Archive for December, 2018

Mother Love

While my twenty-six baby chicks are peaceably assembled in the bathroom, my sweet Collie-dog Maggie is coming unglued.  She harbors a deep-felt certainty that she is meant to nursemaid any and all infant creatures.  She had mothered my cat Espresso, for example, to the extent that he thought he was a dog.

That cat was an essay in perversion.  It’s not all my fault.  I had help raising him.  It was Maggie who had nursed and nurtured him in everything maternal but milk.  Maggie and I share a tendency toward bountiful hair.  She, born and coated to romp the icy plain of Prince Edward Island, rolling in the many names of snow that define that bleak coastal expanse, and I, who thanks to some wooly gene, grow hair fast as a naughty weed, are both hirsute critters.  She and her siblings brought life to that frozen Canadian shore as sure as she brought it to me, a good bit farther south.

When she arrived in her air transport crate at the relatively tropical latitude of Roanoke, Virginia, her undercoat was so thick it couldn’t be parted to reveal skin.  She looked like the promise of some arctic sled puppy waiting to grow into her harness and take off for Nome.  Soon the intelligence of her physiology arranged a molt, and she dropped an amazing excess of that glorious load.  Even in the most challenging of Roanoke Valley winters, she never regained her puppy coat grandeur.  But it was more than enough to satisfy the psychic longings of the five week old rescue kitten I acquired one spring, having spent a long dark winter needing someone, something, some-living-anything soft and cuddly to love.

I named him Espresso after his rich black glossy full-bodied coat and his whole-bodied, whole-psyche willingness to give himself up to his yearnings.  Maggie sniffed and goosed his little round exit sphincter with her cold intelligent nose and straightaway recognized a baby in need of mothering, while Espresso, recognizing a good thing when he found it, dug in and began a long frustrating search for milk and Mom.  Finding instead a delicious warmth amid a lush jungle of dog hair, he accepted a warm full belly, compliments of a standard cat bowl, and settled for the care of a Collie-dog nanny.

Of course with all that canine mothering he thought he was a dog.  He went for walks with the family, the two humans, the Collie and the Bichon Frizé.  We presented a strange assortment of Animalia to the natural fauna of the Roanoke valley countryside.  Maggie, ever mother, stood patiently while Espresso wound in and out about her legs, spinning a happy abstraction of good will.

In the course of things, Maggie goes away, her absence mourned by cat and human alike.  Espresso and I, truly an odd couple, grow ever closer, making of an old friendship a newly awakened need, a raging mutual desire for comfort and solace.  Dog gone, now it is the cat that usurps that “doggone” cold place in the bed, making of it a warm island of happiness, small but mighty.

Snuggling the feline body against the frozen isolation of cold winter nights, clever mechanical thermostat adjusted down to stretch resources in favor of eggs and peanut butter, milk and bread, gasoline and medicine, a new feeling makes a Sandburg entrance on little cat feet.  A living creature pressed against tautness of breast and body speaks to givingness as need.  Memory of milk, long dry, lets down as virtual hormonal angst, wanting—wanting to be given.  Glands activate.  Oxytocin pours into streams of coursing blood.  Brain tastes and translates primal need.  Memory wakens, recalling nights of hard young bodies twined in silent satisfaction, floating islands of fulfillment on an ocean of animal intent.  Now I know why spinsters and old ladies keep cats.

All this is unremarkable until Espresso equates my thick messy head of hair with his kitten memories of Maggie.  He buries his happy nose into the graying blonde tangle and kneads bread lustily while his thoughts drift back to being a babe at Maggie’s hairy teat.  He becomes relentless in his expression of adoration and need.  It demonstrates how strange and wonderful is this world of living loving creatures.  My cat is most assuredly a pervert, but he loves me.  What can I say?

Back to the bathroom door—from Maggie’s perspective, anything little and sweet is a love-object.  She self-identifies as its guardian.  Hearing little cheeps, she stands at the bathroom door and fairly shakes, her teeth rattling with the vibratory energy of her drive to mother.  When she sees me coming she begins to prance demonstrating the urgency of her need.

Of course I can’t let her in.  How would that play?  When she tumbles to what the little cheepers actually are, she would surely break into being a real dog and initiate a catch and kill scenario.  That would be ugly.

But she proves me wrong.  One day the door not fully secured, she slips in and makes her own inspection of the nursery.  A heat lamp hangs suspended from the ceiling, the chicks crowded beneath its golden rays.  Yesterday’s newsprint lines the floor with chicks applying their own abstract expressionism to its pages.  Maggie sniffs the babies, tastes their head fluff, twitches her nose and shake-rattles her head.  Yes, these are babies.  Well, all right then.  She settles onto the paper, curls about the little flock, and waits.

By the time I discover them, the chicks have written off the lamp and are gathered in aggregate about Maggie’s hairy belly.  Each chick has found a spot to inhabit and has nestled into it with a surety and gratitude for a love so freely given.  Nobody is fighting for a warm teat, but everybody is happily at home.  Maggie, too, has drifted off to a heavenly peace.

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Religion used to be our cultural carrier, but now it’s become Hollywood.  We can bemoan the situation or roll it into the biblical canon.  A useful exercise is to choose ten of your own favorite movies, arrange them in a meaningful order, and stand back.  What you see is a portrait of your own distinct personality.


For me, the result of this research is arranged below.  This little list must be part of any meaningful memoir left for the edification of my progeny.  I urge them to enjoy getting to know their ma and grandma and to begin accumulating their own playbills for ages yet to roll.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sound of Music: Maria Von Trapp, finding love in all the right places, is every bit Dorothy Jeanette Martin.  Orphan, tom-boy, wanna-be-religious, not sure about all those children, but finally delighting in them, dreaming of and winning her own true loves, matrimonial then maternal.  Julie Andrews only acted the part.  I lived it, pirouetting on a West Virginia hilltop, singing my heart out to the wind and the birds who shared it with me.  Bluebirds and skylarks took flight— swooping again and again across swales of verdant green and flower tops.  They rode that ocean of floral fecundity.  Life bloomed!  I was part of it!  Julie could only playact and sing; I made real babies and figured out how they worked, or tried to.  I didn’t always do it right, but I did it with fervor.


Contact: Eleonore Ann Arroway, determined to be brilliant, scaring up her own adventure that braids science, spirit, and faith in a lustrous plait of meaning, stands in for Dorothy at this intersection of work and fulfillment.  I once promised to invent anti-gravity—a silly thought, but how was I to know where brave plans and delusions of questionable grandeur forked in the road?  Assured that such things were possible, I determined to set about doing them.  When I announced to my father that I would wed, he came to my remove in West Virginia, picked me up, and set out on a road trip to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where the rocket program was getting its start.  He had me wait in the car while he entered and chatted-up an old friend, remembered from Manhattan Project and Experimental Aircraft Association days.  He returned, sat in the car and asked that I give up my plan to make a family where none existed in my as yet untethered life.  It was a done deal.  I had only to enter the facility, accept the position he had secured for me, finish my degree program at night school, and all would be well.  I demurred.  It would have been a hollow victory to win the good fight based on my father’s history.  I had to make my own.  It was, as it turns out, the perfect decision.  The best part of the memory was that Daddy loved me enough to try to save me.  Nothing is ever simple.


Book Thief: Word is meaning, now as it was, even in the beginning.  Everyone has a place where the Nazi atrocity plays itself out in personal thinking.  For me it is this meaning dense terrain where Lisl Menninger meets a new adoptive family and sets out to put together what is real and important while trying to make a meaning filled life out of a world gone mad.  She crosses paths with a Jewish man, helps her family hide and care for him, and learns the joy of reading and writing from his well-deep understanding of Jewish wisdom.  Hitler’s war kills her family but saves her assurance of her life as a woman of honor and integrity.  She steals books, borrows them that is, but is not in any sense a thief.  It is an interesting irony that such a life-filled story is spun out in the hollow voice of Death.  Maybe her real larceny was her own life, stolen from Death, a pyrrhic victory snatched from the not-always-inevitable jaws of defeat.  As I prepare myself for the long sleep, I refer often back to the Book Thief for reality-checks and simple satisfactions.


The Education of Little Tree: A beauty filled understanding of nature as determinator of what is real and right, and what works, in a world too complex to know itself as fully human.


The Help: Race is not a useful discriminator even in a cesspool state like Mississippi.  People of goodwill can overcome our history if they care to and try.  In 2012 Cincinnati, I locked horns with an activist who insisted that I was a racist just because I have blonde hair and hazel eyes.  I bristled—insisted that I had been loved and cared for by one Lillie-Mae Choice, a black woman who was coincidentally housekeeper and maid of my aunt, Jewel Josephine MacNeil.  Lillie-Mae was my second mother, and I loved her.  It follows: I cannot be a racist.  I pointed to The Help as being one of my all-time-favorite movies.  The activist laughed and postulated that I was only enjoying the feeling of privilege accruing to my stature as a daughter of the South.  I walked out of the meeting and never returned.  She is, I suppose, still spewing such division.  I did not handle that well and wish I could find her, give her a hug, and sit down for a good talk and an even better listen.


Priest: Love trumps religion, even in the oligarchy of Catholicism.  This film was (and I assume still is) condemned by the Vatican, assuring its wide and popular dissemination.  A conservative and closeted gay priest is assigned to a Northern Ireland parish where he works with a liberal straight priest who is enjoying the sociable foot-warming of the parish housekeeper.  When true evil rears its ugly head, all such peccadilloes pale in the face of an authentic Satan.


Ghost: Good vs evil is an either/or spiritual choice.  It isn’t enough to leave it to others.  We must do it anew every day, a quotidian decision, daily to be made and lived into.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Gender is a shape-shifter.  Beauty is generously found in the garden and must be understood and befriended.  Goodness can hide in dark and quiet places, even as evil goes blithely on parade.  It is always necessary to discriminate and value a creative balance.


Dead Poet’s Society: Says as much about educating the next generation as it does about the abstraction of verse.  In a perfect world I would have been born as Robin Williams.  Wouldn’t that have been fun to play out?


Claire of the Moon: Love whom you love, for heaven’s sake—and for earth’s as well.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


I invite you to summon your own set of Hollywood essays.  If you love a movie, it has already slipped into your psyche and recognized you as a friendly.  You will find yourself in their light and color, advancing film by film, frame by frame, set about your own shining sky of mind, an always honest mosaic of all that it means to be “The You.”


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