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Adversary

Having read yet another chapter of Peter Strzok’s tell-all story of the Russia investigation, I was warming to the over-filled hot water bottle at my feet and relaxing into the nights version of flannel pajamas surrounding appendages as they sought consolation of warmth against what was becoming a chill gathering of winter.  I fumbled for the switch that would put out the reading lamp, found it at last, and turned it with a satisfying click.  Dark.  Lovely darkness gathered to comfort after a long day of sorting light from multitudinous sources that presented a continuous barrage of incoming to parse and resolve.  It was a war—a lovely war— but one that must be fought in honor of the light and the radiant seeing of it.  I smiled and resigned myself to sleep.

That was ten o’clock of the hour.  At eleven thirty eyelids popped open—nothing to see, but much to hear.  There it was: that scrabbling noise of claw on crisp something-or-other.  It had been a feature of the deep night since October had brought cold with encroaching winter and sent woodland critters searching for warmer berths.  One must have chosen my kitchen and had eluded my attempts at entrapment.  A trip to Ace Hardware, notwithstanding, my persistent unwelcome guest continued to ravage my larder.  It ignored mousetraps armed with succulent fromage and went on to bigger and better possibilities.  In spite of my warm cocoon, shivers raced down my spine.  Time for action!

I slid from under the covers, slithered into fluffy padded slippers, and tiptoed into the kitchen where moonlight illuminated an open trash receptacle that was shuddering, and not with delight.  It was under attack by some unidentified life form.  Reaching back through my genetic inheritance to my time as hunter-gatherer, I acted.  In two bold leaps I slammed the lid shut.  What luck that it had begun the night ajar, an inadvertent open enticement for possible marauders.  Something thrashed about inside the enclosure, slamming against the lid as I held it closed, reaching for something heavy to keep it shut.  The weightiest thing I could find with only one free hand was Robert Alter’s translation of the first five books of Moses with commentary.  It worked fine.  Adding two more tomes just in case, I stood back and wondered now what

There will be no sleep this night, I mused.  The trashcan/book-stack shook as an unidentified body slammed, leaped, thrust upward, and thundered in what must be described as wrath.  How could I sleep with all that going on in the next room?  The thing to do was to remove the problem.  I bundled up in my trusty barn coat, the one I had used many times before to hustle equine Animalia into their proper behavior and placement.

It was at the witching hour that I rolled my accommodating little trashcan out the front door, still book bedecked, and set it, yet aquiver, on my front porch, there to await the dawning.  Mr. Sun came up right on time, but I missed his glorious arrival, so sound asleep was I after having spent all my adrenaline the night before.  At nine o’clock I jumped out of the bed, dressed for arctic encounter, and headed out the front door, not having even washed teeth.  By now the wild thing must surely be dead as a proverbial doornail, I chuckled with anticipatory glee.  I gathered Moses’ books and the other fat tomes that had shared the lonely night with Alter.  The container sat still and silent.  No movement hinted at life having survived the frigid hours that presaged the dawn.  I lifted the lid and peeked in.  Nothing stirred.  There was just a ball of white polyethylene garbage bag at the bottom. Nudging the container netted a ball of fur and claws and whipping tail, lurching from under the plastic and looking to attack whomsoever had given him so inhospitable a night.   But I, too, was up for the fight.  I slammed the lid shut, piled the books back in place, and went inside to call Maintenance.

A previous time would have presented The Lone Ranger on his trusty horse Silver, but in 2020 it was Dan the Maintenance man who came to the rescue not long after my frantic call for backup.  Satisfying himself that what we had was a rat, he went to find a bucket—a big one.  He asked to fill it from my bathtub faucet, a spot that required he pass my illegal installation of a bidet.  I held my breath, and he didn’t seem to notice.  Then with three gallons of water he proceeded to do what must be done.  I empathized with the rat.  It too was a mammal, a cousin of my own lineage.  It might even be a she rat, with babies waiting for her return.  It wasn’t her fault that she was born a rodent and not a primate.  Even a rat must eat and keep warm.

But, philosophy aside, we must kill this rat.  Rats can carry Bubonic plague.  We already have Corona, and don’t need Bubonic to keep it company.  Dan the man was good, but he only had two hands.  He needed four.  One held the can still while he jousted, keeping the creature inside the container.  It fell to me, with my eighty-two year old arms and shoulders to lift and pour the water into the vessel.  Dan kept the critter pinned down and submerged while we kept a respectful silence.  Even a rat deserves a prayerful leave-taking.

A hole in the bottom where the clever mechanism allowed a foot to raise the lid for incoming discards, allowed the water to slowly recede like a lock in a dam that slowly lowers everything to the right level.  We breathed relieved sighs in tandem and peered into the at last empty vessel.  There at the bottom, in a peaceful sleep of repose, lay the rat.  It had been all about attitude.  Without that it was like a napping child, full of gentility and forgiveness.  While last night’s fear had enlarged my perception of the creature to terrifying proportions, this altered reality suggested only a small furry body at peace.  I breathed a silent prayer: If we meet again, I’ll be the rat; you will be the avenger.

CADAM

After what turned out to be a wild ride at American Hospital Supply, Ford Aerospace offered itself as the next best thing.  Ford had snagged the Divad (Divisional Air Defense) program contract and was the talk of the west coast.  I showed up, resume in hand, and signed on for a job as tool designer.  Remembering how much fun it was coming up with jigs and fixtures for Texas Instruments, it seemed like a fit.

A big lug of a Native American man named Russ Arnold led the tool design group under Charles Underhill, Ford’s manufacturing czar.  Since the product design for Divad wasn’t yet out of the oven, we gathered every day and were told to demonstrate our facility for laying lead on vellum.  After a ridiculous week of this, Mr. Underhill shepherded our entire group, twenty or more, into a conference room.  We glanced at each other wondering if we were to be laid off en masse.  But that was not to be the case.  Out of Mr. Underhill’s own mouth thundered the announcement: “You are all, every one, to attend a two-week introduction to computer-aided-design at the Lockheed training facility.  No, this is not discretionary.  You must attend.  If you do not wish to be part of this opportunity, please gather your belongings and progress to HR where you will undertake your exit interview.

From my front row seat I couldn’t see how many guys departed forthwith, but there was a considerable stir as most of the old guys, and some of the younger ones as well, stomped out, muttering as they went.  I didn’t turn around and stare.  If it had been me taking that coward’s way out, I wouldn’t have appreciated eye-witnesses.  When the room settled down and all eyes again faced front, we heard about how drawing on a drafting board was about to be no more.  All of technical creation would soon be done with a keyboard and viewed on a computer screen.  Anyone who was serious about our kind of work would have to accept this new turn of events.  We learned about where to attend, how to get to Lockheed, and were encouraged to think positive.

Lockheed was a nasty drive away from Irvine, with crazy traffic, and I had to leave home a good bit earlier than normal, but it was doable.  The thing was beginning to become an adventure, and that could be fun.  I got through security with not much ado.  They knew we were coming and let us through with shiny new badges.  Eventually we re-discovered each other in the training facility.  The teachers didn’t waste a lot of time telling us what they were going to do.  They just did it.  Each of us got a fat folder that looked like it might help.  It was a strange place with lots of cubbies, low lights, and everything was painted black.  Screens were big, bigger than I had ever seen.  Everybody got a cubby, and began to work through the manual of instruction.  Several teachers moved about the group answering questions and making sure we were progressing.

The work we were learning was called Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing, shortened to Cadam.  It was a mainframe system, so everything we did was stored somewhere far away, and we had to be sure we saved our work or it was lost forever.  The keyboard was just like any qwerty board, but every setup was equipped with a wand for touching the screen.  It was freaky to be able to interact directly with a computer screen, but what did I know?  The wand was kind of heavy and attached to a cable that protruded from its end.  The contraption was heavy, and to this very day, my right shoulder reminds me about how heavy.

The teachers were savvy about their subject and patient with our inadequacies.  Only one guy seemed to take joy from his position of holding superior knowledge.  I put up with him for several days before I lost it.  He tutored us, armed at all times with a metal pointer.  In a small space it seemed unnecessary when an index finger was literally at hand.  He often got carried away with his tutelage and used the stick to emphasize points and demand attention.  He often turned to me to shake his pointer in my face.  One morning he began to wax exuberant with his stick too close to my nose.  I stood it as long as I could.  Then I grabbed his stick and bent it.  “Get that thing out of my face,” I hissed, teeth clenched.  His face and eyes flared to express aghast.  I figured that bit of self-expression had cost me my job, but some things aren’t negotiable.  He cleared his throat, set aside his stick, and the lesson resumed.  That guy’s pointer was seen no more, and my fellow students swore me a debt of gratitude.  Sometimes you just have to “stick” up for yourself.

Our two-week class was soon over.  Russ Arnold called me into his office.  I figured this was me getting my walking papers for insubordination.  It turns out the Lockheed Training Manager had called to ask why the only woman Ford had sent wasn’t slated for the advanced session.  He had explained that she was the best student in the group.  I felt a grin steal right across my face.  Russ’s eyes twinkled.  “You’re signed up for the advanced session—two more weeks.”  I was out of there, packing my briefcase and high-tailing it for Lockheed.

 Back from our Cadam training, we tool designers were hot to trot.  We were told to keep busy drawing whatever we could find to draw.  The advanced class had taught us how to construct various projections, and popping out isographic renderings was my favorite way to kill time while we waited for the Divad design to sort itself out.  Weeks turned to months.  Rumors passed over the wall from Product Design.  There were problems.  One day we heard that at the Final Design Review something went wrong.  The target-seeking-missile from the Divad armed tank ignored the designated target and blew up the fan in the General’s port-a-potty.  It was all over.  Some people, loyal to Ford, stayed.  I can’t imagine why.  I was down the road looking for what came next. 

Henry was indeed good with automobiles, but something had gotten lost in the translation to aerospace.  I have sweet memories of that year spent learning Cadam and reminding myself that good things can happen along with the bad.  It was indeed a good thing that The General wasn’t in the can when it blew.  It’s a good thing to know when to cut bait and run, and Johnson & Johnson was right up the freeway—hiring.

Forgetting

There’s only so much room in a human brain, or any other confabulation of neurons.  It is, after all, only a tangle of wily cells that convene and collude.  They pass along information out of joy.  Why else would beats of energy course down paths they have already pulsed, and to what avail?  No wonder it hurts to think about being old, with so much to remember.  How many books have I read?  How many idle hours spent gawking at pixelated depictions of other people’s thoughts?  All of that I hope to remember and never ever forget.  And we don’t forget—completely.

Grab a book you might have read but can’t be sure.  Open it and start traipsing across lines of letters.  Familiarity raises its silly head and mocks your attempt to make new acquaintances out of lexicon.  “I’ve read this before,” it chortles.  You might ignore it and continue to peruse.  What, after all, is the resolution of all this texty perturbation?  Can you reach into the mire of memory and pluck out the final denouement?  Probably not, but if you determine to read it anyway, it will open itself like a love-sick girl begging you to enter her very core.  And you don’t stop.  You read anyway and take a stupid pleasure in piling remembrances on top of amazements as if this were something new, after all is read and done.  Such dilemmas pose their plight anew each line and wait for you to throw the tome aside and seek another.  It’s a virgin read you want, one that tempts with mysterium of never-read-before, where every line is pristine to your ravenous intent to know what you have never known, and did not of yourself invent. 

There is a purpose to my rave.  I am out to prove that we do remember all we read, perhaps not with precision, but with predictable fidelity and honest intuition of the somehow familiar.  If that is the case, can memory press on into some undefinable future?  Is brain a bottomless pit of wanting to know?  Surely there are only so many ways to ply the axons of cranial maze, and we will run out of space and acronyms of purposeful complexity.  What happens then?  Might we have evolved some cunning ploy to conserve, a judicious perspicacity to set aside a request for mnemonic retrieval and then wait a bit for information to rise unbidden on its own.  The senior moment seems to describe just such a ploy.  Accepting this shenanigan as a normal healthy activity of an ageing brain might lower anxiety and allow to work whatever will.

A case in point is my encountering a Jodi Picoult book vulnerable to my acquisition, just perched on the shelf at Oakley Library.  It was unusual to find it so disarmed, so available, with no need to work my IT demands that it be where I want it to be.  It just slid it right off the shelf into my hands.  A new one not read before?  Surely not.  I have, after all, read all of them by now.  I wagged it home, heavy in my book bag, prickling with possibility of being a pristine read, a virgin.  Eschewing foreplay and irradiated Lean Cuisine, I took it straight to bed, lit with bedside lamp, hot-water-bottle cooked to toe-warming bliss, and snuggled down for a read.

I smoothed the slick library cover, taking in the blue, a nebulous coloration that gives away nothing, just suggests a gentle aura of sadness.  Even the title, Leaving Time, gives away nothing, simply titillating at-the-ready synapses.  The book is about a girl whose mother, an over-educated scientific pachyderm whisperer, suddenly disappears.  This leave-taking sets the stage for a young girl’s entire lifetime of sleuthing.  Where did Mommy go, and why?

I know after a few paragraphs that I have read this book before, but what happened?  How did it end?  As I scan each line there is the sweet reminiscence of having been this way before, but since I can’t place the terminus, it might be useful to fill some time with revisiting those pleasant hours.  Picoult is always a good read, maybe even good enough to read again, given the beauty of her language and how she tinkers with the words while I watch her poetry unfurl, my fixation a veritable verbal voyeur.  Is it a waste of time and alliteration, or shall I read at least until I remember how it all unwinds?  As senility works its will, perhaps there is some consolation in the possibility of meeting minds anew, that we have erstwhile loved and lost.  We do not, after all, apologize for cherishing melodies that have graced listening ears a thousand times before.  It’s their very familiarity that measures how we love them.  I would gladly hear La Traviata sung again and yet again as long as ears parse sounds and lips shape smiles.

One of the most terrifying features of any Zoom meeting is its facility for supporting instant elections.  Most recently, when I offered an easy fix for an electronic defugalty, our moderator directed the assembly to agree or disagree with my bright idea by raising hands.  Only two hands joined mine, and I mercifully can’t remember whose they were.  Of course my lizard brain regressed into a defensive crouch.  I had been there many times before.  Recently and probably most painfully, my dearly beloved bible study group could only accommodate one translation of the week’s scripture on our virtual link.  Pastor reasonably asked for a show of hands.  If the New Revised Standard Version won, he would read the text himself; if the Robert Alter Version were chosen, taking my turn as designated Alter reader, I would be the one to intone the poetic phraseology.  I voted for Alter; everybody else voted for the NRSV.  They didn’t want me to read.  It was clear.  It hurt too much to bear, and I faded out of biblical exegesis entirely.

Whether authentic or delusional, memories haunt and hurt.  Attending twenty-six schools over my twelve years of public and private education, zig-zagging back and forth across Mason-Dixon line, I was ever the new girl—always different—speaking Texas twang in Massachusetts—the next year irritating my Texas homeland with Yankee acquired r-dropping.  I was a stranger in whatever strange land, no matter where I made my bed.

In the fourth grade I learned how to give a name to this miserable syndrome.  The classroom teacher directed every person to write on a piece of paper the name of the classmate they liked best of all.  She collected the sheets and assembled a chart placing a name in every circle.  Vectors drawn from each person to the one they preferred depicted strands of affiliation as arrows.  Partnerships and mutual crushes chose each other.  Popularity kings and queens fairly jumped off the page, impaled by a crush of arrows.  Only one circle stood alone, having been chosen by no one.  That circle was me.  So proud was teacher of her achievement that she provided a copy of the chart for every person to take home.  “The one identified as not worthy of choice by any person is called a social isolate,” she explained as she smiled and distributed her artwork.  That’s when everybody turned around and looked at me.

Down through the years I lived in fear of group dynamics, circles of affiliation floating behind my eyes, and threatening to make of truth a bludgeon.  Never was I voted into any classroom office.  No matter how hard I worked to excel, it was only the teacher who valued my efforts.  In high school the boys called me the nose, a commentary on my pursuit of high marks, assuming it was an obsession to please the instructors.  It was a relief when my high school yearbook did not report that slur in its featured list of unofficial titles.  I did have a snip of revenge at the annual Staples High School awards ceremony.  Trying to ignore my spiteful classmates as they poked me and yanked my braids, I heard my name called and climbed onstage to accept the Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award and then the PTA science scholarship.  I didn’t return to my seat but found and claimed a more congenial one.  Of course they hated me.

It wasn’t until my late twenties in Dallas that I joined an Adult Singles Sunday School class at Highland Park Methodist Church.  This huge congregation supported equally sizeable “small” groups, our class alone numbering over 200.  Soon I was acting out my nascent leadership.  Elected as Social Chairman, I planned wildly creative monthly events that swelled our number to unwieldy proportions.  We soon were pulling in the unchurched with zeal and were accused of too much success, perhaps even fomenting a “meat-market.”  Soon we earned a new sponsor whose quiet agenda was to quell the spirit in the interest of propriety, but I have never forgotten those lovely Methodists who elected me to an office.  It’s too bad that senior church management, when confronted with Christian love, could attribute it only to body heat. 

Later when settling in as a West Virginia farm wife, I began attending Ritchie County Farm Women’s Club’s monthly meetings.  Elected to office, I served as president for three years.  It looked like a coup, so finally I stepped down to encourage somebody else to take a turn.  It felt good to be part of a group, and I continued to reach for affiliation, as down through the years the pain of rejection was always worth the possibility of belonging.

Too much truth can assault the soul.  In 2011 I made a blog and named it morethanenoughtruth.com.  My site and I set out to have the last word.  If I speak my truth first, perhaps it won’t hurt so much.  As I settle into my eighty-second year, it is distressing to report that even now those early memories rise up and state their bitter case.  Just the suggestion that a minor dispute might be settled by vote is enough to throw me back into that frightening time, and suddenly a too-emotional response appears inappropriate to all who experienced growing up as something pleasantly normal.

Ida Road

When Larry and I landed his ‘n hers engineering jobs in Sherman, Texas, we rented a commodious house a good ways outside the city center.  That habitation spoke to our family in a way that none other has done, before or since.  It deserves a prose poem that features its very name.  At family gatherings any mention of Ida Road is rewarded by smiles all around and a volley of “Remember when’s.”  It was a time for feeling that all things are possible and everything is going to be ok.  Where did such optimism come from? 

Most likely it was the joy we shared as we decided that our shaky little marriage just might work out after all.  As a single mother I had bounced around city centers holding technical positions.  This limited me to scruffy little apartments.  It wasn’t until the marriage that we garnered the clout to rent a real house.  While Larry had been raised a city kid, I had spent summers on my paternal grandparents’ farm and had built a romanticized view of what happens out beyond the suburbs.  Suddenly we could afford a nice house with a yard on a paved road convenient to our town affiliations.

The kids approved, and that helped especially since it provided open space for them to break in the new motorcycles they had scored from Mr. Claus.  After the boxes were all safely dispositioned and the U-Haul checked back in, we began the magnificent exploration.  Texas Rural Route #4, Box 31A sat all by itself among wheat fields.  Its yard was a roomy acre of St. Augustine set off by three strands of barbed-wire fencing.  Across the road were more fields and patches of woods that seemed to belong to a landed estate.  Our nearest neighbor on our side of Ida was a farm that featured a barn, multiple outbuildings and a stately farmhouse.  Our pretty yellow brick ranch style dwelling turned out to be where the farmer had made a place for his son’s family so they could live and share the work.  It must not have gone well, since they were nowhere to be seen, and it was our family that was installed and paying rent, not work, to the farmer.

Unlike the old man’s progeny, we were ecstatic to be living there, even though we had to drive in to city center every morning to TI and J&J.  For us that home site was a center of giggly glee.  Suddenly we could have pets.  Dale’s tabby kitten he named Tigger, and I finally treated myself to a long-wished-for Siamese brown-eared blue-eyed baby, the first of several future seal points, my favorite feline coloration.  Next we bought day-old spring chicks from the feed store and raised a brooder box of them in a lawn shed reinvented as chicken coop.  Nothing makes morning more satisfying than a still-warm egg cracked into a pan of bubbly butter and promised to a slice of toast crisp and ready-to-go as a fully committed adjunct to your day.  The chickens were a great success.  When the time came to harvest cluckers for meat, Larry and I, reverting to industrial engineering protocol, made a batch process out of the effort.  We hung all the fat hens upside down by their trussed together feet on the barbed wire enclosure, one precise foot apart.  Then a snip-at-a-time, we severed heads.  It was efficient but gory—hardly a favored part of playing farmer.  Even worse was scalding corpses and extracting feathers.  Carving the carcasses into serving sized portions was a lot of work and beyond messy.  This was a lesson well learned.  It’s better to buy chicken already dressed for the occasion.  Hosting hens as barter for their lovely eggs is a much better bargain.

We did enjoy the experience and extrapolated Rhode Island Red and Texas Leghorn layers far into our envisioned future.  That assured a contrasting mix of white and brown eggs, the prettiest way to fill a bowl or basket.  Larry determined that we should turn even our garage into a poultry operation and raise quail for the gourmet market.  He was always trying to find some way to get-rich-quick.  An oversized quail incubator established its place in the garage and soon quivered with hundreds of cheepers, scratching, pecking and pooping.  They were naturally adept at those activities, and since they didn’t crow at dawn and sold for more per pound than standard poultry, they seemed a good choice.  He also read somewhere that Japanese quail eggs could be pickled and sold to upscale bars as an elegant accompaniment to cocktail beverages.  They did, however, have to be tended, watered and fed.  Even after the eggs hatched and were brooded to maturation, they had needs.  Larry and I enjoyed executing projects, engaging ideas and coaxing them into becoming real things, but neither of us was good at the quotidian drudgery of keeping on keeping on whatever was required to sustain something out toward some hazily-defined event horizon.  One day as I returned from a trip to New Jersey where I had to supervise the installation of an industrial J&J under-pad machine, the garage was strangely silent.  No cheeps.  I asked Larry where the quail were.  He suggested we discuss it later.  I never did find out what happened.  In 2020, as he lay on his death bed, I had one question of him, and primed Kurt to pose it for me: “Whatever happened to the quail?”  No answer.  He took that information to his grave.

We did better with mammals.  One day, while walking along Ida Road on my morning constitutional, I encountered a juvenile raccoon.  He approached me, stood on hind legs, sniffed my fingertips, liked what he read there, and proceeded to climb up my jeans leg.  He curled into my arms and rode my shoulder right into the house.  Could he have had rabies?  Yes.  He might have, but evidencing no frothing saliva nor fractious disposition, I assumed he was just somebody’s pet raccoon who had lost his way.  He found a happy home on Ida Road.  His favorite place to ride was on top of my head, feet dug into coiffure.  By then we had added Greta, our Great Dane pup, and the dog grew up happily with two feline kittens and a raccoon cub as littermates.  The boys named the coon Bandit in honor of his black mask and feisty disposition.  He ate whatever we did, so no special trips to the pet store were required to buy coon chow.

Our farmer landlord had a pigpen that sat empty.  It occurred to me that if we could borrow his pen we might raise a pork supply.  He agreed on an equitable division of meat, and we undertook a family visit to a local Duroc ranch.  Duroc is the best pork there is.  It is red meat, not grey.  It is also very lean compared to most porkers.  We picked out two piglets, Jack and Jill, and took them home curled up on the back seat of our sedan.  The trip was short and they were exceptionally well-behaved.  They liked the farmer’s pen and scarfed up everything we put into their trough, enjoying what used to go into our garbage disposal and what I suspect used to go into the farmer’s as well, adding only a small complement of hog-chow from Sherman’s Tractor Supply store.  For a while they thrived, but suddenly they stopped eating and lay about disconsolate.  Dale and Lane consulted the farmer who pronounced the pigs lice-ridden.  He provided a bucket of de-lousing powder and the boys headed off to work under Larry’s august supervision.  The pigs emerged from the white cloud, pink instead of red, and the major share of the powder seemed to have coated Dale, Lane, and Larry.  A round of showers resolved the quandary, and the pigs commenced eating, soon morphing into massive, muscled Duroc hogs.  We were proud of our livestock and soon with the turning of the season realized that it was time to move them from pen to larder.  But having named our pets, we could never have eaten them, so the farmer arranged a trade for an identical pair of slaughter-ready Durocs, coincidentally in our same neighborhood, when sending them off for processing.  I don’t know if that switch really happened, but believing it helped us enjoy the bacon, chops and roasts we brought home and stacked into our freezer.

That got us through the winter’s pork chop meals.  For fun we had the dog, the two cats, and the coon.  When the weather turned cold, Bandit discovered the joy of hugging the bullet shaped lamps that lighted the under eave flanks of the house.  They kept his belly warm and toasty no matter how cold the night.  We thought Bandit was with us for the duration, but when spring came he must have decided to become a wild thing and took off to find a cutie coon.

The weirdest critters along Ida Road were the annual tarantula migration.  They materialized every spring dotting the asphalt roadway and daring passing cars to turn them into squiggly black slush.  A similar behavior occurred with wild rabbits.  There seems to be no explanation for the annual bunny-squish.  A professional animal expert might give a scientific explanation, but I prefer to marvel at the mystery. It must have something to do with sex. Nothing else would create such universal insanity.

One of the most rewarding manifestations of the Ida Road experience was the wheat that grew all around and poked right through the fence at us.  Gusting wind set up ripples of waving wheat that caused eyes to mist and throats to tighten celebrating the poetics of beauty.  The boys and I wanted to learn about wheat and how it becomes bread.  With the good farmer’s permission, we snapped off golden heads, gathered them into buckets and carried them in to dry and suffer our efforts to thresh them into wheat berries that might be ground, mixed, kneaded, fermented, baked and eaten.  Our attempts were clumsy but educational.  When asked, Dale will attest that the best bread he ever ate was what we garnered and processed in our Ida Road experimental kitchen.  It’s a beautiful memory.

Eventually, it seemed necessary to buy a home rather than rent forever.  The boys were becoming more self-directed in their school and socializing.  Buying an affordable old house close to work and school seemed like smart economics.  We did it, taking the chickens, coop and all, with us.  Neighbors can be bribed with free eggs to withhold complaint concerning illegal poultry.  It usually works.  Living in our own house in town was another adventure, different but equally pedagogical.  As I count out my days in a Cincinnati elder apartment, I ruminate on the memories of all our many situations that spun a kaleidoscope of fascinations just getting from one day to the next and keeping life engaged with wonder.  Of all these, Ida Road was hands-down our favorite.

Leave-taking

I woke up screaming.  That’s the way it seems to be these nights.  Squatting there on my bed, right in the middle, as if he had a proprietary interest in the location, perched a black wolf.  He sat upright and alert, haunches gathered under his rump, forelegs straight and frontal, nose directing all his attention to me and my unseemly response to his presence.  While he faced me he evidenced little interest in my own actual being-ness.  It wasn’t lost on me that he manifested as black—a luxuriant ebony coat that cloaked him in all the warmth a canid could ever imagine and divulge to the workings of my primate psyche—the same aspect of beauty at play as when I chose to raise purebred black Andalusian horses, eschewing all other equine possibilities.  Black is always most beautiful when it incarnates as living creature.

Wolf sat silent, naught to say—no howl curling in his gut gathering to ply the night air.  He merely captured my gaze and pirouetted in place lifting alternating front paws in a lithe little dance, eloquent in expression.   “I am beauty,” he suggested.  “thanking you for taking note of all that I am and was and might ever have become.”  Then like all waking dreams he absorbed into that overwhelming darkness that makes of reality a soft blanket.

“Larry is dead,” my lips formed the words but let them hang unuttered.  His son and mine, Kurt had been dreading the leave-taking of his sort-of-estranged father for a while.  His last report from bedside Seattle, a sharing from his sister Ruth, described a paternal gathering to depart.  A morphine drip mercifully soothed the transition, but it was sure to come—and soon.  A good son, he had been reaching for his dad every way that such things are possible.  Always Larry vowed to do better, to write, phone, text, all the ways intelligent technology ameliorates saying to beloved persons the things that need to be said—and soon.  But those things failed to morph from promises to completions.  “Whose fault?”  The question ruffled like cirrus clouds riding the air between Cascades and Shenandoas—never asked; never answered.

I pulled covers over head and dived back into sleep, only to surface again after 9:00, teeth clenched, determined to face the day.  Sure enough, iPhone declared that a text from Kurt waited:  “Dad passed away last night,” was the core of a text that spoke from the pit of his grief, that demon who drops in for a friendly visit to suggest that not enough was ever done—and now never can be—and whose fault is that anyway?  “I can’t talk,” Kurt’s letters spell, “just need some time alone.”

Kurt, short for Conrad, is very much an authentic American male.  He shares all the agony of sons who lose fathers and wonder how life will proceed without them being there even a continent away.  Responding to what he must be suffering, I text:

Take solace in your silence.  It is yours alone.  But be consoled by knowing that as long as you walk the fragrant earth, he breathes.  Half of you is him.  Move nobly into your days.  They are gifts from those who braved their own fraught journeys to tear open a path to guide your steps.  This you will do as the noble counselor that you are.  When you wonder if you disappointed him, know that the last question falling from his lips was, “Did he disappoint you?”

Remington

It was September 8, and I had to close up shop and hang the out to lunch sign before I could go to the hospital and see what was happening with April and her primagravida labor.  Days that make themselves special by initiating the life of a precious grandbaby are like none other.  I was eager to get there and see how it was all going.  The hospital Lane and April had chosen provided each couple a private labor suite where whoever passed as family was accommodated and could offer any kind of beneficence to the work at hand.

This smart young couple had chosen to birth in a modern hospital but under the cozy supervision of a certified midwife.  That winning combination of expertise was proceeding apace, and by the time I arrived, things were ready to happen.  But nothing was—happening that is.  The birthing had reached an impasse.  April’s mom Diane was enjoined with the midwife in a partnership of gloomy concern. 

I had found the right room, entered, shucked my jacket, and asked what was wrong.  The midwife explained, “April is fully effaced.  The baby is ready, but she is having a hard time pushing down.”

“So, nothing is wrong that would keep baby from being born?”  I verified.

“No.  She just needs to push.”

I turned to April and gave her a little hug.  “Come on.  Let’s see that baby,” I enthused.  “We’ll help.  Look!  Diane and I will work on each side.” 

I held her right hand.  Diane grabbed the left.  We all three held our breaths while April, brave girl that she was, pushed like crazy.

But she stopped and cried, “I can’t do it.  It’ll never come out. 

“Oh yes it can! “ I rejoindered.  “We can do this.  Now push!”

Suddenly the midwife too got energized.  “She’s crowning!” 

Diane and I went to see for ourselves.  “Wow!  Look at all that hair!”

“Sure enough, it’s a baby!  Push now April! You can do this!

Diane and I resumed our bilateral stations, our efforts surely more psychological than physical.  We squeezed April’s hands, held our breaths then grunted in trio, and baby Taylor soon slid agreeably into the midwife’s gloved hand basket. She expertly performed her hygienic ritual to mark one more beautiful life among us.  April perked up right away, grabbed her phone and allowed herself to be perched on a bedpan whilst baby Taylor took off for his first rub-a-dub-dub.  So perky was she that the several ob nurses decided to take off for lunch—together.  After having reported the good news to several friends, she began working on a diary entry.  Suddenly April turned to me and asked, “Mom is it ok for little stars to be swimming all around?”

I gasped, peeked into the bedpan and choked.  Diane and I looked at each other and paled in tandem.  The tendency was to wring hands and moan, but that was not what was needed.  I pivoted, dashed out and ran down the hall screaming, “Nurse!  Help!  Help!”  It took a while since there were no nurses.  An orderly located a doctor, and soon April, out cold, was being wheeled into an operating room.  Diane and I were left to hope and to pray.

My husband Ken, the next day at work met one of the doctors and was told, “We almost lost your daughter yesterday.”  Maybe her strong performance gave the staff way too much confidence in the situation.  Whatever the cause, the result was blessed, and baby Taylor, now a great grownup guy is still enjoying his mother April, who will soon be learning how to be a grandmother in her own right.  It will be her turn to be a cheerleader—no pushing required.

The next day Lane asked Ken, and me, “What if we call him Remington?  Would that be a good thing?”  The Taylors share an appreciation of firearms, their excellent design and craftsmanship, and a strong second amendment value, but Lane wondered if so naming a son might be too much of a good thing.

“It’s a good strong name,” I replied, “and if you and April like it, why not?”  Ken very much agreed.

So baby Taylor became Remington Phillip Taylor, and another strong branch of the Taylor legacy began weaving its story, the Phillip being a nod to Rem’s maternal grandfather.  Emily and Rem are spreading rumors of an upcoming event that is likely to be titled Maddox—another good strong name and a bold stake into the solid ground of a hopeful future.

Alone

The best thing of all is to be alone.  Just add up the fantasies: 

Farley Mowat hied himself to the arctic, there to subsist by eating only mice, all to prove that wolves were good creatures not begging genocide. 

What’s better than a tree house where a person is free to think and be whatever?  Ask any squirrel. 

When there is no other to circumscribe reality, a being can be all that it truly wants to be.  My poet’s year in the Appalachian woodlands said it all for me.  As long as I could remain cabin-secure, steering clear of other humanity, the local fauna and I celebrated a gentle peace.  Whenever human society overstepped its bounds, and intruded on the safety of my soul, I ran.  Far— and far away—I went to where there were no others so close to me as to assume I should be like them, think like them, define beauty like them—that was the place to be.

My side of the mountain is elegantly described in the book of that title: A young naturalist runs away from home and goes to live in a hollow tree with his raccoon.  He finds and trains a peregrine falcon so they can hunt for food.  It’s the best of fantasies until it isn’t.  Like COVID19 which makes of every person an insular recluse, anything that drives a person to hide wrapped only in the solace of his own company is a problem: 

When my Uncle Wesson, chewing on his unlit cigar, undertook to find me, where was I?  Hiding under a bush of course—a good place where adult and frightful discussions couldn’t be heard. 

When Sister Rose Marie recoiled from my aggressive cuddling, where did I go to hide and heal?  The attic of the convent was the perfect place, wrapped only in quiet cobwebs that cushioned consternation.

When my husband, Larry, and I wanted a respite from stupid corporate politics, it was waiting in a winter campground, where there were no insects and no tourists.  There we found only silence and a place to remember why we had found each other in the first place.

Now Larry waits to die a continent away in Washington State.  The surgery that would place a stent and might save him is held hostage by the virus.  It falls under the definition of elective surgery, and as such, cannot compete with others dying this very day of COVID assault. 

I hide in my Oakley apartment, picking up comestibles once a week from masked grocers and visiting a library that is oh-so-hesitantly re-awakening and lending books.  Without the food and the books I too would be a-dying.  As it is, I am like the near-sighted bibliophile in the Twilight Zone, who wakes to a world where all of humanity save he has succumbed.  He is left alone—triumphant—mounting the grand front steps to his town library, and he drops his glasses.  They shatter.

Larry and I, matched introverts, adored our solitude, even with respect to each other.  It is a cruel and petty irony that we suffer a continent apart, in our separate sterile spaces, waiting for the virus to give up its singular and collective tiny ghosts.  Perhaps it is we too—separate and alone—who will die. 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder is a wise old saying.  It knows all about Larry and me.  The same truth holds for all three of my long-suffering husbands.  I loved them better having left them, all the more perfectly now that they are dead or dying.  Memories of shared happy times gather to remind me to value their sweet friendship and affection.

The best lesson of COVID19 is specially designed for those of us who idealize solitude.  It is better wished for and ideated.  Experienced it leaves much to be desired.  My favorite wall art features a ceramic oval that says simply, “PEACE.”  In this dead quiet place, un-jarred by any voice but the empty nattering of TV and Alexa, I haven’t been inspired to hang that lovely plaque advertising the romance of silence.  Best it should stay behind the couch on the floor where it cowers in the dark and leave me to my fantasies of rambunctious family gatherings, wishing for at least a furry coated cat to warm cold feet and purr away the bittersweet silence of alone.

I am the world’s best at enumerating my mother’s failings—who, better than I, to know them?  As her one and only offspring I have had a front row seat for the entire drama, but foibles are only one side of her story.  For every cringe worthy account there is another juxtaposed as a delight.

She was determined to do her best as a mom and started off right hiring a registered nurse to come home with us and make sure nobody dropped me on my head.  The photos of the nurse in full white cap and uniform are a fine memento of a brave beginning.

Mother bought a new Brownie Box camera that she exercised ad nauseum, cranking out hundreds of baby shots.  She did the hard work of keeping up with them for a lifetime, and it was I who managed to lose them in a problematic state-to-state move.  I’m glad that she had the fun of snapping that shutter with such obsessive joy.

Her favorite staging of reality was my doll house as background for every doll she had gifted me since birth.  They sat in an eerie silence, row on row, attesting to how much she appreciated her only offspring.  Each doll was dressed for the occasion, known and named by one of us.  If I was silent on the subject, it was she who came up with the perfect moniker.  On the back of the photo image she would list each doll ekphrastically by name.  The march of the seasons could be marked and appreciated as the hoard swelled in number.

As soon as I could command a vehicle, a tricycle appeared.  Unlike the congregation of dolls, which I pretty much ignored except to undress and disassemble them, the better to find out how they worked, the three-wheeled velocipede was a friend.  Mother memorialized it in an iconic photo of our family lined up along the street: I on my trike, Mother on her blue Schwinn, and Daddy on his motorcycle.  She treasured that shot, and I didn’t disagree.

As soon as I could hold on, she sat me on the back fender of her bike and we took off at speed.  We went everywhere wheels could roll.  When I got a new puppy for my birthday, she added a basket to the front and we were a threesome.  We sang as we rolled, a brave example for The Sound of Music, yet to hit the air-waves.  When she got tired of peddling, we stopped and conversed while we rested.  I remember a stop where we enacted a lizard story: “There came a lizard to a wall, all on a summer’s day.  He zipped it once.  He zipped it twice.  And then he ran away.  The wall wasn’t sunny; the boy wasn’t funny; and the maid had no money.  Isn’t it funny?  But it’s true.”  Memory may not reconstruct it just right, but it’s well remembered as a sweet and pleasant time of rest.

Even when there was no more bike or spaniel, we filled the time with bus trips around the 40’s Boston Metroplex.  The one I most remember was a bus-then-walking tour of the Wellesley campus which Mother explained I was to someday attend.  She pointed out the ivy covered brick buildings and insisted that the learning inside was just as beautiful as the lovely facades.  That was the key to a learning that mattered.

Like most every upscale mother of a six-year-old girl child, she signed me up for tap, ballet, and acrobat lessons at the Stella Stevenson School of Dance, and she delivered me to the bar at scheduled intervals, tutu a-swirl and satin slippers a-shimmer.  It was all for naught, due to lack of talent, but her devotion was noted and appreciated.  She explained that I had inherited my father’s awkwardness as it relates to feet and their dis-artful mobility.

Mother was ever the crafter of art, and it was a great day when she offered to build a box to house my second grade class Valentine collection.  At a time when women’s hats came in fanciful boxes of whimsical shapes, she chose a great heart of a box.  With crepe paper cut in endless strips and glued to the outside, then finger stretched into a tangled swirl of pink, the construct exploded with Valentine adoration of love and all its implications.  A slot in the lid accepted every child’s trove of greetings to be delivered to other students on the very day.  That day arrived.  It was a date to make my mother proud, and I proud of her.  She was my Valentine sweetheart.

Mother fancied herself a poet and loved to mark special times with special words.  When I graduated from first grade and was disconsolate over losing that first wonderful teacher, she wrote:

          “I have a dear, dear teacher,
          Who means so much to me,
          And what I’ll do without her
          Is more than I can see.

          I want to go to second grade,

          For it’s the proper thing to do,
          But teachers like Miss. Chater,
          I know there are but few.

         And so, My dear Miss. Chater,
          I know that we must part,
         But please be sure to know,
         You’ll be always in my heart.”

Mother taught me to sing before an audience, and to earn my place at the center of any and all attention.  On Halloween, stalking the neighborhood for treats, she taught me to recite,

            Hello! Hello!
            I’m out to have some fun,
            But never fear,
            I’m here to cheer.
            There’ll be no destruction.

When our church decided to produce a play, Mother was chosen as the lead actor.  It was called “Mushrooms Coming Up” and featured a comedic confusion of toadstools being perceived as mushrooms.  It was a hit, and I got to attend every rehearsal as well as the grand performance.  When it came time for me to mount the stage and perform, it felt like a normal, acceptable thing for a person to do.

Mother was obviously multi-talented and reveled in a cacophony of artistic expression.  You name it; she could do it.  But of all her many responses to her muse, it was music she loved best.  I can thank her for teaching me to love singing.  She demonstrated at my life’s very inception the possibility of spirit as a vehicle of expression.  I saw her as a living goddess of music, of beauty, of art, of everything filled with light and lust for life.  When I was still a toddler, she began directing a community chorus called the Glad Girls Glee Club. 

It was a gaggle of neighborhood urchins who agreed to come to our house, learn to sing as a harmonious group, and perform at public venues throughout the Ft. Worth, Texas area.  The girls experienced the excitement of performing art, doing the hard work of learning, practicing, and disciplining their little-girl selves into a veritable choir. 

They learned the fun of authentic formal dress-up, wearing “little ladies” white gloves and pearls to set off their long gowns.  The whole endeavor was a celebration of spirit, and Mary’s personality breathed it into fire.  It was an authentic example of 1940’s post-depression glee.  At that time, I had passed birthday number two and was full of myself as I headed for number three.  Mother installed me as official mascot for the group.  I was handed from lap to lap, soaking up more than my fair share of the happiness.  Every group photo shows me in matching dress and hair-ribbons, situated in one of the many singers’ arms.  I never forgot how it felt to be treasured by all those lovely singers.  It was a time to remember and never, ever forget.

I can remember my mother, even as a creaky old lady, sliding onto any available piano bench and belting out Melody in F.  At her assisted living facility, the old folks refused to participate in a hymn-sing unless Mary was there to lead the singing.  Whenever I picked her up for a day away from the institution, we would sing as I drove, matching my high tenor to her soprano—or if I sang melody she slipped into an alto harmony.  As we sang I remembered all the other days, the other songs, the other adventures, and I determined to never forget how it feels to be important to someone as wonderful as Mary, Old Pal of Mine.  Even the memories ring with the chords of that sweet treble harmony.

Like most 40’s women Mother was always cooking up something to challenge her oven.  When we were still constituted as a family, she made pies from scratch that even today haunt my memories.  No one makes coconut cream or lemon meringue like she did.  I stopped trying out others peoples pies long ago, hoping against hope that they might be as good as hers.  It’s not going to happen.  The most successful reconstruction of that taste sensation has been in my own kitchen using the freshest of ingredients and applying every care, but even that is not quite as wonderful as a pie produced by Mary Opal’s own hands.  I have determined that what is missing is the love—her love.  That was what she added to the mix that made it the best, the very best.  She added that too, to the making of me.  I have no doubt that what she gave to me, that made everything else something that could be lived through with courage, was the certainty of her mother love.

Silly Me!

There’s something magic about advanced degrees.  They do confer a credibility of sorts, depending on the status of the outfit doing the conferring.  I was sitting, ruminating at my writer’s group, surrounded by the excessively educated, when it occurred to me that I was lacking.  My BS is a meager substitute.  What kind of crazy am I to think I could speak my meager truth in the presence of such august company?  At one point I collected a barrage of verbal assault by calling them ostentatiously educated.  I made the stupid assumption that a mutual love of writing would seamlessly bridge the chasm, but silly me, it was just a garden variety delusion of grandeur.

One mark of sanity is knowing your place.  People with dark skin in America know all about that.  Race oppression, gender oppression, and age oppression share more commonality than is generally understood.   I have a place at my Monday Morning Writer’s Group.  It is a place given to a crazy old lady who keeps nattering on about how she was once an engineer and inventor, but in spite of that strange preoccupation had no trouble attracting men.  Women aren’t inventors.  Everybody knows that.  Grandmas aren’t sexy.  Old women are sweet, harmless, and taken up with grand-babies, recipes, and stitchery.  They bring covered dishes to church suppers.  They have forgotten what sex is about, but remember, with clear fidelity, the result.  They tend toward the inappropriate in their commentary.  Don’t be surprised if “Don’t forget to wear a condom!” follows you out the door as you make a break for a dignified exit.

To know your place you must understand, not only your place but yourself.  There’s the rub.  We do all this writing to get a grip on who each of us really is; at least that’s why I do it.  The thing I have most feared has always been going crazy like my mother Mary Opal did when her world went off the rails.  But, silly me, that wasn’t to happen.  That isn’t my kind of crazy.  Mine is the kind that spells odd.  My son Lane calls me eccentric.  That works. 

An eccentric mass is fixed at a point some distance from the center of gravity of a rotating system.  When things go round, everything wobbles.  Is it the fault of the system?  Hardly.  It’s the poorly located addition to what was a nicely balanced agreement of coordinated masses that ruined everything.  How out of kilter is the wobble?  That depends on the mass of the object as well as its location.  The more the mass, the more the problem; the farther from center, the worse the effect.  It’s all neatly mathematic.  But going on like this is eccentric, so I’ll shut up.

When at Salem College, sniffing the bouquet of a liberal curriculum, I found out about normal human psychology as in Psych 101.  That was helpful, but even more interesting was Abnormal Psych, where I was sure to explore the tortured mentality of a daughter spawned by a paranoid schizophrenic mother and a bipolar genius father.  Just the thought of the match made me shudder in my sneakers.  As each chapter elucidated a new area of mental aberration, I was newly terrified.  This was surely the information that would give me a diagnosis and the hope of a cure.

I explained the quandary to my professor who suggested I just settle down and enjoy earning what was sure to be my A.  He said that in medical school would-be doctors typically try on each of the described anomalies before they just shrug and go on with their course-work.  I did learn that my tendency to analyze everything to death was called being obsessive.  That’s an accusation that could be leveled at Freud as he convinced the world of the universal need for psychoanalysis.  He too, liked to analyze everything.

Eventually I decided that the medical establishment was obsessive compulsive given their anal-retentive organization of such behavioral imperfections as the Mental Health International Classification of Diseases, otherwise known as ICD10 codes.  That leads me to a very healthy position vis-à-vis my place as a patient in a world of medics who are supposed to know.  If I am no more obsessive than they, why should I worry?

Well, at least I can worry about being anxiety ridden.  The most important thing I do is worry.  When analyzing any situation, the paramount concern is “what can go wrong.”  If anything can go wrong, it will.  That’s Murphy’s Law.  I assume it will, or at least must be anticipated and bulwarked against toward some marvelous, or at least acceptable, future disposition.  As a designer of systems, anxiety seems to be part of my self-definition.  I can’t defend against the accusation.  But anxiety is the least of maladies.  I don’t see things that aren’t there, or plot to attack enemies skulking in the fictive flights of fancy that lurk in my dream-time.  When the sun comes up, it’s time to get real.

Given all that, maybe my therapist is correct.  Maybe I’m not nuts, or not likely to so become.  Maybe I am just getting old and odd.  I can live with that and have a good time doing it.  I can quit worrying about going crazy and accept the fact that I have been a little bit off all along and just thought I was perfectly sane.  Silly me!