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My life has been a litany of successful failures and failed successes braided into a series of delightfully tortured complexities.  Whatever the result, it wasn’t boring.

First I wanted to be the best of children, but my mother, were she still alive, would attest to my having been  her one perfect child who all too often embodied the personification of evil.

I wanted to be an exemplary wife, but three divorces document my facility in trashing the male/female bond, seeing it surely as bondage.  It is now only in spousal death that I appreciate how much they were both loveable and loved.

I wanted to be a good mother, but fear my four children—three living—would gladly testify to my inability to do the mother thing with any dexterity.  Their proved successes ultimately disprove this fear.

I wanted to write poetry, but in spite of millions of lovely words frittered away, my poesy—often muddying up even my prose— remains steadfastly unpublished.  I keep writing, not to benefit the New Yorker, but because I love to see how contented the words appear nestled together on the page.  They, too, deserve to be happy.

Trying to be the son my father wanted all along, I refused to acquiesce to the condemnation of co-workers and cohorts.  I forged ahead for year after year, certain that just one more great invention would prove my case.  It never did, but I enjoyed being one of the very first women ignoring the possibility of glass ceilings and bosoming into the male bastion of military aerospace, all before Equal Employment quotas were ever even dreamed of.

Trying to be the songbird my mother envisioned—having named me for Jeanette Macdonald—I practiced countless vocalizes, sang Soprano in a kaleidoscope of choirs, attempted countless pharyngeal contortions, all sure to finally produce the desired mellifluousity.  They failed.  At an age when other singers have retired to gracious listening, I am still trudging up the aisle processing with my choir and struggling to keep my weighty music folder elevated where I can see it even with bifocals.  In spite of eighty years of devoted singing, I’m not a has-been; I’m a never-was.  But since I can still sight-read and match pitch, it’s still the best of fun to make like a bird even with feet on the ground.

Readers of this anguished diatribe will assume that I regret all this wasted effort and wonder why I didn’t just relax and move along with the flow of days.  When failure is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.  That would have been boring.  Far better it is to try and fail, than recall a life as might-have-been.  I had a wild ride and treasure every minute of it.  It’s the titillating triumphs in between the foibles and flops that texture the flow of the river of remembrance.

What I write in this rambunctious memoire will bear this out.  I hope to place a dear honest tome into the hands of each of my progeny, one that gives them something tactile to help them remember how we got through it all.  They will have something with heft to hand to their own children when asked how they managed to become the person they became, a tool that will help even the grands forgive themselves when they fall short of what they wanted to make of their own precious lives.  No, I’m not unique in either my successes nor in my failures.  Nobody’s perfect, but the best features of life are the parts where we get up, dust ourselves off, and keep trying no matter what.

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White Boxes

White everywhere and divided into three-dimensional spaces, defined by length, width, and height.  People and things belonged inside, the demarcations appropriate to their certain essences.  My box was where I was permitted to think and feel; I was to simply be what I was—that— no more, no less.

Exiting my box and peering to the right I was given a view of my next box neighbor.  A stately Negress, she stood tall, inspecting a mirrored wall up and down, verifying that she was prepared to reflect a positive image.  Her coloration eluded me as immaterial.  It was her regal erect posture that put me in mind of an African queen.  She slipped out of her own box and went her way toward whatever destination.

Outside our boxes a complex manifold offered many choices of exit strategy.  Most interesting was a double sized aperture that accommodated a spread of garden soil.  In its center sprouted a single aloe plant that propagated only a bifurcation of scrawny green branches.  They were not spectacular in their will to survive.  I felt sympathy for the puny planting and slipped by, determined not to add shame to the anguish of the paltry growth, which was doing the best it could.  After a time of being off doing something or other, I returned.  My neighbor was entertaining company and had enlivened her drab costume with a fork of bright Kelly green trousers.  It was a chic habiliment.

That enhancement played many-fold as I passed by again and again and yet again.  Indeed, the most recent sortie from my personal rectangle, and past hers, displayed a veritable, as well as virtual, chorus line of dancers, garbed in kaleidoscopic green and black and white.  They moved in sync, matching time, demonstrating how folk might cooperate and have fun doing it.  Their high kicks and fancy foot work projected an exhilaration that rubbed off onto me as I passed the aperture of their domain.  I smiled in spite of myself and moved on, my step quickening along with the thunder of happy feet—theirs and mine.

Upon revisiting the aloe plant, it had become a different expression of herbage.  Where previously there had been two branches, now there were eight, angular displacements equally divided, their octagonally spaced arches conquering the garden space entire, mimicking a grand herbaceous arachnid.  Noting what it had accomplished made me happy for a plant that had become sovereign of its garden, its purpose to provide healing to any and all passersby.  What must the plant feel, as a visitor breaks off a portion of aloe persona and tucks it away to use against some future pain of rash or abrasion?  That’s what people do to aloe plants.  Given the contract evolved between plant life and animal life, aloe must surely rejoice in having fulfilled its duty to assuage the pain of its opposite kingdom.  If it had a chest, it would take a deep lung inflating breath and be proud.  Perhaps it simply activates its chlorophyll to transform an extra measure of sunlight.  Everything has a way to feel proud and happy.

Other than the aloe plant and the Kelly dancers, I had no sense of what was happening in any of the other spaces, except to know that they were enlivened with purpose-filled entities, every bit as real as my own.  It seemed odd that we could so closely co-exist but not have any real understanding of others’ lives.  While they were making the best of their time in the place of white boxes, I had no sense of any creative achievement in mine.  Perhaps I will visit this place again, and do better next time.  This dream-time reverie smacks suspiciously of Zoom.  Could it be so?

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Two hundred thousand years or so ago an isolated group of primates evolved into a species that became aware of itself.  Like a child peering into a looking glass, it was fascinated by what it saw looking back from still water.  “That is me,” it marveled.  “I am.”  It was the discovery of the ages, the beginning of a complexity that is still being unraveled to this very day, gathering together in a special place, performing certain actions together in shared awe and wonderment.

Until that first excursion into fascination with the narcissistic self, our natural animal instincts were directed outward: pure erotic delight in the passionate other; instinctual sacrifice of self as mother (and later claiming authorship of sperm as father), in joined adoration of child; numinous enchantment with perceived beauty expressed as art.  But that primitive discovery of self as prepossessing all other amazements stands as the actual original sin, tales of munching apples in mythical gardens at the instigation of wily serpents notwithstanding.  As homo-sapiens-sapiens, we knew at some deep level that fascination with self was wrong.  It flew in the face of two hundred million years of evolution becoming mammals.  Suckling one’s child creates love, teaches that it is important to value another beyond one’s own needs, even to the death.  Who would not die to preserve one’s child?

Directing love outward, subsuming all-consuming self-involvement, as a purposeful endeavor, created worship.  We gathered together, for in numbers there is strength, and acknowledged our foolish ways.  Does this suggest we invented God?  No.  He was there all along, waiting for us to awaken to Him and accept the love that waited for us as own, His magnum opus.  The magnificent arithmetic, the algorithms of Truth that pre-existed all bangs, big or small, were there waiting for us to name that lovely abstraction “God.”  Our salvation lay in discovery that it is not we, who matter, but God and valuing His creation.

Worship is a together happening; Prayer can be solitary, but in worship we bare our narcissistic selves to each other and to God.  Primitive worship featured song, dance, and visual art.  These summoned spirit, not so much from far, far away, but from within.  Painting on cave walls, the art of the ancients, captured the power of symbol.  Fire leapt as metaphoric embodiment of life and spirit.  Sacrifice, an early attempt to negotiate with the divine, was once part of worship, but now passing the plate replaces ritualistic blood-letting.  Drumming, echoing beat of heart, combined with ululation as celebration of breath, generated excitement, more than any crass modern football competition.

Language, a late arrival, provided elegant tools to express “a love so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.”  Of all the fruits of carbon based life on this third planet, only we, homo-sapiens-sapiens, define and love God.  In our worship, we honor and celebrate that as miracle.  Methodism, an off-shoot of the Christian trifurcation of God worship, especially honors the place of music in liturgy, thanks to John Wesley its founder.  The world-around, similar religions know God as incarnate.   Methodist hymnody shares that musical art with a great many Christian denominations, describing devotion to a savior-God, not as fact but as Truth.  For example:

      When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,

      My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

      Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my Lord;

      All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.

      See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down;

      Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

      Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.

      Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. 

(Isaac Watts 1674-1748)

Worship as expression of such devotion, away from self, toward God as beloved, is surely an effective antidote to the self-absorption that characterizes narcissism.  An old friend Lydia, a thirty-year Methodist, was a cradle Baptist, a familiar of tent-revivals and altar-calls.  The first time the Holy Spirit spoke to her, it led her down the aisle to fall on her knees, while “Just As I Am” played a tender accompaniment.   Her relationship with God is a personal one.  In these her own words she recalls her first Christmas service as the one responsible for the ritual:  “An altar candle’s wick just wouldn’t light in spite of holding more than enough oil.  Anxiety choked me.   I was terrified, feeling not just a little resentment at being asked to do more than my share.  Then a light went on in my head.  How could I possibly resent doing anything for my Jesus?  I prayed, Get a grip! It’s not about my perfect details.  Just relax and be a joyful servant.  Then the flame caught.”  She had cracked the nut of her wisdom: “Worship is about God, not about me.”

That is such a small story to be lingering in my hippocampus for so many years.  Its longevity speaks to how central, how profound, is the point it makes.  How sweetly it settles into remembrances of things past, a reminder that worship is a together thing.

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Lane Byron Taylor

There came a day after welcoming Dale Warren in 1958 and Melanie Rae in 1960 when it occurred to me that making babies was a lovely thing to do.  It had been a difficult time for James and me.  We hadn’t learned how to fight fair, and we each had divergent ideas about what life was about.  Given that, it would seem reasonable to stop at two bundles of joy, since the future might be a rough ride.  But for some reason, I decided that since Dale and Melanie were what I loved most in all the wide world, three of those beautiful little people would be even better than two.  I smiled and tucked the diaphragm back into the dresser drawer.  That was the night that Lane Byron got his start.  It was a good decision.

Dale and Melanie were both October surprises, but Lane had a different approach to birthday timing.  During the nine months that it took to morph from a good idea to a person ready to have a go at air breathing, Jim and I hadn’t improved our style of getting along.  We did agree the night of February ninth that it would be just as well for me to sleep in one of the kids twin beds so Jim could enjoy the marriage bed to himself for a change.  Ray and Garnie had agreed to keep the little ones overnight just in case, especially since I was several days overdue, and a polar vortex had messed up mountain state weather leading to ice on the swinging bridge and snow crusting the roadways.  It would be a tough time to try and walk that frozen bridge holding onto little mittened hands, looking way, way, down at the icy current and imagining what it would feel like to fall into it. 

I was too tired for such worries to bother me overmuch, and I slept soundly, hugging my way-too-big belly to keep warm.  What woke me up was water—lying in it.  It was warm but discouragingly wet, and was sure to get cold before long.  Suddenly I knew—my water had broken.  That was different, and had never happened with the other deliveries before arriving at the hospital.  “Jim,” I called.  “Get up!  We’ve got to go.”  He wasn’t more than reasonably irritated that I had interrupted his sound sleep.  I pulled on a dry set of clothes, reminded Jim to grab the overnight bag, packed since last week, and we were out gasping the brittle air of a February morning.  I checked the kitchen clock on the way out the door.  It was just a little past two.  We made it down the hill, boots maintaining merciful traction all the way.  A fall would have made a sorry slide down the frozen slope.  Across the icy boards that paved the bridge walkway was the worst part, but our dynamic duo made it  safe to the other side one more time.  That old bridge having appeared so romantic in the summer of ‘57 posed an entirely different proposition in the winter of ‘62.

Jim turned the key and the engine turned over.  Thank you Jesus.  The truck started, and soon began generating heat inside the frigid cab.  We headed out, making speed in honor of the occasion, up the river lane crunching ice as frozen ruts crushed under our wheels, past the big farmhouse with the R.R.Taylor mailbox where Dale and Mel slept safe with grandparents who loved them.  But the rough road bounced me about on the seat with more than a bit of pain to accompany the contractions that had taken hold.  I begged Jim to slow down.  He insisted that I shut up or he would really pour on some gas.  He was petrified at the thought of delivering a kid in the cab of his truck and wanted to hurry.  The forty minute trip to Parkersburg and a warm delivery room was uneventful, and around seven am Lane Byron Taylor made his appearance, giving air a try as breathing medium and finding it very much to his liking.

It was only a few weeks after returning home and installing the red-headed, blue-eyed little darling in his bassinette, that Jim and I staged our last argument.  The casing on our well had given out, and I took issue with bits of grass floating in the water heating up for baby formula.  It was time to pack up, kit-and-caboodle.  Renting a room from a friend of mine, and showing up at the local garment factory, babe in arms and two more in tow, I begged for a job—any job.  They put me to work sewing darts on ladies blouse fronts.  The hardest part was running home at noon every day to nurse baby Lane, and then hustling back in time so as not to have my paycheck docked.  I knew it would be hard leaving the hollow, but this was even worse than my worst imaginings.  Sewing darts for eight hours every day will rot your brain, so I memorized Byronic poetry as I stitched, to make productive use of time.  No wonder Lane’s middle name is Byron.  I was a sucker for the romantics.

A woman came every day to watch the kids for a miserly wage, but she complained that I was sure to come to no good end if I maintained my insane schedule.  Lane turned out not to thrive on milk, mine or local dairy’s.  It was a time when a sick baby meant a walk to the doctor’s house, a knock on his front door, and a promise to pay when I got a paycheck.  It was Lane’s good luck that Isomil had just been invented for babies whose gut preferred soy to lactose.  He got better forthwith and commenced thriving.  It was better for me too, to give up the noontide footrace all the way home for mammary expression.  Lane definitely had a different constitution from his older siblings.  While Dale grew up to be a meat-n-potatoes man, Lane always liked greenery, the fresher the better.  I remember the Christmas he was thirteen, and his most appreciated present was a gallon of dill pickles with a red bow on top.  He ate them every one.  A big salad was always sure to please him if other offerings were not to his taste.

As a growing-up kid, Lane was good at most things, but his most standout talent was dealing with people.  It began to be apparent when he was still little.  As a son of a single mother, he had to move around a lot as I chased the job market.  Whenever we ended up in a new place, he soon seemed to have a whole passel of new friends following him around.  I asked him how he managed that.  He explained that he would locate the new crowd of kids and start throwing rocks at them.  They would get mad and start chucking back.  As soon as that happened, he would approach them and suggest that they all be friends instead.  He had established instant intimacy by starting an altercation, then assumed the power position and turned it into friendship.  Given this capability, he has always found a way to create success and generate money.

Our family has always celebrated having a crazy aunt instead of a crazy uncle.  Her name was Margaret.  Although arguably eccentric, she had a whole list of endearing qualities and had brought a whole lot of love to my growing up years.  Most people ignored her, so it was a good thing when we could help make her life a bit happier.  For Lane it just came naturally.  He always spent time with her when we visited the farm, playing card games and bringing her thoughtful presents.  It was Lane who put a baby kitten into her hands.  He had once enjoyed a kitty that met an untimely end, and he knew how much joy a pet could engender. 

Back in the days when discipline was meted out with switch or paddle, a day arrived when Lane was too big to be spanked.  He refused to assume the position.  Since he was nearly as big as I, it seemed time to negotiate a better way to assure good behavior.  We talked.  I finally suggested that if he wanted to get what he wanted from me, he might behave in such a way that I might naturally do what he wished instead of acting out his displeasure and just making me mad.  He began forthwith getting his way by manipulating me with remarkable finesse.  I never again felt any need to spank.  He would begin a conversation wherein he would lead me through a litany of questions to the very result we both wished for.  Having agreed with his position, I walked away with the assurance that it was my idea all along.  This facility he carried into a career in sales that brought him more money than he knew how to spend.  It seemed such talent might lead to an opportunity as a trial lawyer.  He would have won every case.  But he didn’t want to waste time in law school.  He had plans that worked for him.

Unlike most people whose talent can entice money to float their yacht, Lane has a moral compass.  His first sales job was when we moved to LA to find jobs, after closing up High Country Drafting in Lee Vining illustrated that.  He found a position as entry-level sales associate with an outfit that sold solar hot-water heaters to poor black families in Torrence.  The idea was to sign up the customer for a high-rate-financed heater, secured by the value of the home in which it was installed.  When the creditor couldn’t make the payments, they foreclosed on his second mortgage and paid off the first.  The scumbags were purported to be in the solar heat business, but they were really in the business of stealing homes.  Lane’s first month bested any previous sales record in the company’s history.  He liked the customers and enjoyed getting them set up with a system that might help them save money as well as the environment, but when he realized that the deal was destroying them, he gave up the job and started selling cars.  “People come to me,” he explained, “and want to buy a car.  I help them find one they can afford that works for them, and I don’t have to ruin their lives.”  He ended up in the finance end of auto sales, now working as General Sales Manager at a local Pontiac-GMC dealership.  It’s a good living.  He’s in a position to make a lot of people’s lives better, while making his own better as well.  For a while Ford tried to study Lane’s approach but finally gave up, deciding it was just a Lane thing.  His happy customers tended to walk away saying Lane had nothing to do with it.  It was their idea to sign that deal.

Back when he was in school he took Lee Vining’s Mono High School by storm, became a star running back on the football team and later moved to starting Quarterback and Team Captain.  He won lead in the school play his junior year, but in spite of all that, followed Dale back to West Virginia to matriculate.  He missed the farm, and Grandpa, and those green hills.  He always knew what was important.  Lane was a whiz kid at math but was too people-oriented to be a nerd.  He went to West Virginia University on scholarship, but got bored with freshman math and ended up tutoring the kids in his class for extra credit while working ahead on differential equations.  He wanted his abstractions to be practical.  Making money is a utilitarian application of mathematics.  Having learned that happy quirk about himself, he quit school and began building his estate.  Lane knows what he can do and has nothing to prove to anybody. 

He has discovered how to make little people to delight in and make life worthwhile.  He has two wonderful sons to share his joy at being a father.  Recently he brought tears to my eyes trying to explain what it feels like to hold his first grand-son.  They are welcome to my tears—all of them.  Tears of happiness are the very best kind.

Happy Birthday Lane!

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She stood, eyes accusing, arms relaxed in a gentle hug of her matronly form, dumpy printed three-quarter sleeved housedress shrouding a body that abdicated any claim to sexual suggestion.  She was there to monitor me, to make sure that I was as androgynous as she.  It was a standard office accommodation, though no desks were evident, only a pit in the floor where a monumental cut crystal shaft suspended from a steel cable descended, impaling the earth and then withdrawing.  Up and down, up and down it reciprocated — up to be delighted in, down to be deplored.  Matron wasn’t required to actuate any switch, had only to visualize vectored motion, and the massive twinkling hulk moved up or down acknowledging the caprice of her will.

She called me into what seemed to be her office and demanded an accounting.  I hemmed and hawed, a stupid obfuscation.  Why did she ask?  She knew.  Suddenly it occurred to me to leave—out the door, across the lawn, to the edge of the property where a fence stood, unsure of itself.  It was made of stone, but claimed a structure akin to wood, with granite posts that supported concrete slabs secured in between each pair of uprights.  I clambered onto the confused fence, straddling a slab, and slid to the ground.  Dragging skin across the rough concrete hurt, leaving a trail of blood and gravel, but it was a relief connecting to a trustworthy earth.

Safe on solid ground, I paced along the stone fence around to the back of the building where fence shaped slabs lay flat in a tidy row across the expanse.  The closest one resisted my prying but finally succumbed, with a complaining release of suction between its flat under-surface, married to the clay of damp soil.  I inspected the area beneath the slab, and satisfied no entity sheltered there waiting to do me harm, I blessed the silent square of dark earth and lowered the stone back to its rightful place.  So far, so good!  Next I moved to the second in the ordered cohort of rectangles.  It, too, must be raised and inspected to make sure it was just a stone shape and hid nothing fearsome.

I levered up and looked underneath every slab, even though by the time most had been raised, it was obvious that no offending entity would be found.  What persona could lurk to threaten from such an unlikely refuge?  But is that any more whimsical than trolls residing under a bridge, and they have earned a place in our culture?  These questions suggested that each slab might represent an abstract concept that needed to be investigated.  Length versus width is all that’s needed to postulate a slice of reality.  It defines a surface or a rectilinear plane.  Thickness, as third dimension assumed by the concrete, suggests a heft that is dense and weighty, something worthy of being reckoned with.

Dreams could save time just bypassing metaphor, but perhaps they enjoy the game of stashing concept in the belly of a metaphor and watching us struggle with making meaning out of the meal.  Perhaps our brains delight in keeping us entertained during the wee hours trying to figure out what our nighttime selves want to say to our daytime ones.  It would be so much more expeditious to simply complain that my disarticulated understanding of dear old mom would be improved by inspecting some of my ill-founded conceptualizations.  It’s disappointing that in spite of looking underneath each and every stone, nothing was found but an earthworm and a few of Darwin’s ubiquitous beetles.  If my subconscious were more creative, it might have conjectured something truly terrifying.  I might as well just accept being passably sane.

But, not so fast!  What if the weird fence in front of the office were an allusion to the sentences I like to scribe using components that are unnecessarily weighty?  The aquamarine shape oscillating into and out of the solidity of earth, might be setting the rhythm of prosody as it alternatively accepts then rejects precious truth, as mother earth puzzles whether she is being loved or raped.  That, too, fits the shape of this metaphor.

Words matter.  We know they do.  One of my early attempts at publication was a commentary on the Joy of Fishing that I submitted to my local Pennsboro, West Virginia weekly rag.  I had referenced “a worm wriggling on a barb of steel.”  The local editor, in his superior wisdom, changed it to “wiggling.”  His correction changed “the torture of agony” into “a mindless twitching.”  I have never forgiven that desecration of my poesy, nor have I forgotten.  I will carry the dignity of that wriggling nematode to my very grave, defending his cachet, and mine, to the very end.  Perhaps there are multiple layers of metaphor that the subconscious tinkers with as part of this game: Perhaps the androgynous dream female is a mother figure, and maybe she is also a personification of literary criticism, the kind that wants words to be pedestrian so as to convey just the facts, Ma’am—just the facts.  And then she just might be I, my very self, admitting that I just don’t understand.

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One Day at a Time

Creating 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 marriage, 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 kids 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 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 I was at long last making money, 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 Taylors to raise. 

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

“Easy,” he replied.  “Just do it.”

That was long before Nike claimed the same quip as a slogan, and it entered the stream of history.  Daddy was smart but not always wise.  This was one of his admonitions best ignored.  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 as if I had crashed and burned.  The TI job was a life saver, I lived through some panic attacks and gastro-intestinal challenges to present myself at Harrisville courthouse 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-momma-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, a void equally disastrous as Dales was.  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 day’s 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 very memorable relocation to a cabin on Spring Creek that 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 in those days 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 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 noggin, 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 good little 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 worse still,  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 in retrospect.  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 stacking 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 scurrilous.  A case in point is the time when we spent the week-end gathering weeds and grouping them throughout our rooms on the floor, 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 by teetering bricks.  The whole apartment was strewn with dry weeds just waiting for a struck 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 our family life 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 military-industrial-aerospace contender.  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 ever have 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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Solipsism As Epiphany

This isn’t real.  What I think is a universe full of stars and planets and seas and skies and people is just something I have dreamed and reveled in, but it’s nothing special.  Others have realized that before me.  I am just now catching up to what is true.  Always I am a bit slow to catch on, refusing to wear fashions until they have survived at least two years in the popular culture.  Before that they seem just too weird.  There is even a name for this style of perception; it is called solipsism.  But that name withholds the grandeur of the reality as if it were an aberration.  But how can it be aberrant if everybody’s doing it?  I have my solipsism and you have yours.  I postulate that all of life conjures a unique perception of what is, and that creates separate worlds, perhaps individual string universes, wherein all live their existence marveling at what their “is” is.

I have always been suspicious about living at this absolute apogee of human achievement where differentiating the curve would declare the slope to be zero.  How could I have been so fortuitously positioned in my little life?  It would have had to have been a creator God who chose my parents, selected to precisely carry over traits of creativity, sensitivity, and eccentricity into an incarnation that grants access to a world in disarray that could use a bit of mothering from a female primate.  But a Creator God is not what Darwin and I have ascertained to be reasonable.  Here I am in the greatest country ever to have flown a flag, watching that banner shredded and burned on an altar of greed and selfish abandon, where all that has made that country great is poised on a precipice of cataclysm. 

Given all that, it would seem necessary that I rise to my unique occasion and do something.  But I don’t.  I’m too busy dying.  And what does that mean?  Every crossroad requiring a decision is equivocated by dithering about whether I will still be alive to enjoy the fruit of that choice.  Why buy the extra-large money-saving size when I will surely die before it is used up?  Living a life quibbling over such adjudication is a bore.  I am determined to stop it.  So what shall I do?

I puzzle about the age of Robert Louis Stevenson when he wrote, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”  He was right.  I am surrounded by wonders, even in things that give me pause, set me to grumbling, and turn me to despair.  Wherever I look, amazements abound.  The bathroom in my much disabused apartment is full of surprises.  It was constructed at a time when small accommodations were built right into the surround.  In the tiling of the bathtub, for instance, one tile is supplanted by a square ceramic handle that sits there all day every day just waiting to help me get into and out of a slippery situation without breaking bones.  How considerate.  And though I have utilized its assistance at every bathing  for three years and counting, I just yesterday realized that on arising with its aid,  it is more efficient to turn clockwise rather than counterclockwise, the better to wedge feet into the grooves of sides-meeting-tub-bottom and avoid a fall.  That possibility was there all along, lurking in the shadows of understanding, just wanting to be found and appreciated.  Well, this morning I give it its due, long overdue.

The longer I stay in my little rented abode, the more I appreciate its willingness to snuggle down into my solipsism and make everything a home.  It greets me every morning offering the comfort of familiar as I enter my kitchen corner and reach for the levers of water power filling plastic vessels, hot as I can stand, one for soap, one for rinse, all conjured to make implements of sustenance clean and shiny to my touch.  I have learned to just turn the handles, not stand and growl at the unfairness of a world that makes me wash dishes when I would so much rather sit and write.  Turning the handles gives me good Cincinnati water that makes my kitchen sparkle.  The hot fluid warms my hands and assures me that these frothy bubbles float impurities away, reducing yesterday’s detritus to a flotilla of filth, gone, gone away.

You say that such spigots are part of your own solipsism and are nothing special.  I ask why you refuse to see the wonder in your own.  Your place is like none other because it is yours.  You are important and wonderful to me.  Turn your kitchen taps and be thankful for the technology developed over centuries of sapient experimentation that brought clear bright water to your very fingertips.  It celebrates every morning how powerful and important you are in a world of sentient beings.  And then go sit and write, and read what you have written to a group of scribbling primates.  We want to hear what you have thought and set to verse and knitted into prose.  We can celebrate together, agree and disagree, as tides of opinion ebb and flow.  As each and all of us ages and one by one falls off the roster of scribes, we can take joy in each special presence, present, and yes, even past.

Some delights are ordinary; some are spectacular.  All are life affirming.  Yesterday I fielded a comment on my blog that introduced a gentleman who knew what Acronymania* is all about.  He was able to bring me up to date about my work at TRW on NBCRS, having also worked with my old bosses, Bill King and Jack Cherne.  Last week I discovered that the savvy old guy in my bible study group, who shares my love for Robert Alter as Old Testament translator, is none other than Gordon Christenson, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.  No wonder he speaks with eloquence and informed good sense.  Such discoveries make my head spin and my heart thunder.

Things keep happening to remind me of serendipitous truthiness.  Last fall my phone went bad like it always does when I venture into West Virginia.  When I returned to Ohio, it did its best but couldn’t engage its GPS, so I chose to duck into my son’s house and borrow his WIFI to urge my iPhone back into sentient service.  It worked.  Then I left and stupidly abandoned my purse on his living room couch.  My phone is so much smarter than I.

That senior moment required that I meet Lane and his sweetie the next day and retrieve the purse that contained all my credit cards, cash, and personal ID.  Lane set a time and place to meet: The Starbucks close to Northgate Mall.  When approaching the mall, I asked SIRI to find it for me, but all she would do was search, and search, and search…  The intersection of Colerain and US Route 275 is interesting enough, but how many times can you negotiate it before you begin to feel more than a bit foolish?

Finally I just gave up.  I rolled into an available parking lot and meandered about, turning the steering wheel wherever inspiration dictated.  I kept an eye out for the little green Starbucks Siren, but it was nowhere.  Finally, one set of turns put me into a parking area close to Colerain Avenue.  I hesitated, looked straight ahead, and there at eye level in six foot high green letters was STARBUCKS.  Not only that, but my peeling Highlander was lined up with the premiere parking space right at the front door.  It was empty and beckoning.  “Come hither,” it said.  “Park.”

Was that the serendipity that I love to blather about?  It keeps happening, assuring everything stays on track, toward what I don’t know.  But I’m glad it does.  Like deja vu, whenever it happens I assume I must be on my right path.  I pulled in to the space, locked the car, entered the coffee store, and ordered a decaf cappuccino.  No sooner had I sat down to wait than a dearly familiar male voice behind me said, “Mom?”

What I’m daring to suggest is that we, all of us, create our own realities out of where we find ourselves as physical manifestations.  There is considerable physics to support this wild possibility.  String theory talks about multiple universes that overlay and interlace each other.  Maybe they are created by you and by me as we swim in special realities, yours and mine and ours.

I continue to marvel at the somewhat agreed-upon stories shared among family members.  Everyone, it seems, has a slightly different remembrance of things past.  Trial lawyers and accident investigators speak of how differently various witnesses attest to what happened.  According to them, that is just an aspect of human nature.  What if it isn’t just faulty memory, but different lived experience?  What if in my universe things play out just a wee bit differently from what they do in yours?

Nothing just happens.  Is it some kind of cosmic happenstance that caused you and me to be living at this precise juncture in the construct of universal reality?  How was it that we came to be living beings at this nexus of what is?  If we could have chosen the most important century to inhabit, in the most influential polity on this third planet, given the most fascinating technological amazements ever to be achieved in the history of history, how could we have chosen better than here and now?  It’s a good time to be alive—as is every time— it seems.  There’s always a good reason to get out of bed.  We just have to be looking for it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(*)  Morethanenoughtruth.com/acronymania

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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 as a tool designer.  Remembering how much fun it was coming up with jigs and fixtures for Texas Instruments, it seemed like a fit.

A big Indian man (feathers, not dots) 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 burning taxpayer’s money, 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.  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 drafting on a board was about to be no more.  All of technical graphics would soon be accomplished 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 when and 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 sporting shiny new badges.  Eventually we re-discovered each other as a group inside 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 before we signed off 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 interact directly with a screen, but what did I know having never used a computer?  The wand was a bit heavy and attached to a cable that protruded from its end.  The contraption was weighty, and to this very day, my right shoulder reminds me about how weighty, especially when it rains.

The instructors were savvy about their subject and patient with our inadequacies.  Only one guy seemed to take joy from his position as holder of superior knowledge.  I put up with him for several days before I finally lost it.  He tutored, armed at all times with a telescoping metal pointer.  In a small cubby such aggressive hardware seemed superfluous when an index finger was literally on hand.  He often got carried away with his tutelage and used the stick to emphasize points and assure attention, often turning to me to shake his pointer in my face.  One morning he began to rattle his stick too close to my nose.  I stood it as long as I could.  Then I grabbed it and bent it.  “Get that thing out of my face,” I hissed, teeth bared.  His face and eyes said 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 weapon, 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 since she had ended up being the best of the group.  I felt a grin creep 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.  (More money to burn.) 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 equipped armored personnel carrier ignored the designated target and blew up the fan in the general’s port-a-potty.  It was a disaster.  Some people, loyal to Ford, stayed.  I can’t imagine why.  The rest of us were down the road looking for what came next. 

Henry was indeed good with automobiles, but something had gotten lost in the translation to military aerospace.  I have sweet memories of that year spent learning Cadam and reminding myself that good things can happen in spite of 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.  It was a time to be stuck on Band-Aids.

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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.

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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.

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