Prerogatives of Sole Survivors

I dreaded the slide scanning chore for years, and, like a lot of chores, it turned out not to be so bad. Looking at China was inspiring, great.

And THEN…

Yesterday I sat down with the famdamily slides and more or less cursed life as I stacked them into the (usually not functional) bulk scanner. Some of the slides are over 60 years old and the glue holding the sides of the slides together had stopped working. Retired, I guess.

Since so many of them were totally irrelevant to me (as the sole survivor, I get to be the arbiter of relevance for this family) I started holding them up to the light to see if it was worth scanning them. Lots of slides went into the trash, things like store-bought slides of the Air Force Academy or faded scenery photos of the Black Hills. It was a relief just to toss them.

I found some wonderful things in that huge collection of slides.

Like a lot of families in the 1950s, we took road trips, usually to Montana, but in 1957 we drove from Denver to Florida, then to California, Oregon, Montana and back to Colorado. I was five and my brother was three. Some of those photos survived and they are sweet artifacts of a very different world.

Somewhere on the road having lunch, 1957. The background hills look like California, but who knows?

Some of the photos are hilarious, though they were probably not meant to be. Others bring back good memories of the time when our family was functional and happy. Looking at them, I decided to forget that I know how it turned out. But my initial feeling as I dived into this was anger, an anger I never felt before. I was furious with them all for dying.

I’m not big on Facebook memes but a friend happened to post this last night when the “… l’horrible fardeau du temps” (…the horrible burden of time) (Baudelaire) was pushing me to the ground. The meme seemed to give good information, maybe it was the truth. It really was a huge pressure fitting my life around my mom’s expectations. I carried the hopeless weight of my brother’s addiction for years, but couldn’t fix him. My dad? He was doomed from the start and he always said that he, mom, and Kirk were not my job. ❤

It was wonderful to see some of those people again, people I loved and times I savored even as a little kid. The best photos are the ones no one set up or posed, the photos of a day in the life.

Neighbor kids, my brother with a broken arm and an airplane, my Aunt Martha and my grandmother, our house in Nebraska.

When I was done with that for the day, I put on my new skis for the first time. Out there on the snow, with the beautiful San Luis Valley sky and mountains all around me, the snow beneath my skis, the frost falling off the tips of the cottonwood trees, I thought in the vague direction of my mom and brother, both suicides, “Maybe I just loved this more than you did. Maybe it was always enough for me.” I glided forward, somewhat tentatively, hoping I’d still be able to do do this and I was, I am. ❤

The Three of Us

Over Christmas people were always asking me if I were going to be alone. Being alone doesn’t always mean being lonely, and, anyway, I wasn’t alone. 🙂

There are three in my family. It’s true that two of us are dogs. But…

Yesterday I went to the vet to get Dusty’s meds. There was a small old dog, (small meaning 40 pounds) black, white and tan, lying on the floor behind her person. Her person looked French He was short, light and Gallic, salt-and-pepper hair, slightly receding hairline, about fifty-five with sad brown eyes. The few lines on his face and the turn of his mouth said, “I’m worried.” He gave his dog a treat from the treat jar and waited for Maureen, the receptionist, to be able to get him in to see the doctor. Maureen was all alone on the front desk of this busy vet and contending with a persnickety computer. The person ahead of me was picking up antibiotics for her sheep.

As Maureen went to fill the bottle of pills for me, I went over to see the dog. She reminded me a lot of Mindy. I could tell she was quite old.

“Is this your friend?” I said to the man.

“We’re penpals.” Ah, he was funny.

“You write each other?”

He just grinned.

I petted her and asked her age. I learned she was 17. “What a sweet girl.” I scratched her ear.

“She has an infection on her foot.”

“I see that,” I said. Her right front foot was pink and inflamed. “She’s a wonderful beast,” I told the man. “What a sweet being. Old dogs just have a kind of wisdom.”

He nodded. His eyes filled with tears.

“Is she an Aussie mix?”

“Patterdale terrier,” he answered. I had not heard of that breed before.

Meanwhile, Dusty’s prescription was filled. Maureen said, “How about $72?”

I said, “I like that ‘how about’,” and smiled. I handed her my ATM card then thought better of it and gave her a credit card. “I might want to eat.”

I don’t know what happened next with “Jacques” and his dog. In his eyes the whole time we were interacting was very deep love for his dog and dread about what the doctor might say. No 17 year old dog has a long life ahead of them. I knew “Jacques” knew what I know, that I wasn’t alone for Christmas. All three of my immediate family was together.

I drove home hoping that all would go well for Jacques and his sweet dog and hoping, also, that afterward — because it will come — he will find another. ❤

December

The sun that brief December day 
Rose cheerless over hills of gray, 
And, darkly circled, gave at noon 
A sadder light than waning moon. 
Slow tracing down the thickening sky 
Its mute and ominous prophecy, 
A portent seeming less than threat, 
It sank from sight before it set. 

Snow is in the forecast (please, please, please). I don’t think a “shortest day of the year” passes without my thinking of “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier, a poem always recited by my grandfather to his family, very possibly on this day every year.

One of the things I’m fortunate about is having grown up in a family that loved poetry — both my parents. Maybe it’s one of the things that drew them together. My dad really wanted to BE a poet but he had as little aptitude for it as I ended up having for math.

I love these old picture poems. In a world in which ordinary people didn’t have cameras, poetry had to do the job and I think it did well.

Ah, brother! only I and thou 
Are left of all that circle now,— 
The dear home faces whereupon 
That fitful firelight paled and shone. 
Henceforward, listen as we will, 
The voices of that hearth are still; 
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er, 
Those lighted faces smile no more. 
We tread the paths their feet have worn, 
      We sit beneath their orchard trees, 
      We hear, like them, the hum of bees 
And rustle of the bladed corn; 
We turn the pages that they read, 
      Their written words we linger o’er, 
But in the sun they cast no shade, 
No voice is heard, no sign is made, 
      No step is on the conscious floor! 
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust, 
(Since He who knows our need is just,) 
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must. 




Not that PBR

I’m sorry but what? My family? Two dogs. A couple of cousins in the wilds of Montana (one of whom flirts with me, very creepy) and a couple others here and there. Family is not all it’s cracked up to be. Some families are just fucked from the getgo. Some fall apart over time. This joyful holiday get-together-with-family BS is just an added pressure this time of year, and I’m at the point in life where I get to choose my “family.”

Last Christmas I spent with some of my chosen family in Colorado Springs. Providence brought me a sister not long after my brother Kirk died from alcoholism. “Here,” Providence said, “from Kirk.” We thank Kirk from time to time because without him dying we wouldn’t know each other. To learn about that, you can read my post on the Kindness of the Gods.

The Christmas Eve get-together of family and friends was hilarious and grim as only family Christmases can be. The “brother-in-law,” we’ll call him “M,” got drunk and spent the evening sitting on the “going to the basement” stairs of the split-level house my chosen sister (CS) had borrowed from her second brother (who was not there) because it had a dishwasher and more space than her house. Probably 30 people attended. I knew most of them, but didn’t get to talk to everyone. I was in a lot of pain from my hip and couldn’t stand for more than five or ten minutes, so I had to spend the party sitting on a comfy chair (“No, no, not the comfy chair!”)

My “son-like-thing” was depressed and mildly inebriated, in a bad relationship and lost in life. My nephew, one of the sweetest people on the planet, a developmentally disabled guy in his 30s, sat with me on a small sofa with his head on my shoulder staring at my tits. My CS’s oldest brother and his piece-of-work wife interviewed me about my education and credentials to see if I merited their attention and conversation. I passed, but that didn’t mean we had anything to say to each other.

After about a couple of hours, my CS noticed that “M” was MIA.

“He’s on the basement stairs. He’s been there all night.”
“Is he OK?”
“He doesn’t look so good.”
“I’ll take him home,” I said. I’d signed up for that job early in the day.

Some friends helped “M” to my car. No one knew if he (blind and arthritic and drunk) could walk on his own, and the thought of him falling was not to be borne. “I’ll meet you there,” said one of my CS’s friends who was there with her son and his new girlfriend. I was pretty stove up at the time, needing hip surgery and unable to easily climb stairs, so I wouldn’t have been able to help him into the house. We’d have sat in the car godnose how long.

Absurd.

“Great,” I said, relieved. On the way “home,” I dropped off my CS’s very pitiful ( 😦 )alcoholic musician friend, then took “M” home. The friends drove up, ready to help, but “M” was fine. He went in by himself, headed directly to the basement, his hangout, with the mini-fridge and the 20 pack of *PBRs.

“You going back to the party?” asked the friend.

I shook my head, thinking how amazing life is that even with everyone in my own dysfunctional blood family dead, I could still have a Christmas Eve like that. ❤

~~~

*PBR stands both for Professional Bull Riders and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.

Amici

Friends are the family you choose, or you happen upon, going part of the way with you or years with you, precious as diamonds, rare as rainbows, more fun than a carnival. Sometimes they’re dogs. My friends are all very different from me except for ineffable qualities of heart, respect, affection and sympathy. In our cyber world, friends can live thousands of miles away. Wherever they are, life is much better with them than without them.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/05/rdp-wednesday-friendship/

Family…

This time of year families gather together. For many years, I traveled to Montana, first with my mom, dad and brother to stay with my grandmothers. Then, as an adult, I flew up to Montana from San Diego to be with my mom and then, after she died, I flew to Montana to spend Christmas with my aunts. 

There was a period in there when I broke off with my family — I made some choices I had every right to make, but my mom disowned me, leaving me feeling confused and ashamed. I can’t say the estrangement was a bad thing or a bad time. I now believe it was necessary. In those years I belonged to a new family, this family was in Zürich, and for a few years I flew “home” to Zürich for Christmas. I look on that time as one of the sweetest and magical of my life. 

My mom and I attempted to make amends after one of my cousins died suddenly of a brain tumor, and my mom realized it could have been me. From that came one of the three times she ever called me on the phone (it was my job to call her) and asked me to come “home” for Christmas. I did. It turned out to be the last Christmas of her life. It was a strange, joyless Christmas for both of us. We didn’t like each other. I wasn’t the daughter she wanted, and I had never found anything in common with her, feeling only a sense of duty and the wish for love. My aunt Dickie called me up while I was visiting my mom and attempted a heart-to-heart about my mom’s drinking. But, as my aunt Dickie didn’t want to bad-mouth her sister, and this is the cowboy American west where some things were just not spoken of directly by the older generation, I didn’t get the point. I didn’t even get it when my mom almost crashed the car into a curb… I would learn the truth three months later when a scan of my mom’s brain revealed brain lesions from alcoholism.

The years of Christmas with my aunts were wonderful, fun, warm, friendly, loving, and I savored those times knowing they would not last forever. All of my aunts are gone now and my reflection in the mirror is a collage containing features and expressions of all those people. Interestingly, only the bird finger on my right hand resembles anything about my mom. Go figure.

I think there’s a point in most of our lives — especially those of us who don’t have kids — when we’re the sole survivors. I don’t mind. I loved my family and I miss them, but I’ve understood for a while that we all stand on a curb watching the passing parade. It’s an interesting parade because though we stand and watch, we are also in it, moving at different rates of speed toward the moment when we turn a corner and are no more. 

Ultimately, I found my home in a place on the map my family only passed through. I could have come sooner, but I guess I wasn’t ready or didn’t realize what “home” was. I love Montana, but the winter nights are very long and I like sunshine. I ended up in exactly the right place for me. I began to get an idea about 10 years ago and a search that began in 2002 for a job in Wyoming became a search for home in a small town in Colorado where I could live on the rather frugal income I’d have when I retired. I also wanted mountains, to live at a high elevation, to have snow and sunshine. 

I found it.

And, family, too. Family-less, the blank spaces in my life have been filled by those to whom I have an affinity and they to me. Some are close, some are more distant, but the heart-ties are the same or even more wholesome, cleaner, without some of the loaded expectations we have of family. 

25 years ago I was given a collection of Rumi’s poems by a woman who was a very precious friend and soulmate, both she and her husband. I felt she was my older sister, and in the passage of time, her husband — who was born the same year as my dad — offered me affection and support very like my dad would have if he had been alive. In that collection of poems, I read this one and decided to use it as instructions for finding the right direction.

Anyone who genuinely and constantly with both hands
looks for something, will find it.
Though you are lame and bent over, keep moving toward [it]. With speech, with silence, with sniffing about, stay on the track.
Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness.



I-70

In 1999, Molly Wolf and I packed up the Ford Escort wagon and headed east from San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Martha in Denver. 

Moly and I loved road trips. The drive east was beautiful, befitting late November in Southern California. It was before the span between San Diego and San Bernardino was full of bedroom communities. We turned right and headed over the pass to Las Vegas (which we ignored). We drove through beautiful Southern Utah all the way to Cedar City where we found a motel and went out for dinner. Molly and I both liked Colonel Chicken when we were on the road. We sat outside at the cold tables and shared chicken. It began to snow. Molly and I walked back to our motel in this beautiful stuff, stopping at a college where there is a replica of the Globe Theater and, outside it, a circle of sculptures of great writers. It was beautiful. The night was inky black, the snow fell all around us, and the writers seemed joined together in a literary conspiracy.

The next morning I learned that the Eisenhower Tunnel between us and Denver was closed, and it was unknown when it would open. Our gentle snowfall was a big storm in the Rockies.

That was our route, but Molly and I clearly weren’t going that way. We headed south, instead, backtracking a bit, and went through Zion down to Flagstaff and on the 40 to Albuquerque where we spent the night. The next morning we were up and out, heading north to family on I-25. As we dropped down Raton Pass into Colorado’s Western Slope (mountains to the left, the Great Plains to the Right) the Dixie Chicks started singing “Wide Open Spaces” and, of course, I cried. I was so glad to be back in Colorado.

It was a very important trip, something revealed a year or so after the journey. My Aunt Martha (80 years old) and I had a wonderful time together doing all the things we normally did. She loved my dog and so did her cat, Amiga. We ate Thanksgiving dinner in a Swiss restaurant. Another evening we cooked T-bones and fried potatoes (my Aunt’s favorite meal). We laughed and talked, shared confidences. I walked my dog around what is now Centennial but was then Littleton. Molly — Malamute and Aussie — loved the snow (of course). Then it was time to go. I packed up the Escort, said goodbye to my aunt and headed west. The snow was all melted by then. I-70 was not yet the crowded horror show it is now. We stopped at rest stops and dawdled our way back to Cedar City, but pressed on to St. George. 

Then we were home. 

So… I woke up this Thanksgiving morning thankful for that trip. My aunt got sick that winter, family sold the home that she loved so much, and she moved to Montana. In a year or so she would be in extended care. It was — though I didn’t know it that Thanksgiving — the last moment of that part of both of our lives.

I’m so grateful we had it. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/22/rdp-thursday-grateful/

Tuned In

Long, long ago in a land three hours away from here, a young lady or teenage girl (depending on your point of view) got to work in a radio station. Once a week, Sunday evening, the radio station turned itself over to my high school’s speech club. 

We wrote and produced a radio show. I don’t remember how long the show was, but I remember writing radio plays, announcements and ads, and, rarely, being on air. 

My voice is in a pretty high register. In order to go on air without sounding like a three year old, and hurting the ears of the vast number of listeners on Sunday evenings I had to learn to speak on air. A real, live radio DJ taught me to bring my voice down a register or two. I was never a husky-voiced radio siren, but I did OK.

My dad was a radio appassionatto. During WW II (since he never managed to ship out with his outfit) he ended up a radio operator out by the Salton Sea in the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego. He not only learned to operate radios, but to build them. Once he was out of the Army, on the GI Bill, attending Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT, he was an Amateur Radio operator. This was a time when HAM radio was the only voice in what was often a dark, cold and lonely wilderness. 

Later on in life, my dad got a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio and could listen to radio all over the world. One of my dad’s and my favorite things was to turn on the Trans-Oceanic (in the basement?) and try to listen to Russia. We never succeeded, but what sense would we have made of it, anyway? Most of the time we got Juarez or Tijuana.

“Practice your Spanish, MAK.”

We got a car with a radio in it in 1955, and my dad was constantly tuning to find the best song. Back in the 1950s, there was only AM radio and not many stations, but my dad never gave up. Happy times arrived in 1957 when the push-button car radio made it into our world. My dad steered with his left hand and directed his automotive orchestra with his right.

So do I, much to the fear and annoyance of my passengers. Nothing worse on the road than 3 minutes of music you hate.

Ours was attached to a car…

On long road trips we’d try every local station. Driving at night, he’d try to tune in a certain Texas radio station that broadcast a strong signal. “Leave the radio alone, Bill!” was my Mom’s unavailing refrain. 

Radio where I live now is spotty and random. I tried NOT spending money on SIRIUS and making do, but as with a lot of other things, the San Luis Valley is a radio time warp. Sometimes I might get a decent station from Salida (1 1/2 hours to the north) or Taos (an hour to the south). There’s a station in Alamosa that’s pretty good, but it has to be everything to everybody. There’s Public Broadcasting from Taos (I think) but reception is spotty. There’s a Top 40ish station that makes my teeth itch and none of these come in clearly. 

I realized satellite radio is a quality of life issue for me, not only because my driving style depends on it (one hand on the wheel, one hand on the buttons), but because I think that the car radio is an oracle. More than once I’ve gotten in the car, turned on the engine and BAM the song that comes up is exactly the one I need to hear, answering a deep question or soothing frayed nerves. 

Back in California, at the end of my time there, when I desperately wanted out and feared I would never escape, if I heard The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” on my way to school, I thought, “Shit, I’m trapped.” Now when I hear it, I say, “Ha ha, fooled you!” and turn it up in defiance.

Last year, driving over La Veta Pass on my brother’s birthday, I heard both of “his” songs (“Fool on the Hill” by the Beatles and “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails). There’s a long list of “signs” (William S. Burroughs said, “There are no coincidences.”) If I hear my “anthem” (“Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush) I feel that nothing can defeat me. I realize this might sound to you like a kind of psychosis, but it’s not that serious.

Or is it? There’s a lot of truth to Warren Zevon’s song. And yeah, I’ve heard it on the radio.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/20/rdp-tuesday-broadcast/

Roasted

This time of year (in America) people are pondering the gathering together of family to celebrate a holiday that was made up in 1863 as a way to (symbolically) bring a divided nation together. It would be good if that’s what it still meant, because we have a divided country now.

Very vivid in my memory is my family’s first Thanksgiving back in Colorado after living for six years in Nebraska where my dad worked for Strategic Air Command as a wargamer. It was 1966. We’d moved to Colorado Springs and dad went to work at NORAD. We’d been in Colorado Springs maybe six weeks.

My dad hadn’t wanted to move back to Colorado. He knew his physical abilities were deteriorating rapidly. With MS back then, before there was really any treatment, stress could have a yugely deleterious effect. My mom, facing my dad’s deterioration, didn’t want to be alone. Her closest sisters lived in Denver.

So we moved, rented a house and hosted Thanksgiving which involved buying a fancy new turkey roaster.

$_3

I think we used it once…

I was homesick for the small town in Nebraska where we’d lived. I was 14, almost 15. I had had my first boyfriend in Nebraska meaning my first kiss and hand-holding. I was very occupied with YEARNING and listening to The Association sing Cherish. My brother was a kid. I didn’t have friends in the Springs. I sat in the basement watching college football, rooting for the Cornhuskers and trying to care about the outcome because, damn, that was NEBRASKA.

As my mom tried to orchestrate a small family reunion (Aunt Martha, Aunt Kelly, Cousin Linda, me, Kirk and dad) I just wanted it to be over. I wanted the radio to go back to playing the top 40 Rock Hits of the Week (that mattered a lot to me when I was 14). I didn’t even want the days off from school. I wanted normalcy, but it was not to be.

The turkey roaster cooked the turkey OK, but it wasn’t the same as an oven. The skin wasn’t golden and the meat fell off the bones. The dressing was tasty, the gravy had giblets in it (ew), the green bean-mushroom-soup-canned-onion-ring casserole (Aunt Kelly’s, “Bless her heart, Kelly could never cook.” True that), all of it was beige and brown except Aunt Martha’s Jell-o salad. It was the best part of the meal (I made it for a family Thanksgiving a few years ago and it surprised everyone — yeah it’s old-fashioned but it’s really good and refreshing, and so everyone agreed after trying it, though the young’uns initially laughed at it — whether in fear, ridicule or surprise, I don’t know).

1a5239a5cbf70e68a5839c9441e5a3f2.jpg

Kinda, sorta. Cream cheese and walnuts (should be on the bottom). Lime Jell-o and pineapple, raspberry jello and cranberries on top. No idea what the mint leaves are doing…

We were all seated around the table (“Martha Ann, made the centerpiece,”) set with the “best china” and the silver-plate and the crystal stemware and the grownups had champagne and my dad had muscle spasms and I yearned for my boyfriend in Nebraska and my brother just wanted to get back to his drawing table in the corner of the basement and continue drawing cartoons.

It didn’t really occur to me until this morning that people who resist the way holidays interrupt their normal lives might have the most to be thankful for. It’s no small thing to like your life.  ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/rdp-thursday-orchestrate/

Squirrel or Cookie?

“Bear! Dusty! What the hell???”

“There, human, over there! BARK BARK BARK BARK!”

“C’mon guys you’re driving the neighborhood crazy.”

“Don’t you humans recognize the danger? BARK BARK BARK!!!”

“Come inside. You can have a cookie.”

And in this way a squirrel on a wire began to mean “cookie” to my dogs.

I’ve had dogs to whom squirrels THEMSELVES meant cookies. The huskies were very good on the job of squirrel control. In Southern California, the squirrels were ground squirrels. My husky, Jasmine, was VERY good at catching them. Another was the esteemed and missed Cody O’Dog. Here’s his squirrel story, retold from the post “Cody O’Dog.”  The year was 2010. The occasion my 40th high school reunion. Cody and I had driven to Colorado Springs from San Diego. After the reunion, we headed north to Montana to visit my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank and Aunt Dickie.

…Cody and I got back in the car and drove to Caspar, Wyoming on our way to visit my Aunt Jo and Aunt Dickie in Billings, Montana. We stayed at a great motel next to the river and had a long walk that evening before turning in. The next day we got to Billings.

My Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank were astonished at Cody’s size. We went out to the back yard to talk and Cody lay on the grass enjoying the cool, but, in his husky way he was also vigilant.

“Is that what he does?” asked my aunt. “Just lie there? He’s so big!”

“Well, he’ll be up in a flash if there’s a reason.”

Just then an immense red squirrel came over the back fence. Cody was up. Noticing the dog who was NOT supposed to be there, the squirrel made a leap for the front fence.  Cody caught it in the air, rang its neck, and gave it to me. Unfortunately, the squirrel wasn’t quite dead so I had to finish it off. My aunt and I took the squirrel’s body out where some scavengers could reap the benefits.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/11/rdp-sunday-squirrel/