Monday, June 26, 2006

The ruby years

Published June 29, 2006

Forty years ago this week, my parents were married at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in South Sacramento. Over the decades my parents built a foundation on which love, sacrifice, tears and joy were sculpted. Looking back 40 years I see a legacy set in stone, a ruby to be specific.

Dad was able to secure a job with a good insurance company and was trained to be an insurance claims specialist. He worked for the same employer for over 35 years. It was his one and only job and he managed to provide for everything my mom, my sisters and I would need. He worked hard at his career while my mom worked hard making a home to raise us. His hours were long and sometime his commute was perilous. He patiently endured his company’s changes in management, mission statement and budgets. There were days I am sure he didn’t want to go to work, but he hardly took a sick day in all those years he worked to provide for us. My mom never had a day off, not until we all moved out.

They took out one mortgage on their first home, and paid it off in 30 years, right on schedule. They also put all three of us girls through private schools and then encouraged us to go to college. We were encouraged to work when we were teenagers, so that we could learn that “nothing is free”. I attribute the success of these lessons to my mom’s management skills. She took his paycheck and made it work. They didn’t have any debt, other than their mortgage, and they didn’t buy a lot of “stuff” when we were young. The cars my parents drove were not purchased new. Dad knew how to do bodywork on vehicles so he could turn a “wreck” into a new car and then turn around and sell it. This supplemented their fixed income. I am sure they had months which were leaner than others, but they didn’t rely on multiple mortgages and credit cards to see them through. The whole idea of sacrifice was a tenant of their marriage.

Mom and Dad’s personalities are completely different, but as the years got on, they started to look like other, act like each other and assimilate into a single person who loved to do the same things. Whether it was tennis, golf, reading, crossword puzzles, travel, dancing, parties and projects, Mom and Dad’s interests intersected more than I thought they did, now that I look back over the decades, I see that they both are creative and analytical. It’s funny to see how even their political leanings became one and the same as they melted into their marriage. It’s really true when they say that the purifying effects of a long marriage are that the two become one flesh both figuratively and literally.

When I look back on the decades of my parents’ long marriage, I see peaks and valleys, but mostly, I see rubies. Like two rough, unpolished stones in 1966, my parents have worked at, suffered in and happily sustained their marriage in order to achieve perfect brilliancy forty years later, in 2006. No example is more perfect than to see how my mom has taken care of my father over these nine months, since his complicated surgery in November and it’s aftermath. Even though my Dad is not yet walking, my Mom has become his legs. Her heart has fed him, nurtured him and sustained him towards getting well again. Doctors, therapists and nurses were not able to do this, but the love of a wife of 40 years can make miracles.

The ruby starts out as the mineral “corundum”, and is a sapphire of red color. The color red has always symbolized sacrifice. Rubies are extremely hard and durable and the ones that exhibit the finest quality have a rich clarity to them. Top quality rubies are rare and highly prized (much like a marriage that has lasted 40 years!) and in some cases where they are in large sizes, they are frequently valued higher than diamonds. When heated, their color is greatly enhanced and their hue is a rich and deep red color.

The ruby was said to be the most precious of the twelve stones God created when He created all things and a Ruby was placed on Aaron's neck by God's command. If it was good enough for the Lord Himself, it is something rare and priceless. As my parents commemorate their ruby anniversary this weekend, I will reflect on how precious and priceless they are to the whole family.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Old ladies and summer school

Published June 15, 2006

I’m trying to lose weight. This would be the fourth decade of trying. I’m really serious this time. I’ve had it with the wake up calls.

First wake up call was about 10 years ago. I was in the hospital for a serious bout of Pancreatitis. I was really sick and I looked like an old lady. I know this because one of the nurses came into my room, saw the wedding picture of JD and I on the wall next to my bed and remarked, “So, when did your daughter get married?” Even though IV Demerol pulsed through my veins, the sting of her observation killed me. “That is me with my husband,” I said through my drug induced fog. I used to look fabulous. What the heck happened? “Oh, sorry ma’am…I didn’t realize that was you!”

Second wake up call- I was visiting the hospital NICU a couple weeks ago with my friend Barb and her sick infant. A fresh faced young nurse came in the room, pointed to Barb and said, “You must be Mom?” Then she said “You Grandma?” Ouch! Stupid girl must need glasses. I couldn’t believe it. I just had my highlights done too. I could have strangled her or sued my hairstylist.

Third wake up call – I am going back to school. Yep, I am going to try after all these years to fulfill a dream I had when I was 17 years old, youthful, full of promise and wanting to save the world. I want to become a nurse! Huh? Yes, a fabulously over-forty nurse; one of those really smart ones whose brains and beauty only get better with age.
Nurses with good eyesight and compassion are in demand these days. No really, once upon a time, when I graduated from high school, I wanted to become a nurse. I had a couple scholarships but I managed to blow off my chemistry class when I broke my arm in an auto accident. I ended up leaving the Junior College mid semester, transferring to a four year university and getting my BA in something else, completely unrelated. I left nursing back in 1981 and never looked back, until now. Twenty Five years later and I resume my studies this week at Folsom Lake College. I must be insane. I can’t wait.

The big test starts with summer school. Will I be able to finally pass chemistry? I went to FLC to see about getting my bearings straight before school started this week. I found the science department and went into the office to ask about finding the lab. The fresh faced young girl looked at me and said “you must be the new teacher?” “No, I’m an old lady student”. She laughed. I felt the old sting again…this time without the Demerol. “Well, let me show you where it is.” I must have looked like I was handicapped or something. She insisted. After she pointed me in the right direction, and after I bought my books, I took my youngest around the campus and told her what it was like to go to college. “How long ago did you go to college Mom?” Birdy made it sound like I was going to tell her a fairytale. “Well, Bird, it was a long time ago, a little over 25 years ago. But, I’d like to go back now and see if I can become a nurse.” OK Mom, are you the only old person coming here?” I hope not.

In the meantime, I am losing weight. I’ve lost about 20 pounds and I am giving myself a year to lose the rest. Someday, God willing, and for every patient I ever come into contact with, I make a solemn promise – I will never assume anything. You are all youthful, beautiful and skinny even if you have pancreatitis, or something else. I will never look at a woman and assume she is Grandma. Not ever. I pray to God I am not the only old lady in summer school, especially in Chemistry class where I need all the help I can get, or at least a grade of “C” or better. I plan to find a seat down front where I can see the whiteboard and hear the instructor. Time to wake up and let the games begin! An “about to be skinny” old lady is going to summer school.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A little respect

Published June 1, 2006

My dog Skip was walking me last night around dusk. Usually, JD and Birdy tag along on their bikes resulting in a trio of Mahers taking a couple laps around the neighborhood. Our neighborhood has around 300+ homes situated within a little canyon and the walk is nice at that time of the day when the sun is low in the horizon and the breeze is starting to kick in. It’s the best way to get to know the neighbors and see the latest additions in landscaping and home improvements. We made our way across the top of the dam at Crystal Lake which is the centerpiece of our little community, when we noticed a neighbor on his deck that we hadn’t seen in a while. Our neighbor Sam offered us all a cool beverage. As JD and Bird made their way into his backyard, I decided to keep up the pace. As I monitored my pulse and Skip’s tongue which lollygagged off the side of his mouth in synch with my heart rate, I sent them to socialize with an old friend. “We’ll catch up to you later Hon” JD said, and I bid them to say hello to Sam for me.

I made my way around the usual circle we take, when I spotted a bunch of teens near the park. Shouts and indiscernible teasing made way to a couple of boys whipping their “girlfriends” with their shirts and one of the boys wrestling one of the girls to the pavement in a rough and careless manner. I knew the one on the ground was obviously female because her jeans were low and her shirt rode high on her midriff. The boys were loud, obnoxious and showed no respect at all in the manner they treated these girls and I wondered to myself at what point would I step in and say something. As I thought about it, I walked on and let the moment pass. “I should have said something”, I said aloud to Skipper who was already around the corner and tugging me along with him like a snow dog. These girls were younger than my Shannon, who is now 15 years old, and how would I feel if these girls were my own daughters? I would be furious. I knew underneath their nervous pleas and laughter, these girls just wanted a little respect from their friends. They were not enjoying it one bit. It was sad to see how little respect was shown to them from boys who should have known better.

My thoughts gave way to reflection. How would I want my son to treat a young lady? How would I want a young man to treat my daughters? Commanding respect is a two way street. It involves training from the very beginning. It goes as far back as saying please and thank you, dressing modestly and minding your manners. I guess one can only command enough respect in the manner that one gives it himself, but I wondered if those girls were really aware of their infinite worth and value? Did they need someone to tell them that they deserved better than that?

It reminded me of a time a year or so ago, while at a local juice bar in Folsom, passing a boy and two girls who were leaving as we entered. He was talking about another girl and used the most disgusting filth of a word to describe her to these other two girls that it stopped me in my tracks to hear these words come from such an innocent looking boy. Let’s just say it was rated XXX. I felt sorry for all of them. He thought nothing of his young friends, to say the least, to let this roll out of his mouth and yet, they didn’t think twice about listening to him talk in this way. Their youthfulness and beauty were completely marred by the ugliness of their vocabulary. What a shame to see youthful promise thrown down the toilet with really bad and disrespectful vocabulary.

JD visited Washington DC last weekend for Memorial Day with his friend Gus, a lobbyist for Veteran Affairs. While paying their respects at Arlington National Cemetery, they were fortunate to meet the Marines who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They were allowed to enter their dressing area and talk to them while they were preparing for a shift change. JD described this as an awesome experience and lesson in respect. Their whole job is to show respect, not only to each other as they take turns guarding the Tomb, but for those whose memory and names are known only by God.

Behind closed doors and out of the public eye, as the new Guard prepares to take his place, his fellow soldier inspects his uniform, straightens every pin, tie and button. He is beyond spit polished; he is completely and totally impeccable for his 30 minute shift which rotates around the clock 24 hours every day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year no matter the time of day, or weather. Their ritual of respect does not wane in rain, shine, hurricane or snow. The men are decorated war heroes themselves, who after their active duty is done, dedicate themselves to the ‘Unknown’ in a manner of respect that is more than awesome, but awe inspiring. Every step they take is purposeful, their mission clear, their oaths are true. They command as much respect as they give, which when one witnesses the dignity of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown, one can only marvel at their fierce sense of loyalty, duty and dedication.

One particular oath they take before taking on this special duty is that they will never use a curse or cuss word for the rest of their lives. There is something about that part of their ritual which I greatly admire. Now that’s more than a little respect!

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at