Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A beautiful book review

So, it's been a hot minute since I last bad.  It's been a hell of a year, lots of really terrible stuff happened, lots of really wonderful things happened.  One day soon, I'll do an actual update.  I promise.  this post has a very specific purpose, I'm so excited to share!

Those who know me know that I love reading.  I love big books and I cannot lie.  I'm a junkie for the written word.  I'm constantly reading something, a lot of my favorites have seen multiple readings.  Imagine my delight and surprise when I was asked to read a book before it was released to the public.  It honestly felt like I was asked to attend a screening of a movie.  I read it, I loved it, and now I'm going to review it!

Title: so my mother, she lives in the clouds (and other stories)
Author: Christopher D. Dicicco

I am a person who judges books by their cover.  I know we aren't supposed to do that, we are taught from a young age that judging books by their covers is a terrible way to live.  I can't help it, I am stimulated visually.   So my a gorgeous book. If I saw it on a shelf I would totally pick it up.  Look at this beautiful cover!

Most of the stories in this book are heartbreaking.  I recommend having some sort of comfort object nearby while reading, because reading these stories will give you the feels. In spades.  My favorite story, Pieces of my Junkyard Father, describes a boy who lost his mother, and a gruff father trying to keep them both alive. It tugged at my heartstrings, seemingly a story about a boy and the dog his dad brought home for him.  In the end (no spoilers) we find that the father is desperate to help his boy adjust to life after mom.

Dicicco paints a vivid picture in each story, each setting completely unique, drawing you into the scene.  Then, most endings are left purposefully vague, giving the reader the opportunity to end the story as they see fit.  Another favorite of mine was In your father's backyard.  I was convinced that it was going to end one way, and it went a totally different direction.  I love that about these stories.  You think you have him figured out, then he turns everything on it's edge.

In the spirit of transparency, I will admit it took me longer than normal to finish this book.  Reason being, I wasn't able to zip through like I normally do. Each story provoked thought: was there a higher meaning at the bottom of the well, what would I find at the bottom of the ladder, what question would I have Lev answer in his sleep?  Not only was my brain kept active with each story, but there was also a heaviness throughout the book.  Emotional baggage that seemed to expand the further I went along.  At one point I asked myself if Simon was real, and if he were the same Simon in each story, how much did his therapist charge him?

In closing, I highly recommend this collection of short stories, if only to wake up your heart and force you to feel something.

Once the book is released, I will provide links for purchasing your very own copy!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's my brother's birthday

Today is January 4th.  It's my brother's 35th birthday.  In years past, this would mean a phone call where I sing him the happy birthday song very crappily, he would laugh at me, and say "thanks jiiiiiilllllll" in that sing-songy half-falsetto voice.  I can hear it in my head right now.  We would all try to get together as a family, depending on the day of the week the 4th fell.  Sometimes it would be a few days later before the clan could all gather.  But we always did, without fail.  We'd usually end up at the Red Lobster or Texas Roadhouse, birthday boy got to pick and those were his favorites - of course, this being after the Kahiki shut down back in the early 90's.  We all loved that place.

This year...I won't get to hear that sing-songy "thanks jiiiiiilllllll" after I sing.  I won't get to give Kevin his traditional "jillz cardz".  I won't get to buy him a new baseball cap - he wears them so much, after a year he is usually in dire need of a new one.  This year, that phone call will go unanswered.

For those that haven't heard, Kevin, my brother, passed away on November 30, 2014. I've really been meaning to write about it before now, but every time I try, the words won't come.  What words can you say?  One day he was there, the next...he wasn't.  I spoke with him on that Friday, and that was it.  we talked about inane things - Greg and I were driving down to Birmingham to go to the Iron Bowl the next day.  As far as I remember, the last words I spoke to Kevin were "love you, bro. Talk to you later,"  I think as far as last words go, those are pretty good.

The month of December was pretty much a blur.  We drove up to Ohio that Tuesday, Dec 1st to help my mom and dad get everything ready. His calling hours were Friday afternoon/evening, and the service was on Saturday.  I remember a huge, overwhelming outpouring of support for Kevin, my mom, my dad, and me.  There were flowers, pictures, videos, people coming in from out of state, it was phenomenal.  It was also the hardest few days I've ever been through.  Thank God for Greg, he was a rock for me.  He helped chauffeur me and mom between Hilliard and Westerville, he hugged me when I needed it, he left me alone when I needed that.  I love that man.

The service itself was very beautiful.  it was done in our church in Westerville - the last time that many people we knew were gathered there, it was for our wedding in May.  Such a stark comparison of conflicting emotions.  The church was full by the time the service started, so many people from so many different parts of Kevin's life were there.  Elementary, middle and high school friends, work friends from several different jobs, family, our parents friends and co-workers, my friends and co-workers. The amount of love and support in that room, it was such a blessing.  I gave the Eulogy.  What a terrible thing to have to write.  Thankfully, my talented cousin Julie helped me piece it together and edited it for me to help with flow.  I'll attach it at the end here, if you want to read it. After teh service, we invited people back to dad's house for a potluck.  lots of good food, memories shared, and beers.  Sort of a celebration of life.

Coming back to Alabama was also a blur.  I don't remember much except for blowing my nose the whole time - sorry Greg.  In the days since, I feel like I have been going through the motions.  Christmas has come and gone, and it just wasn't the same.  It will never be the same.  There will forever be a piece missing from anything we do.  Family gatherings will be incomplete.  I'm sure after a few years the sting will lessen a bit (God, I hope so) but there will always be that ache around my heart.

My mom has invited the family over to her house today to celebrate Kev's birthday.  She'll be serving his favorite foods, no onions or mushrooms anywhere in sight.   We love you Kev.  We miss you so much.   I hope you're watching all the football you want up there, your Buckeyes are playing for the championship next Monday!

The Eulogy

The Eulogy

Kevin's Eulogy

When January 4th 1980 dawned, it was cold and snowy. John and Connie had no idea they were going to become parents later that day because their new son wasn't due to arrive until the end of February!  John was working on a jobsite with Mike Post, when Connie started experiencing some worrisome symptoms.  She called her friend Sharon Post at work, who dropped her pencil on her desk and rushed right over.  Sharon helped mom with her socks – she was nearly nine months pregnant after all, and then dashed her to the hospital. Kevin came into the world at 10:30 that night via cesarean section.

Kevin got to spend the first 3 years of his life as the first and only grandchild in our family; he was doted on, cherished, and loved from the very start. Both set of grandparents offered to babysit all the time, and  to spend extra moments with their precious baby.  Grandpa Paul (John’s dad) made him beautiful wooden toys:  a rocking horse and a gorgeous train set.   Then his cousins and sister joined the clan, giving Kevin some new playmates and friends.

The Mathias family moved over to their house on Lazelle Road in 1984, which began a new chapter in Kevin’s life.  He had neighbor boys to play with, woods to roam around in, a pond to fish in, and many adventures waiting to be had.  This move put us in the Olentangy School system, which gave both Kevin and I some of the best friends anyone could ask for.  He was a bit of a chameleon when it came to his friends, and he seemed to be able to fit in just about anywhere with his quick wit and sense of humor : From the marching band to the football team, drama club to show choir to boy scouts to his groups of “misfits” that he spent most of his time with.  He was very active in choirs at both school and church.  Music was always important to Kevin, whether he was playing it in the band or listening to it at deafening volumes in his car – many of you must remember that old Chevy Malibu he drove in high school. I remember him blasting Korn and Nirvana in his bedroom, and then later it morphed on to some Beck, ICP, and various other techno beats.  If you know Kevin, you've heard loud music.

He graduated from Olentangy High School in 1998 and when on to explore the college life in Chicago for a year at DePaul University.  He came back to Columbus and took a few years off to work before finishing his finance degree at Ohio Dominican University in 2008.  We were all so proud of him. He worked diligently during and after school, first at the Doubletree Hotel, then onto Red Roof Inn corporate, then finally onto NiSource.  He excelled in each role, and made many friends along the way.

When I think of Kevin, three adjectives come to mind first: clever, funny, and loyal.  He has always been one of the smartest people I know.  Not only book smart – which he definitely was (did you see his SAT scores?! They were ridiculously high) but he was also smart in the ways of the world.  He was quick with comebacks and little quips.  Plus he was the go-to guy in the family for anything technology related.  Can’t work the TV? Call Kevin.    Computer acting funny? Call Kevin.  Can’t remember the Wi-Fi password? Don’t worry, Kevin will know it.

Aunt Bobbie shared a story that demonstrates his cleverness from a very young age.  He was about 3 years old, and our grandma Nancy was babysitting him.  She had various activities to keep him busy in her kitchen. One of them was cutting out different shapes from paper with some scissors at the table.  She got him situated and then turned away to do the dishes.  Kevin was cutting out his shapes and while he was going to town he cut through the kitchen curtains.  Instead of crying or trying to lie his way out of it, he took some scotch tape and put the curtains back together.  So when Grandma turned around and saw the curtains, Kevin simply said “Look Grandma, I fixed it!” 

If you knew Kevin well, you probably saw flashes of his eccentricity and sense of humor from time to time.  His laugh was loud and when Kevin was expressive he lit up a room.  Some people would describe his laugh as “snorty” which is totally true.   If you really got him going, he would laugh loud and end it with a hearty snort. (demonstrate).

Kevin’s friend Chris has an infinite number of stories, but this one highlights Kevin’s humor. Most of his Chris’ memories are from their former workplace at the Doubletree hotel.  They worked the night shift together for a few years and Kevin was so good at his job and with numbers and auditing especially, that he never had to worry about being replaced. And, as Chris said, “he took full advantage of that.”   One evening at 2am, a customer called the desk.  Chris picked up to answer, but Kevin grabbed the phone from him and screamed into the receiver, “Do you have any idea what time it is?!”     Then he handed the phone back to Chris, who was in complete shock and had to immediately hang up the phone before busting  out laughing.  Chris said that the poor guy probably thought he had the wrong number and it took him 20 minutes to call back and when he did, he stumbled with his words, asking if this was the right number to the hotel. 

His friend Johnnie shared with me the day she met Kevin. She had only been dating Ryan for a short time and had heard a lot about Kevin. She was excited to meet Ryan’s best friend. That day, she thought she heard someone pull into her driveway, but there was no knock at the door.  She got up to investigate. She looked out in shock and horror as, and I quote, “this giant of a man hacked and stabbed an old sofa to pieces that she’d set out on the curb”      … with a huge sword!    Ryan came to the window, laughed, said “Kevin’s here.”  He opened the door and said, “Cool, you got a new sword!”  Johnnie had no idea the sword-wielding man would become not only her best friend as well but the most adored and dearest uncle to her children Destiny and Aleya.

One way that Kevin enjoyed connecting with people was through games.  Not only video games – which he definitely loved, but also through sit down, in person games.  He was very active in high school and beyond playing Magic: The Gathering, and Dungeons and Dragons.  We were always finding random dice in the laundry.    He loved spending time with his friends in these ways, and formed some very special relationships doing so.  He was active in world of Warcraft for a long time, and very active and adept at fantasy football. Every year he would play   at least 6 teams, and usually ended up winning money at the end of the season.  He’s actually got a pretty awesome League trophy right now.    I was so excited to share my team with him the first year I played.  He was so patient with my newbie enthusiasm, and he helped me with my lineups a few times. I was happy to be able to share that interest with him.    Along with indoor, sit down games, Kevin was also an avid Frisbee golfer.  He loved going through the courses, spending time outside with his friends. 

His great intellect was enhanced by the books that he read.  He was a voracious reader.  He always had a book in his hand – well, it used to be a real live paperback book, but lately it was a kindle or nook or some other e-reader.  It was never odd to see Kevin reading, whether it was at a family gathering, standing outside waiting for something, or just sitting on the couch after dinner.  He was a reader from a very young age - mom told me that when her mom, Grandma Nancy, was sick and staying with us, Kevin would read to her to help her feel better.  He was about 11 at the time and he would read to her from the book called “Momilies” which was little anecdotes and quips from mothers around the world.  It had sayings like “clean your room” and “don’t make me pull this car over!” Which were both things that Kevin and I heard mom say often while growing up.  

Kevin loved his family and his friends.  He was always available to help out when needed or lend a listening ear.  Whenever mom needed help setting something up, Kevin was always there.  When I was having a rough time after a breakup, Kevin was there to listen and offer up advice – and to threaten the lives of whoever was causing me pain and heartache.   He was so loyal – both to his family and his friends.  He was a champion for us when our family went through hardships, and he was there for his friends without fail, whether it was providing a ride, a place to stay for the night, or a place to live.  Kevin rarely thought about himself, he was more concerned with the well-being of others.  I think he was happiest when he was doing things for other people.

Johnnie Williams shared another story that exemplifies this quality in Kevin: One day the power went out at Johnnie and Ryan’s during a nasty storm.  They were told the electricity would be out for days, and Kevin called to check on them.  Their daughters, Destiny and Aleya, who had been without electricity for maybe an hour,  [  ] asked who she was talking to on the phone. Johnnie told them, “It’s Uncle Kevin,” and the girls began chanting for him to come rescue them.  Kevin said to her, “Tell them I’m on the way”.  The girls packed their bags and did a “we are running away to Uncle Kevin’s” dance.     He kept them a few days until the power came back on and completely spoiled them. 

It’s hard to sum up the life of a man who died too soon.  The words to express how great, how wonderful, how clever, how funny, how loyal he was all seem to fall flat. The truth of it is, he still had so much living to do.  There are so many people out there that haven’t met him, and who don’t understand the hole that all of us have in our hearts right now.  It’s them I feel bad for: the people that never heard that snorty laugh, who never got to play games with him, who never experienced his helping hand.  Every person who met Kevin remembers him with a big smile on his face, and if they were lucky, they got to see his dimples , which were a gift to see.  I can’t tell you how much I will miss that dimple, that laugh, that listening ear, and that free tech support.  

Kevin was our son, nephew, cousin, classmate, co-worker, friend, uncle, family, and our brother.  But mostly, he IS and will continue to be a huge part of our hearts.  Thank you all for honoring Kevin by being here today.  May God bless the life of my brother, Kevin Michael Mathias. 

Written by Jill (Mathias) Price and Julia Grawemeyer, delivered by Jill Price on December 6, 2014 at the Celebration of Life service at Church of the Messiah UMC in Westerville, Ohio. Anecdotes and memories provided by Connie Mathias, Bobbie Grawemeyer, Chris Green, Johnnie Williams, and Jill Price.