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Homeless

When it becomes dangerous to live in your own home it’s time to leave, and leave I did, taking with me my cat, my Collie dog, and my Sig Sauer P239.  Yes, I had a permit to carry, so I was legal in case it might have become an issue.  It was early October in Roanoke, Virginia.  The weather was seasonably delightful, and my green tent blended well with the autumn color at the local campground nestled in the foliage alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I should have left years before, but had nowhere else to go.  I had no savings since my retirement income always got sucked away into the expense of running house and horse farm.  The bruises got worse.  I was fed up with being slammed against walls, brutalized in ways that cringe at even the prospect of description.  That hurts in every way there is to hurt.

My ’89 Acura Legend had a capacious trunk with a small seat-back door that folded down to allow access to the main interior.  It was designed to provide for carrying 2×4’s home from Lowe’s,  but I used it as a cat door for Espresso, my black Domestic Shorthair, so he could visit his litter box in the trunk.  He loved to ride shotgun with his front paws on the dashboard so he could see with those lovely golden globes where we were going.  Maggie, his canine counterpart, preferred lounging in the back seat on top of all the pillows, blankets, clothing, camping gear, food, and water jugs.  She had a twelve hour bladder, so I only needed to walk her morning and evening.  We managed.

My YMCA membership provided exercise, a hot shower every day, and a place to change clothes, which I kept clean at a Franklin Road laundromat.  It should have been doable, but things kept happening.  First somebody stole my tent while I was on my daily errands.  At least I had the foresight to empty it every day, stowing sleeping bag and other gear in the car.  That theft forced me to sleep in the vehicle, not nearly so comfortable but doable, tucked into my sleeping bag, a hefty Slumberjack.  My long-ago-husband and I had always enjoyed winter camping (no tourists, no bugs) so my sleeping bag was certified down to zero degrees Fahrenheit.

October gave way to November, then December.  The campground closed for the winter, and I was on my own to find a place to park every night for shuteye.  First there was the requisite stop at Mill Mountain Coffee to slip in through the back door and fill my hot water bottle, preventive for ice-cube-feet syndrome.

My State Farm Insurance agent had a back-of-the-office covered carport; I began appropriating it nightly, especially on stormy ones.  One bitter cold evening, after pulling into my spot, I ran across the street to a Seven/Eleven to pick up breakfast makings.  I left the engine running to keep it extra warm to start the night off right.  Of course Maggie had to protest.  She wanted to go, too.  Barking and pawing at the window, she managed to step on the back door lock, which on the Acura automatically locked all four doors.  Now I had a car parked and running with a cat and a dog inside.  What to do?  Again I ran across the street, this time to ask for help.

There are times when I suspect God was watching out for us.  The local emergency squad team had also stopped there to coffee-up, and they came to assist.  One of the team was a young very thin woman who was able to slip an arm through the narrow opening I had left to provide fresh air for Maggie and Espresso.  She reached in, pulled up the slick knob-less locking mechanism, and all was saved.  What luck!

I managed to live through a bout of food poisoning and was feeling pretty puny, having also run out of vitamins.  Christmas was the loneliest ever, and in January the jet stream conspired to send sub-zero weather.  One bitter night, as I lay trying to fall asleep, the Slumberjack bag failed me.  I began to shake, and my teeth commenced chattering.  It was then that my sweet dog Maggie, rose from her accustomed place in the back seat and carefully climbed to the passenger seat where I had been spending my nights with the seat-back fully reclined.  She placed her paws carefully as she crawled forward, careful not to hurt me.  When she was satisfied she had just the right spot, she covered me with her hairy body and remained there the entire night, while slowly I warmed and slept.

Another January morning I awoke locked in the deposit of an ice storm.  We were frozen in all day waiting for the parking lot, where I had parked for the night, to be cleared.  There comes a time to admit when you are beaten.  It was time to go home.  Some beatings are worse than others.  Knowing the difference leans toward wisdom.

In retrospect I realize that was only one of many periods of homelessness.  No wonder it felt like something that could be challenged and overcome.  When in 1949 my Dad departed, family home foreclosed, mother carted off to asylum, that was homelessness of the nth degree.  Being sent away to boarding school where nuns stood in for otherwise occupied mothers and fathers, being sent on countless airplane rides between Dallas and Boston that attempted settlement with a mother who wanted to, tried o-so-hard to, but just couldn’t make a home for a misplaced daughter.  Choosing an ill-advised situation that created a home where all else had disintegrated, with the inevitable sad ending, all presaged that so predictable leave-taking through the Virginia countryside.  Giving up on the possibility of home is the bleakest homelessness of all.

Perhaps it is a blessing that as such days are lived into, there is no way to give attention to what is sure to come.  How then could we manage to place one foot before the other to grace an uncertain future?  But then, isn’t future by definition the very kernel of uncertainty?  That’s what makes the adventure so exciting—the possibility—the hope so satisfying.  Hope is the antidote to homelessness of heart, even through long cold winters of discontent.  Home must be where the heart is, homeless a non-sequitur.

Cow’s Tale

My son Dale was the first grandchild for Garnet and Ray Rex Taylor.  No wonder everything had to be just right.  As soon as mother’s milk wasn’t enough to keep him tick-full and happy, Garnet began hand milking an especially good Guernsey morning and night and bottling it on-the-spot for his benefit.  She explained that an infant’s delicate digestion would be less challenged by milk from a single cow than by mixing an uncontrolled assortment of sources.  The “Perrier” of milks, it was literally  “Bottled-at-the-Source.”  The cow’s name was Nosey.

The Taylors cash crop on their three-hundred acre West Virginia farm was keeping a mixed dairy herd of Holstein, Guernsey, and Brown Swiss.  As a newbie with fresh-off-the-sidewalks-of-Connecticut provenance, I undertook the crash course in animal husbandry accruing to my position as wife and new mother in that family endeavor.

I made it my business to follow Ray Rex around, plying him with questions and getting his take on all things pastoral.  The first thing I had to do was cut my fingernails.  That made it possible for me to learn how best to squeeze a teat without ensuing pain and swift kicks.  There was a never-ending series of new amazements to see and apply to this lovely nepotism.  While the pecuniary emolument was non-existent, its rewards were rich and gratifying.   I arose, dressed, and helped with breakfast every single day without exception, then leaving my lazy husband to his bed, I followed Ray and Garnie to the barn where the cows waited, impatient, tails switching and hooves stamping, registering the urgency of need-to-be-emptied.  A more benevolent evolution would have provided for self-evacuation, but when push came to shove, natural selection must have voted on the side of waiting for the calf to do the job.  There’s no Darwinian advantage to trickle-moisturizing a green grass pasture with fresh cow’s milk.

There was no end of things to learn about the farm animals.  I noticed, for instance, that most bulls are exuberantly bi-sexual, a fact demonstrated daily in the barn lot, along with much swinging back and forth of impressive sacks bulging with fecundity.  Life on a farm does make a girl lusty.  It’s no wonder that when Ray and Garnie disappeared down the road on a well-earned February vacation, the first thing my new husband and I did was to check out the milk cooler.  No.  Not to look in it, but to climb on it and make love.  That’s when Dale got his start in life as an October surprise.

But I digress.  As Ray Rex’s side-kick, I picked up the occasional veterinary tidbit.  He showed me, for instance, what to do when a cow gains access to early spring grass.  The first shoots of sprouting new growth (the dicotyledons) are often poisonous to cattle, causing gas to build in one or another of their rumens.  A Vet fixes this with an IV of calcium.  A farmer, lacking access to parenteral solutions, can save the day with a quick knife jab to the swollen stomach.  The pressure relieves, and the animal is saved for another season of profitable production.  Where evolution failed to install an escape-valve, the farmer makes one.

One lovely spring day Ray Rex brought home from a livestock sale a pretty and very pregnant black Jersey heifer.   He pastured her on our side of the river.  She was a little gem, unique to the farm, since the Taylors specialized in high producing breeds typical to commercial dairies.  They provided milk with relatively less butterfat than a Jersey milker, but with more volume. Since we didn’t separate the cream and churn butter, that made a lot of sense.  His idea was to sell her calf and keep the cow as Dale’s “source” when Nosey went dry.  Even a cow deserves a vacation, and Nosey had done her share.  She would get her three months of rest and cud chewing.

One day as Ray Rex headed off to town, I checked on the new black heifer.  She was in labor and was not at all happy about it.  Why did that have to happen when I was alone on the farm?  I kept an eye on her, and eventually she delivered a lovely fat bull calf but wouldn’t get up to let it nurse.  She lay on the barn floor and panted, her eyes glassy and unfocused.  The calf was up but hadn’t yet bonded with its mother, and had ended up in a heap in a corner of the barn.  Not good.  As the evening wore on the problem congealed.  It seemed to be a complication of what must have been too much spring grass.  A balloon gathered just forward of the animal’s right haunch and threatened to constrict flow of breath and blood.  I tried to get her to stand up, but she was having none of it.  Eventually she stretched out flat on her side and commenced groaning.  I was going to lose this animal.  It was then that I ran to the house and fished out my favorite paring knife.  I didn’t have a handy-dandy Swiss-pocket-knife that all farmers carried in their overalls, and had to make do.

When I returned, the cow’s tongue was hanging out sideways.  She was groaning in shallow pants.  I aimed the knife at the bulge and poked.  It bounced back.  The knife was good for butter, but not much else.  Another run up the hill to the kitchen yielded a serrated steak knife.  It wasn’t much better, but I finally worked my way through, sawing at the tough hairy outer hide.  Then it seemed a reasonable thing to open the internal organ at a spot not lined up with the skin access hole.  So I pulled the outer hole leftward and proceeded to saw open the taut rigid rumen.  As soon as knife achieved puncture the hole erupted, spewing gas and digesting grass all over me.  My eyes swam with green juice and it dripped off my nose, but I didn’t care.  It was so good to have relieved that killer pressure bolus.  Right away she sat up, shook her head, and tried to get up.  She lurched forward, scrabbling with back hooves, trying to find some traction on the wet floor. After a few attempts, she made it.  I collected the calf, gave him an encouraging rub-down, and he began to suck with the-diligence of intense hunger. The Jersey didn’t bother with thank-you, but I sensed a measure of gratitude.

When Ray Rex came home, he congratulated me on my emergency veterinary prowess.  He was proud of me, and I was feeling a wee bit cocky, but as time passed, flies laid their eggs in the wound.  They turned into maggots, which is what fly eggs are wont to do.  When I pulled the skin sideways to peek at the stomach hole, a stream of slime and maggots flowed down he Jersey’s flank.  I thought I had failed her, but Ray Rex assured me that everything was fine—just fine.  He said that flies and maggots conspired to provide cleansing for open air wounds as a natural aid to healing. 

The Jersey cow healed;  The calf went to the sale for veal;  Nosey got to retire for the summer; and Garnet began tapping the rich milk of my erstwhile surgery patient.  No wonder Dale grew up so hearty.  He started out with the big feet of a pick-of-the-litter puppy and lived into them with the integrity that has ever been his trademark. It wasn’t until I brought home a baby girl swathed in pink beribboned flannel that I truly realized how staunch was his hold on the life I had given him.  Compared to her dainty hands, his had the look of a stevedore’s.  It’s amazing what comparison can do to perception.  The week before, I had envisioned him as my sweet little baby boy.  Suddenly he appeared as a bumptious big brother who would one day put the cat in the freezer to create a “catsicle.”  I would love them both.  I would love them all.  It was I, after all, who had put a board on my duckling and stood on it to make it quack.  Who am I to judge creative persuasion? Performing veterinary surgery without benefit of license is an illegal bit of business, but since luck was along for the adventure, this cow’s tale can end with a wink and a smile.

Imitation

Back in 1982 Johnson & Johnson made interocular lenses under the aegis of Iolab Corporation, to replace the ones removed by cataract surgery.  Those early lenses produced the miracle of restoring sight to the blind on a routine basis, and a lot of work went into perfecting their design.  Such replacements became part of a human eye and needed to be the best of medical grade implants. 

Each lens had a hole drilled in it to provide for handling it during implantation.  That hole must be round, portray an exact diameter, pass through the entire lens, and have extremely smooth edges.  Drilling those holes presented problems both at entry and at exit for the rotating drill bit.  Several considerations affected the aesthetic and function of the rims.  Configuration of the drill bit, such as point angle, rotation speed of the drill head, and speed of advancement through the plastic body all affected appearance of the resulting apertures.  Routinely those holes were rimmed with ragged burrs, and that was patently unacceptable.

That was the state of affairs when I joined Iolab as Manufacturing Engineer in October 1982, and my number one assignment was to clean up those holes.  I organized several studies that involved supervising the drilling of hundreds of holes, varying each parameter in a controlled and documented methodology.  The more experimental holes drilled, the more it became obvious that a major process change would be required.  No matter how the variables varied, the holes remained chaotic and unpredictable.

One day while enjoying a solitary liquid lunch at the local watering hole, I mused about how cool it would be to blast the holes with a laser. Star Wars lens drilling?  Why not?  A laser could melt the holes, but that’s not the only way to liquify holes.  Drill speed increased enough to generate heat could melt through the plastic.  That might leave smooth holes. It would have to be controlled to keep from melting the whole lens, but it could be investigated.  Star Wars’ initial release in 1977 had everybody thinking about zapping things.  I paid the check and headed back to the lab.

I had no internet access at that time and did some tech library research that involved pulling weighty tomes off shelves and flipping through them, squinting until my eyes watered.  Soon all that effort located a company right in LA that did ultra-high-speed drilling.  I visited their factory and compared our disparate applications.  Returning to Iolab, I set up for ultra-high-speed drilling in the engineering lab.  The results were phenomenal.  Rims were consistently smooth, even under the microscope.

I showed my good results to my boss, Ted Wilshire.  He was dispassionate about the idea and seemed not ready to believe the impact of the portended change.  He said to keep it quiet and just write up what I had done and give it to him.  I pulled together all my studies and documented the results, along with the cost impact of the change as a break-even analysis.  I copied only Ted Wilshire and copy-to-file.  It was a dead issue

Ted was new to J&J and had blasted any chance that we might get along by cracking a sexist joke at my expense when he and I were first introduced.  He commented to the whole group that where he came from women belonged in the kitchen.  I didn’t laugh.  Now getting credit for my important process improvement depended on his good will—his alone.

I didn’t hear much from Ted for several weeks.  Then suddenly rumors of a big engineering meeting to announce a new process began making the rounds.  The Iolab president would be there.  Nobody knew what was happening, and we looked forward to finding out.

While waiting my turn at the Xerox machine in the copy room, I noticed a meeting agenda being reproduced by the engineering secretary.  I scored a copy from her and went back to my cubby to read it.  It outlined a new drilling process invented by Ted Wilshire that would markedly improve the profit position of lens production, stating that he would be describing the entire concept at a meeting to be held in the management suite the very next day with all engineers and managers required to attend.

It was a while before I was conscious of taking a breath.  Ted was going to steal my idea.  How could he?  I didn’t have long to ponder the problem because I got a call to report to the office of the engineering group manager, Nacho Munos.  That was just as well.  If he hadn’t called, I would have been calling him, asking for a meeting.  I pulled out my copy of my Profit Improvement Disclosure and headed for Nachos’ office.

I might as well have left it in the file, because on arriving at the Engineering Group office Nacho let me stand while he directed me to gather my personals and leave the building.  My services were no longer needed at Iolab.  I asked Nacho where this came from.  He replied, “Ted Wilshire.”  That’s all I needed to know.  I kept my copy of my original disclosure, but was too devastated to even fight the betrayal. In 2021interocular lenses don’t even require holes.  It’s a good thing that such a great product doesn’t have to carry a feature reminiscent of such rapacious skullduggery.   In retrospect, it was nice to know that Ted thought so much of my idea he had to steal it.  Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

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.

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?

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.

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!

Trolls

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.

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 many months 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, West Virginia’s 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 was Dale’s.  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 Dodge 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 the female gender.

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 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 calamatous.  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 our 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 family 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 from Lane 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 military-industrial-aerospace serious 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 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.

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.

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(*)  Morethanenoughtruth.com/acronymania