The Cast

“Mom!!!!”

“What happened?”

My little brother held his arm as if it were a bone china tureen filled with hot soup, not that he’d know or care at all about what bone china is.

“I fell out of a tree up at the mission.” The Columban fathers had a mission a block from our house. It was acres and acres of deciduous forest. It was our playground, our happy place.

“I’ll call your father.”

She didn’t drive.

I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know where I went — probably to a neighbor’s  or maybe (I think) my grandma was visiting — or where the bone was set, but my brother came home with a cast on his forearm.

“Simple break,” said my dad. “No reason for hysterics, Helen.”

“I broke my arm,” she stuck out her left arm so we could see the crooked bit. “It never healed right.”

“Helen,” sighed my dad, “there were no hospitals.”

“She sent David for Dr. Festy.” David being her older brother.

“Had to set it with boards in the kitchen, right? They did the best they could.”

“My poor boy. Mother gave me castor oil.”

“For a broken arm?”

“I wouldn’t stop crying.”

My dad shook his head and laughed. That was my grandma. What do you do on a dirt farm with ten kids, no car, no phone, two Percherons, a 7-year-old with a broken arm? From where I sit now, castor oil doesn’t seem that crazy.

“Well, it ruins our vacation,” said my mom.

“Why?” asked my dad.

“Kirk won’t be able to do anything. He has to be in a cast for three months!”

That did not turn out to be the case. Kirk did everything a two-armed kid would do except play Little League which he hated, anyway.

At the end of the summer, we went to Montana on the train as usual. The days were long, hot, sweet and filled with family. There were sunset games of Red Rover and lots of running in the tall grass of the pasture between grandma’s house and Aunt Jo’s. There were backyard picnics with fried chicken, red Jell-o mixed with fruit cocktail, potato salad and pie. The grownups sat in lawn chairs smoking in the darkness while we played monsters with flashlights.

One afternoon our cousins came over to stay with grandma and play with us. My brother  was playing in the ditch (not supposed to because of the cast) with the two youngest cousins, girls, while I tried watercolor painting with out a brush — I was trying to use the bristly ends of some wild grass. It didn’t work. Kirk and my cousins came screeching in through the backdoor. Kirk had caught a sucker with his bare hands. This was a marvel, a feat previously only accomplished by my mom.

“Mom! Look what I caught!” He held the fish carefully in both hands.

“Where’s your cast?” asked my mom, turning pale.

“I don’t know,” said my brother, suddenly realizing how seriously he’d messed up. It turned out he’d been slipping that thing off for weeks when he didn’t want to wear it.

I still have an image in my mind of that tow-headed kid in the Hawaiian shirt my mom had made him during the months she and my dad were living in Honolulu and we were living with Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank in Montana. We’re in a doctor’s waiting room. The chairs are Chartreuse, the tile floor black and white. Kirk and my mom are called into the examining room. They get up and Kirk leaves the cast on the chair.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/broken/

Once Upon a Time

My brother had a little girl, and I loved her more than anything. Strangely, you can have unrequited love in your own family, and that love story didn’t work out well. Not because of me, and probably not because of her. I suspect all the other dark factors that affected my family. The photo is her with her mom about 1981.

When she was a little thing, just walking and talking, she was my best bud. I didn’t get to see her often because there was a lot of stress in the famdamnily, but when I did see her, it was the greatest.

Once we went out to eat together — her mom, dad, and I. We had finished dinner and were sitting around the table while my niece played in a largely empty restaurant. She was enthralled with the (to her) long distance between the back wall and the front windows. I joined her in the back of the restaurant about to share an adventure to the front.

“Let’s go!” she said. She’d just learned to run without falling on her face.

“Where?” I asked.

THERE!” she replied.

“There? That’s too vague,” I answered (to a two year old)

“OK. Let’s go to vague!”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/vague/

2 + 2

Rat IThe House Might Eat Tommy’s Ice Cream

Got THAT out of the way. I’m not at all interested in mnemonics, frankly. But I do know one and there it is. 🙂

***

In OTHER news it snowed last night. Here’s a photo of Bear in the snow. One of my friends pointed out the shadow, calling it Bear’s “Inner Wolf.” ❤

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/mnemonic/

Talking to Flowers?

Last night I dreamed all the summer flowers had grown up and bloomed in our strangely warm winter. I was worried about them. “No,” I said to them, “You don’t want to do this!” And, in my dream, they actually answered.

In my California life, February was spring. The whole season began around February 10 and ended around April 1. No fooling ( ha ha ). In my dream I explained this to my Colorado flowers, but words like “California” meant nothing to them. “This isn’t California. It’s Colorado, and it’s only February,” I said. “We could have a lot more hard freezes.”

“Our job is to bloom,” they said. “We’re taking the chance now. As you say, who knows?”

It’s so annoying when dream flowers get all deep and philosophical on a person.

And then there were my mom and dad. That was the weirdest part of the dream. I woke up wondering about Heaven, not THIS Heaven but the post-mortem Heaven. If there IS such a place and we ARE reunited with our family, I don’t want to see them. That’s what the dream was about. Ultimately, in the dream, I ran away from them, down a suburban street, wearing some kind of fancy dress shoes. I ran well (that was the good part of the dream) but I wondered how I could manage that so poorly shod (dreams are weird). They couldn’t catch me. They followed, always more than 1/2 block away, calling my name, telling me to wait, to come back. As I ran, I yelled back at them, “Leave me alone! What do you have to do with me?”

The dream is fraught with personal symbolism. On waking I thought, “Whoa, analyze THAT for a few years, sweet cheeks,” and decided not to. But, of course, I do, I am.

In 1966 my dad’s abilities (he had MS) had started to seriously degenerate. One night he took me to my piano lesson which happened to be in the local music store. While I had my lesson, he hung around in the front of the shop. The shop keeper played an album for my dad and on it was the song that, for my dad, said everything.

 

P.S. Mindy thanks everyone for all the care and sympathy yesterday. She’s feeling a lot better today! ❤

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sympathize/

Infinitude

I was never very good at arithmetic or math when I was in school. This was rough because my dad was a mathematician. I struggled more, I think, than my parents knew or my teachers knew. Now I know there is a learning disability — discalcula — that makes it difficult for some students to read a number problem. When we got to algebra, I was screwed.

But in 9th grade we had one six-week unit on a different kind of math. I didn’t just love it, I got an A. It was a unit on theoretical math and it included topology. That was completely fascinating to me. Here were bottles that had no inside or outside, maps that couldn’t be drawn (but had been), and the Möbius Strip. I already knew about this wonderful thing because my dad and I had built some.

“Here’s the symbol for infinity, MAK,” said my dad. I loved infinity.

I think my dad must have been happy when I cam home excited about math rather than despairing. I wanted to talk to him about all the cool stuff I’d learned — about Pascals triangle, probability theory, Klein bottles, the whole shebang.

It was our custom to do the Saturday shopping together without my mom. Now I understand it was a way for my dad (who had MS) to enjoy a walk around the grocery store aided by a shopping cart. We had our method. We went up one aisle and down the other. It was an inside joke between us. When my mom was a teacher, she’d assigned the usual fall essay, “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.” Her school was in rural Montana, so she couldn’t have expected much, but one kid wrote. “I hoed beets. I went up one row, and down the other. Up one row and down the other.” He filled the paper with this.

And my mom told this story over and over…

One Saturday my dad and I headed to Bakers (the store). Dad had a list, but we often bought stuff off the list. At the end, it was a race between me and the checker to see if I could keep up with her or even get ahead of her. Back then, prices weren’t scanned, they were punched into the cash register key board.

My dad and I were waiting for the people ahead of us. As the groceries were carried on the conveyor belt, my dad suddenly said, “You know what that is?”

“Conveyor belt?”

“Most conveyor belts are Möbius Strips.”

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I tried to fathom this by imagining a little paper Möbius strip in my mind.

“It has no sides, honey. Remember? By using a Möbius strip as a conveyor belt, no ‘side’ wears out before the other. It wears evenly.”

“Wow.” That this strange stuff was actually useful seemed miraculous to me.

“Still haven’t found a practical use for the Klein Bottle, though,” laughed my dad.

 

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https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/conveyor/

Doors of Obfuscation

Our life’s dreams are often slow to realize and some of them are simply strange, like my dream of someday having a LOT of dogs. That was a dream I had as a kid and tried to realize as a teenager with a big red dog I brought home. The moment wasn’t right. It was not the right age/time of my life to begin my dog pack, so the dream didn’t come true. I forgot all about it for a long time, so long that when it DID come true. and I remembered it, I was in my 40s. All I could do was laugh.

But some night dreams are scary/important. I think we do work things out in sleep, some hidden conundrums — some very old ones — can work their way up the levels of our unconscious mind and teach us things using strange but perfect symbolism.

When my little brother was 10 we were visiting my Aunt Martha in Denver. She lived in a late 1950’s three story apartment next to Cheeseman Park. Now the building is condos and they sell for quite a lot of money ($213,500), but back in 1963 it was just a small, 600 sq ft, one bedroom apartment in a great location. My aunt lived on the first floor but elevated. The basement apartments had big windows so the first floor was pretty far off the ground. It had a “lanai” and to get to the lanai you went through a sliding glass door.

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The actual apartment! Thanks Zillow!

I don’t know if sliding glass doors were newish back then or that we just hadn’t had much exposure to them, but my brother walked through it. He could have been badly hurt, but all that happened was a cut on his thumb that didn’t even need stitches.

The other night I dreamed I walked into a room and my brother was there sleeping. There was a sliding glass door hanging off the rails. I was so afraid my brother would be hurt, or someone would come in and hurt him, that I began fussing with it to get it to close. When I got there I found DOZENS of attempts at repairing that door and NONE of them worked. I discarded one after the other — some made with wood and chicken wire, some with wire reinforced glass. I could NEVER get the door to close; I could NEVER make my brother safe.

In my dream, my brother slept through my Herculean efforts on behalf of his safety. He never knew. He was completely undisturbed. Then a voice in my dream said, “You have to go. You’ve done everything you could.”

Behind everything else in the dream was the fact that my brother had chosen to sleep in that room, in that bed. A very obvious cliché right there.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s reached the point of walking away from a beloved family member (my brother was a hardcore alcoholic) who is an addict feels conflicted, maybe forever. In my dream I answered that statement with, “What about this door?”

 

Cody O’Dog

A few times in my life, I have found myself in abusive romantic relationships. Go on, shake your head. I really did write “timeS.” Two were physically abusive (which goes along with psychological abuse) and one was pure sadistic sociopathic psychological manipulation.

It was during the third that I met Cody O’Dog.

I had recently had my first hip surgery. Before that, I had been obliged to have my sweet husky, Jasmine, put to sleep. She had lymphoma. I was in the middle of rehab, at a cross-roads, walking with two arm crutches and hoping soon to graduate to a cane.

The Evil X was still living with me (it would be a year before I’d eject him).

One evening, about a month after the surgery, I was going through Craiglist looking at dogs. One posting caught my attention. It had a simple headline: YOUR HUSKY. The woman who owned it was living in a battered women’s shelter in north San Diego County. The shelter had an agreement with an animal shelter to house residents’ animals for 3 months. For this dog, the three months were up.

My huskies — Jasmine and Lily — had come to me similarly. The woman who gave them to me had been forced to move into an apartment. Her ex-husband, who had been in jail for beating her, was coming out. She had to get out of “their” house and couldn’t take Jasmine and Lily. As I read the story under YOUR HUSKY, I thought, “That’s the right dog for me.”

He happened, also, to have gotten the attention of the amazing woman who ran a local husky rescue through which I had adopted Jasmine and Lily. She met me and the Evil X at the animal shelter.

YOUR HUSKY was a very large, very beautiful, purebred husky who had once belonged to some movie star and then to the couple. They had used him for breeding with a low-content wolf who was about to be adopted, a sweet girly dog of only 3 years. YOUR HUSKY was said to be three, but he was much older. His name was Cody. He was to belong to the Evil X. The Evil X walked him, but the dog ignored him; his eyes were on me. “You try,” said the EX his extremely fragile and flammable ego in ashes. If the Evil X hadn’t been in public, the dog would’ve gotten yelled at and yanked around.

That was the first time after the surgery that I dropped one crutch and walked. The dog was on my left, my crutch on my right. As we walked around the little park that was part of the animal shelter, the dog watched me and matched all my steps. I knew immediately that he was a spectacular dog. If you know huskies, you know that’s NOT what they do. Their attention, even when they are well-trained, is not usually on a human but on the trail, on the bushes, on possible prey, on their job.

“I want him,” I said. “He’s a very wonderful dog.”

“Really?” said the Evil X. He wouldn’t have known, anyway. The only dog he’d ever had was a Shiba Inu who bit him. (Smart dog.)

“OK,” said the rescue person. “I’ll set that up for you. The shelter has to approve your application and his owner has to approve, but I know she will. I know you two have been in contact. He’s scheduled to be put down day after tomorrow, so I hope we can do all this in time.”

Cody was put back in his cage. That night he went into a health crisis. He refused to get up off the floor and he refused to eat or drink. They took him to the emergency vet who found nothing wrong with him. Everything was done to get him to rally, but he didn’t want to. He’d been in a cage in a shelter for 3 months. I also believe he’d found the person he wanted to belong to, and when he didn’t go home with me, he gave up.

I got the OK to adopt him and we went to get him from the emergency vet, knowing it might not work. We brought him home. He still wouldn’t eat or drink. I cooked him scrambled eggs and rice and fed him from my hand for a few days. The EX — with whom I did not share a room — put a bed for Cody in his room. Little by little, Cody began to regain himself. The only problem he had was Dusty T. Dog, another male between him and his person, me. There were some fights for dominance, which Dusty never tried to win, and, ultimately, I just kept them apart. They were amenable to that so it was (mostly) OK.

Siberian huskies are very special dogs because of their long history of being bred by the Chukchi people of Siberia specifically for pulling sleds and living with people. They were not bred to be watchdogs, but to be helpers to any person. They are friendly and naturally affectionate. They are also very independent because they needed to be able to think for themselves in an emergency. They were bred to be babysitters and they really LOVE little kids. All of my huskies have instinctively cared for the kids who have shown up at my house, but Cody, in particular.

The Evil X’s daughter, Heather, came to visit with her 3 month old son. As soon as Cody heard the baby’s sounds, he was alert, ready to work. The cooing and gurgling and crying evoked an instinctive response from Cody O’Dog. Wherever that baby was, Cody was there, too. It was astonishing to watch. When Heather nursed, Cody lay at her feet. When she changed the little guy’s diapers, Cody watched from close up to be sure she did it right (and possibly to clean up 🙂 ). When the baby slept, Cody kept an eye on him. At first Heather was nervous. Here was a big, wolfie looking dog obsessed with her baby, but soon she understood what Cody felt his job to be. When the little boy got to be three years old, he started bringing home dogs. I think Cody is the reason why.

When things finally began to come to a head between the Evil X and me, Cody was there. One afternoon we were having an altercation in which the Evil X stood too close to me, towering over me, yelling at me. Cody stood up on his hind legs and wedged himself between us. I took the message from that and Cody began sleeping in my room. I called him my “knight in furry armor.”

The Evil X left and our lives changed for the better. Cody and Dusty still had an occasional fracas, but no one was ever badly hurt. They happened at entry points — going in or out of the dog run, in or out of the door. Cody stayed with me whenever I was home. He was a strong, very peaceful, fierce, sweet Gary Cooper of a dog. He was the “good guy.”

In 2010 he traveled with me to Colorado Springs for my 40th high school reunion. It was a road trip. I got him a special cover for the back seat and off we went. It was quite a journey.

Our first stop was a dreadful Motel 6 outside of Cedar City Utah. The room had a nasty vibe, AND I had been driving so long that the room was moving. I went to bed, nervous and apprehensive. The next thing I knew, Cody was up on the bed with me — something that had never happened before — and he was panting, gently, making the bed shake as a baby’s cradle might rock.

We arrived at our destination. I was staying with my niece’ 90 year old grandma who was famous for disliking dogs. But, she had liked my dog Molly when we’d passed through in 1999, so I thought she’d be OK with Cody. She fell in love with him. Cody’s calm presence made her happy. When she’d work in the kitchen, Cody just hung out while she talked to him.

“This is a dog,” she said to the daughter who was then living at home, “Not your little yappy things you have to fuss over all the time.”

During our stay, I took Cody up to see my tree.

Me and Cody and my tree

A day or so after the reunion, 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.

Cody especially loved my Uncle Hank, and if he had a human counterpart, it would have been my uncle. One afternoon my Aunt Jo and I came home from lunch with Aunt Dickie to find Hank and Cody sleeping on the living room floor, back to back.

The morning we left, I loaded Cody O’Dog into the back seat. Uncle Hank came out to say good-bye to Cody. He bent down and put his arms around my dog, said, “You take care of Martha Ann,” and hugged him. We pulled out and as I drove away, I saw my uncle in the rearview mirror, standing in front of the garage, saluting us. He died the following summer.

Things got back to normal at home for the next year and a half. Life was school, grading, driving and then, in April 2012, Cody started losing weight and having seizures. He went downhill very quickly. On the day he died, it snowed, strange not only for Southern California but for April.

The last little walk of Cody’s life was in the falling snow.

I called a mobile vet because there was no way I could get my 85 pound dog into my car. When she came we laid Cody on the floor in my office, and I laid down beside him. She put an IV in his leg that carried a tranquilizer. I wrapped my arm over my Knight in Furry Armor, and told him he was very ill, that I loved him and that it was OK if he left me. Within seconds of the tranquilizer hitting him, he was dead.

“I think he was just waiting for you to tell him it was OK. I haven’t even given him the shot yet.”

If there’s a Heaven, Cody is sharing it with Uncle Hank. I see them in a well-equipped wood shop where Hank is making things and Cody is lying on the floor. After a bit, they take a long walk and then come home for supper. ❤

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/evoke/

Winter has Returned…

Six degrees F this morning. I’m watching the sun rise slowly (everything moves more slowly in the cold). I invariably get sick when it first gets cold and here I am, following my personal tradition. Getting a cold when you have asthma is like overloading an exotic sundae. Too much of a good thing. So, I got up at 6, sucked on the albuterol (which I very seldom use), and shocked the dogs by letting them out in the dark.

Mindy stood at the back door looking bewildered.

I was driven by the thought of hot bitter coffee flowing down my esophagus, opening my chest.

Long, long ago in the sainted land of the Helvetians, which I have been privileged to visit many times, I had a family. How that came to be, and what the family was, isn’t important now. But one year I was given a genuine American WW II B3 bomber jacket. The father of the family — who was like a brother to me — sold furs. He was also afraid I would be cold in Switzerland, coming as I did from California.

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Zürich, January 1997 on the Lindenhof

Not only was this jacket warm, it was companionable. Those were very hard times in my life, and I remember flying back to the US on a crowded jet after the Christmas season, cuddling my jacket and wishing I hadn’t had to come “home.”

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In St. Gallen under the statue of St. Gall, the Irish patron Saint of Switzerland

Ultimately it stayed in Switzerland for a while (it’s colder there than in California and the jacket is fur, after all) then it moved to Italy with the mother of the family who was like a mother to me. Last year she died and her son — who’s like a son to me — brought it to Colorado for me.

I was so happy to have it.

The curly depths of its sheepskin hold my Swiss Christmases, the love shared between us all and its own intrinsic warmth. Perhaps that’s why it is so heavy.

If I had worn it to the parade Saturday, I might not be sick now. 😦

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/saintly/

A Letter

My aunt died this morning. I’m happy that she only suffered the terrible pain she was in for a short time. I’m happy my cousins did not have to contend with it for weeks or months on end, unable to do anything about it. My grandma said that death was merciful sometimes, and this is one of those times.

I found the actual letter my grandfather wrote his brother’s sons, and I sent it to my cousins. It’s a pretty amazing piece of literature in its way. It’s written in pencil on manila paper. I don’t know if that exists any more.

My grandfather was born in 1870 and grew up on a farm in Eastern Iowa. He was a brilliant man, self-taught, they say, but I have his 3rd grade math book and it has trigonometry in it, so that bit about, “He only went to third grade” is kind of bogus. It’s not how far you go in school, but what you learn while you’re there. He thought of himself as a philosopher which isn’t a very useful calling when you’re sharecropping a farm on the high plains of Montana in the 30s. I never knew him, really. I was 5 when he died.

The letter is a precious family artifact. It was written in 1941 when my aunt would have been 16.  It was kept by my grandfather’s nephew, passed to his son, and then given to my mom when she went to “find her roots” in Iowa. That’s how I happened to have it. It was one of the rewards of the “great garage purge of 2017.”

This is something my cousins might want to pass along to their kids. I hope so.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/mercy/

Real Fame

I had six aunts. I now have two. Last night I learned that the youngest — Dickie (Madylene) — has gone into hospice with a large mass in her lung. She doesn’t want to go through the misery of tests and so on, so she’s asked her kids to just let her go. I don’t know how that is for them, but she is a nurse, she is not in the least sentimental, and she is very, very practical. When I read my cousin’s message more-or-less conveying this, I heard in my mind Queen’s song from The Highlander, “Who Wants to Live Forever?” No one does. I don’t. I am sure my aunt doesn’t, either. The second-to-youngest of my aunts is at “the home” with pretty advanced dementia and doesn’t want to eat or drink. Both of these women are in their 90s.

I’m very sad. My relationship with some of my aunts has been important to me and, I hope, vice versa. I grew up around these women. My mom felt her family was important, she relied on their being there, so we spent time around them. This aunt — Dickie — has kids around my age, in fact, one of my cousins was born a month after I was. We grew up as friends.

One thing I learned from these women is that OTHER adults — not just parents — can be important in a kid’s life. I reached adulthood wanting to be that OTHER adult, not the parent.

A few years ago I decided I wanted my Aunt Dickie to know who I am. We’d been close, but had gotten estranged as a result of family stuff, and I didn’t like that. I have always liked her. I sent her a letter and a copy of Martin of Gfenn. She loved the book and wrote me a letter with two messages that meant the world to me. She was proud of me and she loved me.

I sent her Savior which she liked even more and then The Brothers Path. She really loved that book. Last winter her church book group read it as their winter book. She wrote me that and said, “I’m making them order it from Amazon so you’ll make a little money.”

Later I heard how the book group went. “Please keep writing the story of my mother’s family,” she said. “I’m very proud of you and she would be, too.”

This year I’ve ploughed through the sludge of disillusionment over writing, publishing, promoting, etc. Afew weeks ago, — after months and months — I looked again at what I’m calling “The Schneebelis Go to America,” and saw it’s a pretty good story. I wondered if I should keep going, or? My aunt’s words, “Keep writing the story of my mother’s family” echoed in my mind. “That’s a good reason to write,” I thought, “so my Aunt Dickie can read my book.”

My grandfather, my aunt’s father, in 1941, wrote a letter to his brother’s kids when their dad died. He wrote:

“I’m awfully sorry but it is a natural condition to make a change. It would be too bad for us to have to be bothered with this old body for ever. It seems sad but it might be if there was no death, that life would lose its meaning and love would perish from the earth and I would rather live where love rules and death is sure as to live forever in a land without love — but I am very sad.”

I can’t say it better.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sludge/