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Posts Tagged ‘hobbies’

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A co-worker complimented me on my paperclip holder this morning.

It’s an ashtray.

My grandmother (father’s side) LOVED to smoke. She loved it like some people love their pets. It was her hobby.

When we were children, my brother and I would argue over who got to flick the Bic to light her Chesterfields, secondhand smoke be damned.

After her diagnosis of lung cancer/heart disease, she halfheartedly tried to quit. I remember looking outside one Thanksgiving and noticing smoke drifting up from the open driver-side door of her K-car. She may have sort of tried to take her doctor’s advice to quit, but she wasn’t taking any orders off of anybody.

After she died, I found secret stashes of Chesterfields all over her house, in handbags, dresser drawers and cabinets. They seemed like dirty secrets, and finding them made me wish that everybody had just shut up and let the woman smoke after her condition was diagnosed as terminal. Instead, she seems to have spent her last couple of years sneaking cigarettes only when she could get all the caretakers out of the house.

This is only one of the entirely awesome collection of ashtrays that I inherited from her. Most are very evocative of the ’60s and ’70s, and there’s not a plain one among them. Like her, they’re colorful and weird, and they don’t really go with anything.

She died in the fall when I was a college freshman. Every year about this time I realize that I’m becoming more like her as I get older (sans the smoking and multiple divorces), and we could have some great conversations if she was still around. We could have spent the last 20 years taking those crazy guided bus tours that she liked, smoking our way around the continent.

She would have been a blast on a cruise ship.

Instead, I’ve got the grooviest ashtrays you’ve ever seen. They may never see another cigarette, but they’re great reminders of a majestically weird lady that I wish had been around longer.

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Speaking to a friend from Texas today, I noted that Southern families, or maybe just farming families in general, seem to have tragedies woven into their histories, generation after generation. This probably isn’t a fair assessment – Northerners have plenty of dysfunction, too, no? – but it’s what I know.

Southerners can be shockingly straightforward about the past. An uncle dies, you hear the story of how he accidentally shot another man while hunting in his youth, and barely escaped jail time. Again and again you hear about the aunt who died decades too young because a pompous doctor refused to perform a life-saving hysterectomy. You learn about an old family friend who lost his hearing and hand to a careless dynamite accident.

Cancer. Alcoholism. Diabetes. Car accidents. House fires. Thwarted love. Mental illness. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and a thousand things that do go wrong.

When things go right, there’s not so much story, but isn’t that the story that should be told?

My brother, raised by a father whose own father abandoned him before he was even born, a man whose love for us in the end couldn’t overcome what he had missed growing up, has been an unbelievably good father to his two daughters. He may be a natural, but I suspect he is purposely railing against the past.

I’m married to the sort of man that my mom deserved, a man who actually wants to be married to me, and isn’t just filling the role that society dealt him.

Having spent my life outrunning dozens of potential unhappy endings, it always shocks me a little to think that my brother and I may actually be OK, that we’ll stay happily married to our respective spouses, that he’ll always be the guy who really deserves the No. 1 Dad coffee cup, that we’ll pursue careers we don’t despise and maintain hobbies that we love.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop running. But the idea that I might win lets me catch a breath every now and then.

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