique. In the case of the figurine on the right, the top part of her flute was chopped off. I wouldn’t have bought this one, but I actually missed this flaw in the shop. I’m so used to checking the end of the flute for breakage that I missed it. But the price definitely plays a role with broken pieces. I found a cool boy figurine recently, but the end of the flute was broken, so I thought $6 was too much. I could have pointed it out to the store manager, but it just wasn’t that interesting.

Sometimes, I feel like the figurines have a siren song. The sheer frequency with which I find them is unnerving. It has become more so since I moved to Nebraska, and seems to extend to when I’m traveling. In one of my trips to Minnesota, I found 17 figurines in a two week period. This included some antique shops, but mostly it was thrifting. The last time I was there, I found figurines in five of the six thrift shops I went to over my two week stay.

I know, it’s eery.

So back to where I started – I haven’t been going much lately. It’s probably been three months since I hit some of the Nebraska stores. And there, in the Goodwill, on a shelf with a bunch of other angel figurines, was this beauty. She’s over a foot tall, and musical (although that appears to be broken). She was $15 – pretty pricey for a thrift shop, but I checked her very thoroughly and she has no chips, cracks, or other flaws. She is made of porcelain, and hand-painted.

C9D52525-31AA-48A9-BD8A-CD6A321CB70D

As I continued wandering (not really expecting to find anything else, since I had already hit the motherload), I ran across this pretty stained glass votive.

91EDB2A1-8FAF-4B24-9CF1-6B230748ACEC

What are the odds? Well, in Nebraska, the odds I will find a unique flute player figurine seem pretty high – take a look at these thrift shop finds since I moved here in 2017.

If nothing else, Nebraska has strengthened my commitment to addictive flute player figurine shopping. At one point in my life, I thought seriously about divesting my entire collection. I think the next day I found one of the figurines above, and realized  I’m not ready to live without the endorphin rush of a new collectible.

Harbingers of Spring

Everybody loves Spring, right? Temperate temperatures, singy songbirds, growing greenery. Life abounds abundantly, evoking hope, newness, and the ‘what might be’ of our existences.

This is my second spring in Nebraska, having just missed it in 2017. I still remember the first golf ball I spotted in the street. Golfers are AWFUL in the spring, so Mary and I get a lot of balls right from the start. The cats and I have spent many lovely hours on the back porch, listening to the bad golfers hit balls into the back yard. Soon, I will be out on the links myself, trying not to hit a ball onto Maple Street on the 9th hole.

I saw my first garage sale sign the other day, and while driving around with Mom, saw a couple more. I commented how folks tend to mess up garage sale signs by making the addresses too small. That’s the most important factor, for crying out loud.

Jagged driving is taking over, as we all attempt to keep our cars from the worst of the road damage. The reckless driving is almost as annoying as the single lanes on Maple Street to accommodate the workers fixing the potholes.

The first daffodils are popping up, and Mary is cleaning the yard in preparation for tomato and basil plants.

Spring always makes me antsy for a trip, and I’ve been following prices on a flight to Rome. I don’t usually go on these trips – they are, literally, flights of fancy – but the airline searches are one expression of my increased desire to be in the sun, to be more active, to do new things.

How does this compare to Omaha before? It’s pretty simple – I’m much more aware of Spring than I was in my youth. It may be because the roads were in better condition when I was 16-18, or that garage sales and golf held no interest for me (save the golf class I took in high school).

But remember, I lived in Minnesota for 20+ years. There, Spring is later and shorter. The glory days of 70 degree weather enjoyed on the porch with the cats were much less prolific than in Omaha. Winter was just enough more harsh to ensure I never really liked living there. I had to be there twice already this year, and I hit the coldest temperatures of the year, and a blizzard. I know Omaha had some of the same, but it wasn’t to the same degree. And my cats are here. So score a couple for my hometeam.

As I write this, I have learned that we may have snow this weekend. I don’t care. I retrieved all my summer clothes from their storage, and swapped them out with the winter sweaters. Once that is done, winter can tease, but it cannot deliver any more misery.

I can’t be more clever than the many poets and writers who have sung the praises of this season, and that’s not the purpose of my blog, anyway. But I can definitely encourage you to look for something literary, as part of your own observance of all this season promises.

Here are couple I like:

“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” Anne Lamott

“It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.” From Spring by Edna Millay

“Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!” From Spring, the sweet spring by Thomas Nashe

And just a teaser, from my favorite poet, Ted Kooser – an excerpt from Old Dog in March, from Weather Central:

“From a cold stone stoop,

stepping down slowly

into another spring,”

Snowball Effect

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that after nearly two years, I still use GPS to get most places in Omaha. Someone (who shall remain anonymous) remarked, early in my relocation, that at first she thought I was trying to be precious by always using GPS, until she realized I really needed it.

It’s true – I moved from Omaha at the age of 18, at which point I only knew the routes to and from school, youth orchestra, and church from memory. If I had to get somewhere else, I caught a ride, or would write down detailed instructions. I never registered North Omaha, South Omaha, West Omaha….or how Downtown Omaha fit into the overall layout of the city.

I didn’t have a car for most of my undergrad days, and I count it a small miracle that I was not lost forever in Chicago during grad school.

I kept up this ignorance in Minnesota, where I drove all over the place for gigs. Fortunately for me, Minnesotans (especially my friend, Angela) were great at giving directions, including landmark Super Americas. If I had to figure it out myself, I used city maps and wrote detailed turn-by-turn instructions. Eventually, I came to understand the basic layout of Minneapolis, whose streets are alphabetical – except when they aren’t. This helped me learn how to get places during rush hour without braving the interstate system. But it took me at least 10 years to understand the whole north/south aspect of Minneapolis. I never really learned the suburbs.

When I bought my first computer, and was hooked up to the Interwebs, I would mapquest everything, and print it out. I would save all these maps for future use, not knowing I would eventually get all this ON MY PHONE. For me, once I had phone GPS, I never looked back. Some luddites still use maps, or get directions from a receptionist. What a waste of time! Just get the address (or the name of the business), and Siri will get you there, choosing the fastest route every time. She knows about accidents and other delays, so even if I know the way, I’ll consult her when time is of the essence.

Which brings me to Omaha. For me, Maple and Blondo are North/South running streets, and Minnesota is to my right (not the back of my head!!). Twice this week, I was called in to sub with the Omaha Symphony at the last minute. It meant stopping my crafting project – this adorable thing –

64468D6F-044C-40D3-BAFD-47B4929E5A92

and heading to rehearsal in bad weather. As usual, I consulted Siri, because I had to go to the Orpheum Theatre, a venue I’ve not been in since my senior year of high school, as best I can recall.

Siri did not realize it was snowing, and took me on this crazy circuitous route, landing me on Keystone Drive, with instructions to turn right on Military Road. Here is what Keystone Drive looked like the night AFTER that storm.

0A43ABE1-BDC6-4A47-B980-45D59DFC3449

I want you to imagine it covered in slippery snow. The photo doesn’t do the angle justice.

It’s hard to tell just how steep it is, but when I told my sister about it, she said it was the road Dad used to take us “roller coasting” on. When I drove through there again the next night, I recalled a high school event. Our high school band at Roncalli collaborated with Marian High School’s band, since both bands (especially ours) were small. We would have to get to those rehearsals at Marian on our own. I, along with Charlet Nalty (French horn) and Therese Bucchino (clarinet) caught a ride with Marty something and another boy from band. Marty had a truck, and we girls were stuck in the truck bed.

Marty decided it would be awesome to take us on a wild ride. He found dirt roads where he gunned the engine, causing us to hang on for dear life to whatever piece of metal we could find. He ended the joy ride with an accelerated jaunt down the same road real estate I encountered the other night. Not only were we late for the rehearsal, we were covered in dirt from head to toe. Our band director, Miss Carol Lenz, took one look at me after I slinked into my seat (I sat in the front row, because flute) and carried on with the rehearsal. We never faced any repercussions.

There’s a speed bump at the bottom of this hill now. I didn’t take it the first night, opting to find another route. But the second night I flew down it, only to have to slam on the brakes for the speed bump. Another back road spoiled for safety. The longer I live here, the better I’ll get at navigating the city. But I’m in no hurry as long as Siri’s directions keep snowballing into remembrance.

Premieres

I had a two-premiere week. For those not into classical music, a premiere is a big deal. It’s the moment a composer places his or her creation into the hands of a performer, and trusts that performer to share it with the world.
I’ve been a part of many premieres in my life. In college, our band premiered two pieces, one by David Maslanka, and one by William Hibbard. The Maslanka was an exuberant roller coaster ride that tested the endurance of our fingers. The Hibbard was a dense series of tonal snapshots that tested our breath capacity.
Rehearsals weren’t easy. We loved the blatant virtuosity of the Maslanka. Any given moment of any day, you could hear a trumpeter or clarinetist or horn player trying to burn some muscle memory into his or her fingers. We loved playing it as a large group and its energy always electrified us.
The Hibbard piece….well, let’s just say it was good for long tone practice. For the most part, we didn’t spend a lot of time rehearsing it, and most of us griped about its length (15 minutes), and lack of challenge on an individual level.
When we finally premiered the two works at a Band Convention in Colorado, the audience burst into an ecstatic standing ovation for Maslanka, while just barely clapping long enough to acknowledge Hibbard. In fact, it was awkward how little applause there was.
The thing is, by the time we performed those pieces, the Hibbard emerged as the complex, yet hauntingly gorgeous tone study that it was. My part was facially easy, but figuring out how my voice fit into the structures of the work took all my concentration. You can talk about whether music that needs so much mental energy is worth it. There are some composers who were thought to be “too intellectual,” “too busy,” or “too undisciplined.” Those composers are now revered.
A similar situation happened on my first professional job, a tour with the American Wind Symphony. It was the 200th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, and the ensemble toured upstate New York on its way to the enormous celebration in New York City. Two composers, Jean Francaix and Alexander Tcherepnin, composed works for the group. I think we played the Francaix twice – at the official premiere, and on the day of the celebration – while the Tcherepnin became a staple of nearly every concert that summer. Again, it was awkward, because both composers were traveling with us for the events.
In my position with The Minnesota Opera, I have been part of the premiere of several operas, including The Shining, The Manchurian Candidate, Silent Night, and Dinner at Eight. Some of my most memorable premieres have been of works I commissioned. It’s a pretty awesome thing to have a piece created for me, and I have been lucky to love every work I’ve commissioned. I only wish I had a bunch more money to spend on new works.
I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember too many premieres in my Omaha days before I left for college. I was likely there when my friend and classmate, David Batter (now the Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Columbkille and the founding conductor of the Omaha Chamber Singers), wrote a song for our weekly church gigs. I remember being super impressed that someone my age (my age!) had written a song.
My premieres this week were in Minnesota and Omaha. The Minnesota work, by Nick White, was for solo flute, and was a suite of pieces about the lives of three saints. The Omaha piece was by Z. Randall Stroope, and was performed by Sing Omaha. The work, Passage Home, was for choir, piccolo, and piano. Interestingly, the opening of the Stroope was similar to the opening of the White, which was part of the inspiration to write about it.
Since my early life in Omaha to now, music has taken me to some unpredictable places. I’m not only talking about the physical places, but creative ones. My career has included opera stars, pop music stars, huge venues, tiny stages, solo performances, chamber music, ballet, video game music, classic orchestral and opera works, and world premieres for one or 100 instruments. Some good gigs, some bad gigs, and some ridiculous gigs. Gigs that made me think or laugh or cry. It started in Omaha, and so it continues in Omaha. I’m doggone grateful for that.

In Memoriam (not a happy post)

352051F0-1706-4174-B3C8-EEBB32DBD553
Oliver and Lucy not hissing.

987E4CF8-5472-4964-87C8-8D05DE49A0A4
Oreo using Oliver’s fountain, with Oliver oblivious.

46BADED0-7230-4CD6-B6F9-16486C2C89C2
Oliver exploring the new world.

0AF5236D-1AB4-4BD9-9B85-2EEA1711983D
Oliver in the oxygen box.

85B57C23-7EC2-4686-8310-BA61C1AB74B1
Always close to me.

1F926381-11EF-47F3-A6C9-C37B78D67D04
New fountain, to stop 3 am wake-up calls to turn on the faucet.

0E63F093-1C93-441E-8652-3B04D069B615

7F87A587-3407-4A20-95BE-032875ABE6ED
Helping unpack.

BD32622E-2101-4858-ABB2-840EBA0D26CA
Isabelle’s paw prints in Minnesota house.

81C9B062-2FAE-4BDC-9A85-DB4830BEDBF4
Oliver doing the car trip.

 

This is a tough time for me. In eight days, it would have been Oliver’s 15th birthday. He has been gone nine months, and Omaha doesn’t feel quite right without him.

I made the decision to move to Omaha many years ago, but when Isabelle, my feline companion for 20 years, passed, I moved into high gear on making it happen. I vacillated some, wondering if I should stay in Minneapolis because of Oliver’s perilous health and his fantastic veterinarian.
I also agonized over leaving my friends, my work, and the house I had bought. In the end, the thought of being near family, being debt-free, and not having to worry about the upkeep of a house won out, and I began preparing to move. It was January, 2017, and I set a date of May 23 – the day after my last opera performance of the season – to move.
I did not consult Oliver, because cats can’t talk. But as I started sorting my belongings into sell, toss, or keep, Oliver was with me. He was always a cat that liked to be in the room with me, unless it was summer, and then he usually liked to be on the back porch (as did Isabelle and I). 
As I got rid of furniture, Oliver moved his perch accordingly. Since Isabelle was gone, he began to dominate the bed cuddling. I would often wake up with him sleeping next to my head. When I got rid of the bed, and started sleeping on a smaller-than-twin mattress, he was constantly trying to find ways to sleep next to me. 
On our last day in the house, I packed the last of the belongings into my car. I gave Oliver some gabapentin to calm him on the car trip, and put him in his carrier. I did a last check of the house, crying at the blue paw prints on the floor of my bedroom. Isabelle had tracked them when I had painted it.
Once in the car, I let Oliver out of the carrier. I had decided to see if he travelled better outside the carrier, since inside the carrier he meowed EVERY SIX SECONDS. I figured in a crash, the carrier wouldn’t do him much good, but out of the carrier, he might be calmer. 
I was right. Oliver stayed in the carrier at first, and eventually settled into a comfy position plastered against my right leg, where I could put a hand down and snuggle him. He never slept, but he purred a lot, and did not meow in distress every six seconds. I fed and toileted him about three hours into the trip, and we both arrived safely in Omaha. 
Oliver and I had been in Omaha over the winter holiday, and he had been great. This time, he decided the litter box was unacceptable and started peeing outside the box. I moved the box, and he seemed to approve. He and I were downstairs, separated from my sister’s two cats, and we were pretty strict about the segregation at first. Eventually, my sister and I tried integrating our cat families, with mixed success.
Oliver and I were good. I still missed Isabelle, but Oliver was such a comfort. His bright personality kept me company as I unpacked. His sweet meow and purrs welcomed me when I’d come home from exploring thrift shops, and later, when I was going back and forth from the hospital and rehab centers to visit my mom. We celebrated his 14th birthday. He slept by my head every night.
And then he didn’t. His illness flared up, and when Oliver didn’t feel good, he became very catlike and would hide. This time, the illness won. It took a few months, but eventually (and suddenly) I had to let him go. I didn’t get a last day with him, to give him his favorite foods, or to cuddle him. I just had a few moments where I told him how much I loved him and would miss him. I thanked him for saving me after Isabelle died. 
I wondered how I would get by without him, just as I had wondered about Isabelle. My two animal companions were my family for over 20 years, and I was bereft and lonely. I had my human family close by, but the bottom line is, no one can understand my relationship with them, and no one can grieve for me. 
Omaha the second time around was so much better with Oliver. I have had great experiences and adventures, and will continue to do so. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over the happy feeling of sharing things with my two favorite souls before sharing them with anyone else. 
I’m trying to adopt a philosophy I first heard in Camelot (the musical). I had the privilege of performing this musical with the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre (one of my favorite performance venues in the Twin Cities). I found great wisdom in the words of Merlin, taken here from the book, The Once and Future King, by T.H. White:
The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

The best Pop-up Market ever!

Have you ever been to a pop-up market? I hadn’t until yesterday, when my sister said, “my friend, Jen, is having a pop-up market at her farm.” She then read from the advert: “Come on out to the farm for our sweet corn popup market. Try some with butter and other toppings. We’ll have cooked ears to eat or take some home for the family. We’ll have some local live music in the barn and some kittens to play with.”

I stopped her right there. “Kittens?!” I shrieked. “What time?”
The time was 10 am to 2 pm, as it turned out. We headed out, Mary excited for corn, me for kittens.
Mary has been friends with Jen Miller, and her husband, Kevin Dohrmann, for years. Upon arrival, we parked in a nearby lot and enjoyed the rustic folly of a hayride up to the farm (about one half block). As we pulled into the country-style lane leading to the barn, we heard a rooster crowing. You would never know this beautiful building and its surrounding lands are right in the heart of Omaha – an urban farm, as they call themselves (https://www.facebook.com/The-Miller-Dohrmann-Farm-698217090205410/).
While Jen and Mary caught up, I found a kitten. Her name was Bear, and she had the most lovely and unique markings. She let me hold her for a long time, and even put up with me letting small children (gently) touch and pet her. Then I saw her brother, Nigel – an all-black kitty. My heart immediately crushed on Nigel, as he reminded me of my beloved Isabelle. But Nigel was skittish and far too fast for me. He went up into the barn’s loft, where Jen and Kevin store hay bales they sell.
Mary and I settled down for some “corn on the rod,” as my dad used to say, after tasting the goat cheese and goat milk gelato made by Honey Creek Creamery (http://honeycreekcreamery.com/). We tried some special butters Jen prepared with pesto and peppers, but also enjoyed a simple butter and salt combo. Their corn was so delicious, we had to eat a second ear, and take a dozen home. We also took home some goat cheese and goat milk gelato (did I mention the gelato has more protein than regular gelato, because goats?).
Our hosts enhanced the event with musicians playing some bluegrass and folk tunes. I couldn’t help look around the space and think, music festival. We saw some chickens, who perhaps were on their way to hang out with the rooster. And I chewed on some hay.
This was a fun event, and it was great to support local growers. I’m sorry if you missed the event – maybe they’ll have another one if you like their Facebook page!
And KITTENS!