“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” - Marcel Proust
Since June 16th many things have happened as updates to this list and perhaps one day I will write in a separate space about them. For now just know that I have attended more lectures, museums, and art galleries; travelled to new and interesting places; returned to The Music Center; sadly lost my ”second” dad Happy Hurt; and I continue to drum, just now with drumming guru Joanna Malfatti. Life has gone on, for better or for worse, and always with gratitude.
Completed June 16, 2012
While packing in April 2012 for the Autry Board Retreat AND the GLAAD Media Awards which were being held within the same 48 hours, I opened a bedside table drawer in the guest bedroom. Just curious of what was in there, looking for no apparent reason. Or so I thought. I dug through the random items and then something appeared. Something wonderful. There were two letters on yellow legal paper dated in the mid-1980s. I knew the writing immediately. My heart stopped. I decided to not read them until June 16th.
On June 16th, I hosted a garden party at my house for my dearest 40 friends. People were in the front yard, among my 42 steps, and throughout the house.
I had asked everyone to bring me plant for my various gardens - the one rule - the plant needed to say something about our friendship. One brought a “Bartender’s Lime Tree” because of the many margaritas we have had together. Another brought a “thyme” plant because we never spend enough “time” together. Another brought a bottle of whiskey and a corn plant that represented our favorite country song. So many wonderful plants with such lovely sentiments.
I served my favorite childhood items - chicken spaghetti, variety of cheeses, mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (tray passed of course!), Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies… and more…
The day was filled with such love. The gardens over spilled with such beauty and memories. Sammy the pup followed the little kids around in hopes of food dropping to the floor. Friends abound…
Once the last guest left, I sat quietly in the living room and read those two beautiful letters, each one encouraging me in my new adventures in Los Angeles, each one saying how proud she was of me, each one representing that special moment in time in the mid-1980s when I lived alone in Hollywood with no family, a $4/hr job and few friends. Just me. Surviving. Flourishing. Just beginning the journey to becoming me. Thank you Mom for those very special words in those two letters that I never knew existed since the first time I read them so very long ago. Thank you. Because of each of those words in the ’80s, and because of turning 49 in 2011 without you and the others I have lost, I have the strength and the endurance to continue on my path to becoming me. The me that you spoke of so long ago. The me that you saw and I did not. The me that carries you with me. It is because of you that I am me.
#49 of 50: Hang chandelier in dining room
Completed June 15, 2012
My sweet grandparents on my mother’s side had a beautiful Baccarat chandelier in their dining room in Dallas. I clearly remember it hanging over us during the big family dinners at the holidays. My mother inherited it when they passed away. Our dear family friends Gail and Hugh King kept it safe in their attic until I was able to drive it home… sadly, the day of my mother’s funeral. She reminded me of it during her stay in the hospital. Dale Kristien, my close friend since our days working on “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Ahmanson Theatre - she starred as Christine and I sat at a tiny desk backstage during LA’s longest-running musical (!) - cleaned it, checked the wiring, and then hung it in my dining room as my 50th birthday gift. She even added a dimmer switch to the wall. I can say with all of my heart that this was the most personal gift that I received on my birthday. I turned on the lights for the first time and cried. For so many reasons - I cried. Joyfully, gratefully, respectfully, sadly, lovingly - I cried.
Thank you Dale, Gail, Hugh, Grandmom and Granddad, and Mom. It is so beautiful as it watches over me… just like all of you.
The Little Ship
I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea. The setting sun tinted his white sails with a golden light, and as he disappeared from sight a voice at my side whispered, “He is gone”.
But the sea was a narrow one. On the farther shore a little band of friends had gathered to watch and wait in happy expectation. Suddenly they caught sight of the tiny sail and, at the very moment when my companion had whispered, “He is gone” a glad shout went up in joyous welcome, “Here he comes!”
#48 of 50: Establish an annual memorial for mom at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
Following the divorce of my parents when I was very young, my mother decided to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. Since she was a little girl in Dallas, she wanted to be a nurse so that she could serve others and treat the less fortunate. And so she did!
She had received a Bachelors Degree from SMU in 1956 but now it was the early 1970s and she had three small children and the first to get divorced in her family.
After two years, she completed her RN Degree from El Centro College and packed up my brother and me and headed to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. The Bachelor’s and RN - six years of school - were just not good enough - she want to go as far as she could and be the best that she could be… after all, this had been a dream decades in the making…
After three years of intensive post-graduate courses she received her Master’s Degree in Psychiatric Nursing from Vanderbilt, the finest nursing school in the country.
For the length of my wonderful childhood in Nashville, she did serve others, and care for the less fortunate, and demand that all patients be treated equally and with kindness and compassion. She never settled for less and she always demanded more from her fellow nurses. Vanderbilt Hospital was lucky to have her, as were the hospitals that followed in both Dallas and eventually Los Angeles.
She was no ordinary nurse - she was the best of the best - and I heard this over and over from patients and nurses alike. She worked in surgery and in the eye unit and even cared for the first transgender patient and insisted she (who had been he) be treated as a beautiful woman. She treated a Vandy football player and a few weeks later, almost the ENTIRE team was eating chicken spaghetti in our home! She had made vats of it for the team. The injured player loved her! As did all of us.
So it is with respect and admiration for her fulfilling, achieving and surpassing her earliest of dreams that I am working with Vanderbilt University School of Nursing to establish a small stipend that would be given annually in mom’s name. The criteria will be a single parent (male or female) graduate student who has the same fire and passion of Ann Vanston Irwin.
Sarah Reynolds at Vanderbilt has been a miracle worker by helping me fulfill my dream - I am a minimal donor at best and hardly one that can give more than a nurse’s salary. She has told me that the school is so touched by mom’s story and ultimate success that they are working with her to make this happen sooner than later. I am so grateful for Sarah and the Vanderbilt School of Nursing.
As for mom, she had a career that spanned more than 30 years… she was cremated with among other things her nurse’s license that she treasured. Her dream is now among the clouds, ready to fill the spirits of others with her same stamina, passion, and love for the less fortunate, the sick, and the blessed.
I know this one sounds lame but it was important for me to update my dental insurance and get a new dentist.
Yep - the penguin experience has come to the Aquarium of the Pacific! Loni Rocchio and I are booking the experience now though it is sold out until late summer.
I cannot wait to pet the feathers, and according to Loni, we get to make the food and feed them!
Penguins are very dear to the environment and I look forward to getting to know all about them…
Our photos coming soon!
#45 of 50: Promote “Made in the U.S.A.”
Thanks to ABC’s David Muir and Diane Sawyer for promoting products made in America. Their efforts have increased awareness of our own quality products and so I was inspired to do the same.
I asked the Autry museum store to add little signs to the American merchandise, most of which are handmade, and often focusing on the American West.
So proud to have made this small difference. I hope the idea spreads across this country and we all look at labels and buy American as much as possible.