Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There's An App For That

Like all dutiful daughters, I called Dad on Father’s Day. Thanks to the iPhone's 3.0 update that includes the application, Celestial Calls, I was able to reach him with little effort.

He wasn’t surprised at my call because ever since he died in 1958, he’s kept his eyes on me. I know this because there are times I feel his presence. Mostly, I’m happy he’s lurking, especially if I’m being honored, thanked, or otherwise celebrated. If I'm very quiet, I can just about make out, “Way to go, Princess.

Other times, when I’m engaged in activities that he may have frowned upon when alive; i.e. lying, cheating, or taking a Gentile for a second husband, I pray (a longtime earth-to-heaven communication technique) that Dad discretely looks the other way.

On my Father's Day call, Dad picked up after a few rings and said, “So nice to hear from you, Princess.”

“Do you have an iPhone, too?” I asked, imagining he must have a similar device for our unusual chat to occur.

“No, just a regular rotary phone,” Dad said. “Nothing fancy.”

“So where did I catch you?” I asked. (When Apple brings video chat to the iPhone, these types of questions will be irrelevant.)

“The Pool Room. Where else? You remember the guys from Division Street? They’re all up here now.”

In the background, I could hear the clinking of billiard balls, the TV with Jack Brickhouse announcing the Cubs game, and shouts of goniff from male voices I assumed were at card tables.

“Sure I remember the Pool Room. Are you all still smoking?” I asked. I thought about those clouds that greeted me whenever I went to fetch Dad home for supper.

“This is Heaven,” Dad said. “We get to do what we want. And we don’t have to worry about second-hand smoke killing anyone. We’re already dead!” He laughed at his inside joke.

I heard chomping. "Are you eating, Dad?" Scorn rising in my voice.

"Corned beef on rye, coleslaw,...”

"But Dad," I said, "your diabetes, your…

He interrupted with another laugh, "Princess, enough already."

"Oh yeah, Heaven," I said. “Listen, I’ve been trying to think of a Father’s Day gift, but you understand postage would be prohibitive.”

“Princess, you don’t need to buy me anything. Your book about me was enough.”

“Dad, to be honest, it wasn’t only about you. It was about all of our lives on Division Street – you, me, Mom, Ronnie.”

“I know, I know, everybody loved it.”

“You all read it?” I asked.

“I did a book signing,” Dad said. I was certain he was rolling his eyes at my naivetĂ©. “Remember Stuart Brent Books in Chicago?” he continued. “When it left Michigan Avenue, it opened up here. We resurrect only independent booksellers. I was quite a hit.”

“Speaking about Mom, do you ever see her?” Although my parents were still married at the time of Dad’s demise, I asked because of their frequent earthly arguments. “We run into each other now and then, but she prefers hanging out with her family and friends; and, well you know where I am.”

“Dad, tell me about your beloved sports. I can hear the Cubs game, but what about boxing, wrestling. Do you still get to enjoy those matches?”

“Are you kidding?” Dad asked. “We got a game on now; and we got Babe Ruth, Jake LaMotta, Gorgeous George. There’s a different sport every night. I can hardly keep up. Remember, Princess, this is Heaven.”

“Say, Dad, I have this feeling that you’ve been keeping an eye on my daughters, even though you never got to meet them when you were alive. Aren’t they something?”

“They take after me,” Dad said, pride likely puffing his girth further. “Their zest for life, their charm, friendliness, those big brown eyes. The talent part, I can’t take credit for. Maybe their father and you.”

I laughed. Even without video, I recalled his face clearly. He was right; there are similarities.

"And Ron, how about him publishing his own book, 'Making Happy’? What do you think about that, Dad?"

"Boy, did I get a laugh out of your brother's book! We got the galleys. It'll be a big hit here, too."

“Listen Dad, I think my battery is wearing out, so I’m going to have to say goodbye. But your birthday is coming up, so I’ll try and reach you then.”

“Sounds beautiful, Princess,” he said. "But don't worry about making calls. I'm in touch with you seven days a week."

"We say 24/7 here."

"Twenty-four seven? That one I didn't hear. I'll be honest; it's a little hard keeping up. Thank goodness for the Chicago Daily News and the other papers. Of course, we've got the top reporters working, too. Sports, politics, you name it. It takes a little longer than your computers, but quality, Princess, quality. We got it here."

"Well Dad, I'm glad you're doing okay. Give my love to everyone. When you see Mom, tell her I can call her now, too."

"She'll be happy to hear that."

My father and I said our goodbyes. I clicked off the iPhone and plugged it into its charger. Just as I thought, the battery was nearly empty. But there was enough juice for a text message coming in. "So, when am I going to hear from you?"

It was from my mother.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

June Bride

As the notes of "Here Comes The Bride" sounded, 75 guests interrupted their chatter to swivel in the seats of their white folding chairs. All eyes focused on the closed double doors behind them. Any moment, here in the Country Squire Room of the North Shore Hotel, on the 19th day of June in the year 1960, I was about to wed my groom.

In my hiding place, I attempted a relaxing deep breath, as recommended by Modern Bride magazine. But my dress’s tight bodice prevented even a subtle sigh. How I hated this dress! Why had I let my mother talk me into this castoff?

“Christine wore it for the ceremony only,” my mother had said, describing her co-worker’s claim. “She swore she changed to a party dress right after her vows, and hung it in its Field’s garment bag." It was three months before the wedding. Mother and I were in the bedroom of our garden apartment; the door was closed so we could see our reflection in the full-length mirror nailed to its back. My mother’s hands circled my waist, pasting the dress to me as if I were her cutout paper doll.

“Okay, I’ll try it on,” I said, stripping to my underwear and wriggling into the dress. “Zip me.” I held my breath, in case the metal’s teeth hungered for flesh.

“Ugh,” I said at my image

“You’re crazy. Try on the veil.”

The veil did seem to lift a viewer’s eyes away from the unfortunate boat neckline (tugboat was more like it), but the hemline was wrong, too. Okay, full-length would’ve been over the top for an afternoon wedding, and mini – which would’ve displayed my legs, my best feature at age 22 – would’ve been tacky. But this dress cut me off mid-calf, a particularly ugly spot.

Mother prevailed. So here I was, waiting behind the paneled wooden doors, on the day of my budget wedding, in the cheap dress. I refused to let the dress or the modest venue bring me down. I was overjoyed to be standing where I was, fortunate to be rescued from an old maid future, and about to marry a man I truly loved.

I felt a mixture of excitement and butterflies as I began my march, walking slowly to match the music, sinking my white dyed-pumps into the runner with each pointy-toed step. All was a blur in my line of sight. To assure glamour photographs, both this bride and her groom ditched our spectacles. Somehow, he made it safely down the aisle. When his parents each grabbed an elbow of his white tuxedo jacket for the final three feet, they looked like elderly, over-dressed scouts shepherding a blind man across the street.

The bridesmaids and their escorts were in place, too. As I neared the altar, I could see my mother coming into focus a few feet from the chuppah. Her oldest brother, Carl, had escorted her down the aisle and the two of them looked as solemn as sentries.

The wedding guests likely pinned my mother's expression to my dad's death two years earlier, as well as the loss of her roommate daughter. But I knew there was something else that barred her usual lovely smile: She hated my about-to-be husband.

As I neared her on the cloth-covered path, I flashed to a scene that had taken place in our apartment six months earlier. "Aren't you happy I'm finally engaged?" I asked. I spread my left hand and lifted the quarter-carat diamond up towards her face. "You've nagged me about a ring my entire senior year. 'Everybody's engaged,' you said. 'When are you going to find someone?' you said. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"I didn't mean you should steal someone else's fiancé. You couldn't find someone else?"

"I didn't steal him. They were never engaged. Don't you remember, he left her."

When the boy I was about to marry first confessed he had fallen out of love with one of my best friends and into love with me, I had been surprised, but also delighted. I had long thought I was a better match for him, but of course, never voiced this.

“You’re sure about this?” I had asked him. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Please say you’ll go out with me.

"Not until you break up with her, and we let a few weeks pass," I made him promise. Then, we dated secretly, but the word got out. Girlfriends took sides. Most of them damned me for my betrayal. Only one friend, Ruth, stood by me.

Mother was on the side of my enemies. “How will I ever face her family again?” she said. “How could you do this to me?

"I want you to be happy for me," I said. "I want you to love your future son-in-law."

"Okay, I'm happy for you.”

After my mother and uncle delivered me to my designated spot under the chuppah, I finally relaxed and took in the breath I had attempted at the start of the ceremony. My slow, blurry march, tense as a tightrope walker, had ended, and now I stood alongside my tall, handsome groom.

After the vows, my new husband lifted his rented black dress shoe and drove it down onto the napkin that covered the ritual wine glass. As his foot caused the glass to shatter, cries of Mahzel Tov rang out. With my veil above my head, and my vision clearer, my eyes circled the bridal party. The faces of the small group of relatives, plus my friend Ruth, lit up with smiles.

All but Mother's, whose expression hadn't changed since her march down the aisle. Only her red-tipped manicured hands, which were twisting a soaked ball of Kleenex, showed any movement.