Cousin Judy

Beloved Cousin Judith Anderson, RIP

My Beloved Cousin Judith Anderson, My Life Saver

My cousin Judy never, ever sought the limelight in her life, so I wanted to cast the kliegs on her, just this once. I owe her that. I attended Judy’s funeral on Monday. As usual, when asked to say a few words, I couldn’t do so without totally losing my shit, so I decided to say a few words about Judy here, where my eyes can leak in private.

I owe my life to Judy. At age eight, I had all of the symptoms of an appendicitis. My mom rushed me to the hospital that January afternoon in the midst of an ice storm. Judy worked there as an X-ray technician. It was Judy who connected us with the right doctor and fought to ensure they didn’t send me back home, as they were trying to do. Thanks to Judy’s feistiness, I got the surgery I badly needed. In those days (a lifetime ago) they kept you in the hospital forever, it seemed. I was there for 10 days. Judy visited me daily without fail. I always looked forward to seeing her. She was the steadfast ally I needed at that time.

Judy was a quiet, private person. On the rare occasion that Judy would talk with me about her job, she would share her rage over the children and women she X-rayed, who were clearly victims of physical abuse. Judy’s highly charged emotions over this–usually dormant–stayed with me. Made an impact. Later in life, I worked for projects in Northwest Florida like Children in Crisis and Shelter House, advocating for protecting children and domestic abuse victims–the vulnerable among us–from further cruelty.

When I was a kid, Judy had her own boat, and she would take us boating and fishing on the Fox River and the Chain o’ Lakes. It was Judy who taught me to fish. She seemed to intuit the magic spots where the fish were always biting. I can remember one instance where I could barely keep my hook baited long enough to handle all of the fish I caught. Judy also taught me to clean my own fish. Anyone who knows how squeamish I am finds it unfathomable that I clean my own fish–I can’t even watch surgeries on TV. During one of our fishing adventures, we were caught on the Chain o’ Lakes when a storm arose out of nowhere; it was Judy’s masterful boating that got us back to shore unscathed in that terrifying, wicked weather.

A hysterectomy in her 50s set Judy off on the medical odyssey that she suffered in silence. The blood transfusions at that time weren’t as closely scrutinized, and they gave her hepatitis.  She was unaware she had hepatitis until her liver failed. The liver transplant they gave her was from a cancer patient. Adding insult to injury, she had to go through chemo. She endured so much pain the past two decades of her life with little complaint, other than yearning so for another dog that she physically could no longer care for. It broke our hearts that she couldn’t have that dog. I’d like to believe that now she is surrounded by the black flat-coated labs she loved so  much in this life–her show dogs.

Judy never married, and never had children. She is the final person with the last name of Anderson in this lineage, which makes her passing the exclamation point on a storied family with more impact than you can imagine on the history of Elgin, Illinois. Wing Street. McLean Boulevard. In fact, the hospital where she worked–Sherman Hospital–was named after the side of our family that included a Civil War hero with the same last name. I doubt her co-workers ever knew that. Judy preferred to remain in the shadows. In fact, she’ll probably haunt me for casting the kliegs on her today, but as I said, I owe her that.

God bless you, Judy.

 

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The Short-Lived Laughter Moratorium

Throughout my life, I’ve been told by many that my laugh is infectious…and memorable. To witness, I was riding in this crowded Chicago parking garage elevator with my BFF Marovich after comedienne Kathy Griffin’s concert when Marovich–no surprise–made me laugh. A woman’s voice in the way back section of this crowded freight elevator declared, “I’d know that laugh anywhere!” I whipped around, and there was my kindergarten friend Linda, whom I’ve rarely spent time with in our teen or adult lives (I hope to correct this soon), but my laugh lived on in her memory. At my 20-year class reunion, the most frequent comment I got was, “I really miss your laugh.”

I love to laugh more than anything in the world. Well…there’s maybe one other thing, but I digress…

One of the greatest contributors to my expansive sense of humor is my closest cousin, Jeff. His dad and my dad were brothers, both gone now. His dad died in a tragic ultralight crash. We leaned on each other through that, and more recently, my dad’s death. But we’ve shared so many more good times than bad, attending the same high school together, spending our birthdays, holidays, and vacations together. At one point in our careers, we even worked on the same floor of the same company (and WTF were they thinking, hiring the two of us?!?). Prank phone calls, 90-minute lunches, and hijinks ensued. By the time I left there, quotes from Airplane, Blazing Saddles, The Simpsons, and Throw Momma from the Train were viral vernacular, confusing elderly secretaries everywhere.

My cousin Jeff, who makes me laugh to the point of pain.

My beloved cousin Jeff, who makes me laugh to the point of pain, even without surgery.

About once a week, I’ll get that 312 area code call on my mobile phone, and anyone who knows me well can read my face and realize who’s calling. I’m beaming before I even answer the phone. A low voice says, “DeDe…”–my family’s nickname for me–and then I fasten my seat belt and pray for an empty bladder. I know I’m in for some gut-buster travel story, life observation, or David Sedaris book passage.

An obscure quote from Jeff's & my 2nd favorite movie...

An obscure quote from Jeff’s & my 2nd favorite movie…

 

So I somehow forgot to forewarn Jeff, of all people, that my Wednesday surgery meant a moratorium on the comedy for at least 48 hours. I’d gotten word to BFF Marovich and the Sister Wives, but Jeff missed becoming a line item on my black list. Thursday afternoon I saw that 312 area code pop up on the phone, and I braced myself. I couldn’t even cough at that point without some pain. I had refused all pain killers. This was going to be a rough ride.

Since Jeff holds a prestigious corporate job, I won’t divulge here what he said, but it was worth every ounce of post-surgical pain. In fact, I’m still giggling about it. I would never wish surgery on Jeff, but if he has, say, an appendectomy, I’ve got him on speed dial. And I’ve already lined up a very special, belly jiggling David Sedaris quote.

 

Merry Christmas!

I hope all of you reading this (who celebrate) are having a Christmas filled with family, laughs, good health, and prosperity.

This is the 2nd year for our unorthodox Christmas tree made of books, but it suits us, and so far, Jonesy (our new hairless alien cat) hasn’t attempted to climb it:

Our Christmas Tree Made Solely of Books

Our 2nd Bibliophile Christmas Tree, Topped with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” lamp (out of shot). Foreground: Jack with Jonesy the Hairless Cat

Dave’s favorite gifts this year–which he bought for himself–were two limited edition books: Walt Simonson’s Man Hunter: Artist’s Edition, and Mark Schultz Xenozoic Tales, Artist’s Edition. The Tee Fury tees I bought him–guaranteed for Xmas delivery–still haven’t arrived.

Jack and I will be making our pilgrimage to invade Strongsville, Ohio tomorrow in a 3-car caravan with my first cousins to visit my cousin Greg & his family; Greg’s an Illinois ex-pat and my go-to person for plays and concerts (it seems that bizarre and unsettling incidents occur whenever I go with anyone besides Greg. I mean, who but me gets kicked out of The House of Blues during a Pat Benatar concert for wearing someone else’s beer and not fighting back?!?).

This Ohio trip means four days of playing Euchre and poker until the sun comes up, the incessant beat of ’80s music blasting in the background, Greg’s gourmet cooking, disses we only tolerate from fellow McDonalds, and lots of laughs. My cray-cray cousins are some of my favorite humans in this whole wide, wide world of sports (and they even share my reverence for Blazing Saddles, a script we recite in unison, verbatim).

To the three sets of aunts and uncles who spoiled Jack rotten this Christmas, we can’t thank you enough. I am proud of the fact that the cheapest gift Jack received–from me–made one of the biggest impressions on him:

Jack's favorite Xmas gift from me: The Sound F/X Machine

Jack’s favorite Xmas gift from me: The Sound F/X Machine

I felt it was any 10-year-old’s rite of passage to deploy a sound f/x machine, which is sure to be a big hit with the cousins in Ohio…and sure to be confiscated by the 4th Grade teacher in less than a month. (I guess I’d better buy that back-up version.)