Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Surviving the Death of a Sibling

The Rogers Gang
Mary, Ann, Hartley, John and Jim up front

Mom and Dad often remarked that their greatest accomplishment was raising five kids who are best friends with each other. Growing up in this gang was exciting, edgy, sometimes volatile, and always full of hilarity. Fights didn’t last past the bark, the push/shove, or the thrown rock. Because, well, when the rock hit the head and the head bled, we tried to cover it. “He tripped and fell.” Unfortunately, the doctor who stitched it up said “No way. This isn’t from a fall, it’s from a thrown rock.” Dad said that the five of us played “constantly shifting alliances.” See, everyone was best friends with each other, but not *all* the time. The alliances could shift multiple times in one day. It was an idyllic childhood in many ways.

When I got a call at work on the afternoon of November 5, 2010, the words on the other end of the line, “Jim’s dead” changed my family forever. For my Mom to lose her youngest child and for my siblings and me to lose our loyal, adorable brother brought unspeakable pain. Part of me wishes to forget some of those early moments--rushing to the hospital, seeing my Mom, saying goodbye to Jim’s precious body surrounded by a golden white aurora, calling siblings, the uncontrollable sobbing, the utter disbelief. But if I did forget, I’d lose a part of me.

Surviving Jim’s death has been a process, one that will never be complete. Jim is never far from our minds. We talk and laugh about him. We acknowledge (sometimes with tears, sometimes with a big grin) when we miss him, perhaps on vacation or for a big event. But mostly, the missing, the aching missing, is just from every day living. “Jim would have loved this.” “Jim should be here, he’d be doing xxx.” In all reality, Jim isn’t gone. He’s with us all the time. That’s how I’ve survived four rocky years of a grief that still has not settled into a “new normal.” It will, it moves in that direction. But I will never get over it, I’ll just survive.

The late Elizabeth Edwards wrote this about losing a child. Anytime a friend tells anyone of us a “Jim Story,” it is a precious thing. It keeps him alive.

“If you know someone who has lost a child, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died--you're not reminding them. They didn't forget they died. What you're reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.” 
~ Elizabeth Edwards~

This is most likely the last picture of the five of us together.
Ann, Jim, Hartley, John, Mary

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On Being in Spain, September 11, 2001

Looking at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, Through Innocent Eyes

Pure bliss. That’s exactly what I felt on September 11, 2001. I was admiring this spectacular view of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, exactly one week into a two week vacation. 

The Alhambra, originally constructed in 889 in southern Spain as a small fortress, was later rebuilt by a Moorish king as a magnificent royal palace for the last Muslim emirs in Spain. It was taken over by Catholic monarchs in 1492 and allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries before European scholars rediscovered the Alhambra in the 19th century and major restorations began at that time. Today, it is one of Spain's national treasures, exhibiting the country's most significant Islamic architecture. Moorish poets described it as "a pearl set in emeralds," a testament to the color of its buildings and the forest surrounding them.

We had tickets to tour the Alhambra the next day and had spent the morning and early afternoon exploring the colorful and quaint town of Granada on foot. I had read in the Lonely Planet guide that President Bill Clinton considered the view (pictured above) from San Nicholas lookout to be the most beautiful place he had witnessed a sunset. After hoofing it up the winding, hilly streets we arrived at the lookout point and I clearly remember thinking “this is my place, this is where I belong.” My love affair with Spain grew by the day.

Although it wasn’t crowded, others milled around and soaked in the beauty of a picture perfect day in the Atlas mountains. My travel partner first noticed a man looking at us and when I turned he had an anxious expression and approached us. In reality, he just wanted to hear our accent.

Our new Canadian friend snapped this picture moments after
we learned of the terrorist attacks in the United States on
September 11, 2001.

I will never forget the exact words of this Canadian. He asked if I was from the U.S. When I said yes, he replied "have you heard what is going on?" I shook my head no. He said: "Both the World Trade Center towers are on the ground and the Pentagon's on fire."  Whoa.

The final week of our vacation was significantly altered from that moment. Southern Spain, and the country in general, spoke less English than I expected. Given my broken Spanish, it was difficult to get information. We ran down the winding streets into town and stopped at the first tavern with a television. I expected English subtitles. A naive assumption, of course, and the only image we saw was the second plane hitting the tower time after time and listening to a news anchor rapidly speak in Spanish. It wasn't until four days later when we arrived back in Madrid and secured a Sunday London Times that we learned details of the attack. Horrors such as box cutters and people jumping from the top of the World Trade Center were revealed to us along with brave stories that epitomize the human spirit like Todd Beamer's command of "Let's Roll" before attempting to overtake the hijackers. But, throughout that final week of vacation, we were treated with a kindness and dignity that I will always cherish. From complimentary dinners to hugs, kisses, and prayers, we met so many people and experienced things because of the international crisis back home. 

Perhaps my passion for Spain (I hope to retire there half time) is rooted in this experience. It’s the place where my innocence of the world was forever marred and I allowed the people of Spain to comfort and hold me for a week. I left the next Tuesday on one of the first regularly scheduled Delta flights since the attacks. The compassion offered so generously by Spaniards made for a softer landing into the reality of my country being in both crisis and mourning.

Here are a few images inside the mystical Alhambra, which is a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Marion Barry & Me

This photograph from the January 19, 1990, Washington Post
appeared in the same edition as news coverage of Mayor Marion
Barry's arrest for crack cocaine. 

One might wonder how a young woman from Missouri could possibly hold a connection with the crack smoking, former long-term mayor of Washington, D.C. (1979-1991 and 1995-1999), especially on the day the news and pictures of his arrest splashed in papers and on televisions around the world. Marion Barry and I were the top items in The Washington Post that day--we shared the headlines.

The perfect storm of events began at noontime on January 18, 1990, when a group of my colleagues from HCR Management and Consulting gathered across the street at McPherson Park to eat lunch. The unseasonably warm January weather made it a “Great Day for a Picnic” as the headline above declares.

The Post photographer shot some photos and then asked for my name as I was the focal point of the picture. I provided it and never thought another thing. Unbeknownst to me, three blocks down K Street one of my best friends from my days at the University of Kentucky, Paul O'Neill, also decided to eat lunch at the park across from his office. The same photographer took Paul’s picture with friends and asked for his name. 

January 18 so happened to be the very night the married Mayor Marion Barry was photographed smoking crack
Mayor Marion Barry caught
smoking crack on a surveillance
video on 1-18-1990.
 with a former girlfriend in a snazzy DC hotel. The newspapers the next day featured pages and pages of grainy photos of the Mayor’s misdeeds the night before. The entire paper was news of the crack smoking mayor, a few ads, and guessed it, the picture I starred in “Great Day for a Picnic.”

A friend called to alert me that morning and I found my office copy of the paper and preened up with pride. How cool! My critical thinking cap, however, wasn’t on as I was basking in my own glory. I thought I’d pick up a few papers after work so I could send my parents a copy of the picture. The joke was on me when every single newspaper in the city was gone by 3 p.m. I managed to scrounge up a few pictures and this is the only one to survive the last 25 years. It is a great misfortune that a complete issue of the paper never made it back to Missouri because it is hard for people to believe that is really was just Marion and me in the January 19, 1990, edition of the Washington Post.

P.S. The story takes a humorous twist when my friend Paul (mentioned above), who I was in a small tiff with, called me at the office on January 19th. We had not spoken in two weeks. Rather than congratulating me on my picture, he gave me a tongue lashing about how HIS picture should have been in the paper. Paul told of getting his picture taken the day before and ripping through the Post to find his picture. And there I was laughing (at him, he says). He said seeing me in that picture was adding insult to injury. I replied that, no, it was poetic justice. We agreed to meet halfway and have never had an argument again!

Despite my trumping Paul O'Neill for the only non-Barry
picture in the Washington Post that day, we have remained friends
for over 25 years. No way Marion Barry can come between us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Proper Guest Room

When my good friend Allison planned a visit to Columbia for this past weekend I told her that she would be the first to sleep in my new but very old Murphy bed. Allison and I share, in addition to a dear and meaningful friendship, a love of eating with our sterling silver, sleeping on freshly ironed sheets, and other old-fashioned luxuries. In typical Allison fashion, she quipped: “Emily Post suggests spending a night in your own guest bedroom to find if anything your guests need might be missing.” I told Allison she’d once again have to be my Emily Post.

The Murphy bed is over 200 years old. For many years it was in the attic of my Great Grandmother’s home in Columbia for use when her family members would come for summer visits from Palmyra, Missouri. In the late 1970s my Mom had it refinished and we used it for extra bed space at our lake cabin. At some point, my cousin Garry Banks, moved it in his home but due to downsizing, he asked my Mom if she wanted it back. I volunteered to be the latest keeper of the family Murphy bed.

I enjoyed preparing her room before her Saturday arrival. I even managed to incorporate the awkward elliptical machine (note: always for sale, shoot me your best offer) that is in the room as a part of the guest bedroom decor, thinking “every traveler needs a quick work out.” I selected several albums for her listening pleasure and had fresh cut Irises adding a lovely scent to the air.

I’m now taking reservations for the summer season. Allison left me this message in the nonexistent guestbook.

When checking in to any popular Boone County B & B one expects to find well lit and well appointed rooms with beautiful decor and comfortable amenities, but nothing compares to the magnificent antique Murphy bed found in Ann’s guest room. It stands majestic with a lovely filigree and other simple adornments and yet folds down into a most comfortable place to spend a night of soothing sleep, nestled on a down pillow encased by a freshly ironed cotton pillow case.  The room also holds a sitting area, stereo and even a state of the art elliptical machine. Already looking forward to the next time!”--Allison Ricks, May 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The auspicious day has arrived--The Maya Prophecy! As the magnet above states so perfectly--The End? or The Beginning?

Fall 2009. Wednesday night often found Mom, Jim, and me at the weekly church dinner. It ensured that we would see each other at least weekly and eat a delicious, hot meal prepared by the one and only Laura Estes. The round tables seat eight people to promote friendship and fellowship.

That Wednesday night Mom brought up my impending trip to Guatemala later that winter. I can hear her now, “Do you know that they KILL Americans down there?” Someone at the table piped in “Do you know they kill Americans in Columbia, Mo.?” She moved on. “And who are you going with?” she asked. By myself, I replied. “WHY would you want to go THERE?” Jim was cracking up, watching the common disconnect between the style and ways of Mom and me.

“Ann’s going to get things set for December 12, 2012,” Jim told Mom. “WHAT?” Jim continued, explaining to Mom that the day was the end of the Maya calendar and likely the end of the world. He playfully held out his hand and told Mom she should turn over her cash to him as it would be worthless in just two years. Later Jim told me that the Mayas were a special interest of his--progressive, highly intelligent people, way ahead of their time.

When I was in Guatemala, I saw the magnet pictured and bought one for me and one for Jim. It was on his refrigerator until the day he died. Tears streamed as I took it down when my siblings and I worked to clear his house following his death. I put the magnet in my pocket.

Today, I want to find Jim’s good friend Dan Riepe and give him the magnet. I don’t need two, I don’t want two magnets. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Missing Jim

Jim Rogers (Nov 18, 1976-Nov 5, 2010)

Two years ago today my baby brother was called home. The loving and missing are still fresh but not raw. My hope is to never get “over it” but rather to move through it at all stages of my life with grace and hope and a dignity that honors Jim.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Trading Post

Ann Rogers, John Rogers, and Hartley Rogers on their way to
collect goods for the annual Trading Post in Columbia, Mo., on
Halloween evening, mid-1970s.

The only Halloween picture in my cache of photos works well for the story I want to share about a Halloween past. Last year I told the granddaddy of them all--receiving a bowl of guppies as a Halloween treat and the trick it played on my siblings and me. See for the true tale.

This year’s story remembers the annual “Trading Post” with my brothers. Hartley, John, and me would come home from hours of trick-or-treating and pour our bags of candy into individual mountains and carefully divide the loot into categories (think chocolate, bubble gum, taffy, suckers, caramelized apples, nuts, non-edible toys, and on), creating foothills to each mountain of candy. 

When finished, the Cowgirl (me), the Indian (John), and the Patriot (Hartley) would spend a couple of hours bartering wares so that our arsenal best suited individual taste buds. I can’t imagine the amount of chocolate I sacrificed to obtain as much bubble gum as possible. See, gum was contraband in the home according to Mom and anything banned topped my list. My brothers tended to go for pure sugar and chocolate did the trick. I think all three of us would agree that we have as many memories surrounding the annual Trading Post as the actual trick-or-treat collecting itself. It’s when the game got serious and the stakes became high.

As much as my Mom disliked Halloween, I think my Dad secretly loved it as this memory reveals. One Halloween, perhaps later in the evening in the picture above, the Trading Post conducted its final deals and closed shop. We all took our goods to place in hiding from each other--and as it turns out, most importantly Dad. That night, in the wee hours, when brother John was too pepped on sugar to fall asleep my father tiptoed into his room to swindle a sample from his hidden stash in the closet. Before Dad could make the steal, John shot up in bed and declared “Don’t take my candy!” Dad was so startled by the command that he allowed an eight-year-old Indian to stop him in his tracks.