Category Archives: Family

For Mary Catherine

Most of us spend our teens and 20’s in a decidedly selfish stage of life. We want to party, we care about how we look, we spend money on ourselves as quickly as it falls into our greedy little hands. Looking back on this phase, I see myself mired in a boy-crazy,  superficial slog to adulthood, holding on to the Freudian Id of myself like a sentimental stuffed animal with which I was unable to part. At the time, I imagined there were people who eventually matured and did crazy things like save money or be responsible, but I did not know many of them my age, and my own ambitions were nebulous and egocentric.

As a result of all of this vain immaturity in my youth, it struck me as particularly impressive when I observed my niece Mary Catherine as she approached young adulthood with the poise of someone who had been given a cheat sheet on how to become a good person. She thrived in high school and college, with good grades and great friends. Despite some mild anxiety issues, she found the bravery to join the cheer leading squad, where she was loved by her team. In college, she pursued her passion for teaching with a sincere love of children and a true calling for the profession.

She graduated college last year and became a teacher at Parkway Elementary. It has been so cool to watch her blossom in this role, because she has always known what she wanted in life: to be a teacher, a good person, and one day, to have a family. While she enjoys fashion, she is not obsessed with her appearance, and never pretends to be something she is not. At a time when most people put God on the back burner, she shows commitment to her faith. Authentic is definitely a word I would use to describe her.

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The other words I use most often to describe her include kind, charming and levelheaded. Now, at 23, she once again demonstrates another trait of maturity: exemplary grace in adversity. Because it was her first year as a teacher, everyone thought that her recurring bouts of sickness were from exposure to all of her young students. After a series of tests, the family was stunned to learn that she has Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). She was immediately put in the hospital and is now in the middle of a month-long aggressive chemotherapy which could possibly impede her chances of having children in the future. Throughout it, of course, she is resilient, retaining her Mary Catherine spirit and showing the rest of us, as always, how a healthy mindset translates into a life well-lived.

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In a show of love and support, her friends have started a Go Fund Me page, both for the family burden of immediate medical expenses, as well as the hope of fertility treatments which will allow her to pursue her dreams of a family in the future. I ask my friends to offer your prayers for her strength and health, and/or a small gift to her page. I know that I would not have moved to Augusta back in the late 90’s if it were not for the sweet child I wanted to be near as she grew up. I know that many people join me in saying that Mary Catherine is an inspiration and role model to them, as well. The quote that sticks with me the most during this time is from the movie Mulan, when the Emperor says to the Captain, “The flower which blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” MC is indeed that flower, so I thank you in advance for your prayers and support for her.

Support Mary Catherine Go Fund Me page

Final Moments of Grace

Michelle wasn’t quite a co-worker to me, nor was she really a friend, but maybe she was something in between. She did seem more significant than just someone who did my job at another dealership. After Mr. Hudson hired her for his new Toyota store, he asked me to drive to Columbia to serve as her mentor, since a Customer Service Manager was still an unusual position in the car business. Michelle and I hit it off during training, which wasn’t surprising, since everyone got along well with Michelle. She had the kind of sweet disposition that was both endearing and sincere. I knew immediately that she would do a remarkable job, one that she re-titled Client Relations, and she did. It wasn’t long before Mr. Hudson and the Toyota team leaned on her for almost everything.

Michelle was very young, very pretty and recently married. One could easily get the sense that her life was just beginning, and that it would be amazing. You could easily picture her staying at her job for years, even as she had children and continued life as a wife and mother. Her potential was limitless, both personally and professionally.She was a devout Christian, but she was inspiring to others as much for her unwavering niceness as for her unwavering faith.

Since I am telling you so much about her potential, you’ve probably already guessed that this is a tragic story and not an uplifting one. At about the same time that we all decided that we loved this girl, she revealed her breast cancer diagnosis. Since I was in a different city and not as close to her as the many Jim Hudson employees who surrounded her, I was not in the loop on her medical journey, but received random updates. I do know that it didn’t take long before I was hearing that she was too sick from the chemo and radiation to work full days. Her sporadic, part-time schedule soon was too much for her, and the dealership figured out a way to keep her job and her office waiting for her, despite reports of her continuously failing strength.

I would continue to hear bits and pieces of her battle, which always sounded to me like a medical nightmare. The strategy of her doctors was one of extreme, aggressive therapies, and in vain attempts to kill cancer in one part of her body, the medical team soon faced collateral damage in other parts, including a compromised immune system and a spiral of devastating side effects. I heard so many reports of her declining health that it was not a shock when the corporate HR Manager called to tell me that Michelle had passed away. Young, vibrant, sweet Michelle, newly married and blossoming in her new career, had died.

I’m not sure why I felt so sure in that moment that the treatments did more to kill her than the cancer itself. I am not a health care professional, I don’t have an interest in science and I have an aversion to doctors and hospitals. I just had a hunch that somewhere along the line, the medical practitioners created more suffering than they ameliorated. Perhaps she was always going to die, but I couldn’t help but think that they deprived her of some significant quality of life, especially at the end, when reports from her visitors detailed how brave she was despite the appalling physical decline.

I’m sure the seeds of these thoughts where germinating when I discovered a book called The Emperor of All Maladies, touted as a definitive biography of cancer. Despite the lengthy, science and history-filled 608 pages, I read it as voraciously as if it were a suspense novel. Each chapter confirmed my suspicions regarding the dangers of traditional cancer therapies, and the arrogance which caused the industry to hold on to treatments long after the research indicated that they were counter-intuitive and counter-productive. I was already distrusting of Western medicine prior to reading the book; afterwards, I was convinced that I would rather perish quickly than to suffer in the hands of doctors who obstinately adhered to these frightening and dubious paths.

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Knowing these experiences, you might now understand my fascination with the latest book to admit some flaws in our current healthcare protocol, entitled Being Mortal. In this shorter work (282 pages), Dr. Atul Gawande admits that there is a need for a perspective shift in the industry. I like how this reviewer articulates the book:

“We have come to medicalize aging, frailty, and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome. However, it is not only medicine that is needed…but life – a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances. Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving, it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.” – Oliver Sacks

I was so impressed with Gawande’s work, that I did something I’ve only done a few times in my life: complete the book, close it shut, consider it, and then re-open it to begin reading it again at page one. There is so much in the book which is significant and thoughtful, that I daresay it occured to me that everyone should be required to read it.

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The timing of stumbling upon this masterpiece is intriguing. I was helping my husband through his recovery from hip surgery, while managing the house and my job. This 6-week ordeal was not that difficult, but it was all-consuming, and it caused me some trepidation for the future. If I was this exhausted during a short-term, minor surgery recuperation, how I would fare as a caretaker for him if the issue was more serious? I developed new respect for family members who are caring for individuals with more oppressive health needs, especially when there might be financial struggles, as well. I doubted my own character in such circumstances.

This was my state as I stood in the Target book department, slightly tired and depressed and fully prepared to salve my melancholy with personal purchases. Suffice it to say, I was tossing stuff in the red cart with little regard for my long-lost budget. I went to the non-fiction section and started grabbing any hardback book that wasn’t focused on diet or cooking. I would read the first page, and if it grabbed me, I added it to the cart. My selection of Being Mortal stunned me even as I dropped it in. Surely, this depressing-looking book was ill-advised in my current state? It sat on my nightstand for 2 weeks before I opened it. Once I did, though, I was hooked. It is a testament to Gawande’s writing style and personal approach to an otherwise icky subject that I kept reading it, daily, until I finished, and began again.

The other item of note in the timing of this book discovery is my approaching 50th birthday next month. At this time in my life, it is inevitable that I will be soon facing these very real issues, either again with my sweet Kevin or with myself, or my aging parents. I feel grateful to have stumbled upon this masterpiece, as I now feel so much better, armed with some knowledge and perspective which will surely inform decisions affecting the quality of life for those I love.

Although the book speaks much of mortality as it pertains to the aging process, it also touches on decisions for those suffering from difficult ailments such as cancer.There is too much pressure on the healthcare consumer and their loved ones to make overwhelming decisions while mired in the emotions stirred up by the potential outcomes. Having a few helpful “focus questions” and some insight into the experiences of others can surely offer comfort in those stressful times.

I cannot say that either of these books would have helped or changed Michelle’s path, or that of her family. I attended her funeral in Columbia, where Mr. Hudson spoke of her heartwarming, gentle ways and steadfast faith. As recently as last year, one of her co-workers took me to her former office in the Toyota store and encouraged me to have a moment of silent remembrance of her there. We hugged, and cried, still painfully and acutely aware of the lost potential of her life.  In that moment I knew that I must aspire to her brand of kindness, her character in adversity, and finally, no matter what challenges may be in the future for me or my loved ones, that I am able to maintain what she had all along:grace.

Cumber Reunion Report

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Gener: “I’ve already decided that Kevin is a good guy. If something happens between the two of you, I have no doubt that it will be your fault.”

Angela: “I know I’m the only one who could possibly mess up this relationship. But after seven years together, we’ve not even had a single fight.”

Gener: “That’s very impressive.”

Angela: “Some people bring out the best in you, and some bring out the worst. Kevin simply helps me to be the best person I can be. The trick in life is to find the right person to love.”

Gener: “Don’t I know it. You’re preaching to the choir.”

Out of all of the conversations I had during my ‘Cousin Reunion Weekend’, I am confident that the short chats with Gener will prove to be the most memorable. The 3rd son of my mom’s older sister Barbara, Gener is the self-proclaimed “black sheep” in the family. He has no filter, no concerns with what people think of him, and little restraint when it comes to adult beverages. He told me and Kev that he has spent a total of 2 1/2 years of his 60 years in jail (not all at once), and admits that he has made choices in his life which brought dishonor to his family name: “It’s not a good feeling when you realize that your selfish actions have caused pain to the people you love. I’ve brought a lot of heartache to my parents, and I know that.”

His brutal honesty surprised me. On the one hand, it’s easy to judge the person who never quite got his act together. On the other hand, I always admire people who take ownership of their mistakes instead of blaming others. Furthermore, I give him props for being a good parent. He was a house-dad for many years while his two daughters were growing up, and is still a proud and loving father today. His eldest daughter did not attend the reunion, but I hear that she is successful and is married to a good man. I was able to meet his youngest daughter, Andi, who is getting married this fall. She was a delightful young lady who brought her 2 dogs to the occasion, and it was easy to tell from our brief interactions that she has a good head on her shoulders. 

Throughout the 3-day adventure in the middle of North Dakota, I made it a point to have meaningful conversations like these with as many of my cousins as I could. Most of these people I had never met, and the rest I had only seen briefly when we were kids. The cousins are all descedants of the 6 children of Vic and Florence Cumber- a total of 19 grandkids in our generation. One of them, Patty, recently passed away at the age of 47, and this gathering was in her honor. A total of 13 attended the reunion, many with spouses and kids in tow, as well as a few of the aunts and uncles (my mom’s siblings.) All total, there were 33 Cumber relatives who landed in Jamestown, aka “The Buffalo City.”

Time was short and I wanted the interactions to be more significant than simple small-talk, so I knew I had a challenge on my hands, especially considering my predisposition to shyness. I suspected that any compelling dialogue with them would have to be carefully crafted. I fearlessly asked questions that might seem too personal for a first visit: “Tell me about your dad.” “Were you and your sister always close?” “How have you been doing since Patty passed away?” I genuinely wanted to learn about these people and didn’t have time to beat around the bush. I felt like Barbara Walters, trying to quickly reach the moment that might involve some tears.

Although there were no tears (for the cousins, anyway-more on that later), I had a good chance to interact with these relative strangers, and came away with the impression that they are all quite amiable and sweet. The cousin who offered me use of her hotel room when I needed peace and quiet (Kathleen), the cousins who made sure we knew the agenda (Kenny), the cousins who gave us welcome bags and cooked an awesome steak/lobster dinner (Dick and Vicki), the cousin who made a “bio-book” for us (Cris)- it turns out, Cumbers are truly good-hearted and kind.

I tried to sit next to different people at each meal, and to say yes when invited to participate in any given activity. I even agreed to go for a walk with Andi and Deb (Kenny’s wife), who wanted to take the dogs for a stroll. Andi and Deb both turned out to be in much better physical condition than I am (as most people are). I was determined to hang with them as long as they wanted to walk, even when it appeared that we were about to cross state lines. My legs were hanging in there, despite being confused about the terrain of North Dakota, which I’ve always described as being “flatter than flat”. I realized that there are a few steep hills and valleys in the area-and we chose them all for our walk with the dogs. I stopped talking somewhere around the 90-minute mark in an effort to conserve oxygen, but listened to their conversation and was still happy to have been invited.

The physical discomfort of the walk was, of course, no match for the discomfort of the plane ride, but I expected that, since I don’t fly well. What I did not expect upon our arrival at the hotel, though, was how happy I was to see these people. I recognized almost all of them from the past or from family pictures. There were hugs and introductions all around, and it seemed as though everyone in the Jamestown Hampton Inn was affiliated with our event. I feared that I might miss someone and not greet them properly, causing me to want to hug everyone in the hotel, just in case. Surely there wouldn’t be anyone besides us wanting to visit this obscure state? I restrained myself from being overly zealous, as it turned out that North Dakota is a nice place for summer vacations, and our hotel was quite full.

The most obvious way that the state of North Dakota made us feel welcome was by being 25 degrees cooler than Georgia’s stifling heat. Although we were disappointed that it was too cool for water sports, it sure did feel nice to walk around in a light jacket and enjoy the humidity-free breeze. We spent most of our weekend at one of the family cabins at Spiritwood Lake, a lovely body of water slightly less than a square mile, surrounded by trees, grasslands and quaint homes. During our time at Spiritwood, we roamed the two adjacent family-owned properties and chimed in on whatever conversation or game might be taking place. The atmosphere was casual, the food was amazing and the view was beautiful. Small pockets of socializing would form, sometimes around the drinking or non-drinking family members, but mostly around the randomness of those who wanted to plant in one spot, juxtaposed with those who enjoyed circulating about the space.

It was during this time of circulation that I found my opportunities for Q&A. Although I missed a few people, I was able to participate in captivating discussions with many of my extended family, hearing  stories that helped me to connect the dots in my own personal background. I’ve heard many family anecdotes from my mom over the years, but getting an opportunity to listen to other perspectives and fill in some gaps was truly engaging and intriguing. 

To be perfectly honest, when I first learned of this reunion several months ago, my initial reaction was not one of tremendous interest. Time off from work for me and Kev is so precious, I couldn’t fathom the value of flying across the country to spend time with people I didn’t know. Readers of my blog recall that I was tentative about the invitation, knowing the potential for boredom or awkward moments. (see “Where Have You Been the Last 30 Years? https://angelamaskey.com/2014/03/22/where-have-you-been-the-last-30-years/). In fact, for months after the reunion was announced, I hovered around a 17% chance of attending, not wanting to commit the time and money to something so uncertain.

The thing that pushed me into the commitment zone was knowing that Kevin, Forrest and I would be traveling with my sister Lora, her husband Phil and their daughter Mary Catherine. Somehow I suspected that if the Maskeys were traveling with the Hydricks, we all stood a chance of having some fun, no matter what transpired with our relatives in the farming state. And to be sure, the time with the Hydricks was definitely one reason why the vacation was such a success. They were fun travel-buddies, supportive and good-natured, open for side excursions such as “Frontierland” and pictures with the “World’s Largest Buffalo”.

As promised, I will close with a little about a couple of the moments that saw me with tears in my eyes-the first was a visit to Pingree. Pingree is a minuscule town where some of my best childhood memories took place. Grandpa had a Texaco station and shop attached to the home where my mom lived as a child. In the 70’s, Grandpa build a new shop and a new house but left the old one standing. When we visited for vacation as kids, we were allowed to play in the empty structure, a place which filled our imaginations for hours on end. Somehow over the years I missed the news that this structure was torn down, leaving only stalks of corn growing where the foundation used to be. There was no rubble, no skeletal remains to spark any memories, and it made me quite sad.

Fortunately, our cousin Richard opened up the building referred to as the “new shop”. Although it is now closed, it still contains many mementos from the past, including old signs and parts, as well as the same old Coke machine from which we used to extract old-fashioned bottles of pop. As I stood in the strong wind outside of that shop, I realized that the town of Pingree was completely different from the town of my happy childhood memories, and my eyes filled with tears. Some of the best summer vacations of my youth took place in North Dakota, when I could play at Grandma’s old house, explore Grandpa’s old shop, and be pulled on an inner tube behind the boat at Spiritwood lake. The nostalgia hit me unexpectedly.

The most powerful moment of the weekend, though, came from Gener, who offered to take Forrest out for a chat about making good choices in life. Kev and I are always grateful for anyone who supports our efforts to make sure Forrest gets on a good path for his future, and I was touched by how much he cared. 

In the end, it is ok that my grandparent’s old homes are gone, and the cabins at the lake are different. As a result of this Cousin Reunion, I may have built something more lasting-new relationships. Thanks to some kind gestures and honest conversations in North Dakota, hopefully I gained 33 new friendships. I look forward to future conversations with all of them, and I know Gener will be proud to watch me hold on to my Kevin, and I’m grateful to him for his willingness to offer some real-life advice to Forrest. Like a good relationship, your family is something you take good care to ensure the foundations stay strong for years to come.

 

In search of Parent Role Models (Teen years)

The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires. – Dorothy Parker

Watching an episode of House yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that Dr. House has the perfect personality to raise a teenager. He knows the desired outcome and digs in like a snarling bulldog with all teeth locked on tight. House doesn’t care what you think of him, he just knows he has a life to save. With each new symptom, you can see the determination in his face, as if he were talking directly to the illness itself, taunting it: “Bring it on, bitch. This patient is not dying on my watch.”

Kevin’s brother Pix and his wife Kelly remind me of House. Kelly was a tough and tenacious step-mom to Pix’s 3 young boys, who grew up to be responsible, amiable adults. As if that weren’t impressive enough, they then adopted a troubled teen named Amber. They provided the right balance of tough love, structure and support to a kid they’d never even met until they agreed to step in after her grandmother died. You would be blown away to hear stories of what Amber was like in high school. Today she is charming, dynamic and level-headed. I’m fascinated that Pix and Kelly played such a pivotal role in her transformation.

Amber, Brian, John and Jason

Amber, Brian, John and Jason

Pix and Kelly

Pix and Kelly

Unfortunately, I’ve seen parents for whom the road of teen parenting was not nearly as smooth. Some parents suffer enormously to keep their teen in line, and are often forced to resort to special boot camps and therapy programs, only to have the wayward youngster stray into drugs or law trouble after returning home. I cannot begin to imagine the love and fortitude these parents have to muster every day to help their teen become an independent adult. But when they do it, it’s an amazing thing, and I respect every parent that keeps locked on and doesn’t give up.

Not every parent’s teen experience is fraught with intense obstacles, but it is still extraordinary to observe a teen blossom into to a thriving young adult. My sister Lora and brother-in-law Phil had a comparatively easy road with Mary Catherine, who was mature and respectful at an early age. I once asked Lora how she raised such a great teen and she refused to take credit. “She came to us this way.” I think their parenting style had a lot to do with it, though. Lora and Phil are both kind people who expressed clear expectations of their daughter. Their efforts paid off; Mary Catherine is a delightful human being.

Lora, Mary Catherine, Phil

Lora, Mary Catherine, Phil

In terms of parental struggles, our experience with Forrest rests somewhere in between.  Although he is a good kid at heart, he always seems one step away from a bad decision. Over the years, we have been called in to address any number of transgressions, including fighting with other kids (mostly verbally), skipping school, traffic tickets, bad grades, sexting, and smoking cigarettes. Each time I learn of a new issue, it feels like a punch in the stomach. Emotions of concern and disappointment swirl together in a vortex that leaves me feeling overwhelmed. And I’m just the late-entry step-parent. Kevin takes the brunt of the burdens; I really don’t know where he finds his strength.

The fact of the matter is that good parenting is hard work. Telling your teen the word “no” means you are willing to suffer more whining than a dog afraid of thunderstorms. Like House, Kevin is not deterred: he is quick to call teacher-parent meetings or seek advice from school principals. The parents of Forrest’s friends are required to call Kevin, so we can be assured that Forrest is not visiting in an unsupervised home. He mandated that Forrest go to court instead of just paying his traffic ticket fines, so that the young driver could feel the full weight of his mistakes. Kevin is determined that Forrest will experience consequences when he makes errors in judgement: Forrest has had plenty of times when he had to live without his phone or his car or seeing his friends, because he did something to warrant these punishments.

The good news is that Kevin is as quick to praise Forrest as he is to discipline. Kev has an app on his phone so that he knows class grades at all times and is always ready with words of encouragement. He pays for anything Forrest needs for sports or academics, whether it’s a laptop, golf clubs, or tutors. He does it for the same reason all parents make these sacrifices- he wants Forrest to have a solid foundation for a happy life. Kevin didn’t go to college, and hopes more than anything that his son will know opportunities that he did not. Kevin has had to work so hard for his level of success, and his options have been limited. Like any parent with an overflowing love for their sprout, he wants less struggle for the next generation. Kev is the first to admit this dynamic is part of the problem, because Forrest is a bit spoiled as a result of all this focus.

Forrest, Kev, Ang

Forrest, Kev, Ang

Raising a teen boy sometimes feels like dating a person who cheats. You find yourself questioning everything, doubting everything, and always sensing that they’d rather be somewhere else. You don’t want to be the person who looks through another person’s emails or dirty jeans pockets, dreading the worst, but it’s hard to keep the faith. All you can do is be as determined as Dr. House trying to find the obscure illness of his dying patient. You never give up, you’re willing to try anything that has a remote chance of helping that person, and you’re not afraid to be considered an asshole in the process. The end result is just too important.

So thanks to Lora, Phil, Pix, Kelly and our own parents for being good role models. With Kevin watching over him, I have no doubt Forrest will become a remarkable young man- the foundation is already there. I am honored to be a small part of the process. This kid is not going to fail on our watch.

Ladies Man in Training

I met my step-son Forrest when he was 10 years old, and even then he was already showing signs of being a bit girl-crazy. I joked with him about it, saying I was going to buy him a t-shirt that says “Forrest Loves the Ladies”.  Every day he would have a story about a pretty girl who talked to him or punched him (also known as flirting, especially during middle school years). A true ladies man was being born.

By the age of 15 he had his first girlfriend, and I will never forget how Kevin and I “fake chaperoned” his first date at the fair. We pretended to split up in order to meet again later, but we purposely kept a close watch on where they were. When they started holding hands, we were skulking nearby to witness it.

I wasn’t too crazy about that first girlfriend, for numerous reasons I would rather not discuss, but I will mention her rudeness over dinner. I suppose times have changed, but when I was a teenager we tried to impress our boyfriend’s parents, not stare at them with indifference when asked a harmless, small-talk question. She was aloof, gloomy and dismissive.

One thing that has not changed since I was a teenager is the ultimate insignificance of parental opinion. It was better if they liked your sweetie, but if they did not, you didn’t want to hear about it. I am therefore keenly aware that I have to hold my tongue about Forrest’s female friends. He reinforced that message by telling Kevin that I am the “last person he would want to hear spouting relationship advice.” I get that. So my blog is a good outlet for my opinions.

I know I can safely talk here about the young ladies in my step-son’s world because:

  1. I will change names to numbers to protect the innocent
  2. My step-son doesn’t read my blog. If I am honest, very few people do.

My favorite chickie was girlfriend #2, who made the common mistake of being too clingy and scaring Forrest away. He became so panicked by this serious relationship, he has since refused to let anyone claim they are a “girlfriend” at all. Thus my term chickie, which is about as casual as it gets. Chickie #2 was very pretty and presented herself well. In my opinion, her only deficiency was the excessive affection, which is more of a strategy error than a character flaw. Forrest fought horribly with her after the break-up, and neither of them demonstrated maturity for quite some time. Parental intervention forced both parties to act more civil toward one another, which was important because of an overlapping circle of friends.

I never had a chance to meet chickie #3, which was fine with me since she was 2 years younger than Forrest. I’m worried, though, about chickie #4, who has a distinctly different personality from the others. She is abrasive and arrogant, with not much more in the manners department than chickie #1. The worst part about #4 is how Forrest acts around her. She is a bit of an ass, and he acts like one when she is near. It it absolutely torture to watch.

We went out for sushi with them, and it was literally the longest 30 minutes of my life. It was only 30 minutes because I left before the check was even paid. The hateful things the two of them said about other teens, including chickie #2, made me go pale. I know I can’t tell him who he can date, but I certainly don’t have to be around her, and do not intend to- if I can avoid it. All I can do is pray daily that their relationship will be short-lived and that a clean, permanent fracture will end my torment.

When I returned home from that fateful dinner, I knew that the experience was a karmic payment for what my family endured during my 20 years of poor-decision making in relationships. I can recall some painfully awkward moments of guys who loathed spending time with my family, and acted like they were waiting for a root canal. Conversations were forced, dinners were curtailed abruptly.

When I returned from my sushi debacle, I wanted to call every member of my immediate family and apologize. Although I dated some true sweethearts, I know there was a solid decade of bringing home people who were less than charming. My family, true to form, were gracious and kept most of their opinions to themselves, which I appreciate tremendously in hindsight.

Knowing that my family survived my boy-craziness, I tell myself to be cool through my step-son’s girl-craziness. I must try to hold my opinions and let the kid create his own relationship path, which for now appears to be the ladies man path. I just hope he approaches it with grace and respect, and chooses chickies who know how to politely converse over sushi.

Where have you been the last 30 years?

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Angela with cousin Jason

My cousins invited me to a “cousin reunion” in North Dakota this summer, which is a bit of a misnomer, since most of us have never met. My parents moved away from the flat, open terrain of the Dakotas when we were very young, so we had little opportunity to get to know the kids of their siblings. One of our cousins passed away recently (much too young), which jarred us into the realization that life is short, and if we wanted to get to know each other at all, the time was now or never.

It’s been about 30 years since we have seen one another, and we’ve never all been together at one time. So this could either be super-cool and interesting, or it could be really… well, boring. Depending on how we approach it, there is obvious potential for stilted conversation and a dearth of common interests. I suspect there is a broad range of personalities, from the most conservative, religious, small-town, never-had-a-drink types to the big-city, well-traveled, “where’s the tequila?” types. The only common link is some DNA and a collection of memories about Pingree, a town of 62 residents. Got that? 62. The town is tiny.

One of the cousins volunteered to make a book with all of our stories, and for me I’m sure this will be something of a cheat sheet, so that I know who is who and how to make basic conversation with them. Her instructions to each of us were pretty straightforward-tell us what you’ve been up to for the last 30 years. As I wrote, I realized it is tricky to consolidate the last 3 decades of your life into a blurb, capturing the pertinent and interesting, and weeding out the superflous or scandalous. This is what I came up with. Enjoy.

Angela graduated high school in ‘84 and insisted on stretching out her college experience for the next decade, interspersing her class time with working. In the end, she never did get a degree, but she did get some cool stories and significant student loan debt. Her work performance fared a little better, and usually came down to small promotions for hanging in the longest and working the hardest. She began managing people at a young age (23), and has worked in various industries from hospitality to retail to loading trucks. Throughout it all, the ultimate lesson is that leading people is universal, whether you are selling books, cars or cosmetics. It is a privilege to serve others, finding ways to make their lives just a little easier.

Personally, Angela clung like a scared kitten to the single life, refusing to let go and get married until she was sure that the time and person was right. The time was 2011, the age was 45, and the person was Kevin Maskey. Angela had known Kevin from work and was always impressed  with his humor, integrity, calm disposition and work ethic.  When she heard he was getting a divorce, she chased him down like a ninja until he finally relented and went out with her. They dated for 3 years before getting engaged, and the wedding was an intimate affair of 25 people at a wine resort. Angela was doubly blessed because in addition to finding someone amazing like Kevin, she was also able to add “step-parent” to her resume. Kevin’s son Forrest is a super-cool and outgoing young man, funny like his dad, and very smart. He will graduate from high school next year.

In addition to working as Public Relations Manager for Jim Hudson Lexus, Angela volunteers for groups like Leadership Augusta and Symphony Orchestra Augusta. Over the past 10 years, volunteering has become a passion for her, and she coordinates a website and social media campaign called “Volunteer Augusta”, encouraging others to get involved in the community. A book club, Toastmasters group, hang-time with family and voracious reading of celebrity gossip usurps the rest of her free time.

Angela’s goals for the rest of her life include enjoying the aforementioned activities as much as possible, as well as finding inner peace, learning to live in the moment, and overcoming her violent fear of public speaking. Anyone with an unusual curiosity to learn more (or just a lot of free time on their hands) is encouraged to check out her blog, which is currently only followed by 12 people, 9 of whom are relatives.

Blog: angelamaskey.com

Twitter @ahillesland

Facebook: Angela Maskey

Linked In: Angela Maskey