Monday, January 2, 2017

And So It Begins.....Again

   I found my voice again! Last night, all of a sudden, there it was and I realized something really important, for me anyway. Butts and Ashes, the blog, is done. Butts and Ashes, the book, is ready to be finished. So, I'm finishing my book this year. Wish me luck. Or not. Either way, it's happening!

   Oh, and as far as my blogging voice? She's alive and well right here:

Stop by and have a listen. I'm pretty sure you'll hear her there as well. She's back!

Sunday, January 1, 2017


   So, it's been over three years since I blogged. Oh sure, I'd stop by periodically, type a line or two and then delete it before I knew what happened. But I just didn't have anything to say anymore. I lost my voice after my sister died. I just couldn't write anything worth reading. I tried but it was just too sad and pathetic. It wasn't the me I was used to. It was a dark, scary version of me. I didn't like it. I also didn't know how to fix it. So, I just stopped trying. I stopped writing, stopped being happy.  I'm good at faking it when I need to but not in my writing.When I write, the truth usually comes out and I just couldn't let that happen. So I stopped.

   A lot has happened over the last three plus years. Some good, some not so good, some really awful. One of the good things that happened, for me anyway, is that I started to hear my voice again. That girl in my head that writes stories all the time, about everything, started speaking to me once more. A lot. I tried ignoring her but she is the sort that won't be ignored for long. She just gets louder. So, here I am.

   I've read through Butts and Ashes from beginning to end this last week. It helped remind me how much I enjoy writing, how entertaining I find the girl in my head to be and also how incredibly pitiful I am now and then. Anyway, I decided to give it another go. So, here I am.

   It might take me a minute to find my writing legs again but I'm going to try because finally, I think I have something to say again. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I'm Willing To Get There

I am a dumb woman. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid, just dumb. Dumb in the sense that I think I know everything, I think I am in control of everything, I think I am everything. Let me give you a for instance. Six months ago my little sister died. Six months ago I stood in a hospital parking lot in the middle of the night and screamed at God at the top of my lungs,

As if that would change anything. Like God would look down at me shaking my fat little fists at him and respond with a,
"Oh no! Not that! Here, you can have her back."

For six months, I have avoided church, avoided the bible for the most part, avoided Christians and their Christiany ways. I have avoided me. Six months ago someone who doesn’t even know me but for some strange reason cares about me, sent me a song to listen to. It wasn’t a Christian song, just a secular song about love. They heard it on the radio after reading my self-absorbed, depressing posts about my dead sister and thought of me. I could never listen to it. Until today.

This is the part where I get all Christiany so for those offended by such thoughts, well, too damn bad. I warned you, so stop reading.

The song is by some kid named Gavin DeGraw. It’s obviously about some girl he loves. When I listened to it today however, I heard my heart. My true heart. Towards God. I miss my stupid dead sister desperately. I miss my freakin dead parents. I miss my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who have died. I am still angry they are dead. I am angry there are more in my family who are dying. More who are fighting to live even now. I am angry.

So, I listened to Mr. DeGraw's song.

And I cried my eyes out. I cried because I do miss those I love. I cried because I do want to be where they are. I cried because I know where they are and I have turned my back on getting there. I’ve turned my back in anger towards God; the only one who I know can truly help me. I turned. There are few things in life I am sure of anymore but I am sure of one thing.

I. Need. God.

I didn’t say you need God, so relax. Whether you need Him or not is completely up to you and the truth is, it’s not my problem. I can barely live my own life. How am I going to live everyone else’s? I love you with or without Christ. I hope you will do the same for me, that’s all. But even if you don’t, it’s all good. I need God more than I need you. More than I need my pain, my happiness, my suffering or joy. I need Him. That’s right, I am a needy person looking for a crutch. I’m good with it.

So, I’m choosing again. I’m choosing my relationship with God over my pain. I’m choosing to not break-up because that’s just stupid. And like I said, I might be dumb but I am not stupid.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Meta and Loren Thorndyke lived on a ranch of approximately 140 acres in the hills of Cayucos, California. Those beautiful rolling hills were always covered with three things: the delicious smell of sage and anise, bellowing brown Swiss steers and people. Ours was a large family and Aunt Meta and Uncle Loren’s ranch was where everyone from every side of the family wanted to be. It’s where we brought our friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, and eventually the next generation of children. It was the center of the family. If our grandparents had lived to ripe old ages, I imagine their ranch would have been where the family would have converged. Since John and Corina Walter had died fairly young leaving such a large brood, Aunt Meta had become the unofficial mother and grandmother for us all. She wasn’t the oldest daughter but that didn’t matter. Meta was everyone’s mother, no matter who they were. Once you walked in that back door, you were family.
Meta Thorndyke was the richest woman I have ever met. She had no money so to speak. What she had was worth far more than dollars and cents. What Meta had was priceless. My Aunt Meta was one of my mother’s older sisters. There were fourteen children in all meaning older was usually measured in months versus years. My grandmother, Corina Gada Walter died at only forty-two years of age. My understanding is her death was caused from twisted bowels from all those births so close together. Of course, in my family, the stories themselves get more twisted each time they are told, so who knows what actually killed her. Still, it makes for good conversation when we’re all together trying to outdo one another with our inside knowledge of all the family’s history.

Meta married in her twenties. His name was Jimmie McCauley and he would remain the love of her life until the day she died. They were married a short time by the standards of that era, however, long enough to bring two daughters into this world. My cousins, Maureen and Mickey were only two and three when their father died. He was a veteran of World War II and had suffered physical trauma which eventually took his life. It was the late forties. Being a single mother of two small girls back then cannot compare to the young women on the same path today. Regardless of the circumstances of how Meta ended up a single mother at such a young age, she lived in a small town with limited opportunities. Her life could not have been easy nor people always kind. She soon married a local rancher, Loren Thorndyke and moved her children into his parent’s farmhouse in Cayucos, California. Cayucos, the city she was born and raised in, the city she would die in, buried near her parents and siblings in the local cemetery.

I asked my aunt one afternoon, while drinking coffee in that same farmhouse kitchen, why she had married Uncle Loren. Had she known him her whole life? Was she in love with him? Was she happy? I can’t recall all of her answers but one, I will always remember. She talked about loving Jimmie McCauley and missing him even then, as an old woman. She spoke of loving my Uncle Loren but more like a brother and yes, she was happy. I thought about that conversation for many years because it seemed sad to me, to lose the love of your life and marry someone you loved like a brother. Then, when I was older, I realized the aunt that I loved, adored really, had planted a very important seed in my heart. It would stay there for many years, seemingly dead. Until, at the very moment I needed it most, watered by my own bitter tears, it would grow and produce the most beautiful answers to some of the most painful questions. My aunt had taken the bitterness of life and used it to grow something wonderful for herself and her daughters. Bitterness, much like compost, can have a lot of death and rottenness about it. My aunt taught me the value of not discarding life or its lessons, no matter how difficult it gets. She taught me to keep turning the ugliness over, watering it with tears when necessary and eventually, miraculously really, it turns into something wonderful and unexpected. It’s rich and beautiful and organic with a smell of the earth that goes deep into your very soul if you let it. My aunt taught me that while drinking coffee at a kitchen table in an old farmhouse. I’m pretty sure she had no idea what an incredible gift she had given me that day.   

Life as I have known it for most of my adult, married life has drastically changed over the last two years and all I can think about lately is Meta Thorndyke. I have spent my life trying to do right. I have worried about money and bills, my husband and children, being a good daughter, sister, wife, friend and citizen. I have worried. A lot. Like almost every day, all day, a lot. For the most part, all that worry has produced  little to nothing of value. It has robbed me of sleep, peace, joy and freedom. I can see that now. So, where do my memories of Aunt Meta fit into all of this? That puzzle called my life is being pieced together even now.

My life as a child and as an adult was and continues to be tethered to Aunt Meta and her ranch. They are both gone now and yet they both are more alive to me now than ever. There are framed photos scattered throughout my home of my days on the ranch. Days filled with calves sucking our fingers, lambs chasing us on the back patio, picking wild blackberries behind the old creamery and swinging off a rope in the barn only to drop into the sweet smelling hay below us. Nights filled with old mason jars full of tadpoles we had scooped out of the old cement water troughs in the dark, hoping to see them morph into big fat toads in the morning. Then there were the puppies and kittens. The barn cats provided us with kittens on a regular basis and my Uncle Loren’s sidekick, Pepina, would produce a few puppies now and then. After the house was dark with every adult soundly sleeping, we kids would sneak out into the quiet of the countryside night, skies filled with a million stars and head to the old shed where all our soon to be contraband slept. It was thought they would be safe from coyotes there, they were definitely not safe from marauding children. We would each grab a favorite and scamper back into our beds where we snuggled down into those wonderfully worn, handmade wool blankets and slept with our furry treasures. Life was good.

Lest I forget, my aunt also had a monkey named Willa Mae. She had been purchased by my cousin Mickey while at college. Mickey soon realized a monkey and college were not a perfect fit so Willa Mae was sent to the ranch. My Aunt Meta loved that monkey as did most of the rest of us. Willa Mae wore diapers and little preemie sized baby dresses. She looked and smelled like a monkey because she was a monkey but she was also the perfect size to play baby with. It was never hard to find her. She was always in someone’s arms, usually my Aunt Meta’s. But the times we kids could convince her to leave the safety of Meta’s arms, convince meaning pleading with a piece of fruit, she was ours if even for a short time, to dress up and push in a baby carriage. We loved her and cried giant, hot tears when she was buried under the old fig tree years later. I still miss that monkey.

My aunts love of nature, her amazing ability to grow humongous gardens behind the old barn, her lack of care for fashion or finer things, her gnarled hands from years of hard work, her love of family meaning anyone who walked in her door, her love and care of animals, her outspokenness on all subjects, her complete lack of political correctness coupled with her love of all people helped make me who I am today.

I remember looking at my mother’s hands many times and comparing them to my Aunt Meta’s. My mother was the baby of the family and one of the best women I have ever met in my entire life. She shared many of the same qualities that made her sister Meta so great. One difference however was my mother was much more of a city girl than my aunt. My mother had her nails and hair done weekly, she did hard work but of a different nature than Meta. She was also outspoken and an animal and people lover. They were two versions of the same person really. The city mouse and the country mouse.  Often, as a child and as an adult, I would hold my mother’s hand, stroking it with love, burning the image of her manicured fingers and diamond rings into my memory. Even then, I knew I would need to remember someday, her hands, when she was gone. It would aggravate her though because I would always say, “Someday, I want hands that look just like Aunt Meta’s.”

“Why in the world do you say that? My poor sister’s hands are a mess from all that mans work she does. Why would you want hands like that?”

“Because mom, Aunt Meta’s hands are beautiful. You can see her life in them and I can see my life in them.”

It’s true. My life has been in my Aunt Meta’s hands all these years. I have done what I thought I should do, what I needed to do, what was right to do. But through it all, I have seen her hands reaching out to me, drawing me in, offering me more, beckoning me to do what I was meant to do. So now, finally, the journey begins. Again. I get no credit for the coming changes. I have actually fought against what is coming. Thankfully, God, life and probably my Aunt Meta have now forced the fork in the road upon me in such a way that I can no longer ignore it. I get to choose which way to go, to the left or to the right but choose I must and so I am choosing. I am choosing to leave behind thirty-five years of fear, worry and doubt. I don’t need them anymore. I am choosing to live the life I was meant to live.

My Aunt Meta was truly the richest person I have ever met. She didn’t have money or famous friends but her house was always full of food she raised and grew herself, fed to people from every walk of life who loved her. She didn’t have new clothes or fancy fragrances. She wore pants and blouses worn out from hard work and her perfume was an honest day’s sweat. There were no new cars just my dear Uncle Loren’s old pickup truck, battered and bruised from ranch life. She didn’t drive because she was blind from the age of twenty-eight due to glaucoma. Life had often given her manure, scraps and what looked to be worthlessness on more than one occasion and she took every bit of it and turned it faithfully, often watered with tears, into a deeply hued compost and grew the richest, most beautiful life ever.



Sunday, June 2, 2013

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Hey Kel,

I won’t be writing to you anymore. I know that’s a really shitty way to break up with you but I figured I might as well get right to the point, so there it is. You’re dead and I’m not so it’s over between us. I have thought a lot about this dead sister/barely living sister relationship we have had for the last four months. I thought a lot about it especially in the last two weeks. Some pretty horrible things have brought my attention to our strange relationship. Things like two massive tornados, the last of which I spent four hours running from only to realize I had driven straight into it’s path. There was something about hiding in a Wal Mart bathroom with a bunch of crying strangers that made me realize, I really do want to live. As if the two weeks of twisters wasn’t eye-opening enough, I have been watching from a distance as two people I love and adore have been anticipating the delivery of their beautiful baby girl, knowing they will be preparing her for burial shortly after her birth. How can I go on with this stupid feeling sorry for myself because I have a dead sister thing when so many are suffering through much worse than one dead sister? I can’t. I won’t. I choose not to anymore.

Listen Kel, I will never forget you and I will never stop wishing you were here. I just can’t keep waiting to wake up from this hoping it was all a bad dream. The truth is, this is my new normal. You’re gone and I’m sad and crying more than I want to but you’re not coming back. No matter how much I beg you too. No matter how many promises I make to God. It’s over. As of February 5th, 2013 there was no more us. There is just me now. I have to be okay with that. Maybe not today but someday, soon, I have to be okay with it.

I love you Kelly Jeanne Casas! With everything in me, I love you, and I will never forget you. I will never forget us. I’m making some plans, Kel. Life changing plans. I’m taking your advice, you know, where you told me to stop worrying so much all the time and to just follow my passion. Well, I’m doing it, following my passion. I’m scared and I may fail. But what if I don’t? What if you were right all along and I actually end up living happily ever after? I hope you’re watching and praying for me.

Well, that’s about it. Bye Kel. I love you. Always have. Always will.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Freakin Mother's Day

Hey Kel,

I’m sure by now you are aware that Seth committed suicide last week. Have you seen him? If not, please go find him and ask why he would do such a thing when so many loved and cared about him. I just don’t understand. I don’t know if I ever will. I’ve thought about suicide on and off throughout the years especially knowing people who have made that choice. I’ve always had the same two thoughts: Sometimes it would definitely be easier than what I am going through. I could never do that to my family.

By the way, Char thinks we killed you. She thinks all the morphine and whatever else they had us pumping into you those last few days is what actually did you in.

“Really, Char?”

“No Marla, I really think we killed her with all those drugs. That’s why she’s mad at me and not talking to me.”

“Char! First of all, she was always mad at you because that was Kelly and she is not talking to you because she is dead, you idiot. Secondly, she was dying from effin cancer eating her alive so even if we did give her so much morphine it killed her, well, so what? Would you rather she would have had two extra hours of horrendous suffering without all the drugs? I definitely do not want you in charge when my time comes. Please, just let my kids pour a bottle of pills in me, wash it down with a beer and then go have a party. Seriously!”

“We need to go see the Long Island Medium. I need to hear from Kelly.”

“Wait, I think I just got a message from her for you. “Charrrrr… are an idiotttttt.” There, now give me fifty bucks for my services.”

Ever since you died, Char has been hell-bent on going to Long Island to see that gal on TV. We are not going. First, if God wanted us to talk to dead people would he really charge us for it? Secondly, I talk to you every day and I am pretty sure you have talked back to me through dreams and such. Maybe it’s not actually you, maybe its God just trying to get through to me or maybe it’s my incredibly vivid imagination or maybe it’s all the drinking I have been doing lately. I have no flippin idea. All I do know is this: I aint payin to talk to dead people!

I am thinking, however, of paying for some counseling. I am isolating myself more and more from people and the things that use to be important to me. I find myself crying more not less and not caring about much. When I’m at work or with people, nobody knows because I am good at faking it. I laugh, joke around, and act pretty much like I always did. I think. It’s when I’m alone that I notice the difference. My thoughts are so dark. I cry. A lot. My eating is out of control again and I am putting on weight. I don’t want to see anyone or go anywhere. I don’t answer phone calls, emails or letters. I just want to be left alone.

I have people in my life whom I love very much that are going through absolutely hellacious things right now. Things that no person should ever have to face. Things that bring me to my knees crying, “Really God? Really!” I watch as they also cry out to Him but with hope and faith that there is a purpose in all this suffering and I feel ashamed. One lousy dead sister and I crumble and cave and doubt. One stupid dead sister and I stop breathing. Stop living. Stop trying or caring. You might have been right all along, Kel. Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

Please tell Mom I said Happy Mother’s Day. Tell her I miss her and I wish she was here more than ever. It doesn’t feel quite fair to have to give up my mother and my little sister. But like Mom always said, who said life is fair? Who indeed!
I've been thinking all morning about a few of the other things Mom use to say to me all the time and I started to smile because I realized you said them to me too. All. The. Time.
"For heaven's sake! Look at yourself. Go put some makeup on."
"Marla! Really! What will people think?"
"Stop being so dramatic. Have you lost your mind?"
"Just because you feel that way, do you have to let the world know?"
I miss you, Kel. Everyday.




Wednesday, March 20, 2013

You Know Darn Well, I Am Not A Morning Person

Hey Kel,

I woke up at 5:27 am this morning thinking about your first brain surgery. Is there any way you could leave me alone for just one day? We both know the answer to that. When have you ever left me alone, dead or alive? Exactly!

I wonder if you remember things from here like your surgeries. I have read so much throughout the years regarding death and dying and you know I am a bible-thumper and yet, still so many questions. Maybe there just aren’t any answers this side of eternity. Who knows?

Sometimes I feel really bad because people say and write the nicest things to me about you being dead and my heart says, “How sweet”, but my head says, “Um…….are ya sure about that?” You know me though Kel, always the snarkiest shark in the tank. Someday I’ll change and be a sweet, demure, truly awesome human being. I know, makes me laugh too. Who are we kidding, right? Anyway, next time I hear you are at peace with the angels, I promise to do my best to believe it instead of picturing you arguing with the apostles over their lack of style and need for a personal trainer.

So, back to your first brain surgery. Can you believe it will be fifteen years this June? Seriously, how crazy is that? It still seems so fresh in my head, as if it was just a few years ago but then how could that be when I think back on all the gazillions of surgeries that followed. I remember so well the morning of. Do you remember me sitting in the back seat of your Jag, teaching myself to crochet as Ron drove us to Hogue Hospital? It was 5am and he was listening to Howard Stern and as usual, you two were arguing.

“Ron, turn that off. You know Marla hates Howard Stern.”

“Well, sorry Mar, I think he’s funny.”

“Ron, listen to Kelly before you end up in hell. What kind of Catholic are you anyway. Sheesh!”

Of course, Ron and I always thought we were so funny because, well, we are. You, on the other hand, were always annoyed with both of us, individually and as a tag team. Not shocking that you two ended up divorced. I was just always thankful you couldn’t divorce me because I am pretty sure papers would have been filed. You have to admit, Ron and I did make the six weeks I stayed with you memorable if nothing else.

I still have the card you wrote to me, thanking me for taking care of you. You handed it to me the morning Ron drove me to the airport. I still remember you crying, thanking me for being there and telling me not to open the card until I got home. Of course, as soon as I was on the plane, I opened it. I never told you this but I cried when I saw all the money. It was ridiculous how much cash was in that card. All I wanted was your voice. It made me sad that you thought you owed me anything else. I was your damn sister, not a hired caregiver. I didn’t know what to say then I thought about it and realized, you were just like dad. Giving cash and gifts was the way you showed love just like wiping butts and cleaning up puke was the way I showed mine. I had no cash to give and you had no butts you’d ever be willing to wipe so it all worked out the way it was suppose to, I guess. We both had our avenues we were comfortable traveling on.

It’s funny now to think about all the times we fought over stupid things. Like the way you never let me take care of you without buying me a thousand gifts. Now all I can think about is how there will be no more unexpected packages showing up at my door. No more things I don’t need but you need to give me. No more calling you to tell you to stop wasting your money. No more you telling me to get rid of the crap I have and have some style. No. More. You.

 Is there FedEx in heaven?

 I love you,