Saturday, November 16, 2019

Thank You, Chanel Miller


I don’t give a damn / What you were wearing / I don’t give a damn how much you drank / I don’t give a damn / If you danced with him earlier in the evening / If you texted him first / Or were the one to go back to his place. / People may continue to come up with reasons “why it happened” / But the truth is, I don’t give a damn.
But I do / give a damn / How you’re doing / I give a damn about you being okay / I give a damn if you’re being blamed for the hurt you were handed / If you're being made to believe you’re deserving of pain.
The only reason I am standing here / Is because people gave a damn about my well-being / Even when I did not. / They reminded me that I carry light / and I deserve to be loved / Even when I forgot.
They gave a damn. / That’s why I am who I am today.
So here’s the takeaway. / When we step up for survivors / when we stop sealing them off in shame / When we quit interrogating them with stupid questions
Look what happens.
Books are written, laws are changed, / We remember we were born to create / To not only survive, but look hot and celebrate.
Tonight you must come away knowing / That I will always, always give a damn about you / The way you gave a damn about me.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Comic Sister

Ten years ago today I went to a kids' Halloween party with the girls, all three of us in costume, only to find that I was the only parent to dress up. And yet, Facebook memory reminds me, "my chagrin was sham." Ha, ha, I can remember the feeling if not the particulars.

I'm still a big ol' hambone and an experienced soloist in matters both musical and social so it's no sweat for me to perform a Shel Silverstein poem with lots of drama for the Reading 01 kids and make little Baileen clap.

"I like how you put emotion into it."

"Thanks, Baileen!"

(Baileen is a bit of a kindred spirit; in her white gloves and black suit with purple bowtie today she was unusually silent, but handed the curious a pencil drawing of a marionette with the caption, "Don't break character.")

I will credit one of my favorite fearless comedians for her big and loud inspiration. I'm on a Catherine O'Hara kick of late, spurred by a late arrival to the Schitt's Creek party. (Try saying it with the "c" to make the name more, er, palatable.)

I've been a fan ever since her Lola Heatherton ("I wanna BEAR YOUR CHILDREN!") days at SCTV in the eighties.  Apparently not enough of a fan though, to realize that CATHERINE O'HARE VOICED SALLY IN THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS! Did you know this? How could I not know this?

Sally's song

Are you watching O'Hara's new show? She plays Moira Rose, the mother of a family of filthy rich and selfish one-percenters who fall on hard times and retrench to the small town that her husband Johnny (played by Catherine O'Hara's long-time comic partner Eugene Levy) bought for their son as a joke birthday present.

Despite the expected hijinks and fish-out-of-water tropes and delicious schadenfreude for our hapless rich family, there's a rare moment of poignancy at the end of season one when the usually self-absorbed Moira calls David "as handsome as your father on the day I married him." I'm going to claim that the raw truth of that moment shook me and sent me to check my suspicion that Eugene Levy was related to the man who plays his son. But even I can't believe that I forgot or missed the fact that Eugene and Dan Levy were father and son! So so sweet.

And the fashion! DAMN! The running joke is that the entire family is always dressed to the nines, Johnny the father in a series of immaculate open-collared suits, daughter Alexis in bo-ho Coachella gear, David the son in androgynous sweaters in black and white, the same color scheme as his chic as hell mother.

Alexis's gorgeous feathered hat


Alexis's beautiful big bowed blouse

So much to love here, including the dry exchanges between David and Stevie the desk clerk (Emily Hampshire) at the seedy motel where the Roses end up. Dry as dust, dry as desert, the two nearly out-wry each other in quiet, loaded delivery. Stevie wins every time.

It's heaven, though, to watch O'Hara as Moira. Comic genius.

Moira's bravura commercial for Fruit Wine

Watch Moira's reaction to her husband's suggestion to plant flowers.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Starts out strange and wonderful as a comedy about a child abuse and rape victim, abruptly shifts in the second half to a less interesting recovery narrative. The first half of this first novel by Gail Honeyman presents the indelible character of the walking wounded Eleanor Oliphant: prickly, odd, critical, drunk all weekend, alone. She'll get a make-over, of course, because this is that kind of book. Gets her hair cut, make up done, replaces her bad shoes and her shopping cart for more chic options because retail therapy is therapeutic, right? The "twist" at the end is no twist if you've been paying attention. I'm happy that Eleanor is happier, but she was stunning as a misanthrope.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Post Summer School Addendum

Can I just tell you three, no, four more things about summer school? It was such a revitalizing experience -- I hope you get those days of work when you are so in the flow that when the last bell rings and the kids finally leave the room after all the last minute conferences/when you emerge from the controlled chaos/when you put down the seven balls you've been juggling/when you have a precious moment to reflect, it feels like you're breaking the surface into another world. Seriously, that was the feeling on the day they did their cumulative Socratic Seminar and I wasn't even leading the show, just observing and taking notes. Damn.

But a couple of other moments I don't want to forget: Nini calling out, "Is Shugs Avery a woman? I thought he was a MAN!" and the other kids yell "No!" and Nina yells, "So they're lesbians?" and the other kids yell, "Yes!" and we're like half way through the book. And later when Nini says, "This is the most evil book I've ever read" and I have to point out the line "when you can't git started without asking the bottle, you in trouble" but he still says he won't tell him mom about what's in the book.

It all feels very far away, on the other side of Ruth's funeral service and the good first week of school where I'm back in the support role I love but the first day back with kids I ran into Basmine in the hall with another kids and it was so good to see her and I asked if I could give her a hug and she said, "I was just telling my friend that he should read The Color Purple" and my entire year was made. My job here is done.

Monday, August 12, 2019


I am Cindy Fey. Ruth Dupree was the older sister of my father Ron Fey, and she and her husband Phil 
and their daughters Jeanne and Jan opened their hearts and their home and took in me and my brothers
Ron Jr. and Christopher and my sister Nancy when our parents died in 1969. It was a monumental act
of love and commitment for which I forever owe a debt of gratitude. So Ruth became both my mother and 
my aunt, but also my dear friend, my travel companion, my mentor, the proud mother-in-law to my 
husband Randy and the loving grandmother to my daughters Mia and Nora.  

My memories are sometimes crystal clear and sometimes shaky, so please forgive me if I don't get 
everything right and if my interpretation of this wonderful woman is a little different than yours. When 
I told my Uncle Sid this morning, "she had 95 years and I have 95 minutes worth of stories," he said 
that was "That's Ok, everything is ok," but I'm going to focus today just on beginnings. 

She was the granddaughter of German and Polish immigrants, the oldest of seven children. 

Clockwise from upper left: My father Ron, Ruth, Joan, Ed Jr., Susan, Grandma Helen, Grandpa Ed and Sid. Jon was born after Ruth married.
She played with her brother Eddie on Marshfield Street on the southside of Chicago, her father fixed 
watches, then opened his own store in the suburbs and moved the family to the leafy streets of 
LaGrange, Illinois. Beginnings are reasons for hope. The Fey family move was a new beginning and 
a reason for hope.

In high school, Ruth was elected to class officer, secretary or treasurer, I can't remember, but Jeanne 
might, and Ruth had a crush on the Student Council president.

In the summer between her junior and senior year, and after graduation, she had a job as a tour 
guide and personal shopper at the Marshall Field's department store on State Street in downtown 
Chicago. She loved giving tours of the candy making department, the three kitchens for the elegant 
Walnut Room restaurant, the resilvering department where they would dip trays and tea and coffee 
services into vats of liquid silver.

One day she saw Ronald Reagan walking with his first wife Jane Wyman down the street. He was tall 
and handsome Ruth said. She adored screen idols Rudy Vallee and Ralph Bellamy and even though 
I love old Hollywood, but I didn't know those two, I had to look them up. But these fleeting crushes 
were when Ruth was young and carefree and before she really fell for Somebody, Capital S. But that 
love story was still to come.  

After high school graduation, she started her nurses training at Michael Reese Hospital. She learned 
the skills that served her well as a gentle caretaker, but her oversized heart was breaking at the plight 
of the patients so her nursing work would remain in the family. 

She was a comforting presence when we were sick. In the 90's I had knee surgery after a ski accident 
and she flew up to Chicago to take care of me after the operation. I have a precious memory of a long 
talk in the quiet middle of the night. When she had to fly back home, I cried. It may have been the 
painkillers, but really, I remember our parting and missing her as the hardest part of my recovery.

And her nursing legacy continues. The culture of caregiving for the sick and vulnerable that she 
fostered in our family goes on with her daughters Jan and Jeanne, her granddaughters Andrea and 
Maggie, her great-granddaughter Kelley.

Ruth's granddaughter Maggie, great-granddaughter Caroline, Maggie's husband Brad, me wearing the pants Ruth made, granddaughter Mia
When she was twenty-one year old Ruth Fey met handsome Phil Dupree at a dance in Chicago. 
It was 1942, Phil was in the Navy, stationed at Great Lakes near Waukegan, Illinois. They dated, 
they went bowling, she took him to meet her family and when he had to report to Oxnard, California, 
they exchanged letters. When he eventually asked her to marry him, she laughed with surprise, 
delight and happiness. They took the train to Milwaukee for their honeymoon. It was a new beginning 
and a reason for hope. 

The line that is the thematic heart of the Old Testament's Book of Ruth is "Whither thou goest, I will 
go" and these words are a perfect expression of her fidelity to her beloved husband Phil Dupree. 
She left her large dear family in Chicago. Left dear Eddie and elegant Joan, adventurous Susan and 
the comedian of the family Sid, and baby Jon, who brought so much joy to Ruth when he lived with 
her and Phil for his first grade year. She left her family and moved out to the cornfields, literally, there 
were cornfields a couple of blocks behind the house when I was a little, but that was her loyalty and 
she made Kansas City her home.  A new beginning.

So the siblings made the trip back and forth from Chicago and Colorado to Kansas City, Jon 
sometimes making the trip by flying his own plane.

Ed, Sid, Helen, Susan, Joan, Ed Sr., Jon, Ruth

Top to bottom, Baby Jon, Susan, Sid

She was a talented seamstress. The blue street dress she wore to their wedding she later altered into 
a maternity outfit when she became pregnant the first time. She became pregnant twice but lost both 
the babies, a boy and a girl, because of an RH blood incompatibility.

She grieved, but she had not yet become close to the Friend, Capital F. who could help her through 
the hardest of times. She struggled to express and share her grief with Phil, so instead, one day she 
wrote him a letter that she wanted to adopt children. 

In the stories she told me two of her three happiest days were the June day they brought home Jan 
wrapped up in a new baby dress and sweater and blanket and the cold February when they brought 
home baby Jeanne and she felt like a little doll. But before they could bring the babies home, they 
needed to be approved by the adoption agency and part of that process included the question of 
church membership.

She told me, "We lived over at 91st and Central and there was this small building where a 
group of Presbyterian people were meeting.  They were building a church further down on 
Wornall at 95th, but they were meeting in a temporary place, and we went to that service 
because we decided that I would join."

The beginning of Colonial Presbyterian Church, where we are today.

So Ruth went and spoke to a minister but she said he saw right through her, saw that she just wanted 
a letter of recommendation and he wanted her to accept Christ as her savior. Can you believe she 
thought she was not the kind of person who could get into heaven! 

He said, “Christ died for you and your sins are forgiven” and she said, “I can’t believe that.”  
But she said they ended very friendly and he was very kind and very gentle. And he wrote the 
letter and Ruth started going to church. And she told me, "One Sunday while he was 
preaching, directly to me, I just realized that that was true.  That I was forgiven, and that it 
was just a matter of accepting the gift that God had given me, and just to say yes to it. So I 
ran home from church crying and telling Phil how wonderful I felt." 

The third happiest day. A new beginning. A reason for hope. And the relationship that she started on 
that happy day was one that sustained and strengthened her through the rest of her long life. 

She passed on a Friday morning in July and the next day I had a long and healing talk with Becky, 
her first grandchild. We talked about how close to Grandma Ruth we both felt, we still felt, like she 
wasn't gone. Then she came to me in a dream Saturday night. She showed me the quilt she had been 
working on. Oh, it was gorgeous. Brilliant jewel colors, rhythmic patterns of flowers and geometric 
shapes, soft velvety patches of flannel and smooth cotton textures. Not too large a project, it was 
sized for a child's bed so you could see the entire shape and pattern at once. But unfinished. It still 
needed stitching on the sides to bring the edges together. 

In my dream I thought to myself with that weird dream illogic, "Wait, Ruth doesn't sew anymore. Her 
eyes won't allow it."

And I woke up. It was so so good to have spent time with her. 

And I understand immediately what she was trying to show me. 

You see, quilts weren't typical for her. She sewed fancy occasion dresses for weddings and prom and 
the first day of school and picture day outfits and cunning Halloween costumes, a bean bag chair in 
the shape of a giant turtle for my bedroom and a little denim hat and purse for my Girl Scout troop 
friend Claudia's birthday that was on point 70's. And these awesome pants I'm wearing today that 
she sent to me at college in 1987. It was a Vogue pattern and there was a paisley asymmetrical 
blouse with padded shoulders and then a classic 80's jacket with inverted collar in a contrasting 
blue/black pattern with even more shoulder pads. Shoulder pads for days.

But I don't remember any quilts.

Think about how a quilt is different than a piece of clothing -- it's a folk art, taking all the disparate 
pieces, little bit that have been set aside, and putting them together to make something beautiful.

But do you see what she left us, another part of her legacy of love, besides the memories, the support, 
the good long talks, the unconditional love, the constant fidelity and comfort… is this. 

She left us work to do -- to continue her work, to keep putting those crazy diverse quilt pieces 
together, to keep trying and talking and loving and maybe fighting but making up and trying again and 
keeping this crazy quilt family, a family. And continuing her work, today is a new beginning. A reason 
for hope.