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Not too long ago I decided to do some miscellaneous Facebook surfing by lurking on a group that has been set up for alumni of my old high school. Part of the reason was to keep my mind off my continuing job hunt and the latest political news. (I remember that was the night when new White House communications direction Anthony Scaramucci went off the profanity-laden deep end. Scaramucci was fired soon after that incident—after he had spent only 10 days working at his new job.)

While I was lurking on that high school alumni group on Facebook and scrolling through old posts that one recent night, I learned that my former music teacher, Tim Landers, had died last year of complications stemming from a liver transplant. He was either 63 or 64 (I was only able to figure out his age because he wrote this Facebook post on October 14, 2013 where he said that he was 61 so I did the math and, no, I don’t know the date of his birthday so I have no idea if he managed to celebrate his latest birthday before his death or not). In the comments section someone posted a video of a song that he wrote and sang about Ocean City, Maryland. I watched the video and I kind of liked the laid-back vibe of the song. It’s the quintessential summer song that’s perfect to listen to if you’re on a beach anywhere in the world. Here’s the video below, titled “It’s a Shore Thing.”

If you like “It’s a Shore Thing,” you can download it for 99 cents from CDBaby, Amazon, Google Play, or iTunes.

I also found another video he did as part of a trio known as The Landers and Heinz Project. It was a live performance of another song he wrote as he and his partners were playing on a local radio station in Ocean City. The song is called “Scotch and Soda” and it is just as laid-back as the other song. (Tim Landers is the guy in the glasses and mustache playing his guitar and singing.)

If you like “Scotch and Soda,”  you can download it for 99 cents from CDBaby or iTunes.

Anyone who has been reading this blog on a regular basis would know that I don’t have too many fond memories of my old high school. In fact, last summer I went back to my old school for the first time in many years just so I could photograph my hand giving the middle finger to that school. I was on my way to the latest Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School event in Baltimore (link is NSFW) when I did this. Yes, I took advantage of the longer days so I could check out my old school quickly before driving on to Baltimore.

While I was mostly miserable in the five years I attended that huge school complex known as the Old Mill Educational Complex (one year in Old Mill Middle School-North and four years in Old Mill Senior High), there were a few teachers there who provided a few bright spots in what was otherwise a miserable existence. Like I wrote in last year’s post where I included that picture of my hand giving the finger:

Why was this school so bad? While there were plenty of teachers at the school complex who were dedicated at their jobs, it was the attitude of the administration that considered athletics more important than academics.

Among those teachers who were dedicated at their jobs was Tim Landers, who taught music (mainly guitar). I took four semesters of guitar class with him until I had exhausted all of the guitar classes that my high school offered. The one thing I never realized about him until after I learned about his death and I started reading his Facebook postings is that he was only 9 or 10 years older than me. (I know it sounds kind of strange but it wasn’t that unusual to have a teacher who was close in age to the students he/she taught in my high school. When I was a senior I had an English teacher who had only received her teaching degree the year before and she was just five years older than me.) Mr. Landers bore a slight resemblance to Mr. Van Driessen from the Beavis and Butt-Head cartoon series, more in terms of temperament than his looks. (He didn’t have a beard and he wore his long hair in the feathered style that was very popular back in the 1970s.) Here’s a photo of him I scanned from my sophomore high school yearbook.

Looking at his personal Facebook page, I found that he was a spiritual person like Mr. Van Driessen with the big difference being that he expressed himself as a devout Christian while Mr. Van Driessen was more into New Age spirituality. But he definitely shared Mr. Van Driessen’s hippie vibe in terms of his outlook on life and the funky clothes he wore to school. The main difference was that Mr. Landers was far less of a pushover than Mr. Van Driessen. He was the kind of person who was willing to help you unless you crossed him. If you did anything to push his buttons, he would not hesitate to send you to the principal’s office or to even fail you for not doing the required coursework.

Here’s one example of Mr. Landers not being a stereotypical pushover hippie. I remember it was the end of the semester when we not only took our final exams but we also were given an evaluation form where we could write about what we liked or didn’t liked about the class. Unlike the final exams, we were not required to write our names. The idea was that we could freely give our opinions without repercussions.

So we turned in our exams and the evaluation forms then returned to our seats while waiting for the bell that would signal the end of the class. Mr. Landers happened to glance through some of the exams and evaluations at his desk until he came upon an evaluation form where, according to Mr. Landers, someone had written “Mr. Landers can do something to himself.” (Given the fact that I saw that Mr. Landers was visibly angry at the time, I suspected that the wording was stronger than what he indicated—somewhere along the lines of “Mr. Landers can go fuck himself.”) By that point it was almost the end of the class but Mr. Landers was determined to get to the bottom of who wrote that evaluation form. He said that he would read what we wrote on the evaluation forms out loud and if he came upon something that one of us recognized that he/she wrote, that person was to go up to the class and pick up that form then bring it back to his/her seat. Mr. Landers came upon my form (where I basically wrote that I wished he hadn’t done so many classical guitar songs because I prefer rock guitar) so I picked mine up. It wasn’t until Mr. Landers came to the last of the evaluation forms that a boy in the class confessed that it was he who wrote that nasty message on the evaluation form.

At that point the bell rang, we returned our evaluation forms to the teacher’s desk before we headed to the next class, and Mr. Landers escorted that boy to the principal’s office. (I’ve long since forgotten who the boy was or even what he looked like—other than he was a white kid with dark hair—mainly because I wasn’t friends with him.)

Fortunately I got along pretty well with Mr. Landers and I enjoyed his classes. I think he had a high opinion of me as a student. I managed to get him to sign my yearbook only once, which was during my sophomore year (the same yearbook where I posted that photo of him).  His signed it “Kim, Take care of yourself and be good. I’m sure you will. Love, Tim Landers.”

I remember that Mr. Landers’ real ambition was to be a rock musician and he only got into teaching to pay the bills. He turned out to be one of the many talented musicians who never quite made it to the big time and it was not due to a lack of trying. He would spend evenings, weekends, and school breaks writing new music and recording demos that he would try to shop around to various agents and record companies. (I remember the times when he would occasionally play one of his demo songs in class.) I remember that he was a big Beatles fan and he used to drop tidbits about the band and their music because he was such a fan. In fact I remember one of the first songs he taught the class in Guitar I was “Let It Be.”

I loved his wacky sense of humor and his vast knowledge of famous guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. I still remember the time when it was the last class before Thanksgiving break and he played Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Alice’s Restaurant” song and we laughed at some of the humor. (It was the first time I had ever heard that song. Up until that time the only Arlo Guthrie song I knew was “The City of New Orleans” and that was because it was a hit on the radio and my father had purchased that song on a 45 r.p.m. record.) He also introduced us to the original soundtrack to the Broadway show Grease as he brought the album to class one day and he played it for us. (This was about a year before the movie version came out with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.)

I still remember the year when Frank Zappa came out with his disco parody hit “Dancin’ Fool,” which was played quite a bit at the major rock stations in my area. Mr. Landers brought in a couple of Zappa records where he not only showed us what a gifted guitar player Zappa was but he introduced us to an another disco parody that Zappa did just a few years before “Dancin’ Fool,” which was called “Disco Boy.” The lyrics to that one was even more hilarious than the “Dancin’ Fool” lyrics.

Despite the fact that he loved The Beatles and other rock bands of the 1960’s, he was a traditional music teacher in many ways. He was adamant that we learned how to read music, which was a skill that many of his favorite 1960s bands, including his beloved Beatles, didn’t have. Thanks to him, I learned the mnemonic method of music reading where I learned the lines of EGBDF as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge while the spaces between the lines spelled out the word FACE.

He was also adamant that we learned how to do chord building, which I quickly learned was not my strongest suit. Chord building involved learning the music notes that make up a certain chord and it involved a lot of memorization (which we later had to regurgitate on the final exam). The only reason why I still know that a D chord is made up of the notes D, F#, and A is because I made up my own mnemonic sentence that went “Dick Fucks Sharp Asses.” (I didn’t dare share that secret with Mr. Landers.)

During the time that I was taking those guitar lessons from Mr. Landers, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was frequently played on the local rock radio station for many years after it was first released back in 1971 and it would go on to become one of the biggest rock hits of the 1970s. Many people were turned on by Jimmy Page’s exquisite guitar playing throughout that song. Naturally many of Mr. Landers’ guitar students, myself included, wanted to learn how to play that song. Mr. Landers was frequently inundated with numerous requests that he teach us this song. Some kids wanted to go from a relatively easy song like “Let It Be” straight into “Stairway to Heaven” while they were in the first few weeks of Guitar I.

Eventually Mr. Landers relented sometime around Guitar III or Guitar IV and he handed out mimeographed copies of “Stairway to Heaven.” That was when we got a dose of reality about how complex that song really is as we struggled with the various chord formations. From that time on the students in the advanced guitar classes stopped wanting to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven,” while I’m sure that the students in Guitar I were probably still begging Mr. Landers to teach them how to play that song while they were learning how to play their first chords.

There was only one time I felt Mr. Landers was wrong about something. It was when punk rock became a huge such deal in the UK that the US media started doing stories about this new phenomenon. I was intrigued by the music so I purchased The Sex Pistols’ debut album. I found that record to be a revelation in that it was so unlike the heavy metal and disco music that was prevalent on the radio at that time. A few weeks after I purchased Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, Mr. Landers openly disdained punk rock in class and he felt that all of the punk bands consisted of untalented musicians who were destined to not last very long. A few other students piped up talking about how they disliked punk rock as well. I disagreed with Mr. Landers’ low opinion of punk but I kept my mouth shut because he was one of those people whom you could never provide a contrary opinion once he made up his mind strongly about something because he never attempted to listen to the other side. (In addition, I was having a hard enough time constantly trying to avoid being someone’s bully target and I didn’t want other kids to pick on me because I owned a Sex Pistols album. I pretty much listened to my punk rock records on the down low until college when finally I met other punk rock fans and I felt comfortable enough to admit that I liked punk as well.)

Okay, Mr. Landers was right about The Sex Pistols being a short-lived phenomenon because they disbanded soon after they hit the big time but he was wrong about punk rock’s longevity because there were other punk bands (such as The Clash) who had longer careers and who released albums that are now considered rock classics right alongside albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. What’s more, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and other punk bands have been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which definitely proves how wrong Mr. Landers was about his assessment of punk rock.

Mr. Landers also formed the school’s official folk rock group known only as the Old Mill Folk Rock Band. (Yeah, I know it sounds original. LOL!) The group performed at school assemblies. Each year they would go into a local recording studio to make an EP record, which consisted of four songs (which were all covers of the big hits of that era). Once the record was printed, the members would sell copies of that record among the student body. I wanted to join that band as a guitarist but competition was intense. (I had a few friends who were in that band.) While I was an okay guitarist, there were other students who were far more talented than me and I was too intimidated to every try out.

I didn’t know much about his personal life aside from a few times that he mentioned that he had a wife when I took my first guitar class with him. By the time I took my second or third guitar class he briefly mentioned that he was separated from his wife a couple of times. Then he briefly mentioned that he was divorced once or twice by the time I took my last guitar class with him. (He never mentioned why he got a divorce nor did he ever say anything nasty about his ex-wife during any of classes I took with him. He also never mentioned having any children from that marriage.) When I saw his Facebook page for the first time and he listed his marital status as “single,” I thought that my memories were wrong. But then I read an interview he gave with a local newspaper (which I’ll get to in the next two paragraphs) and he briefly mentioned “my wife at that time.” I guess he must’ve gotten married sometime in his early 20’s and it only lasted just a few years until the two of them decided to go their separate ways. It’s very likely that, by the time he created his own Facebook page, he probably felt that he had been divorced for so many years that he might as well list his marital status as “single.”

I looked on his personal Facebook page and searched his name on Google after I learned about his death and I found that he later transferred to a different high school as a music teacher before leaving the teaching field entirely in order to work as a full-time musician and songwriter. (Of course all this happened years after I graduated from high school and moved out of Glen Burnie.) He had a professional Facebook page focusing on his music career but it hadn’t been updated since 2013. At one point he had his own website, which basically had a short biography and dates of upcoming performances, which I was able to access thanks to the Internet Archive. (The last update was done after his death, which announced that he was deceased.) He even wrote a Christian musical called Walk With God, whose official website can only now be accessed through the Internet Archive.

I saw on his personal Facebook page that he had adopted a Golden Retriever puppy just a couple of years before his death. He frequently posted pictures of that dog and it was obvious that he loved his dog. I only hope that this dog found a new loving forever home after his owner died.

Recently I came across this extensive interview Mr. Landers did with a local Ocean City publication called The Coconut Times in 2014 where I was not only able to catch up on whatever became of him after I left school but I even learned about his early life before he became my music teacher. This interview is so extensive that it’s divided into Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. It’s really quite a fascinating read that I would highly recommend to anyone regardless of whether you actually knew him personally (like I did) or not. I learned that he grew up in Baltimore (in the same neighborhood where the since-demolished Memorial Stadium was located) in a very large extended family that included numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. Many of his relatives were singers and musicians and he even had a cousin who was a singer whose main rival was Patsy Cline. He landed his first job at 12 helping out in a local music store where he met professional musicians who played with the big acts like Buddy Holly.

Mr. Landers totally opened up about his life in that interview, including admitting that he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the 1990’s due to a tainted blood transfusion he received in the early 1970’s. (Which probably explains why he underwent a liver transplant in the first place.) He also mentioned that, when he was 21, his father took him to a bar so he could have his first legal alcoholic beverage while engaging in some father and son talk. His father would suddenly die of a heart attack just nine months later. (Reading that interview and seeing his old Facebook posts, it seems like longevity wasn’t exactly a family trait. Not only did his father pass away at 45, he had a brother who died in a car accident at 52, and a cousin who also died an untimely death as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War. And that’s not to mention Mr. Landers’ own death while he was in his early 60’s.)

Amid the bad times there were plenty of good memories as well. He mentioned in the interview that he had recently ate lunch with a member of Pink Floyd whom he did not identify. (I can safely say that it wasn’t with Syd Barrett or Rick Wright since they were both dead by 2014, when the interview took place.) He also mentioned meeting many famous musicians, such as the band Danny and the Juniors, who is best known for the big 1950’s hit “At the Hop.”

As I read that extensive interview, I realized that Mr. Landers lived a very interesting and fascinating life and I found myself wishing he had written a book or even started a blog about his memories. That 2014 interview is about as close as we’ll ever get to an autobiography and I’m glad that it exists. (You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

As I look over that three-part interview and those Facebook posts, I have to admit that the saddest thing about his death is that it seemed like Mr. Landers was at a point in his life where he was basically content with the things that was going on in his life over the last two or three years before he died. He had a thriving music career despite never becoming a major recording artist who sells millions of copies of his music. He was spending his summers in Ocean City where he was doing gigs at various bars and nightclubs throughout the Delmarva region. The rest of the year he was in Nashville where he was recording music and meeting people in the music industry. He had even contributed a song to this independent movie called Patapsco Valley that, as far as I can tell, only exists as a location camera test on Vimeo. (That is his song, “The River,” playing in the background of that video.) He had a dog whom he seemed to have loved very much. He achieved a point in his life where he was basically happy and content then he dies while he was in his early 60s. Yet there are a lot of loathsome people who are still alive and kicking and many of them are older than he was when he died. (I don’t want to elaborate on this any further or else this post will veer into something that would be as inappropriate as President Trump’s recent notorious speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree.)

I had pretty much cut myself off from most of the people I knew back in high school mainly because I wanted to protect myself from reliving any painful memories. (I went to my five-year reunion and that was enough for me.) I have to admit that Mr. Landers is one of the few people from my old high school I wished I had a chance to re-connect with before he died. I would’ve loved to have visited him in Ocean City (where, in his remaining years, he had spent his summers while living in Nashville the rest of the year) and I definitely would’ve brought my guitar with me so we could’ve done a jam session or two. Ironically I used to go to Ocean City with my then-husband, his sister, her son, and an invited guest (some years it was a friend of my nephew’s while other years it was a friend of my sister-in-law’s) for a week-long family vacation every year until 2011 (just a few months before my husband left me). If I had known that Tim Landers was there, I definitely would’ve made the time to look him up in the phone book so I could contact him about possibly visiting him with my guitar in hand. Oh well. It’s my loss and I have to deal with it.

I still have those mimeographed ditto sheets of guitar chords and song lyrics that Mr. Landers handed out in class stashed away in folders. They have survived various moves over the years. Writing this post has inspired me to pull out those old ditto sheets, take a look at them, pull out my guitar, and start playing it using those old sheets from years ago.

R.I.P. Mr. Landers.

Ted Adelman’s name may not mean much to people who live outside the Washington, DC area but to the locals he produced Christmas magic. Yesterday I learned that he had died just a few weeks ago. In a way it’s fitting that his family waited until another major holiday weekend (Fourth of July) to announce his death because Ted Adelman celebrated Christmas in a really big way. Boy, did he ever celebrate that holiday! Each December his home would look like this.

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You can see more photos I took of that house in my blog posts that I wrote in 2012 and 2014.

I also shot a video in 2010 of both that house and another home located across the street that was also decorating in a big way. That video shows how the house had Christmas lights that flashed in synchronicity to cheerful Christmas music that was piped outside.

That tradition abruptly ended last December when the family decided not to decorate their home for the holidays. It was when NBC4 investigated and learned the reason why: Ted Adelman had been battling cancer and he simply didn’t feel up to it. His neighbors decided to organize a group of Christmas carolers that came over to his home on Christmas night singing Christmas carols as a way of thanking him for all the years that he brought cheer to neighbors and strangers alike.

As of this writing it’s not known whether his family plans to continue with this tradition or not and we probably won’t know until December. If there’s a Heaven, I can imagine Ted Adelman trying to overdecorate it at Christmas so much that even Jesus will tell him “You don’t have to do this for me. Really. Oh, well, I’m very flattered that you care this much about me.”

Ramadan

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Here’s a look at the oldest color photographs that vividly show what the world looked like 100 years ago.

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Google Drive will soon back up your entire computer.

A recent report shows that knitting can slow the onset of dementia.

A photo essay looks back on a groundbreaking interracial marriage on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia decision.

Alice Seeley Harris’ photos exposed the horrors of colonialism in Africa.

Open source TurtleBot 3 Robot Kit runs Ubuntu and ROS on Raspberry Pi.

Meet the Aussie man crocheting his way to Instagram stardom.

Iowa IT firm caught posting “No Americans” job listing, which raised the continuing controversial issue of hiring foreign-born H-1B workers.

Millennials are obsessed with side hustles because it’s all they’ve got.

The inventor of the Roomba has just launched a weed-killing robot named Tertill.

How photography shapes our view of Native Americans.

Konami reportedly blacklisting ex-employees across Japanese video game industry.

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com (which currently houses this blog that you are currently reading), is closing its San Francisco office because most of its employees prefer to telecommute instead of showing up to work in person.

New York Public Library turns subway cars into mobile ebook libraries.

How the recently-deceased Batman actor Adam West played a prank on anyone who tried to look him up in the local phone book.

A free tutorial on how to make wind-up paper butterflies.

Over a decade later the first YouTube stars reflect on their fame and changes that happened to the YouTube platform over the years.

Ramadan

Like I wrote yesterday, I decided to devote a separate post to my attendance at the latest installment of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC because it would have made my last post extremely long otherwise.

This event was held during DC Pride Weekend and it was also held on the same day as a big demonstration on the Mall for LGBTQ rights. I wasn’t able to make it because I attended Sunday service at my church that morning, Dr. Sketchy’s was supposed to begin at 3 p.m., and there’s the issue of Metro’s unreliable weekend service where you typically have to wait between 15 minutes to a half-an-hour for the next train. I wasn’t too bitter about missing the march because it was very hot outside. (The temperature went as high as 95 degrees with high humidity.)

I saw rainbow flags everywhere in Dupont Circle as I was walking to the Bier Baron, where the event was held. Even the Bier Baron itself was decked out in rainbow colors.

Once I was inside I even got in on the act by laying out my pencils in a rainbow pattern.

Once again Reverend Valentine hosted the event. I gave her this toy dinosaur that I found outside Makerspace 125 in Greenbelt, which was among the items that the STEM center invited the general public to take for free. (Makerspace 125 is currently undergoing some major spring cleaning and reorganization of the space.) I knew she was into dinosaurs so I figured what the hell since it was free and everything. (Besides, it gives me the excuse to post this picture right here.)

She loved it when I gave it to her. She said that it will live with the other toy dinosaurs that she has on display in her kitchen.

The event was pretty well-attended despite the fact that it was scheduled during DC Pride Weekend and that big march was still going on at the Mall just a few miles away. The model for this event was a burlesque performer named Amira Jade and some of these drawings are definitely NSFW.

There was only one contest at that event. This one was a beach theme. She said that she would also give extra points for including a dinosaur. So I had Amira Jade with Dino the Dinosaur.

I also decided to ad Batman surfing on a surfboard in the ocean as my personal tribute to Adam West, the actor who played Batman in the 1960’s TV series who had died the day before. It was based on this incredibly campy clip from the TV show.

My drawing made it among the finalists but I didn’t win. Oh well. You win some and you lose some.

I did a couple of more drawings of Amira Jade before the event ended.

Yesterday morning I learned about the suicide of Soundgarden and Audioslave lead singer Chris Cornell just before I was on my way to Silver Spring to attend a one-day conference for people of a certain age who are looking for new career opportunities or are looking into becoming entrepreneurs. I took the Metro and walked through the unusually hot and humid weather (it was 90 degrees and it felt more like August than May) to get to the conference.

When the conference ended I had to make my way back to the Metro in the hot and humidity. While I was walking along Colesville Road on my way back to the Metro station, I happened to be walking past the Fillmore when I saw this tribute to Chris Cornell.

On a different subject matter, for the past week or so I started to notice these empty brown cicada shell casings on the ground. These are normally the ones from the Brood X cicadas, which emerge from the ground once every 17 years. Except some of these bugs are waking up four years early, which has vexed a bunch of experts.

When I arrived home from Silver Spring I saw one of those large bugs just resting on one of the concrete steps outside my home. I took a photo of that cicada for posterity.

This morning I woke up to find out that Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, has just died at 52. The news is now coming out that he had hung himself.

Soundgarden was among the bands I listened to back during the early 1990’s grunge era (along with Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains). Sadly I never got the chance to see that band in concert. I still play Superunknown on a regular basis because the music is that good.

The sad part is that Soundgarden had just reunited and the band was playing a few gigs. Chris Cornell made this tweet just a few hours before he was found dead.

That tweet doesn’t look like one that was made by someone who was suicidal. It sounded like he was happy.

I’m just going to end this post by embedding a few videos that show Chris Cornell in action.

I’ve learned via Facebook that one of my cousin’s dogs have just passed away. His name was Gonzo and he was 15 years old. I have a few photos of that dog that I took when I visited my cousin’s home on Thanksgiving Day back in 2013. It was a time when I had purchased my current smartphone the day before (a Droid Ultra) because my previous smartphone had literally died. (In a weird irony, that smartphone totally died a day or two after I received a flyer from Verizon saying that I now qualify for a new smartphone. So I ended up purchasing a smartphone the day before Thanksgiving.) I was playing with the camera feature when I took pictures of my cousin’s pets, including Gonzo.

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Gonzo was an all-black furry dog and he could be hard to photograph at times. Here’s another shot of Gonzo with the other dog, Lucy.

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When I took those two photos back in 2013 my cousin had two dogs and two cats. Since then one of the cats, Cookie, has died and now Gonzo is dead. So my cousin is now down to one dog and one cat.

Thirty years ago yesterday my aunt passed away from breast cancer at the age of 48. I still remember her struggles with that illness like it was yesterday. She was around 42 or 43 when she noticed a lump in her breast. When she went to the doctor she found that not only did she have breast cancer but it had spread to her lymph nodes as well.

She underwent a mastectomy and went through many months of chemotherapy that literally made her sick. At one point she asked her doctor about smoking marijuana to help her deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy. Unfortunately medical marijuana was illegal in the state of Maryland at the time so the only way she could’ve obtained it was if she had been accepted in a clinical trial. I don’t know if her doctor refused to refer her to one of those clinical trials or if she got the referral but was rejected but, in either case, she had to fully endure the side effects of the chemotherapy.

She lost her hair so she started sporting turbans when she went out in public. Her cancer was in remission by the time I was married but she wore a turban at my wedding because her hair hadn’t grown back yet. One of the friends of my husband’s parents told my aunt how much she loved her turban during the reception. That friend thought my aunt was making a hip fashion statement. My aunt was elated by that friend’s praise.

Sadly the remission was short-lived because a couple of years later her cancer not only came back with a vengeance but it had spread to her liver. At the time of her death she became a grandmother for the first time just four months earlier and another daughter was pregnant with her second grandchild. (That child was born four months after her death.) As I’m typing this I realize that the oldest grandchild has just turned 30 while the second grandchild will soon turn 30. Time just seems to go too fast for me. It feels like yesterday when they were just babies.

In the years following her death my cousins would go on to have a combined total of eight other children. On top of it, one of my cousins has a stepson from her current marriage so if you were to count him in the mix, it would be a total of 11 grandchildren who would grow up without ever knowing my aunt as their grandmother because of breast cancer.

In her short life my aunt was a housewife who was very active in the Catholic church she attended. When her youngest child began elementary school she started a child care service where she watched some of the neighborhood kids during the weekday. Among those kids was a boy named Ben, whom my aunt started to watch when he was just a baby and he eventually started calling her “Mom Lipp.” (Lipp was my aunt’s last name.) Ben was the same person who took his own life earlier this year.

In a way it’s not fair that someone like her ended up living a short life while you have someone like Keith Richards, who has used and abused nearly every single drug known to mankind yet he is still alive and is currently living life to the fullest in his seventies. Sure his skin looks very leathery from age and all those years of hard living but he’s still alive and kicking nonetheless.

This is why cancer sucks.

Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone whom you first met when that person was a baby is now dead? That is happening to me right now.

My late aunt, who was also my mom’s older sister, was a stay at home mother of four girls. When her youngest daughter started elementary school, her home was pretty quiet during the school week. She decided to earn extra money by taking care of other people’s young children in her home during the week. Most of the kids she babysat were between the ages of 2-5 and they only stayed with her anywhere from a few months to about a year or two until they either started elementary school or their parents moved elsewhere. So she had frequent turnover of kids.

Then she started to take care of three young brothers. The oldest had just started elementary school while the youngest, Ben, was just a baby (he might have been at least six months old) at the time. I think the boys’ mother wanted to go back to work after being a stay at home mom for the last several years so that was why my aunt started to care for them.

I think there may have been marital tensions between the parents as well but I don’t have all the details. (I was a kid myself when all this was going on.) I remember that Ben’s father shot himself to death soon after my aunt started to care for the brothers. I still remember when my aunt called my mom telling her about the distressing news. Ben’s mother ended up becoming a single parent and she frequently leaned on my aunt to help out with the childcare, especially if the mother had to go on some errand without having any of the kids in tow. I heard that the two older brothers were deeply affected by their father’s death. Ben was the least affected because he was so young when his father died so he grew up without ever knowing him.

Eventually my aunt stopped caring for Ben’s older brothers when they started middle school so it was just her and Ben at home during the weekday afternoon (when Ben’s school closed for the day) for a few years. Occasionally there were periods when they would be joined by another preschool child whom my aunt happened to babysit at the time. But the rest of the time it was just my aunt and Ben.

I used to sometimes see Ben when I visited my aunt and uncle with my parents. Sometimes his brothers would be there as well but there were times when Ben was the only one there because his brothers and their mother were elsewhere. I remember Ben being this really cute little kid with the big impish grin. He always had this mischievous look about him. As he learned to talk he started to call my uncle “Dad” (he saw my uncle as a father figure since his own father was gone) while he called my aunt “Mom Lipp” to distinguish her from his own mother (Lipp was my aunt’s last name). My cousins used to dote over Ben as the baby brother they never had.

My aunt stopped taking care of Ben when he entered middle school. She would continue to see him at church (his family attended the same Roman Catholic parish that my aunt, uncle, and cousins attended) and he would come by the house to visit every now and then (whenever he wasn’t busy with homework and after-school activities) so he still kept in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I think my aunt may have cared for a few more kids after Ben (I don’t remember) but she had to stop offering her child care services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer was in remission when my oldest cousin got married. Ben served as the altar boy at my cousin’s wedding. My aunt’s cancer returned not long after the wedding and she died at the age of 48. I saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral. I think he was in high school by then. It was the last time I saw Ben in person.

Today I learned on Facebook that Ben is dead. One of my cousins had posted a picture on Facebook of her, her three sisters, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I also learned on Facebook that Ben took his own life just like his father did. I don’t know why Ben felt the need to do what he did nor do I know if he actually sought any kind of professional help before he killed himself.

I just feel so weirded out that someone whom I met as a baby and saw from time to time as he grew up is now dead. I’m older than Ben and I’m still alive. Given the natural order of things, I should be the one who dies before Ben but, instead, it’s the opposite. Ben is dead and I’m alive. I just feel so numb about all this (and the fact that it’s cold and rainy outside today isn’t helping).

Last year I wrote about an impromptu memorial that sprang up in my area at the site where a man who committed suicide. At the time I wrote this:

The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

I also provided a link to the National Suicide Prevention Line (which can also be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255). I can’t say whether Ben would still be alive had someone reached out to him asking if he was okay or if he had contacted the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yes, I know that it’s too late to help Ben but I would urge everyone reading this to just reach out to someone whom they haven’t spoken with in a while just to see how he or she is doing.

Now I have to deal with the sad fact that someone whom I met as a baby is now dead and I’m outliving him.

Another one of my childhood memories have gone the way of the dodo bird. I’m sure most of you have heard this announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will permanently shut down in a few months after operating for 146 years.

I feel sad because I still have fond memories of the few years when my mother took me to that circus as a small child whenever it performed at the Baltimore Civic Center (now known as the Royal Farms Arena). I loved watching the elephants and tigers do their tricks. (This was long before I learned about the allegations that these animals suffered abuse.) I still remember when this guy did a high wire act on a motorcycle and he even twirled his motorcycle around on that wire above our heads. I remember feeling awed by that stunt while my mother feared that the guy would somehow slip up or the wire would snap and that man and his motorcycle would fall on top of us.

I also loved the clowns because I thought they were hilarious. I especially loved it whenever a bunch of clowns emerged from a tiny clown car because I always used to wonder how so many people could pack inside such a tiny car like that. This was back in the day when clowns were considered to be child-friendly people who only wanted to make people laugh. (I feel sad that most people now consider clowns to be creepy and scary because it wasn’t always like this. I would love to spend the night at the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada one day before I die but I would need to get plenty of money first before I can turn that dream into a reality.)

I remember my mother stopped taking me to that circus the year I was going through First Communion. That was because my parents couldn’t afford both going to the circus and the expenses connected with my First Communion, which included wearing a special dress with a veil (like a bride’s dress, a girl’s First Communion dress was also one that could be worn only once, especially since I didn’t have any younger sisters I could pass this dress down to) and throwing a post-communion party at our home afterwards. Personally I would’ve preferred going to the circus over First Communion but I wasn’t given the opportunity to make that decision. I never went back to the circus after that. (I don’t know why that was the case. The only thing I could guess is that maybe ticket prices had gotten too expensive for my parents to afford.) But I still have fond memories of the few years I went to the circus.

I haven’t been to a circus as an adult. The closest I came was the time when, in 2010, my then-husband and I visited the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, which included circus memorabilia (such as a miniature replica of a circus that was created by a lifelong circus fan). I don’t know if I’ll be able to check out the Ringling Bros. last circus shows for old-time’s sake because of financial issues. Oh, well. At least I still have the Nintendo Wii Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus video game to remember it by.

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