Rooms of Darkness

§  This year my annual Halloween poem speaks of true demons: the demons of one’s heart and mind and spirit…  §

Since beginning this blog in 2017, it’s been my brief tradition to include a ghostly little poem for Halloween.  I began with a sweet but mysterious story poem I wrote for my great niece and nephew, Ghost Kitty Walks, and continued in 2018 with another story poem I had written decades ago, Struggling Home–a work that, when written,  told an engagingly creepy ghost story while actually helping me exorcise some old anguish.

Bearing those two blog posts in mind, I searched through my hundreds (no exaggeration, this–quite genuinely several hundred) of poems for a verse also written many years ago, Alicia Walks Softly.  This was another story poem, about a ghost who walked nightly to weep at the site of her own grave.  It seemed an appropriately seasonal subject!  Unfortunately, I could not locate the poem.  I wasted a somewhat-pleasant hour sifting through ring binders and loose sheets and simply scads of poems, amusing myself,  reading a number of verses that were quite frankly awful (why in the name of God did I write that, and–bigger question–why on earth did I ever keep it?!), and astonishing myself with works I had forgotten and had, unbelievably, written, and written well, at very young ages.   Hunting for Alicia Walks Softly proved fruitless, though.  It was simply nowhere to be found.  And, sadly, I could recall only the first stanza and the final line of the work–far too little to reconstruct it.

But as I sifted through my poetry–so much written, so few (only six) ever published–I came across one that, while definitely neither a story in verse nor a ghost poem, seemed to fit the bill for my Halloween-themed blog.  Certainly, it spoke to the seasonal topic with its references to demons.  This time, though, my poem speaks of true demons: the demons and devils of one’s heart and serveimageES3CCUHSmind and soul.

And so, for this Halloween blog, I offer you Rooms of Darkness.

 

Rooms of Darkness

I sleep in rooms of darkness, no longer needing light.
But in my distant childhood, I feared the coming night,
for ghosts and devils, demons, each eve awaited me,
with caves formed by my covers the only place to flee.

No more such childish tremors.  The shadows of my room
mold not the shapes of devils from shades within the gloom.
I’ve not the indecision to open or to close
my eyes–to face the horror, or hide in shammed repose.

I am adult.  My demons stand squarely in the sun.
I’ve even less escape route.  There is no place to run
where heartache cannot conquer, nor need not locate me.
From loss, distress, confusion, there is no place to flee.

I vanquished childhood’s demons, I thought, but did not know
that creatures forged in sadness will follow where one goes.
The shades and shapes of sorrow still rule my troubled heart.
I’ve never quite forsaken my demons of the dark.

May you have a fun, happy and ghost-free Halloween!

 

My Last Leaf

§  If you have never read it, then I will not give away the ending; you must find the story on-line somewhere and read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, though, that I have thought of that story many times in the 50-odd years since I first read it.  §

When I was a young teenager, around the ages of 13 and 14, I was enamored of the stories of O’Henry. I thrilled to the surprise endings, and, being of an emotional age group, I loved the almost sappy sentimentality of many of the stories, as well as the rollicking humor. No matter how badgered and belittled O’Henry’s stories were and often still are by literary critics (all of whom probably have some type of stick up their butts), I enjoy these rare little gems to this day. If I could find somewhere a book containing all 600-some of O’Henry’s short stories, I wouldn’t jib for a minute at the cost; I’d purchase it immediately. For years I’ve found that, when my world seems dreary to the point of misery and difficult beyond bearing, I can turn to the pages of my old O’Henry books and escape to that world of 100 years ago: to love and laughter and surprise. Each year on Christmas eve, I re-read The Gift of the Magi, always feeling my throat tighten and tears sparkling behind my eyes as I reach the well-known ending.

But love The Gift of the Magi as I most certainly do, one of my favorite O’Henry stories is one less well known: The Last Leaf. If you have never read it, then I will not give away the ending; you must find it on-line somewhere and read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, though, that I have thought of that story many times in the 50-odd years since I first read it—thought of it, and of the lessons it taught my young self about surrender and survival, courage and compassion,  true talent and recognition, ultimate sacrifice, and genuine acts of love.

But The Last Leaf  wasn’t really on my mind a few weeks ago as I trotted out my front door to wander down the drive and pick up my mail from the box. I didn’t really get very far on my mission, for as I stepped down from the porch to the walk, I glanced at the ground and saw a single fallen autumn leaf.

IMG_20191004_170142266It was astonishingly beautiful. It could not have fallen from any of the nearby trees, all of which are soft maples, so it had to have been swept there on the wind—swept to just that perfect, bare patch of earth where I would glance down and see it.

I stooped and picked up the leaf, turning it gently in my hands, holding it to the soft and fading afternoon light. Had I been a Millennial, I suppose I would have just reached for my phone and snapped a photo of the leaf, posted it to various social media and picture sites, and gone on my merry way. But a Millennial I am not; I stopped for the leaf.  I picked it up and held it and admired it—communed with it, if you will. I don’t know how long I stood there, enjoying its delicate beauty and amazed by the fact that it had lain there, waiting for me, but I do know that for as long as I stood there, holding that leaf, wondering over its brilliant colors and tracing the tiny veins with my finger—for those moments, I was mindful. Truly mindful. My last leaf became a meditation of sorts.

Eventually, I continued on my way down the drive to pick up my mail…but I did not let go of my leaf. I carried it with me, brought it into my house, and finally photographed it, so that I would have not just a reminder of its beauty, but of those few moments when the world slipped away and I became genuinely one with the Spirit of Nature.

It was then that I recalled the O’Henry story The Last Leaf, and considered that this little gift from the gods and goddesses of Autumn had waited there to teach me a lesson that I–that we all–too often forget: to stop. To stop for just one moment, and be mindful. To notice. To marvel and wonder and admire, for just an instant, all the incredible, astounding and overwhelming loveliness of this world wherein we dwell. To appreciate.

To (like the heroine of the story) learn to live.

The Blueberry Solution

§  I have reached the inescapable conclusion that there is no possible explanation.  § 

A few years ago while having lunch with a friend, I tucked my debit card into that discreet little leatherette envelope to pay my tab. It was returned to me while my friend and I chatted, and so it was several minutes before I opened it to fill in the tip and sign the receipt.

It was at that point I discovered that, although the bill was mine, the card was not! The card in the envelope belonged to someone else. Horrified, I flagged down the first available server and demanded to see the manager. Fortunately, the table of guests to which my card had been incorrectly handed was still present; equally horrified, we exchanged our cards. Faced with deathray glares from two enraged patrons, and my “enraged half-Italian woman talking with her hands!” demand to know exactly how this error had occured, the manager assured both of us that we would NOT be billed for our lunches, owing to their inexcusable mishap. In an overabundance of caution, I later called my bank to report the incident, canceled my card and went through the inconvenience of waiting for a new one to be issued.

About two weeks later, my statement arrived. I had been billed for the luncheon, after all. The very next day I stormed over to the restaurant and, pinholing the manager, demanded in my best William Shatner-esque voice, How…Does…This…Even…Happen?!”        

How does this even happen? or its twin, How is this even possible?  seem to be recurring themes in my existence. Not long after the card incident, I ruined a favorite top by dropping a frozen blueberry on it without noticing. By the time I realized what I’d done, the berry had thawed and irrevocably stained my pink shirt. Countless stain removers failed to remove the mark, and the shirt, which I had really liked, ended up being tossed into the rag bag.

However, the blueberry stain came to mind when a new dark blue sweatshirt, having been washed the first time, came out of the laundry with a couple of pale marks indicating that the dye had not been consistent. There were two small, faded areas. It occurred to me that if a frozen blueberry could irrevocably stain a pink cotton shirt, surely it could re-dye a faded area on a dark blue sweatshirt. So I happily crushed a couple of blueberries into the pale spots and left them to sit for twenty-four hours, sure I’d found a solution to the problem.

Except I hadn’t. It didn’t work at all. Once I’d removed the blueberries and rinsed the areas, they were just as faded as they had been before I tried the blueberry solution.

Blue marker pen applied to the spots failed, also—the same marker that, drizzled across a white teeshirt, ruined it. Blue ballpoint ink, ditto.

How is this even possible? How can it be that the very substances that stain and destroy clothes I want to keep, fail to stain and repair an item of clothing I also want to keep?

I have the same question about power cords that tangle while out of sight and untouched, and necklace chains, sitting undisturbed in a drawer of my jewelry box, which somehow jumble and twist themselves into a welter of kinks and knots. I mean, really! Think about it. Last fall I set up a new computer. I snaked most of the cords back behind my desk and up to the top of the file cabinet where the surge suppressor rests. A few weeks later, though, I needed to move the desk. I found all the cords—all the utouched, hidden cords—wound into a muddle of confusion and tangles.

They were BEHIND the desk. No one and nothing, not even my marauding cats, were touching those cords. How is this even possible? How does this even happen?

I have reached the inescapable conclusion that there is no possible explanation except for that of Evil Gremlins. Tiny, long fingered minions of evil who sneak in under cover of darkness and gleefully bestir necklace chains and power cords into a hopelessly tangled mass.

Gremlins alone can explain the necklace chains and power cords, and perhaps even the swapped debit cards.

But despite my best philosophical maunderings on the subject, to this day I still haven’t a clue as to why The Blueberry Solution…wasn’t.

Apples to Oranges!

  The Gods of Power Consumption are at it again. 

I recently received yet another of those periodic mailings from the local power company, purporting to tell me how well (or not) I’m doing in managing my power consumption.

Uh….

Their mailing states that my power usage is being compared to “100 similar” homes within the area, and then continues on to state ways in which I can reduce power consumption and so (one presumes) my bill.

Now those 100 similar homes… Hmmm. I suppose The Gods of Power Consumption are looking mostly at square footage. Well, not to put too fine a face on the matter, this is simply stupid. Idiotic. Worthless. Comparing apples to oranges.  Let me count the ways…

Just a few of the factors which that “how you’re doing” memo is (I think–depending upon how hard Big Brother is watching!) to take into consideration, are, for instance, the number of individuals in the household, and, more specifically, their ages and states of health. Elderly people notoriously need higher temperatures to be comfortable, due to the loss of insulating fats in their skin layers; newborns, having just come out of a 98.6º environment, ditto.  Heavily pregnant women lap up air conditioning like a kitten with a bowl of cream. People who are ill with any number of diseases may very well feel best in either exceptionally cool or warm settings, while many desperately-needed home medical devices consume power as they operate.

Are the people in those 100 houses living in groups of two or three (the highest number that would fit comfortably into my small home), or is there only a single inhabitant? Are all those people out of the house for ten or more hours most days, attending work or school, or are they often home for long periods of time—retired, as I am, or stay-at-home parents of small children, and thereby using lights and stoves and microwaves, TVs and computers, at times when the empty homes are sitting idle, evincing little draw upon the power grid?

Then let’s consider those “100 homes” themselves. Are they two-story, as mine is, or one? And, if two-story, is their second story a partial area, with a balcony opening into a large cathedral ceiling overlooking the lower floor, and altering air flow significantly?

Were those 100 homes built over two decades ago, when air vents and ducts were being built to smaller dimensions? Or are some of them brand-new, tightly constructed, with recent, energy-efficient furnaces or air conditioners and lots of wide air vents and ducts that are heavily insulated?

Apples to oranges.

And then there were those irritating commercials shown last winter by the power company, providing suggestions for reducing power consumption. (As my 90-year-old father grumps, “Why the hell do they need to advertise? They’re the only game in town!”) One of their more idiotic winter suggestions was to turn the heat down or even off completely when leaving one’s home temporarily. I’m sure my elderly rescue cats would have been greatly unappreciative of that action—especially as I keep my heat set to only 67° in the first place. Not to mention how much power would have been consumed by bringing the heat back to bearable temperatures upon my return—or the possible icing up of water pipes during that time of absence with little to no heat during some of our Siberian winter conditions. Their summer recommendations (which also include that confusing suggestion to “turn off the air conditioning when you leave your home”–are none of these people pet owners?!) are even more hilarious. Being at home most days, I’m in the habit of placing big box fans in open windows on cool mornings and evenings in the spring, summer and fall; I prefer fresh air. Far from setting my thermostat to their recommended temperatures, at the height of the summer I do not even turn my air conditioning on until the lower floor of my home reaches 77°–which means that the upper floor is at least 80° or 81°. Only then do I remove the fans, which I presume draw so much less power than the central AC unit, from the windows and switch on my air conditioner. And were it not, again, for my elderly animals, not to mention my own asthma, I would probably allow the room temperatures to rise slightly higher. I grew up without air conditioning, and although I appreciate it, I do not consider it essential except during the direst times of heat.

Their recommendation is, of course, to set one’s thermostat on 78º or 80º in the first place, and to then run fans if one is uncomfortable.  The logic of this escapes me; don’t fans run on electricity?!

No, the next time I receive one of those irritating little “How Are You Doing?” mailings from the local power company, I won’t waste my time rolling my eyes and tearing it in half to be tossed into the wastebasket. Instead, I’ll just print out this blog post, attach it to their nonsense, and mail it back.  And may everyone else reading this irritated little diatribe feel free to do the same!

A Bra of a Different Color

§  This column is sure to offend someone, somewhere. But, even if you begin to think it offensive or even racist, please give it the benefit of the doubt and read all the way to the end!  §

Although my personal skin color might best be described as a very pale peach-tone, my casual race description is “white”. Now, I am no more the color of typing paper than a black person is the color of the night sky. But, there you have it. I’m “white”; they’re “black”, while those of Asian descent are “yellow”, despite the fact that their skin tones have nothing to do with a daffodil. Native Americans aren’t the color of stoplights, either. “Yellow” and “red” are ridiculous descriptions of skin tones, as are white and black.

Perhaps that’s why I found it difficult to understand an article I read several years ago complaining about the dearth of appropriately-tinted brassieres for women of color; an article that claimed this lack was due to racism. My reaction to this was my oft-repeated, “Huh?” Being Vintage myself, I’d grown up in an era when all bras were white. Stark white. Typing paper white. Bleach white. That’s it. Period. No other choices. And those stark-paper-bleach white bras no more closely matched my pale peachy pale skin tone than they matched the flesh of any woman of any race. When lingerie departments finally began to stock bras in a shade they titled “nude”—now that was racist!–I bought one, and found that it, too, came nowhere near to resembling my skin tone. It was nothing at all like my nude “white” skin.

Confusing me even more was the fact that, at the time I read this article (about a decade ago), I didn’t possess a single bra that resembled any skin color. I owned a bras in bright red, ink black, pale blue, steel grey, and a final one in pale pink. Some might think that last shade came in somewhere close to my skin tone, but, no, not even close. When I dressed in the morning, I matched my bra to my clothing, not my skin. I’d never in my lifetime had a bra that matched my skin tone, and I thought nothing of it.

But from the tenor of the article, I could see that this lack mattered a lot to many women of color, since they were resorting to dying their underwear with tea and coffee. As this problem was genuinely important to so many women of color, I wondered, why was the author not presenting it as a fantastic business opportunity? Rather than broadcasting suspicions of covert racism, she could, should, have been suggesting that the manufacturing community jump on the solution like a Venus fly trap snapping up an insect.

But complaints like those of that long-ago editorial are why (although I try my utmost to identify and divest myself of any behaviors associated with racial prejudice) I sometimes find myself bewildered by seemingly minor situations escalating into accusations of racism. Back in the days when Crayola named its peach tinted crayon “Flesh”—that was racism! Calling a beige bra “nude”—definitely racist! But when every woman in the Western world, be she black, white, brown, red, yellow or Martian green, had to wear a bleach white bra, that wasn’t racism; it was sheer idiocy on the part of the (probably male) manufacturers.

Today a woman of color can sometimes locate a bra in her shade, and occasionally my not-so-lily-white self can find a skin-tone bra, too. But we can each make the best of an irritating situation and chose a clothing color, not a skin shade, for our brassieres. We can also send strident complaints to the manufacturers, dye our lingerie, or, as I have done for so many years, just shrug and deal with it.

But–and this is me trying my best to walk a mile in another’s moccasins–having been born with “white” skin, I’ve had little cause to experience racism, except for one glaring childhood incident (see the post Amosandra, 06/01/2018) If I had frequently endured the dehumanizing experience of genuine racial discrimination, would I not be more inclined to suspect racist intent at every juncture—even in something as minor as the shade of one’s underwear?  Yes, I must admit it; probably so.

Having been born with this peachy-pale skin of mine, I shall also probably never know. But I will conclude by saying that all my brassieres are currently in a shade called “Champagne”. It’s a sort of ivory yellow beige. It’s nowhere near my skin tone. Instead (having learned a lot over the course of my 65 years), these bras are comfortable. And that’s why I don’t really give a damn what color they are.

The Contribution-by-Guilt Charity Lottery

§   With the best will in the world, I could never fill this aching, endless void of charitable appeals.  §

As I mentioned in an earlier blog (Charity Begins, 06/05/19), I do not tithe to any specific or single organization; I provide funds to various charities as I feel led.  Environmental, animal and children’s charities top that list. But I am growing ever more dismayed by the constant appeals that arrive, both by snail mail, and by e-mail, for yet more funds.

In just one week—one!–I counted appeals from the following agencies:

Wheeler Mission
Arbor Day Foundation
Environmental Defense Fund
Doctors Without Borders
Audubon Society
Smile Train
Hiefer International
Southern Poverty Law Center
ACLU
Planned Parenthood
World Wildlife Fund
Cats Haven
Humane Society

Not even an all-inclusive list, this, of the causes or organizations in which I wholeheartedly believe and to which I have contributed in the past, and it certainly doesn’t include the appeals to which I am subjected through TV commercials and email. But, even with the best will in the world, I could not, cannot, answer all these funding requests. If I had just won the lottery, it’s still unlikely that I could fill this aching, endless void of charitable appeals.

Even more upsetting, years after my initial contribution, I continue to receive funding requests from charities that are not my choice; charities to which I sent a donation only one time. Usually these contributions were made as a memorial for the loved ones of friends; sometimes, the only reason I sent money to a particular organization was that I was once the responsible individual at the office, passing the hat to collect funds and writing the check after a coworker had experienced a loss.

As I open these mailings, so many of which include enclosures–maps and notepads and pens and address labels and little blankets and dream-catchers and greeting cards and tote bags—I’m forced to wonder, how much does all this cost them? All these mailings, all these little bits of bric-a-brac? Can the contributions they acquire from such mailings actually supersede the cost of sending all this stuff out?

And despite all these enclosures, nowhere in those collections of stuff is a simple postcard with an option to check and return, requesting, “Please remove me from your mailing list”. The onus for figuring out whom to contact and then deliberately making that request is put upon the individual being dunned. I cannot help but believe that omission is purposeful. The lack of an uncomplicated “please remove” option is intended keep me on the mailing list ad infinitum, so that I may be guilted into making further contributions. I resent that so much that, even were I inclined to provide more money, I refuse to do so.

The guilt factor is strong in another way, too: only once did I intentionally request to be removed from a mailing list, that of a well-known cancer charity. Fed up after being bombarded with multiple requests in a single week, I finally sought out an e-mail for the right department and sent them a demand that my name be removed from their contact list.  In return, I received the obligatory “It may take us several weeks to process your request” reply—a totally ridiculous statement, and blatantly untrue in an era in which one need only punch a single Delete key on a database to remove contact information. It took almost two months before I was finally free of their incessant mailings, but I still encounter their soul-wrenching commercials on TV every week. I hit “mute” on the remote or walk out of the room each time.

But now, having published this blog, I think I have hit upon the method that I will use in the future to handle requests from repeat offenders in the contribution-by-guilt charity lottery. I will simply print out a copy of this essay and, using their very own return-addressed envelope, mail it, highlighting this note:

“It isn’t that I don’t care. In the past, I may even have supported your endeavors. But I give when I both have the funds and the spirit moves me…and today is not that day. In the meantime, kindly remove me from your contact list.  Please, pleasestop asking me for money!”

It may work. Or it may not. But at least I will have stated my feelings and my preference.

Vintage Treasure

§  I shall never, ever again refer to myself using the word old!   §

My late mother-in-law, Mary, was a world-travelling, spirituality-seeking whirlwind. She was bright, intelligent, graceful, and had a marvelous sense of humor. I absolutely adored her. The destructive evil that is Alzheimer’s robbed Mary of all these qualities, but until that happened, the woman I lovingly nicknamed “La Comtesse” was everything I wanted to be as I aged.

One of my favorite memories of Mary stems from the days when she was still a healthy woman who travelled extensively. Arriving home from a cruise, she related a story from her vacation, and to this day I recall the look on her face as she concluded the tale. At the time, Mary was on the far downhill side of 60, rapidly ziplining toward her next decade. One of her shipmates on this seniors’ cruise was a silver-haired lady, tidy, quiet and retiring, who participated in few of the ship’s activities. This quintessential little old lady, Mary remarked, observed a birthday during the cruise, and La Comtesse asked her which birthday she was celebrating.

“Oh,” the little old lady replied, “this is the big one! The big Five-Oh!”

I had cause to recall the irony of this story not long ago, when an author whose books I generally enjoy put dreaded words into the mouth of a youthful character: the young woman referred to an aged character as an “old biddy”. Judging by this youthful writer’s perspective, my beloved La Comtesse would have qualified as an “old biddy”. Yet nothing could have been further from the truth! Then, with dismay, I recalled that “old biddy” was actually the very phrase my own Grandmother used to reference those in her age group who’d stopped really interacting with life; who spent their days bemoaning their aches and pains while disparaging everything modern and recalling the past in a pink-tinted haze of inaccurate nostalgia. (Grandma, too, was a whirlwind, one who drove everywhere in her huge yacht of a car, couponed madly, fed everyone home-cooked meals no matter what the time of day or night, drove to work at an office until she could no longer shovel her car out from the snow in harsh winters, and generally had a rip-roaring good time.)

I have walked a few weary miles since the days when I was a mere teenager, sitting through a boring classroom lecture about semantics: the value of a word beyond merely its definition; the weight and worth of meaning given to it by opinion and understanding. And so as I now deal with the reality of my own aging, recalling Mary’s humorous tale of her “old” shipboard companion and my life-loving Grandmother’s behavior, while encountering demeaning phrases in books and being treated with thinly-disguised impatience by the very young, I’ve had reason to truly mull those long-ago lessons in semantics. I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s often sadly true that those in the latter half of life are treated with disrespect and contempt in modern society. And I’ve decided that some, perhaps many, of those attitudes center less around one’s personal behavior and ability than around the semantics of the word “old”.

We treat merchandise with disdain when it is merely old. To be old is to be out-moded or outdated; unfashionable. We begin to appreciate it when it becomes vintage, but it is not until it is antique that we regard it with awe and reverence. When we speak of “elder” it is with respect; i.e., “the elder statesman”. Yet to be elderly conjures up a picture of frailty and infirmity.

Old is old-fashioned; out-of-date; old is an outlook that is behind the times. Old is a pensioner, a senior, a geriatric—yet mature is a superior condition. Songs can be “oldies but goodies”; cars can be classics. Yet attitudes can be scathingly considered traditional and even archaic. Aged is a sad condition, yet historic is valued, while ancient or antiquity are regarded with wonder. Old, though is time-worn, hoary, antiquated.

With all of these words firmly in mind, each of them denoting a different semantic variation of that which is old, I’ve decided that I shall never, ever again refer to myself using the word old. I will not even disrespect myself by remarking that I am aged, or aging. The words I use to refer to myself need to be free from heavy and unintended meaning, weighting me down with subconscious consequences.

So from this point forward, I plan to be Vintage. Vintage is treasured, special, worthwhile, valued, appreciated. Vintage is desireable.

I’m not nor ever will be an old biddy. But I’m already Vintage.

A Memory Walk

§  I hope that others will share the idea and take up the custom of a Memory Walk for the friends and family members they have lost.  §

Last Thursday afternoon my daughter, Amanda, and I, taking little Morrigan Lynn with us, went on a Memory Walk for our late and deeply loved relative, Mary Ellen Chifos, once my mother-in-law, Amanda’s grandmother, and the great-grandmother that Morrigan will never know.

We had been planning to do this since Mary’s passing in January, 2015, but, as I have been heard to say, life sometimes gets in the way of actually living. When the weather was fine enough for this outdoor activity, tasks and necessities intervened, as did major events such as buying and moving into a new home, cancer, surgeries, kidney stones, job changes, pregnancy, birth, new motherhood…. It didn’t matter. We knew that the Memory Walk would happen eventually, precisely when it was supposed to do so. At any rate, we knew that Mary, comfortable in the next realm, understood our delay.

And now, having completed this journey, I think it was all for the best that so much time elapsed between Mary’s passing from Alzheimer’s and the day of our Memory Walk, for in the intervening years, we’d released so much grief. We were finally able to recall with pleasure the lovely and gracious, spiritual, intelligent, and broad-minded woman who was in this lifetime Mary Ellen Chifos. Mary and Sadie_20190903_0001

We went to Brown County (Nashville, Indiana) for this event. Mary, you see, passionately loved this area. She felt that the State park and its surrounding environs were a little slice of heaven, divvied out by a gracious Divinity to enhance Indiana. Decades previously, she had actually moved to the location for a brief time during a personal crisis. Gathering up her little dachshund , she’d gone to live in a small apartment there. Only the dearth of available jobs induced her to leave Nashville and move back to Indianapolis. But she would, during the next decades, return to both the small city and the park over and over again, finding there the peace her soul sought.

So it was Brown County that her granddaughter and I chose to visit while recalling our lost one. We ventured out to the shops that she loved, ate at her favorite restaurant, The Hob Nob, and searched for but failed to locate the small art gallery that recalls so much of Nashville’s bohemian past as the Brown County Art Colony, the avant-garde collective formed in the 1920s. And as we rambled, we talked about Mary and remembered her as she once was, long before Alzheimer’s robbed her of her vivacious personality. We laughed and smiled, remembering, and occasionally felt the bright sparkle of a tear.

IMG_20190905_075648497I carried with me roses in varying colors, one for each decade of Mary’s life, and handed them out to random strangers along our way. Each rose was tied with a simple strip of paper explaining that these flowers were being given to the memory of our lost loved one. Mary adored flowers and grew them by the basketful; she would have approved the gesture, seeing the smiles put on the faces of complete strangers at being the recipients of an unexpected floral gift. The 84-year-old parking attendant, receiving the first rose, related to us that, at her age, there are few contemporaries left to mourn when someone passes.  A young clerk at one of the boutiques said she would save her rose to give that night to her mother, suffering from cancer.  The lady who helped us try moccasins on Morrigan’s chubby little feet, receiving her rose, was taken with the concept of the Memory Walk and said she couldn’t wait to share the idea.

Now that we have finally completed our Memory Walk for Mary, experiencing the way in which it revives special memories, I find myself wishing that others might take up the custom, proceeding on a Memory Walk for friends and family members they have lost. Perhaps they will find some small gift,  something special and pertinent to their loved ones, to bequeath to random strangers along their way, putting a smile on faces, lifting hearts, and substituting joy in the place of sorrow, for that is a true celebration of life.

And if it should happen that someone walks for me one day, I hope they will find a park, green and growing, but also filled with playgrounds for children—someplace simply  teeming with life and joy. I hope they will carry with them my favorite pink roses, one for each decade of my life, each one tied not just with a note stating my name, but with a luscious, deep, dark chocolate, the food with which I hope the streets of Heaven are paved.

But, above all, it’s my dearest hope that they will talk: walk and talk, remembering me; remembering me with laughter. Not with tears; never tears. With laughter.

 

 

The Dinner Party

§   Jack finally tapped into the whole Evil Plot about half-way through the meal.   §

I have plans to nominate a woman for sainthood after hearing her description of the way in which she handled The Evil Plot perpetrated by her new in-laws.

My acquaintance—let’s call her Jill—met and married Jack not long after the break-up of his first marriage. Jack’s family made it clear that they viewed Jill as an interloper. Rightly or wrongly, his family blamed Jack for his divorce, and continued to keep in touch with his ex. It was an uncomfortable situation for Jill.

However, after a few months, it seemed that Jack’s brother and his wife had begun to mellow toward Jill. Jack and Jill extended an invitation for an evening out; it was accepted, and everyone made a genuine effort to be pleasant. Even more encouraging was a return invitation to dinner at the brother’s home.

Looking back, Jill says, she should have known better. That hindsight 20/20 thing, she says.

They arrived at Jack’s brother’s home to and sat down to a home-cooked meal. That’s when it became clear that her new sister-in-law had prepared a very special meal indeed — one consisting of every single food Jill didn’t like. Including a few she absolutely loathed.

Recalling that previous get-together, Jill belatedly realized that conversation had “drifted” around to the food likes and dislikes of everyone present. Too late, Jill now realized that conversation had been carefully orchestrated.

Jill is a semi-vegetarian, eating only fish or poultry; the main dish served was not only red meat, but a highly-spiced dish which she would normally shun. Jill shares my aversion to Brussels sprouts; those, and another veggie she thoroughly dislikes, were served.

Displaying wonderful restraint, Jill decided to eat small mouthfuls of everything, fill up on bread, and make the best of a very bad deal. Meanwhile, Jack (not normally slow on the uptake), finally tapped into the whole Evil Plot about half-way through the meal as he watched his beloved smilingly take a mouthful of despised sprouts. “I thought you didn’t like Brussels sprouts,” he said wonderingly and then recoiled from her death-ray glare as she replied sweetly, “Well, it’s not my favorite veggie, but I’d be a terrible guest not to try a food when my hostess has obviously gone to so much trouble.”

The crowning blow came, though, when dessert was served: a homemade fruit compote spooned over vanilla ice cream. As Jill picked up her spoon, Jack, who had just taken a mouthful, suddenly shrieked, “No, don’t eat that!” Jill dropped her utensil and stared, slack-jawed, as her husband proceeded to yank the bowl right out from its place in front of her.

The fruit salad contained mango, to which she is allergic. Jill vividly recalled mentioning her mango allergy during that conversational night out.

Her new sister-in-law was all apologies, and returned to the kitchen to serve her a fresh bowl of plain ice cream. Dinner was concluded amiably, but the couple did not stay long after that. Upon leaving, Jill thanked her hostess for dinner, saying, “It’s obvious that you went to a lot of trouble on my behalf.”

The two couples haven’t spoken since, and no further invitations have been extended.

So, as I say, I am definitely nominating Jill for sainthood! And I’m so glad that she doesn’t carry a firearm.

The Great Paint Can Head Splash

§  Since I’ve already reproduced, I’m not a candidate for the Darwin Awards! But as I continue forging links to the chain of my days, I’ll probably find other, incredibly stupid ways to nearly do myself in.  §

Each morning before I eat breakfast, I boot up my laptop and read the news stories while sipping a cup of tea. This habit actually falls under the category of “Why, oh Why, Would I Even THINK This Was a Good Idea?”

I mean, really—consider it: news. Politics. Murders. Police brutality. Inane stories about celebrities. News story comments. Vicious name-calling and rude remarks.

Before breakfast. Every morning.

As I pointed out: Why would I even think this was a good idea?

And yet I have done and continue to do it.

But then, many things in my life fall under that category. And often, the question is not even so much why I ever thought these behaviors were a good idea, but how the hell I managed to survive them.

Take, for instance, the fact that I was, for years, in the very bad habit of waltzing out barefoot to pick up my mail from the mailbox—barefoot, or, at most, clad in stocking feet. Now, it’s just the length of the driveway from my front door to the mailbox, and my driveway is quite short. But I did this daily mail run regardless of the condition of the concrete: wet with rain; slick with whirligig seeds from the maple tree or slippery with autumn leaves; slightly glazed with ice; under pelting rain or even tiny hailstones or falling snow. Just a quick trip out to pick up the mail. No need to put on my shoes.

Only to fall on my butt. Not once, but several times. Or perhaps not fall—just find myself with arms windmilling and mail tossed every which way as I tried to stay upright.

Then there was the time that, beneath the soft rays of the Super Moon, I decided to decontaminate the poisonous atmosphere created by a nasty neighbor by going out with my salt and white sage bundle to cleanse the area around my house. Again, in my stocking feet—it was chilly, so I didn’t want to walk in bare feet. Having first lovingly scattered Himalayan pink salt all about the perimeter of my home, I lit my sage bundle and paced the boundary of the house, concentrating on positive thoughts. Forgiving thoughts. A very noble and praiseworthy action…if only I’d worn shoes. Because as the sage bundle burned down, the ash scattered. Scattered straight onto my toes. Where it immediately burned right through the sock. Ooow, ooow, ooow! (Goddamned nasty neighbor, this was all his fault, I wouldn’t have been burned if he had just not been acting like an ass so that I had to go out and cleanse his spitefulness from the atmosphere….)

Why, oh why, would I have ever even thought this was a good idea?!

Also under the heading of Really Not Bright Things That I Have Done was the six-month time period in which almost daily I reminded myself, “If I don’t wiggle under this desk and snake that computer cord to the back, I’m going to fall over it.” Of course, I didn’t, and I did. It took nearly another six months for my strained tendons to heal.

Then there was the day that I decided, while cleaning my carpets, that I was fed up with crawling down the stairwell on hands and knees while using the hand attachment. When I reached the landing where the stairwell turns, I resolved to stand on the floor of my entry way, reach over the two bottom steps, and use the upright carpet cleaner on the landing. This might not have been so bad an idea had I not decided to back down those two steps to the entryway below. That’s right—step down two steps backwards in shoes (for once) that were damp from working on the carpets of the upper floor.

Of course I slipped. Of course, I fell down those two steps. And of course, I slid prone across the laminate of the entryway, the carpet cleaner machine half on top of me, and slammed my head into the wall opposite.

After awhile, having determined that all I had was a goosegg and a headache as the price of my stupidity, I finished cleaning my carpets.

But, of all the things falling under the category of Stupid Things I Have Done and Yet Survived, none of them will ever beat The Great Paint Can Head Splash.

The original owner of my condo had, shall we say, unusual tastes in décor–as in a living room done in flat khaki greens and browns, and bathrooms painted dark, dark royal purple, or dried-blood red and poison green. Needless to say, repainting was a priority. The unused spare bedroom closet seemed a logical place to store the paint cans as the final touch-ups were done…or, that is, might have been a logical place had I not decided to store the cans on the upper closet shelf.

And so it came to pass that I went to grab a can of wall paint and work on touch-ups…only to discover, as I lifted it from the shelf, that the top had not been hammered on completely when it was last used. Like Captain Kirk under the rain of tribbles, I stood there as the can tipped and poured paint all over my head, my clothes, the closet floor, my hair–my freshly-colored hair….

Later that day, as I visited my daughter, she nobly refrained from commenting on the numerous ivory-pink paint speckles liberally bespattering my hair, despite two careful washings.

I’m sure that, as I continue forging links to the chain of my days, I’ll find other, incredibly stupid ways to nearly do myself in. Since I’ve already reproduced, though, I’m not a candidate for the Darwin Awards. And, happily, although those genetic testing kits don’t include it, I suspect my intelligent offsping escaped inheriting the “Why Oh Why Would I Even Think This Was a Good Idea?!” gene. I certainly hope so, anyway.