Monday, December 2, 2013


On my way to work Saturday afternoon, my mood high enough, ish. Nothing plaguing me other than some residual work anxiety, not anything out of the realm of manageability, just your typical pre-holiday freak out along with residual panting. Some of the little bits of my ever changing personal life slipping into spots that while not totally comfortable just yet, have been making me feel, which is just about as welcoming as anything I can think of. Least in my current state. I was rolling in my badass ride, (Camry) about forty-five minutes late, (the only thing I love about the closing shift, don’t have to open so I can slither in a bit late) speeding a touch and with my music about five clicks louder than it should have been. 

“There are words that should be whispered gently

That's evidently the way to start

If I tell you what my dreams have been demanding

Let's call a heart a heart

Maybe you would call a true confession

And indiscretion on someone's part

But if I'm to say how madly I adore you

Let's call a heart a heart”

Billie’s voice sticky with pain and saturated with her preferred medication. I heard the smoke bouncing off her vocal cords and flinched with each heroin soaked slur. The tin can sounding recording filling the cavernous emptiness of my car, the pop and scratch of a tiny needle being pulled across vinyl, the faint hiss and soft sputter of a disc spinning, the sadness and begging of a tragically gifted soul. The words surged against me like a giant wave taking me under. I held my breath, heard her, like actually heard her, and pictured what kind of woman I might think I’d have been had I been there, hearing her sing this song for the first time.

Fingers strumming the steering wheel, my own bruised and smoke damaged vocal cords expanding in my throat as I crooned along with the Lady Day. Visions of myself, in the early 40s, one of those women uncomfortable in the days clothes, choosing instead to lounge about my, assuredly messy, and tiny apartment in Harlem, (oh you can bet your ass that would be me) in some sort of silky slip or sturdy bra and oversized panties, garters and a cigarette hanging from my gin soaked lips. Feeling Billie and aching to contribute the way she did. Maybe messy, maybe ornery, maybe sad and longing, but making people tremble and want the way she was making me.  

“When we are in a friendly situation

My conversation may not be smart

But if we've to have a perfect understanding

Let's call a heart a heart”

The song ended and I reached for the car stereo remote. A red light afforded me the time fondle and flip, settle on some mindless and soulless piece of pop music that made me bounce a bit and think just a wee bit less. Light change and I began my travels again. On my way to the start of our store’s 18th holiday season. Coast, snarl at the jackhole that cut me off, bop to the industrial and somewhat insipid music and that was when I happened to catch a glimpse of a wonderfully familiar sight. A vintage car resting in the driveway of a house I pass twice a day, nearly every day.  Saw big loopy burgundy colored bows, fake green shrubbery, the subtle white lights dangling and while it was daylight and they were not lit I knew, white icicle lights….always. I instinctively reached for the knob on my stereo and turned the volume of whatever asshole bit of senseless music I had thundering, down, rested my foot a bit on the brake pedal, took a second to look and had tears in my eyes when I saw, “18 Years Cancer Free” on a proud and noble banner that stretched across the garage door….of a house that I pass twice a day nearly every day, and have for almost 18 years.

Got home that night, the day a bit slower than I had hoped but still full of new faces, people coming in to rent our new wine storage lockers, seeing Dale’s face beam each and every time we went back to the office and told her, “There is someone here that would like to rent one of your lockers”. Her bit of the business that doesn’t require tasting notes or recommendations. A place for her, beyond gift baskets and accessories, a place that she and her brother worked on to make happen, a place she had to finish on her own. Her beloved brother sadly, and shockingly passing away before he got to see the space, smell the “wood stained” metal, before the first lock was clicked. I couldn’t stop watching her all day. Marking the angle of her gorgeous smile, the height of her eyebrows when her eyes would expand with excitement. I felt her missing him. Felt our store growing and changing because of what they did…

My dance with Billie that morning still on my mind I popped in my earbuds and spun the little turnie thing on my ipod. Shifted from Dave to James Taylor. From Alison Krauss to Amy Winehouse and while I can always find some sort of ease in music it was Billie that was on my mind. I pressed the spinner again, hovered over her name and selected that dope soaked groan and shallow, hard metallic stabs of vintage music to thump around in my noggin while the number 18 swam about in my subconscious.

The Wine Country is now 18, my drive by cancer survivor an 18 year reminder of courage and hope. 18, a number that seems so small when I think of it in terms of age but when a more sane me thinks in chunks of time, well that number is sort of a big one…

I had been 18 all of thirty eight days when I gave birth to my son, two months early and with a mother that dropped me off at the emergency room talking to the nurses but not me. I was seven months pregnant, terrified, not working, not with the man that assisted in my situation and assuming I would have to give my son up for adoption, to save us both. That wee soul and his tiny fingers, three pound body that showed up without heartbeat or breathing, he struggled to be here, fought for air, battled to feed, wiggled closer to the incubator wall whenever I would awkwardly coo at him through the thick plastic. The second those bitty digits bent around mine I knew, he fought for me so I would do the same for him. Forever. From that day at 18 years old until the day they had me plugged up to machines that helped me breathe…

“It doesn’t look good. I hope you make it” the late night call that made me the matriarch of our little family. My sister had been 18 all of nineteen days when an embolism would change her life. Change our lives in ways we weren’t even close to being ready for. She was 18 when she came to live with us and while I would never, in a million years, give us any credit for the woman that she has become, coming here was the start of a journey for her that would lead to her life now. Meeting the man she would fall madly in love with and marry. Her drive and resolve, astounding intellect and compassion to help others that has her now a speech pathologist with a legion of adoring wees that love her. How could they not? She’s amazingly strong, beautiful, funny, and brilliant and has one of those laughs that make the entire world within earshot laugh right along with her. Just being the tiniest fraction of her 18, well as hard as it was on all of us, probably her most of all, I am proud to have shared in it just as she did mine…

“Welp, here are the keys. We are going to head over to the hotel and wash this humid off us” me making light and pretending that the smudges of black eyeliner that had melted into my cracked face were due solely to the humidity there in Louisville. Jeremy was 18 and moving into the dorms, the ones that were a trillion miles away from me. I faked humid face melting but I had been crying for weeks. I was barely formed when this tiny person came into my life, tugged at my heart and boot straps, made me whole enough to be there…saying goodbye to him. We grew up together he and I and standing there, handing over the keys to his 1993 Camry before climbing into the rental car that would take me away from that most crushing spot of land on the planet, the one where I would leave my baby to make his own 18 year old mistakes and triumphs, well it assured me that no matter how old we can still have that 18 year old fear, and optimism. 

“There ain't nothin' I can do or nothin' I can say

That folks don't criticize me but I'm going to do
Just as I want to anyway
And don't care just what people say

If I should take a notion, to jump into the ocean
Ain't nobody's business if I do
If I go to church on Sunday, then cabaret all day Monday
Ain't nobody's business if I do”

Billie still in my ears as I swayed back and forth in my kitchen making dinner. I made my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner that night. The stuffing with way too much butter and plump raisins, the pan I would “over-cook” to perfect crispiness. The super crunchy turkey skin and dried white flesh beneath it. The sweet pickles, black olives, chunky un-whipped mashed potatoes. Found myself adding a little jalapeno cream cheese to those chunky spuds, reduced the gravy rather than adding Wondra flour, had picked out a Vouvray and Bourgogne Rouge to serve with the meal, something that I’d never seen, wine, at the Thanksgiving table until I started at The Wine Country,  and didn’t bother with the tiny rolls that she used to sweep with salted butter and sprinkle with sugar. My mother’s influence there but with all the little bits of, 18, flavoring and seasoning me, my family and our meal just as much as she did. 

Did a tiny bit of internet scanning and found that much like my sister, my son and myself, Billie Holiday started her life, no matter how tragically, when she turned 18 and cut her first album. I sat here this evening listening to garbled and sloppy sounding old recordings from her. Melting under lyrics like, “I’ve got it bad and that aint good” and “Lord above me, make him love me” and laughing as I picked at leftovers and slurped at glass after glass of Vouvray, (the last wine I shared with my mom, it made her toot which always, always made her laugh uncontrollably….which also made her toot)  when I heard a recording of her from 1955 where she grumbled, “They kept telling me I had to sing up tempo. Pop songs. I told him, fuck you, I wanna sing what I wanna sing”….

She sang what she wanted

The store continues to grow

I swallowed spoonful after spoonful of blood and fear

My sister became the wonder that she is

My son had the courage to leave and come back

I’ve gotten to see it all…

I feel 18 again, only better.

In other words, Richard Land, fuck you.
Proud Mom


Thomas said...

Classified under "things about which to be thankful."

Samantha Dugan said...

Bit of a drunken tear I fear, (haven't actually read the piece myself) as I was up at 2:00 AM ranting after reading some misogynistic bile from the "Christian" right. I just popped in and linked the piece that motivated me at the bottom of this post so maybe when, if people read either/both they get why I was all tizzied. Now, now I'm goddamn tired but thankful to see you here, as always. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you were cooking, I can only imagine.

Thomas said...


Bringing up and responding to Lady Day is just one more thing that we share in common.

I didn't go to the web site--no time for that shit anymore. Let them all die from their own spittle.

No, I did not cook--and no, I did not complain about the meal, but I had reason to ;)

Samantha Dugan said...

Don't blame you in the least. Thing is, a woman that needs to know what these fucknuts are trying to do, with regards to my rights and my body, I have to read that shit. Enrages me to say the least.

I didn't know you swooned for the Lady Day. Doesn't surprise me in the least. Not sure if you remember but my father was a junkie and there is just something in their voice, or speech pattern. I think that was what drew me to her but it was her soulful ache that keeps me coming back.

I often, (under my breath of course) grumble about our Thanksgiving dinner because it's my mother inlaw's not the one I grew up eating. They are only different in a couple ways but I still grumbled. This year not only was her food perfect, (although still her's/theirs) I went ahead and made my mother's version a couple nights later. No peeps from me this year.

Becca Masnick said...

As always, a beautiful & passionate read. Thank you for sharing your heart and experiences. <3

Dale Dimas said...

What Becca said!

Another great piece of writing, and feeling, Sam.

Samantha Dugan said...

Thanks lady. As I said above, I haven't read it yet and I might not get around to it but I needed the outlet last night...well this morning I guess, as you well know. Thank you so much for the support and understanding.

You are too sweet, once again. xoxoxo

webb said...

You're never more open than when you write about family and your own journey. This was no exception.

Much to betrankful for ... including the idea of a wine locker. Who knew!!

Samantha Dugan said...


The lockers have been a dream for years now. I used to say that if I won the Lotto (and did you know, one has to play to win?! Weird) I would buy the building the shop is in and build a huge storage facility. Dale and her brother made it happen and not only is it exciting, it breathes some new life into the eighteen year old joint. Very cool I have to say.

One more thing for me to be thankful for, the fact that such wonderful and loving people, like you, continue to come here to learn more. Touches me far more than you can know. So lovely lady, thank you.