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Archive for April, 2020

Resurrection

Getting into a pastoral idyllic West Virginia existence was a metamorphosis that found much support since I was giving up an unpopular wild idea that called for me getting an engineering degree and doing great things with it.  Nobody but my dad had approved of that wild-ass idea, and the wider world was more than glad to congratulate me for going back to ordinary striving, which spelled getting married, getting pregnant, having babies, and settling down to do women’s work.  Even my women’s body said You Go Girl!

Seven years later, it had all unraveled.  Baby girl laid to rest, and persevering at Salem College in spite of tragedy, I was at the jumping-off place with my teacher’s college.  Only one semester remaining, the only thing left to do was Student Teaching.  I looked down that road, pictured my introverted self, standing in front of a classroom of flesh and blood students, and threw in the towel.  It was more than cringe worthy; I couldn’t do it.  It literally wasn’t in me.  It was the first time since I ran off the stage trailing tears during my 1950 piano recital, that I faced something which for me was just not possible.  Yet there I was, buried in the back of beyond, a beautiful place but not sustainable for a mother of three with no college degree.  I loved my babies.  How well I knew, having so recently lost one of them, and now I must fight to keep from losing them all.

I took Dale and Lane out to the Taylor farm, a familiar grandma and grandpa destination, but this time taking pillowcases filled with everything, not just the usual pajamas and toothbrush.  Garnet promised to care for my boys until I could reclaim them, and I left.  I had paid good cash for a new washer and dryer, and arranged to have them donated to an old spinster friend, Elizabeth Spiker, who had been there for me and the boys since I first left the hollow to return to school.  It felt good to give back, a thank-you for all those free meals at her kitchen table.  Everything else got passed on to the landlady with a quick letter.  “Put it to good use,” I instructed, and the things I simply had to have went into the old Dodge.  I left the key on the table and pulled out before dawn, springs squawking and engine backfiring.

That old Dodge and I somehow made it all the way to Texas.  The only thing bad that happened along the way was losing the pulley that sits on the front end of the main crankshaft.  In the natural order of things it runs a belt that turns the generator.  That was a show-stopper.  It had lost its screw, but I soon had it brute-force-welded onto the shaft were it ran for several years with only occasional replacement whenever the weld joint failed.  I parked my car, my assorted claptrap, and my body at my dad’s place in Azle while I looked for a job, any job.  Texas Instruments in Dallas was more than glad to hire me to assemble electronics, and I accepted.

That required me to find lodging in Richardson, where TI operates its Apparatus Division.  Working felt good since there was money coming in, albeit only pennies per hour.  My dad was glad to see me once again engaged with the real world, but made a strong case for leaving the boys for the Taylor’s to raise. 

“How could I do such a thing?” I protested.

“Easy,” he replied.  “Just do it.”

That was long before Nike coined the same quip as a slogan, and it entered the stream of history.

With a paying job and an apartment, I was ready to petition the West Virginia Court for resumption of custody of my two sons.  More letters led to a hearing date when I was to fly to Harrisville, West Virginia, present evidence that supported my ability to care for and support Dale (8) and Lane (3) on my own and request out-of-state sole legal custody.  It was asking a lot.  I had fled the state in disarray, but at least had set up the paternal grandparents in loco parentis.  Since I wasn’t tasking my dad to support us, he backed off and was at least pleasant about having two grand-sons to contend with, a problem often called to his attention by his then resident squeeze, Marcie.  But that’s another story.

The several weeks of waiting were an eternity.  It felt like I had crashed and burned.  The TI job was a life saver, and with the help of a suicide help-line and my new TI Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance, I lived through some panic attacks and gastro-intestinal challenges to present myself as demanded by Judge Max DeBerry.  Having already conceded the enormity of my situation in prior hearings, he found in my favor.  We three took off for Texas on the next plane.

This began a head-of-household/single-mother-act of comedic proportions.  I learned about after-school daycare that was worlds removed from mountain-mamma-by-the-hour.  Just keeping a lease was a challenge.  Ask Dale who woke up from a night terror to find himself peeing into a 120 volt receptacle.   It was a real shock, and required some fast talk to keep the landlord from voiding my lease.  I agreed to pay for a new outlet, and the fiasco was forgiven if not forgotten.  With two kids to feed, I soon realized that my little paycheck wouldn’t be going very far.  In fact, the first time my car license came up for renewal, I didn’t have the money to pay the fee, so assessing my position, I bought a new Dart.  My old car was the down payment; my brand new TI Credit Union account offered a low interest loan; and the tax, title, and license were rolled into the deal.  All I had to do was make the payments—which I managed quite nicely given raises and promotions.  We made do.

As a child I had been moved from place to place, changing homes and schools at the drop of a caregiver’s hat.  What was difficult then, made me fearless now, as I assessed present and future housing options.  I wasn’t afraid of a move.  I even liked it.  No need to scrub the oven when a new apartment would present a pristine one.  As I made more money it was fun to find a better place where the boys would be even happier, with a bigger pool, a fishing pond, or a clubhouse for after school happy days adventure.  Every new job provided the necessary excuse to pry us from any onerous lease.

I enjoyed moving to better, more interesting places, which is what led to a memorable relocation to a cabin on Spring Creek. The place used to be remote but was suddenly on the edge of suburban development.  It was a sub-let from a friend of a friend named Bill Birnam.  I paid him $60 every month and enjoyed a snug wood-paneled cabin on a creek with Tarzan swing overlook.  The boys could yell as they swung across the creek gorge and cannon-splashed into it.  With such reasonable rent I had money for upgrades, matching towels, tablecloths and napkins, and even big plans for acquiring furniture.  We were in fat city for several months until one day a dozer operator knocked on my door and said he was scheduled to demolish the structure.  I was appalled, and refused to leave since I had paid that month’s rent in good faith.  Of course the next day brought the eviction notice.  As a member in good standing of Highland Park Methodist Church, I called Dr. Dickenson and asked him what to do.  It turns out the owner of the property was also a member of HPMC, and Bill Birnam had no right whatsoever to create a sub-lease and collect rent based on his cancelled primary one.  His name may have become famous in Dallas County years later, but then and there, he was just a two-bit wannabe operator.  The developer, a God-fearing man, agreed to move us the very next day into a pre-paid lease at Springbrook Apartments— nicer, and even closer to TI.  God is indeed great. 

Wherever we moved, the boys settled in nicely, made themselves at home and explored with exuberance.  Their favorite thing was to present me with treasure re-claimed from dumpsters at each new location.  No matter how much I forbade such dangerous adventurism, it was hard to hide my pleasure when presented with something needed and useful.  My favorite Revere-Ware skillet was the bounty of just such an exploration.  I still have in my jewelry chest a fine gold chain, resplendent with two tiny gold ballet slippers and a pearl.  I’m sure Dale knows that even though I admonished him never again to undertake such risk, I was deeply touched by his gift, retrieved from the bowels of beyond.

Not every escapade was dangerous; indeed most were wholesome, such as finding a well-stocked pond on the Springbrook grounds, secreted among shade trees, where Dale spent all his spare time bait fishing and tying flies.  He was establishing a life-long penchant for wetting his hook and befriending peace.  Lane made human friends with astonishing alacrity.  Every time we moved, he learned to create more buddies to replace those left behind.  I asked him one day, how he managed it so well.  “Easy,” he replied.  “I just start throwing rocks at the new guys.  They get mad and start chucking back.  Then, I go over to their side and suggest that we make friends instead.  It always works.”  No wonder Lane grew up to break every sales record he ever challenged.  Even now, I believe he should credit our excessive perambulation for his ability to engender good will and create money.

There were five long years between Dale and Lane, a difference that no doubt contributed to their Three-Stooges brand of comedy.  Lane was constantly baiting Dale, and Dale inevitably reciprocated to excess.  I then waded in with more than enough remonstration.  Our rowdy triumvirate outdid the Three Stooges at their own shtick.  I look back with amusement and more than a little chagrin.  I always wondered which of us played which stooge, but never was motivated to investigate.  Lest the fault be placed on the boys, I should confess to hedging a blow by iron skillet aimed at Dales head, which was mercifully accurate in its deceleration and didn’t even raise a knot.  It was the only appropriate response to his retort that washing dishes was women’s work.  I’m happy to report that he never, ever again spoke of dish hygiene as the rightful purview of women.

One Christmas when money was more than usually short, we conjured our holiday by monitoring the diminishing inventory of a neighboring Christmas tree lot.  As soon as the lights went off on Christmas Eve, and the Santa’s helpers drove away to make Christmas for other girls and boys, we pulled on our boots and went shopping.  This was the time when cut trees went from insanely expensive, to gratis.  On December 26th all those trees were to be carted away to become mulch, or even smog.  We picked out the prettiest white-flocked princess on the lot, and dragged it away to our empty apartment where it did its best to make our holiday glow.  I suppose it was a complicated lesson to model for two little boys, but I assured them that we saved that tree from a Joan-of-Arc martyrdom.  It’s amazing how an action can vary from scurrilous larceny to blessed mitzvah as only a matter of timing.

Sometimes timing became the catalyst.  During the early days when we only had money for food, rent, and electricity, we made-do for furniture with wooden milk cartons from behind the Kroger store in the next block.  We slept on the floor, folded our clothing neatly and stacked it in the crates.  Bedding served as bed-location-holders and defined the spots where beds would someday be.  In the autumn of the year, I had long enjoyed picking dried weeds and flowers, saving and arranging them into fantastic bouquets and whimsical dioramas, where flower carcasses stood in for trees, and mirrors became frozen skating ponds, while canned snow sprayed the whole scene with the snowfall of a quiet night under a starry sky.  With a whiff of imagination, amazing things can be accomplished, but with a stroke of bad luck doing eccentric things can be interpreted as scandalous.  A case in point is the time when we spent the week-end gathering weeds and grouping them throughout our rooms, where they could be utilized in one or another of that fall’s nature projects.  On Monday it was off-to-work and school, looking forward to a list of artistic endeavors yet to be accomplished.

That was the day when the Richardson Fire Department showed up and picked my apartment number from a lottery, that called for it as well as several others, to be inspected—something to do with insurance, fire codes, and safety.  I got the call on the job: “Come home immediately and vacate the premises—forthwith.”  Of course they were alarmed at what they found in Apartment 4C.  Where others had tables, beds, lamps and chests of drawers, we had milk cartons and boards balanced as shelves separated with stacked bricks.  The whole apartment was strewn with dry weeds just waiting for a match.  The fireman didn’t even want to know what we were up to; the property manager just wanted us out. 

I didn’t argue.  It must have looked terrible to anyone who had no vision of the holiday to come and how we planned to make it beautiful in spite of a stretch of penury.  I apologized and moved out.  We did our best that year, and it’s memorable that it was the expose of our odd-ball disarray that made for a lovely remembrance, while the hurtful repercussions following it are lost to time.  As years passed and we traded found items for real furniture, life began to take on a more traditional appearance; but never would I be considered normal.  I was always too willing to entertain unusual permutations and combinations when assessing possibilities.

As the boys got older, their situations became more complex.  It was at Sherman’s TI that I got a call to go home and let Lane into the house since Dale had locked him out—naked.  He had to make his way nude to the next door neighbor’s back door, coincidentally the NTSU Dean of Students, and use the phone.  My exasperation level was indescribable.  How was I to represent myself as a professional employee at a serious institution, with such goings-on defining my life?  Too angry to even remonstrate, I sank into gloom.  Things must have improved since we all lived to make another day.  I felt better when I learned that the Dean spent much of his quality time on the commode, reading his paper and conversing with his family through the open bathroom door.  I couldn’t match that, nor did I want to.  We all have to have something to feel superior about.

It took a lot to get me and my progeny from barefoot-and-pregnant-mountain-momma to serious contender in the military-industrial-aerospace-complex.  The way was far from straight.  I walked it, step by step, but I didn’t do it alone.  I had kids to keep me grounded in the things that matter most, and co-workers that kept me from falling in love with my own inventions and becoming insufferable.  Where would I be without the folks who kept me real—and together— and connected?  I would be even harder to put up with.  I can’t claim to have ever arrived; no matter the level of ascent, there would always have been one more hill to climb and one more river to cross, but the time spent on the road was well served, and the life well lived.  It’s always these little family skirmishes that most enrich my memories, not the see-me-run-Daddy moments that always fell short, usually flat on my face.

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Psi

I found him by accident, quite by luck it seemed.  Coming off a riff of sleep; dead to everything, almost to even me.  I couldn’t feel my left index finger.  It didn’t exist in the natural world.  Same with whole right arm.  Flop over onto back and wait.  Blood can flow.  Sense comes raging back.

But knowing is a lagging indicator.  It hesitates; it waits; then it sees a world of being coalesce.  I stand on solid marble, magma long congealed.  Square, foursquare it is, and firm as earth can call to being.  In this place down is down, and up is unequivocally up.  I like it here.  It plays.  Another plate is attached and another on beyond.  I belly up to my firm flat plat and wait.  On my belly is the place to be, hugging all of earth in one cosmic sweet embrace. 

He manifests.  There, standing on my plate.  A male energy; two legs, two arms, one head.  No phallus.  Why so bereft?  What would he do with it?  With no need to dominate, impregnate, urinate, why waste skin on an atavistic appendage?  So why then is he here, standing with attitude on my substrate?  I have called him; that’s sure.  I want validity. 

“See me,” I demand.  “Know me.  Acknowledge my unique self.  I ask this.  It is my prayer.”

No ears protrude from any apex, carapace nor crown.  He has no need to hear.  I have no need to speak except to align words to my will and admire them.  Even forming words into coherent concept is a power play.  What do I have to prove and to whom?  But he knows whereof I speak, or would speak if I had a mouth.  I seem to have become thought, pure thought, as I form knowing into strings of testament.  I hear no answer with my not-ears.  I close my not-eyes and slide across the smooth plane, on my not-belly, arriving at an edge.  There it stops, but another one begins.  It, too, is a familiar plane, a home.  I step across and slide to yet another edge.  I recognize three plates—three—a magic number.  They are all mine to explore at will, if that is something I would do.

I awake to lack of breath.  I breathe.  In the world of friendly plates I had no need to respirate.  What would not-lungs do with air?  It is a strange world this awakening, where breathing is an act of will.  If I am to face this yet-another-day, I must arise and claim it.  And that’s exactly what I do.

As an afterthought, I wonder what his name was.  “Easy,” my inner voice replies.  It’s Psi!”

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Night Terror

Suddenly present

in a green grass meadow,

watching wind cavort

in a rippling sea of verdance,

Where is it going,

so sure of itself,

when I know nothing

of where I will stay

this night, or any other? 

I wander and gander,

peering and scrying

this feasting of sight,

sunrises vivid with hoping,

sunsets dismal with knowing

what tomorrow will be

and how it will end.

~~~

I portion out cash for a day at the store,

and give it to clerks

to man (or to woman)

the register of each department’s purview.

I want it back at the end of the day

with what has come in

less what has gone out.

to serve the avarice sparkling green in my eyes.

~~~

It feels good to be working

on my feet and in charge.

Something will be what it can

if I but see it as possible.

Then I catch sight of Maggie

the golden, my wonderful dog.

There she is.  I love her!  I do!

She bolts into my house and hides.

I look for her, and there she is, under my bed,

Nose tucked beneath paw.

Now a different collie breaks into view.

They look so alike and lovely, I wonder

Which is true friend?

~~~

With doubt it cracks, splits, fragments,

a crazy kaleidoscopic tumble,

a panicky stir of geometries,

shattered rainbows

of color and of shape,

of feeling, delight and

anguish, love and fear

that delight, mesmerize,

titillate, obsess, disgust,

and then, in blink

of jaundiced eye,

stop.

~~~

I look in the mirror

And what do I see,

But a fearsome image

Grinning back at me.

It is small and shrunken

More bone than bonny

More hag than handsome

with pretty forgotten

Shredded to time addled dust.

~~~

What frightens more than bones

Caught in crepy lucent skin

Is the visual of a mouth rimmed blue.

~~~

“I see you,” it says.

“Please go away.

I don’t want to be the you

one more tragedic day.”

~~~

I waken with relief to

another day of governed rest

one of many to endure

but to never number.

Each will follow after

the one that went before

like ducklings

in a fuzzy row

while I hide

in fear of spectral death.

~~~

Why should I fear

some peaceful silent end

when I am

in verisimilitude

already dead?

~~~

Gone will come later

in soft sweet silent sleep.

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Birthday

Larry spun his head about and nailed the boys in their back seats.  Dale and Lane, always jockeying for position in the family hierarchy, were baiting each other into misbehavior.  What else was there to do?  They straightened up for the moment, until Larry would become otherwise distracted and forget about them, sitting back there buckled into their distinct cockpits.  A nine-seat station wagon was a luxury most families wouldn’t presume to afford, but when several US automakers came out with the nine-seater , Larry and I, lulled into false confidence by a buff economy, had made the leap.  We bought a big long, metallic brown one, that looked like a limousine, and were settling down into all the room and luxury it afforded.  With two good engineering jobs going great guns, what could go wrong?

That same hubris had led to a decision to make one more baby before babies would become a lovely but past possibility.  We found an obgyn, got checked out, and were told babies were already not an element in any conjoined future plan.  Going home in a fog of remorse at having waited too long, we proceeded to make a liar out of the good doctor.  Throwing away my trusty diaphragm, we set about enjoying each other with more than ordinary joy.  That night one of my laggard eggs, which had waited until some last hurrah to declare itself, welcomed one of Larry’s most excellent, speedy, and adventurous spermatozoa.  They teamed up to make just one more baby.  Nine long months later, we had arrived at the culmination of all that planning, and now awaited my doctor’s decision: what to do about some insistent contractions that weren’t all that painful, but nevertheless persisted.  The morning had dawned with an awareness of a sea change.  Hormones had shifted.  I lay awake and aware of the return of a certain prurient sense of longing.  It was nothing to write home about, but something to pay attention to.  Such reporting to medical doctors only convinces them that you are hypochondriacal.  And that’s what happened.  He said to just go home and wait.

It was Saturday morning.  The day had dawned clear.  Across from Richardson’s Presbyterian Hospital, a petting zoo was setting up at North Park Mall.  I directed our expeditionary force to check out the animals while we let some time work its will.  Why should I believe what some doctor said about my flagrantly enceinte constitution, more that is, than I believed my own reliant self?  I was more attuned, more involved, and yes—more motivated to believe in my own credibility.  So we waited.  Hot dogs for Larry and the boys, a clear chug-a-lug of juice for me, and then we distracted ourselves with fuzzy bunnies, floppy eared milk goats, fat cuddly puppies, and even a llama that added the dimension of height to the four-footed menagerie.  The llama was a fuzzy, its hair dense, silky, and soft.  It was fascinating to stand with it and exchange vivid eye-to-eye mind melds.  It almost diverted me from the underlying reason for this strange detour around and about a Saturday morning.  Almost, but not quite.  Eye to eye with a llama, that was coincidentally pregnant, I sensed a kindred animal spirit.  Newly encouraged, inspired to lean into my day’s work, I had a baby to deliver.

Suddenly I yearned to sit down.  What had been a Braxton-Hicks Contraction, suddenly became an out-and-out labor pain.  The next one was not far behind, and soon we were hustling for the parking lot and reclaiming our long brown vehicle.  Across US 75 and into the hospital parking area was the next translation on our agenda.  Then a return to a disinterested emergency room led to a rolling of eyes, a re-exam, raised eye-brows, and a new sense of urgency.  Larry was dispatched to take the boys home to Sherman, a long ninety miles in a long car, for me a long wait while I got on with getting on.

Admission to the labor pavilion of the complex was a big concession from the medical establishment, but how could they argue with verifiable regularly spaced intra-uterine muscle spasms?  I had just the day before finished reading a well-chosen library book: Marjorie Karmel ‘s Thank You, Dr. Lamaze.  The Lamaze method of childbirth gained popularity in the United States after Ms Karmel wrote in 1959 about her experiences as a midwife.  Formation of the American Society for Psych prophylaxis in Obstetrics (ASPO Lamaze) soon followed, and by 1974, the Lamaze method was more than a big deal.  It had become the premier childbirth education certifying organization in the world.  The society’s title suggests upholding a woman’s mind as a viable partner in birthing a human child.  That is profound!  It took a creative intellect with a soupcon of arrogance to patent childbirth.

The key element I had absorbed from the reading was a freaky pattern of breathing that seemed to work as I tried it out in the labor room.  It became a shallow panting, like I had seen with dogs delivering puppies.  As long as I breathed fast and shallow, the pain went away.  As soon as I stopped and breathed normally, all the agony came crashing back.  I panted.  The labor nurse questioned my method, insisting that I take deep breaths and relax.  I shrieked, “I can’t!” and went back to panting.

That went on until almost suppertime.  I, of course, wasn’t having any supper, but Larry ate for two while I panted and dilated my aging cervix.  I watched nurses come and go.  Finally it was time to adjourn to the delivery room—blue, cold, and sterile.  Somebody called my doctor, who entered all gussied up in a tuxedo set off with with shiny black patent slippers, on his way to a formal event.  No wonder he didn’t want me tinkering with his evening.  He didn’t bother to gown up, but stood there resplendent in his regalia, directing the play by play.  First he wanted me to stop that infernal panting and agreed to give me a saddle block to obviate its necessity.  As soon as the needle was in, the pain stopped.  Bless medical science!  I smiled and lay back to enjoy watching the action.  Acquiescing to the sterility declared by pulling on rubber gloves, he reached for the forceps, one tong at a time.  No sooner did I spy that infernal tool of infant torture than I cried foul. 

“No forceps for me!”

“But you can’t push the baby out now that the block is in place,” he insisted.

“Just you watch!” I cried and proceeded to suck in a monster breath, hold it, and push down with everything I had.

“Wait!” he cried.  “Don’t push!” raising his hand like a traffic cop.  Time for delicate intervention, but with scalpel alone.  Soon he was satisfied the way had been prepared.

“Now push!”

I pushed, and a new person joined our assemblage.  Everything would have been fine if the newbie hadn’t proceeded to hose down the doctor’s tuxedo jacket.  Baby, too, was all wet, red from his rage at finding himself naked and shivering in a bright cold scary place, but soon appreciative of lots of up-to-date attention, a routine offered to every Texas newborn.  The room may have been cold and officious, but it was a good place that valued health and the humane dispensing of it.

The doctor departed to attend to his sartorial disarray, delegating stitches to the nurse.  She then wrapped up baby and laid him next to my bed where I could look into his great wide-open eyes.  I claimed him right then and there for my very own.  In case there had been any question, he was mine.  Those eyes with their fully dilated pupils said it all.  They looked deep into my soul.  I called him Kurt, short for Noble Counselor.  He has lived into that heavy moniker ever since, dispensing empathy and wise advice to all who share his august presence, which seems appropriate to his birthday, the tenth of August, 1974.

Kurt had established himself as a member of the family, and it was soon time to take him home.  That should have been a simple proposition, except for the canine member whom no one had considered.  This had in many ways been a ridiculously confident period of our lives as a Sherman, Texas family with two kids (now three) and a dog.  As well as buying a nine seat wagon, and undertaking to make another person to help fill it, we had opted for a Great Dane.  Others might have visited the local shelter and chosen any endearing canine, but we had to actually go and visit a Dane breeder— just to gather information of course—where we fell in love with a soft, sweet, floppy-eared six-week-old bitch that we dubbed “Greta” when she wagged her tail and licked our noses.  Given all that, we just had to write a fat check and take home a Von-Reisenhoff Dane.  The puppy grew into a big, big dog, that guarded our premises with a formidable voice and an imposing presence.  She ate a lot and kept low tables clear of interposing objects given the muscular nonchalance of her tail sweep.  Life was good.

Arriving home with Kurt wrapped in a baby-blue receiving blanket, we got him settled, with a full belly and a dry diaper, in the bassinet right next to me, where I could keep an ear tuned and a watchful eye peeled.  I relaxed into my place on the big bed and prepared to sink into a restorative night’s sleep.  Larry locked up the house and let Greta in for the night.  As he reached for the light-switch, she shoved him aside and charged through the door into the bedroom, just as Kurt began to wind up a whimper.  With an affronted roar, she launched a frontal attack, jumping over one corner of our king-size bed.  Larry, who had never demonstrated any athleticism, acted every bit the father.  He matched the dog’s assaulting arc with his own body and tackled her in mid-air.  He brought her down right at the base of the bassinet.  A good dog, Greta had defended me against an unidentified marauder; a good father, Larry had saved his child.  Kurt didn’t even know what happened.  The next day we staged a proper baby reception, where Dale, Lane, Greta, and baby brother Kurt were properly introduced.  Life continued to be good.

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