Sunday, November 10, 2013


"It's the littlest one.  He wants the littlest one", said Andrew, Sarah's older brother.  Sarah had kittens and a lot of them.  On a whim, I decided that Ethan needed a pet and a kitten it would be.  We went to pick out our future family member a couple of weeks before she was ready to leave her mama.   Sarah's mom, Ellen, was a great friend and before we picked up the kitten to come home with us, I asked if Sarah was OK with it.  The last thing I wanted was a sobbing Sarah tugging at my heartstrings as Ethan carried her kitten away.  "She'll be fine.  She knows that we can't keep them.  We've talked to her".   Ethan and I were excited to bring our kitty home.  I had suggested the name "Callie" since she was a tri-colored calico and Ethan readily agreed.  When we arrived to pick her up, Sarah walked her out to us, her eyes brimming with tears.  "Her name's Darla" she quivered.  I cut a look to Ellen that said "This wasn't supposed to happen!"  Ellen quickly took Sarah inside and we were off with our new pet.

We quickly christened her Callie Darla LaMaster.  In the odd way that often happens with babies, the name completely fit her.  She wasn't just a Callie or Darla.  She was Callie Darla, the LaMaster kitten!  Her first night home, I turned and asked Ethan's dad, Brian, to take care of something long forgotten.  He was in his recliner and he replied that if he did "I will have to wake up the rugrat".  Callie was sound asleep on his (rather ample) belly.  She had found warmth and comfort and the perfect bed!  She was adorable and well behaved...for awhile.  I walked into our bedroom one day and saw her batting at her reflection in the headboard mirror.  She was so darn cute!  She was a good sport, allowing Ethan to take her for rides in a doll stroller that we purchased solely for that purpose.

She grew quickly and began to show her mischievous side.  Soon she was climbing curtains at an alarming rate of speed.  Not long after that came the moans that happen before a cat is "fixed", something that young Ethan termed "the gross out".  "Mom, Callie's doing the gross out!"  When she was old enough, we had her spayed and declawed, the latter of which resulted in a longer than usual stay at the vet's office due to Hurricane Fran.  I felt the first reals pangs of cat motherhood when she spotted us days later.  She was one happy feline and a true member of our small family!

In her younger years, her curiosity got the better of her a few times and she would sneak out the door when we least expected it.  I blamed the lizards and salamanders as she couldn't hold herself back if she spotted one on our steps or deck.  Sometimes she was missing for several hours and more than once I was up in the middle of the night walking around our house shaking a bag of treats in an effort to coax her out of hiding.  She always came home and I called these disappearances "Callie's Great Adventures".

She was a good mouser, too.  On my way to wake Ethan for school one morning, I noticed she was playing with one of her toys.  Except it wasn't a toy at all, it was a dead mouse that she was flinging all over the place.  I abhor the nasty vermin and called my husband in a panic.  He talked me through sweeping it on a dustpan and throwing it in the yard.  Callie didn't understand why I took her toy away and had a major attitude for days afterward.

Oh, her attitude!  It was real and it was intense!  She loved Brian, Ethan, and me, but few others.  She would abide our friends the Dickerson's (I think she could tell they were a cat loving bunch), the Tatum's (although she wasn't fond of Winston's jumpiness around her), and Jackie (a cat lover, if ever there was one), but everyone else was pretty much dead to her and had no business sniffing around her domain.  I was once watching a friend's daughters and one of them made the mistake of trying to pet her.  Callie arched and hissed and was ready to pounce and the poor girl screamed bloody murder.  You'd have thought Callie was Jason from Halloween!

Trips to the veterinarian were pure torture.  Her vet was very old and often impatient with her obvious disdain and outright hatred of him.  She once bit him.  He looked me dead in the eye and said "Your cat bit me".  One of the techs said she thought there must be some bobcat in her for her to be so mean.  I was mortified and just wanted to get her HOME.  I was always a bit offended because they didn't know the Callie that I knew and loved.  In retrospect, I should have asked about anxiety medicine for her before a vet visit.  I guess hindsight is 20/20.

She had to make a few adjustments over the years.  She did well with the move after my husband and I separated, but it was another story entirely when Ethan went off to college.  For days she walked from room to room crying for him.  He came home quite a bit his Freshman year so Friday nights were wonderful because we were all reunited.  She soon knew the routine and grew to pace on Sunday afternoons because she knew he would be leaving her again.  Ethan brought his laundry home in those early days and she took to lying of top of his clean laundry in an effort to keep him home where he belonged.    If he didn't come home on a Friday night, she would cry the most pitiful cry you every heard the second I turned out the last light and went to bed.  It was the craziest she knew that it was the night he may come home.  Her cries were mournful and often lasted well into the night.  By the end of Freshman year, she was a bit more accustomed to his schedule, but by then he was soon home for the summer and we would have to go through everything again in August.

As she got up in years, we worried about her health more than ever, but she was the Energizer Bunny of cats.  When I moved into a different house a couple of years ago, she was climbing counters and the refrigerator and discovered a Cat Narnia behind the cupboards.  She had been with us on Ethan's first day of Kindergarten, his first day of High School, and through his college years.  We began to think of her as Callie the Invincible and when I would sometimes worry, Ethan would calm me by saying that indoor cats could live a long, long time.

I noticed her gait first.  She lacked the pep in her step.  I would talk to her and she looked a bit mournful to me.  Within a couple of days, she wasn't getting on the couch with me for "bonding time", our nightly ritual.  It was the weekend and I would be unable to get her to the vet until Monday.  She was eating and drinking so I felt like that was a positive sign, but something was definitely "off".  My friend, Jackie, gave me the name of a vet that she had been taking her cats to as Callie's longtime doctor had passed away.  I think in my heart of hearts, I knew there was the possibility that she was very sick, but could not face it.

I did not go to work on Monday, but instead spent the morning with her.  When I scooped her up to go, she did not resist and that was not like her.  I talked to her the entire way and she just looked at me with her "owl eyes".   I was sobbing when I checked her in, sobbing as I waited for her to see the vet and blubbering by the time the vet came in.  I knew, but was hoping against hope that it was not going to be the news I dreaded most in the world.  When the doctor confirmed my worst fear, I immediately called Ethan.  He wanted to come and say goodbye so Callie and I had a couple of hours until he would arrive.  I sobbed and talked to her and looked into her beautiful eyes.  I wanted to commit those eyes to my memory.  I reminded her of the wonderful life that she had lived...her great adventures and how much she loved her little Ethan.  Over and over I told her that when she got to the other side and talked to the other cats to tell them "You might think you are prettier than me or more regal than me, but I was loved more than any cat who EVER lived.  I know this for a fact because my Mommy told me.  And she told me to tell you."  I told her over and over that no cat was ever, ever loved as much as her and not to ever, ever forget it.  I cried and cried and cried some more.  Ethan arrived and we cried together.  We both told her over and over how much we loved her.  We kissed her several times and finally it was time.  I cannot possible write about her passing except to say that it was the most horrible, heart wrenching thing I have ever been through.  It was a nightmare of the worst sort.  I cry whenever I think about it and am sobbing as I type this.

Her ashes sit on a bookshelf beside my favorite photo of her.  I carry locks of her fur in my pocketbook.  She was simply the greatest cat ever.  Because she was OURS. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013


My son, Ethan, was driving my car through the far reaches of Centennial Campus taking curves a bit too fast.  Classic rock was blaring from the radio, at that very moment it was "Come Sail Away" by Styx.  I was riding shotgun, my hair was flying and I felt...something.  It came on slowly and built to a crescendo, the likes of which I had not felt for what seemed like years.  I wanted the feeling to last forever, but what was the proper word to describe it?  I turned to look at my son, so steadfast and confident behind the wheel, grinning that smile that lights up my world, and I realized that what I was experiencing was bliss.  Pure, complete bliss.  Bliss so joyful and sublime that I could almost taste it.  Oh, how I missed the presence of it in my life!  To experience it is magic.  I closed my eyes and had to keep myself from weeping with sheer joy.   

I was in Raleigh to see Ethan's new town house, the first real and official home that was entirely his and his alone.  He scouted it out, paid the deposits, and signed on the dotted line, but was in need of furniture to complete the picture.  Enter mom.  After a delightful lunch at Carolina Ale House, we headed to Glenwood Avenue, or as I prefer to call it, Furniture Freeway.  On the recommendation of a friend, we went to a warehouse that covered approximately five acres.  I am exaggerating, of course, but when you are a WOMAN OF A CERTAIN AGE with a hip ailment, space becomes relative.  We were fortunate to find a beautiful bed and dresser, a mattress, and dining room set for an extremely reasonable price.  The fact that they were willing to give a freshly minted college graduate credit when he had yet to receive his first paycheck was an added bonus.  12 months same as cash and no sales tax (the weekend special).  Afterwards we stopped at the apartment of an old friend and scooped up a couch, oversize chair, coffee table and two end tables.  Town house almost complete! 

Can I tell you how proud I am of the boy?  His new home is literally minutes from his office.  It is beautiful, the only fault being that it is probably more space than he needs.  Who cares?  He is happy and I am happy for him.

Memories are made of days like this.  We talked classic rock and George Zimmerman and the tragedy of Cory Monteith.  We were driving to dinner and I said "The only problem with this radio station is that they repeat songs fairly often".  Ethan replied "I don't know what you're talking about.  We heard "Magic Man" earlier and this is "Barracuda".   The boy knows Heart.  If I thought he hung the moon before, now I know it for certain.

Bliss, I say.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


The mission was to ride the ferry from Ft. Fisher to Southport.  I had heard about it for years and years and, by heck, we were going to ride that ferry!  My son was home for Memorial Day weekend and it was time for an adventure.  A mild adventure to some, but thrilling for us.  Me, anyway.

After a delicious lunch at the Carolina Ale House, we made our way down Carolina Beach Road towards Ft. Fisher.  There was heavy traffic, but it could have been worse, considering it was a holiday weekend.  We finally got to the ferry and the flashing sign said the next ride was full.  We would have had to wait 1 1/2 hours to try to get on the following ride and decided it wasn't worth it and that we would come back in the off season.  Can you tell how patient and adventurous we are?  We drove to the end of the island and I told Ethan we needed to at least get out and walk around a bit as we were on hallowed ground.  A major Civil War battle had taken place there.  We walked to the end of a pier and the top of a mound and I tried my best to conjure up the smell of a fired cannon. 

At about this time I mentioned to Ethan that I needed to use the restroom.  It wasn't long before I repeated that I REALLY needed to use the restroom.  We had seen signs that said "Something something STOP" except that we misread them and thought they said "...SHOP".  Ethan was a valiant son and trudged two different directions in the hunt of a "shop" where his increasingly frantic mother could relieve herself.  I finally noticed our mistake and told him there was no way I was going to make it down the strip to a public restroom.  We walked back to the car and I opened the passenger side door and told him that he was to stand guard while I went pee pee.  He was both horrified and mortified.  "I really don't want to do this.  This is really awkward and uncomfortable for me!  What if someone sees you???"  I told him that he did not have to look, just watch the road and make sure no one walked my way.  Behind me was a large mound and I felt I was fairly safe as long as no one reached the top and decided to look my way.  I finally relieved myself.  And it was RELIEF.  I cleaned myself up with napkins and hand sanitizer.  Ethan was in disbelief, but I told him when you gotta go, you gotta go and I did not have the luxury of being able to go standing up behind a tree.  I think he was truly afraid that I would get arrested for indecent exposure!  This goes to prove that you can still scar your children when they are grown and on their own.  I thought those days were gone forever and it's good to know I can still rattle the boy!  When we arrived home, I Googled "Depends" to see what I could do to prevent this from happening again and that further jarred him.  I think he associates Depends with eighty year old women and thought he had a long wait for that phase of my life!  Awwwwwwwww...the joys of having a MOTHER OF A CERTAIN AGE!

Fast forward a few weeks and Ethan came home for Independence Day weekend.  It was time for a fresh adventure away from home, but what to do?  We just aren't lake or beach people and the older I get the less I want to be in the heat.  We (read, I) decided that we would go to the Cape Fear Museum and the Riverfront in downtown Wilmington, topped off with dinner at Elijah's, one of Ethan's favorite restaurants.  The museum was wonderful and brought back memories of the last time we were there with Ethan's father, Brian.  We had time to kill so we walked along the riverfront and I hit some of the shops while Ethan dutifully waited for me.  I went into a Christmas shop determined to get an ornament to commemorate the day and found a lovely iridescent fish.  It reminded me of the "Rainbow Fish" from the book of the same name.  I had read it to Ethan as a young boy.  The price was right and the ornament would be mine.  All of a sudden I was overcome with emotion.  My almost-23-year-old-son was spending the day with me, his old mom.  To be sure, there were things he would rather be doing and friends he would prefer to be with.  I began weeping, the kind where large tears fall down your face and you know the first word you speak will unleash an even bigger torrent.  I took the ornament to the counter and when the lady asked if she could help me, the words tumbled out and the tears streamed down.  "Yes", I sobbed.  "I want to buy this ornament because it looks like the Rainbow Fish and I used to read that book to my son when he was a young lad and now he is all grown up and he is almost 23 years old and he is spending the day with me and I love him more than anything.  I can't believe he wants to spend the day with me.  And we went to a museum that we went to when he was little and his dad was with us and his dad died last year and it is very sad and I love my son so much."  During my diatribe, I find myself crying harder and louder and the only tissue I have is a long string of toilet paper that I procured along the way.  I continue to pull more and more out of my purse until I know the kind lady was thinking I had an entire roll in there.  (Which considering what had happened a few weeks earlier might not be a bad idea)  I kinda sorta pulled myself together and went to see Ethan.  He knew something was wrong and immediately said "What can I do?  What do you need me to do?"  I responded with "Nothing, I am fine.  I am having a moment"  Ethan:  "I can see that"  Me:  "I am just so happy that you are spending the day with me and I got a Rainbow Fish ornament.  Do you remember me reading that book to you when you were little?  It was a such a good book.  I know you would rather be somewhere else today, but you are here with me and I love you and I fell apart in that shop and I am sure the lady thinks I am a kookaburra"  Ethan:  "I'm sure she does, don't cry, I am having fun"  I finally pulled myself together, repaired my makeup, and pronounced that I was presentable enough to go get dinner.  I could see the relief on Ethan's face.  He is accustomed to my occasional emotional outbursts, but never completely prepared for them.

I've said it before, but he really IS a wonderful son.  We enjoyed a lovely, relaxing dinner on the riverfront.  I wish we could do it more often, but thank God for the times we do get to spend together.

Because when all is said and done, family matters.  More than anything. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013


I've been sleeping with my ex-husband for a few weeks now, just not in the traditional sense.  Brian passed away almost a year ago and he was an organ donor.  In addition, his son Ethan, (who also happens to be my son), father, and brother made the unselfish decision to donate his body to the University of Minnesota to be analyzed by medical students.  Upon completion of the studies, the remains were returned to Ethan.  As Ethan actually resides in Raleigh and I don't want him to see his father in my small living room the minute he walks in the house, I keep them in my room.  Ethan is fully aware that they are here, but he has shown no interest in seeing them.  He is quite the pragmatist and I fully respect his decision to remember his father in the way he sees fit.  He is just not the type of guy who is going to lug his father from pillar to post and mantle to mantle for the rest of his days.  Eventually I expect Brian to be buried beside his mother in the family plot in Missouri, but for now he resides on my headboard.  He was on a small table in my room for awhile and I almost knocked him over one day.  It seemed disrespectful, so I moved him to the headboard.  He seems content there and I am certain he appreciates being in the room where I do the least amount of talking, if any. 

But seriously...this post is about the importance of organ donation.  If you are not currently a donor, I hope that you read it with an open mind and reconsider your stance.  I am going to quote directly from the letter Ethan received dated July 17, 2012:

A seventy-year old man received the gift of Brian's right kidney during a transplant surgery in South Dakota.  This recipient suffered from kidney disease and had been on the transplant waiting list for three years.  He and his family are very grateful for this chance for a longer and healthier life.

A fifty-four year old man received the gift of your father's liver during a transplant surgery in Minnesota.  This recipient was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and had been on the transplant waiting list for a year and a half.  His doctors report that the surgery was successful and that this gentleman has been discharged to continue his recovery at home with his family.  They are so thankful to your family for this generous gift.

Your father's heart was sent to researchers at the University of Minnesota for use in studying the function, anatomy, and vasculature of the heart.  This investigative research will help physicians learn more about the human heart and how to help those who suffer from complex cardiac conditions.  Future generations will benefit from Brian's gift to research and your generosity.

On behalf of these recipients, their families and LifeSource, thank you again for helping us to enable your father to give the precious Gift of Lift through donation.  Brian is truly a hero to those he has helped.  You and your family reached beyond your pain in a moment of tragedy to consider the needs of others.  We cannot think of a more loving tribute to your father.

A letter dated April 26, 2013 was written by the recipient of Brian's liver:

A thank you seems so small compared to the gift given to me by your loved one.  I want you to know that this gift has provided me the chance to raise my boys, love my wife longer, and with this renewed opportunity of life, I am so grateful for my gift.

Thank you for:

*The gift of a 2nd chance of life
*The ability to be a father to my twin sons
*To be around to love my spouse and support our family
*Your unselfish gift in your time of sorrow

The letter was simply signed "Dale".

If that doesn't inspire you to put a little red heart on your driver's license, I don't know what will.


Sunday, May 12, 2013


The nosebleed should have been my first clue.  Waking at 5:30 a.m. with a massive nosebleed is never a good start to a day, let alone the most exciting and important day in the life of my son.  I was alone in a hotel room and forced myself to stay upright in the bed until it passed.  With a history of fainting from them, I did not want my final moments to be spent on a cold bathroom floor and my last thought to be that I was missing my son's graduation and what an inconvenience it would be for him to have to immediately plan my memorial service.

I awoke awhile later and quickly showered and dressed for the big day.  I was about to go downstairs for breakfast when I realized that my car keys were not beside my pocketbook, where they normally are.  I went to the reception desk and asked if there had been any keys turned in and there had not.  I walked to my car looking in vain for dropped keys from the prior afternoon.  Twice.  I dumped my new purse, cursing to myself that it was too large and cumbersome and what was I thinking bringing it instead of something smaller and easier to manage.  No keys.  Lost is a strong word, but I have "misplaced" many keys along the way and was down to my final car key.  It was an hour until graduation and serious panic was about to set in when I dipped into one of my purse's many side pockets and pulled out my car key.  I exhaled and settled in for a quick breakfast.  I was almost finished when I noticed that my room card was missing.  I perused that damn purse and came up empty.  I humbly went to the same girl at reception and told her that I had lost my room card.  She gave me a blank look and then said she had checked me out because I had laid it on the desk when asking about my car key.  I had to be checked back in to check out.  By this time, I just wanted to leave Hotel California and never look back.

It was almost time for the big event, one that I had looked forward to and dreamed of for so son's college graduation from NC State University.  He would be the first college graduate on either side of his family.  Not only was he graduating from one of the leading engineering programs in the world, his degree was both Computer and Electrical Engineering.  I met my mom and her 15 years younger "companion" at the auditorium; they had driven in from Ohio and made it just in time.  We had only a few minutes to visit before the commencement started, but it was long enough for me to size up her man friend and decide that he was an OK sort of chap.

With no warning, "Pomp and Circumstance", that grandest of marches, began playing.  Faculty members streamed in, dressed in full academic regalia.  There was a lump in my throat, that lump that music produces, the lump that grows and grows until tears flow and control is lost.  My mind was whirling.  This was happening too fast, no one had reminded me about the music, Ethan's dad wasn't here and should be and my makeup was going to be a mess and I didn't want to miss Ethan marching in and I wanted it all to stop right now!  I wanted a do over!  I wanted it so much that I all but stomped my foot and demanded it.  Seeing my mom out of the corner of my eye brought me back to reality.  I dove into my pit of a purse and miraculously found tissues and pulled myself together in time to see Ethan stride down the aisle as casually as if he were walking from his bedroom to the kitchen.

The ceremony itself was predictable.  It was the first time I heard a graduation speaker use the expletive "assholes", which I didn't feel was necessary and judging from the audience's reaction, I was not alone.  When Ethan's name was called I shouted "ETHAN!"  and "WOOOOOOOOOO".  He says he didn't hear me, but I don't know how he couldn't have.  I think he is in denial.  I did it for his dad.  Anyone who knows me knows that is not typical Kathy behavior.  Yeah, right!

After the ceremony and a few photo ops, we were all ready for lunch, Ethan's choice.  We all piled in his Mustang and almost immediately I could not find my car key.  I was momentarily frantic, all the while listening to Ethan rant "I don't understand you women!  You all carry purses and you can never find anything!  Logic tells you to put your keys IN your purse!"  About that time I found the key in my lap and told Ethan he didn't want to hear what I had already been through with keys that morning.

He took us to the Ale House in Cary, a place I am certain he has frequented for more than the food.  We had a lovely young waitress who promptly took our drink orders.  The drinks were in huge glasses and her tray was small which ultimately spelled disaster.  One of the drinks fell off the tray and spilled onto the table, the floor, my mother's companion, my pocketbook, and Ethan's lap.  There was soda EVERYWHERE.  Mom's companion jumped up and disappeared and I attempted to assist the waitress all the while telling Ethan "Get out of the booth and don't get any on your interview shirt!"  Chaos ensued and there seemed to be no end to the soda inching onto every corner of the table and beyond.  Mom and I went to the restroom, both of us relatively unscathed, thank you Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  I asked to see the manager and explained that I did not want the young lady disciplined or fired because it had truly been an accident.  He comped us our meal and even came around and gave Ethan his card and said to bring him his dry cleaning bill.  Ethan said he reminded him of the Corleone family as he came to our table, bent down and said "I understand there has been an, uh, accident here".  I must say that, despite the "accident", the food there was top notch.  I consider myself a bit of a "wrap" connoisseur and I had the best turkey wrap I have ever eaten.  It was so delicious that I am still dreaming of it, days later.

There was a Panera Bread beside the Ale House and I had a small gift card I wanted to use.  I was in there for a brief time and came out to everyone except mom.  Paul (her "friend") said that she was in the restroom at Panera.  We all waited for several minutes.  I finally asked Paul if he thought I should go see if she was all right.  I was worried, thinking that I was going to find her laid out from a stroke or worse.  The restroom was silent and I said "Mom?"  She responded and I asked her what was taking so long.  It was then that I smelled the smoke.  I asked her if she was smoking.  "Yes, I am!  I haven't had a cigarette since yesterday, Kathy!"  Me:  "MOM!  You are breaking the law!  You cannot smoke in here!  You could get arrested!"  Mom:  "I will just say that I didn't know"  Me:  "Would you STOP?  We need to get out of here!"  Mom:  "I'm coming, I'm coming."  When we got outside, I told Paul, "You know what she was doing and I know what she was doing!"  He chuckled and I turned to mom and said "YOU!  BEHAVE!"  Mom said "Never!" and I realized that whoever said the apple doesn't fall far from the tree was spot on.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent taking even more photos and walking the campus.  My heart was overflowing with happiness at the thought of having raised an engineer.  I thought of Ethan's father and how proud he would have been.  Ethan had a solid, strong interview last week that he thinks could lead to a great first job.  I thank God for the gift of my son, the joy of family, and the best Mother's Day gift ever.