Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day -- It Isn't Only One Day I Remember My Dad

My Dad, Lawrence Verplanke, next to his Toyota
in front of his condo in Skokie, IL.
When my dad died, we brought him back to Chicago to be buried next to my mom as was his wishes.  He and she had had their graves for as long as I could remember. My brother surprised and touched me by wanting to make sure that their gravestones matched in a way that looked like an umbrella of love surrounding both of them.

The cantor who gave the eulogy interviewed us as to our favorite memories of our Dad and these became the basis of the beautiful eulogy he spoke of the 'Everyday hero' my Dad had been.

I wish I had brought a recorder with me because the cantor had spoken from the heart based on his notes, with no written speech I could wangle out of him.  Today we use the word 'hero' for every time any one does anything good out of the normal and selfless, and my shy, unassuming, ordinary, selfless father never did anything that would give him 15 minutes of fame on any news media, except for answering his country's call to go to war when necessary.

The cantor called my Dad an Everyday Hero precisely because he lived each day to take care of his family.  He didn't go out drinking or gambling or stepping out on my mother.  He went to work and came home to spend the rest of his time with us.  When we finally got a TV, we watched it as a family.

My Dad never graduated high school and my Mom only graduated high school.  Consequently we lived a blue collar life where my Dad worked for a time in factories with the motto, "last hired, first fired" meaning it was seasonal work where hiring and layoffs depended on need.  Until he went to work at the U.S. Post Office where my dad stayed the rest of his life.

Whatever ambitions he may have had for himself, he kept to himself. He always was grateful he had a job to feed, house, and clothe us.  And despite being poor, we never went without food or clothes, even if that meant the my mom had to sew all the garments herself. There just weren't many extras.

I remember my Dad walking the streets with us on Christmas Eve when we were very little to find that $5 tree that was a bargain right before the tree lot closed its doors for the holidays, so we children could have Christmas like everybody else. Even though our gifts were crayons and scissors we needed for school, not toys. As soon as we were old enough to understand, we got told there was no Santa -- that Santa was Mom and Dad when there was more money. 

Nowadays, we have so many charities making sure that needy children have not only toys and clothes but those specific items they want. Where and when I grew up, there were no charities like that, we got the truth about Santa not being real. As a child, it was probably the biggest factor steering me towards my Jewish heritage.  Nothing gets a little kid out of the 'what did you get for Christmas?' question faster than being Jewish.

My Dad at my former in-law's house
But we never saw ourselves as needy.  My dad worked hard and I did have dolls, just not the Barbie ones with all their outfit changes.  We had a wardrobe of clothes, just not many store-bought ones. My best memory of my toys is my dad taking us to a place where my mom, me, and my doll were all photographed wearing the same red lace dresses which my mother had made for us all. As Dolly Parton sang in her song Coat of Many Colors, "love sewn into every stitch".

It's hard to separate memories of my Dad and Mom because they loved and supported each other till the day each died.  But I do remember a day that my Dad instructed my Mom to give each of us $10 as a present to do what we wanted. I don't remember what my brother did with his but I bought a gold sweater with mine. I still can recall the look of pride my dad had when I modeled it for him.  I'll bet that look has meant more to me over the years than most of the gifts other kids have gotten in their lives.

My everyday hero also did things for us uncomplainingly.  My most cherished memory of him and one I think of every time I think of him involves our kite.  Like every other kid of our time, we wanted one but the only way we could get one was through Raleigh coupons or S&H green stamps. My parents did save them but the kite they got was huge and too big for us. However, whenever we'd want, my dad would carry it the several blocks to the park and 'help' us fly it. In reality it was too big for us so he had to fly it. Consequently, we'd quickly get bored and want to explore the park.  He would have to trail behind us, carrying the kite.  He never complained, never said no -- never refused to take us on these kite outings, even though he ended traipsing around carrying the heavy thing.  That's the dad I remember.  The one who was all about us -- his family.

My most treasured possession is my Dad's Lionel Train, which I begged him to leave me even though he thought it should more rightly go to my brother, as a 'boy's' thing. That is because we had no place to set it up permanently, so whenever we wanted to play with it, my dad had to set it up for us on the living room floor -- after work.  By the time all the tracks would get set up, we'd get to run it around only a few times before my mother would announce bed time, and the train would have to be picked up and packed away again.  My dad did this for us whenever we wanted -- never complained, never said no, never said he was too tired from work, or wanted to read the paper, or watch the Cubs or White Sox on TV.  It has always been more than a train to me.  It has always been a symbol of my father's love and what he was willing to do for us. That is why the Cantor called him an Everyday Hero... and why he is and shall ever be, my Everyday Hero.

As all young people have experienced sometime in their lives, I remember a time when the police caught my then boyfriend and me in a parked car.  I suspect that the police were looking for a handout (hey anybody who grew up in Chicago under Mayor Richard J. Daley's regime knows how honest the city and its minions were back then) because their version of what was going on in the car differed greatly from mine.  I remember the policeman asking me who I thought my dad would believe -- him or me.  I remember answering with absolute conviction that my dad would believe me.

Because my dad loved me.  There was absolutely no question for me about my dad's love nor any question for me about whom he would believe or support. 

Hence, I've always felt sorry for adults I've met out here who may have grown up with a lot more money than we did, but don't have the memories of a love like that warming their hearts and souls.  Till the day he died, my dad stood by me even if he didn't always understand my decisions (college is money wasted on girls when they are just going to get married or can you make a living writing/acting?).  He loved me and my brother and never wished his life to have been different.  That is why the Cantor insisted he was an everyday hero who knew the only important thing in life was to take care of family. 

You are my hero, Daddy. I love you always and will always miss you. Happy Father's Day.


Monday, July 21, 2014

I Miss My Meow Alarm Clock as Danny Girl Taylor Crosses the Rainbow Bridge

On Monday morning, July 21, 2014, 18 months to the day that she had been diagnosed with bronchogenic carcinoma, my beautiful, precious, one-of-a-kind, unique, smart, manipulative Danny Girl was ready to take her journey to the Rainbow Bridge. When I awoke she was staring at the water fountain -- not drinking, just staring. And she was allowing Pacey Jack to sit inches behind her, something she never did.  If there were any thoughts in my head at all that this might not be happening, they were quashed by the sight of her staring at the water fountain.

Yesterday, every time she lapped up some tuna water, she vomited it up. So her living on tuna water had turned to her not being able to keep that down. As broken as my heart was, it was now up to me to keep my promise that I would not let her suffer just to keep her with me.

I had tried so hard in the last few days to change Danny's mind. Within the last couple weeks, she had slowly rejected taking her medicines and supplements, starting with the ones she liked least and keeping the one she liked best, only rejecting it on the last day. I knew what was keeping her alive were the holistic supplements, the Chinese herbs tea pill and Mush, a mushroom blend of 4 mushrooms. The prognosis for bronchogenic carcinoma is so poor, nobody expected her to live more than a couple of months, but the holistic supplements helped her have 18 good months. Because Danny never looked or acted sick. If it weren't for her cough and for the abandoning of her once very, very alpha behavior, you would not even guess she was sick. And if she had been better at taking the various supplements Dr. Sally Lane had wanted to try, I believe she could have lived much longer.

A selection trying to get her to eat in the last days
But Danny was stubborn, from beginning to end, and when she said no to a medicine, there was just no making her -- no fooling her, no trick that she didn't figure out, no war of wills she didn't win.

Then she stopped eating, so on Friday, I essentially brought her to her holistic vet to be euthanized. It was a last ditch attempt to see if Dr. Lane could think of anything else for her, but I begged my friend Michael Herman to come with me, so I wouldn't have to face alone what I thought needed to be done. He took this photo of Danny and me in the waiting room of Sherman Oaks Vet Clinic:

At the Clinic
But, like always, Danny Girl looked so good, Dr. Lane thought that maybe she stopped eating because her tummy was hurting her, not because she didn't want to fight the lung cancer any more. So with the help of fluids for dehydration, a vitamin D shot, and a pill (which by the way she fought the technician giving her, twice, without and with the pill shooter), we gave her the weekend to rally.

But it was not to be. On Saturday, she rejected all food and would only take the tuna water, and on Sunday, as I said earlier, she couldn't keep the tuna water down.

So today, I made the call to Blue Cross Pet Hospital to bring her to Dr. Jones who has overseen her health for 16 and a half years. During the day, I'd pick Danny Girl up and hold her, telling her I loved her and she always purred. Then an hour before we were due to leave, I stopped working completely and held her on my lap so that we could have that time together. Danny was the proverbial "I'll give you two minutes and I'm out of here" girl, but she stayed on my lap, purring and cuddling for the entire hour.  I took that as her saying goodbye, and thank you for the good life, and I love you.

I didn't want Danny's last thoughts to be on the sterile room in the vet office, so once the catheter was in her leg, I cuddled her and talked to her for about 5 minutes before I said we were ready. So cradled in my arms, at 4:45 pm I felt the life leave Danny Girl's body as she went to the Rainbow Bridge.

It wasn't fun to hold her lifeless body but I felt honored and grateful that she had waited until I could be there to hold her, that she wanted me to hold her, and help her start her journey.

So let me tell you now what made Danny Girl so unique and precious that I would do all this for her. Let me tell you of all the wonderful ways she enriched my life and how she took care of me in ways no other kitty has ever done.

From the day I met her, Danny Girl was the smartest and most manipulative cat I have ever met. She stole my heart by climbing into my lap in Flo's living room and falling asleep.  I knew then I had to bring her home with me. But as a ten-week old kitten, she was the runt and she wasn't particularly cute. She looked more like a rat with her tiny head and bigger body. Her brother and sister were much cuter and Flo told me to take one of them. But Danny had already wormed her way into my heart. And my ugly duckling soon grew into a beautiful mostly Maine Coon smoke swan. And after that day, after she had me hooked, she never fell asleep in my lap again. The first indication of how well she could manipulate us.

Danny Girl reclaims her own suggesting she was still strong
A few weeks before her passing, Danny gladdened my heart by reclaiming her perch on top of the cat tree. Danny Girl was also an extremely alpha kitty. Once when she was a kitten, I took her to my friend Marnie Strom's house where 6 big adult cats resided. Danny found the prime litter box in a pantry room and claimed it for herself, despite being a visitor and a mere waif to much bigger cats. And after a week's visit, Marnie called Danny somewhat of a bully. I couldn't disagree.

Danny would never let Pacey Jack up on the top perch of the tree -- he had to take the second position, always.  She never let him on her basket, not inside nor on top. It was like she just tolerated him living in her house and as long as he played by her rules, she was okay with him sharing the house, but not her basket or her top perch.

A rare photo of Danny Girl near Pacey Jack
She manipulated Pacey as well. Normally if he tried to sit beside her, she'd leave, but every once in a while, she'd let him stay. And as soon as she was sure he was settled in, she'd leave. It used to be so heartbreaking seeing Pacey wait patiently for her to return. Because I knew she never would.

So when I was going to adopt Mischief Kirk at 10 weeks old, one friend worried if she'd kill it. Another assured me they'd work it out. Sure enough, Danny's mothering instincts kicked in and she became friends with the kitten. She would let him do things she never let Pacey -- like share her basket.

Danny Girl and Mischief Kirk sharing basket
Almost every day Danny Girl and Mischief could be found at some point sleeping on a tier of the basket at the same time. But they would also switch off which one was on top and which one was inside. She was also okay with Mischief sharing her top tier of the cat tree. Pacey was never allowed on the top tier and he only managed to get up there after she got sick. And once he started sitting up there, she never returned to it... it broke my heart because I'm sure Danny knew she'd have to fight for it, and this time she'd lose.

Danny withdrew from confrontation so I don't think Pacey Jack ever realized she was no longer alpha kitty. Well, Danny still had the heart of an alpha kitty, but when she'd hiss, she'd cough, which broke my heart and I'm sure signaled to her, she'd better not fight. But till the moment she died, she had attitude and stubbornness.

Mischief Kirk and Danny Girl eating side by side
Mornings were often my time with Danny. She would always wake me up a couple of minutes before the alarm went off.  And she learned to roll with the time changes when I would alter my schedule and start getting up earlier or later.  That’s how smart she was. It was also the time she'd jump up on the bed to say hello to me.  Many times I awoke to find her on top of me, if the boys weren't around. She was never one to spend more than a few minutes on top of me when I was sleeping.

After she woke me up, she'd follow me into the bathroom, where she'd wait until I sat on the toilet and then she'd jump to my lap, then my shoulder and then walk across me to the counter and to her water bowl -- she never wanted to use the fountain. I don't think she liked filtered water because when she was a kitten she did like to drink straight from the tap.

Mischief Kirk and Danny Girl sharing a moment
When she was a baby, I was a trampoline to her. Every night once I got into bed, she’d come in with her favorite fluffy white mouse in her mouth, climb up on top of me, toss the mouse into the air, leap into the air and come down on me like a trampoline. Then she’d repeat this until I caught her mouse and put it under my pillow. Then she go and retrieve another toy, climb back up on me, toss it in the air, leap, catch,  etc. etc. until I caught it and put it under the pillow. This would continue until every one of her toys were under my pillow.  The last toy she would bring would be her feather on the stick and you could hear her coming, running at full speed with the feathers in her mouth and the stick clanging as it hit the walls.  Obviously she couldn’t toss that into the air, so I’d get that easy and put that under the pillow. Of course, the stick would stick out from the pillow but she never argued that the game was over. After all, there was always the next night, when everything would get repeated.

I let her take her favorite mouse with her… of course, 16 years later, her white fluffy mouse didn’t look much like a mouse – more like a skinned blob.

Mischief never questioned Danny's alpha station
Danny Girl didn't need to do anything else to endear herself to me, but she did anyway. She was always there to take care of me when I was sick. Somehow she always knew. But what was absolutely amazing was how she reacted to me getting diagnosed with sleep apnea, something I'm sure I inherited from my Dad (a story for another day). I'm somewhat claustrophobic -- so much so that I always worried that if my big acting break came in the form of playing a vampire where the coffin closes over my head, I might not be able to do it.

So no matter how often my doctor assured me I couldn't suffocate with the CPAP full mask covering my mouth and nose, my claustrophobia didn't believe him. In fact, it took all my willpower and determination to squelch that claustrophobic reaction and wear the mask to bed.

One of Danny Girl's favorite places - no other cat invited
Every night, Danny Girl got up on my chest and lay there looking at me, and stayed there. It was as if she were saying, 'don't worry, I won't let it harm you, I will knock it off before it can suffocate you.' She did this every night until I got used to wearing the mask and then she never did it again.

Because cats don't like the steady stream of air coming out them. The boys won't go near the mask. Pacey Jack is like a speeding bullet getting on top of me when the mask comes off, but until then, never. I'm sure he knows the sound difference between on and off. I've learned that they hate the air blowing on them because that's how mama cats discipline their kittens. And I've found that it is the most effective way to discipline my cats, better than water or yelling, just blow on them.

Danny and Mischief on the bed together
But Danny was willing to brave the unpleasant blowing air when I needed her.  And one night, she screeched until I woke up and took notice.  My air hose had popped off the machine.  Only time it did that and only time she screeched at me like that.

Yes, I'm going to miss my exceptional, super-smart, manipulative, loving, irreplaceable, caring, caretaker Danny Girl. Her absence leaves a hole in my heart that I'm sure I'll never fill.

Now she rests on the top of my bookcase in my bedroom where she can continue to watch over me and I can see her every day. Next to her is the card I got from her vet with a lock of her hair so I'd never forget the smoke coloring of her soft long fur... and her paw prints.

The place where Danny Girl rests.
I'd say R.I.P, my beloved Danny Girl, but I'm hoping and praying that you are romping around in joy at the Rainbow Bridge, not resting at all. I hope you are raising hell like the alpha kitty you have always been... at least until I see you again.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Unveiling of the Charlton Heston U.S. Forever Postal Stamp

Today, April 11, 2014, SAG-AFTRA made it possible for us to attend the unveiling of the new USPS postage stamp honoring Charlton Heston, the unveiling which was brought to us by Turner Classic Movies and the United States Post Office. It was held at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA.

For me, this seemed a rare opportunity. Growing up, I loved Charlton Heston movies, but not his politics, so in later years I kept the fondness for Heston the actor, if not Heston the man. This event allowed me to learn that there was far more to the man than I had known.  For example, at the height of his newly gained popularity, he had used his clout in the entertainment industry to help make SAG a reality, which is even more important to know than the fact he was a SAG president. He also marched with Dr. King and supported many civil rights and union causes.


Although I've never been a stamp collector, another reason I wanted to go was that it was a connection with my late father. Dad worked and retired from the post office.  The post office also sent me to college in the first of the three years it had merit scholarships for employees children.  This was funded by the profits from the canteen where the employees had their lunches, since the post office being a government facility wasn't suppose to turn a profit in such things. After three years, there was a protest that this didn't give any benefit to employees who didn't have children, this was dropped in favor of giving all employees Thanksgiving turkeys. Later the politicians half privatized the post office to give their 1% cronies even more unearned public money and so the turkeys went and I'm sure the profits then got pocketed.  We all know they didn't lower the prices to eliminate any possible profits.
Still, I have a soft spot for the U.S. Post Office.

I apologize that my camera doesn't take great photos.  I don't have one of those iPads that seemed to be taking great photos at this event.

It was interesting to hear Charlton Heston's son, Fraser, talk about his father and how he had his first job in the industry playing the baby Moses in his father's film. He also talked about his great fondness and love for TCM, as Turner Classic Movies gave him his first directing job.

It was also wonderful to see Charlton's widow, Lydia Clarke Heston, there.  It's lovely to see how vital she still is at 91. And wonderful to hear of a marriage that lasted a lifetime, such a rarity in Hollywood, and even today, in America.

All in all, an interesting event that I'm glad I got to attend.

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Great Audition on Friday and My Buddy is Not Here to Share It.

On Friday March 7, 2014, I was fortunate enough to audition for the upcoming SAG/AFTRA radio plays of Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, and My Friend Irma.  When we got there, we were paired up male and female and read a generic, gender unspecified scene of Actor 1 and Actor 2. I had to ask the lady which actor I was supposed to be. She gave me Actor 1 which turned out to be a lawyer and the better role, I think, because Actor 2 seemed the straight man.

Anyway, I had a great time.  And normally when I'd have an exciting day like that, the first thing I'd do is email my friend SHARON FETTER, who has been with me every step of my acting career, even though she lived in Columbus Ohio.  She was my greatest supporter.  But I couldn't email my friend --  my wonderful excitement came crashing down to reality because my sweet, generous, warm and supportive friend died from colon cancer on February 27, 2014... and the reality came crashing down that I'll never be able to share the highs and lows of my life with her anymore.

This is the first time I've been able to write about my friend since that awful day, and I realize that I don't even have a photo of her to share here. You see, Sharon, was one of those women that hated to have her photo taken and whenever we were together, she asked me not to.  I always try to respect my friends' wishes on such matters and so I refrained from doing so.  Except you never think you are going to lose your friends and that might be a tangible memory you'd like to hold onto.

I thought I had a photo of Sharon with Ben Browder, because we had gone to a Farscape/Stargate Creation Con in Los Angeles here. Usually I cleverly ask my friends to send me a copy of those photos, not because I want to have the actor's photo but because I want my friend's photo, especially when she's in a happy situation. But I can't find that on the computer so I think this friend outsmarted that maneuver of mine.

In any case, I am so sad for all the things I won't be able to share with this kind and wonderful woman and for all the things she won't be able to do.  RIP Sharon -- there is no one like you and I miss you terribly.

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