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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Sugarhouse ~ Inspired by Feelings that Kass's Blog Stirred Up: Chapter III

Join us, please, in 1956 and 1957 and 1958. Gary has been born, found to be profoundly retarded, the young parents traveling everywhere with him to seek medical care and advice. My father continued to run a printing press at Firestone. My mother had a more than full-time job caring for Gary's every need. She did not drive and we did not own two cars. Taking Gary somewhere for an appointment involved buses. We were not taxi-cab wealthy. Many members of the large extended family bestowed acts of lovely kindness on all of us Nows, from taking me off for a weekend with the cousins, to collecting Gary's dirty laundry and returning it clean and folded. My job was to go to preschool, then kindergarten and to "be good". "Be good" was repeated so frequently and emphatically, it sounded like a fierce verb to me - lots of action in it. It was said to me so often that I wondered if I wasn't good or if I failed to show goodness in some of my behaviors. I honed the fine skills of being quiet and lying low.

My dad has a good curious mind. He's good with his hands and his head. So it happened something like this: he got the printing job just out of the Air Force. He did it awhile and became very good at it, attracting all manner of positive attention. Once he'd mastered the craft, then he would want to know about how the press worked and what about the inks and how would one fix the whosis if it broke and how does my press compare to others available? He's a knowledge and information seeker, still today. When people would come to work on the presses, he'd learn things from them and then go to the library and learn more. Finally someone, one of those forgotten printing press types, told him of a job opening he'd heard about. Dad went for a round of interviews and was hired to be a salesman of printing presses, working from Salt Lake City, servicing a territory throughout the mountain states. Read this: away from home a lot. Home includes anxious wife, seriously damaged child and the other child. No relatives nearby, no friends yet, as they'd only ever driven through the place, not stayed there.

"Limes, what do you think of moving to Salt Lake City, Utah?" Granny was walking me home from her house. I told her I didn't know about Salt Lake City and it was she who gathered books and magazines showing and describing the Great Salt Lake and the topogrpahy of the place, some of the points of interest like the Capitol Building and the Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle. She showed me a map and it looked way too far from her home. "We'll come often, Honey. You'll enjoy the snow and your daddy has a new, very good job." A whole culture grew up around the words "your daddy has a new, very good job". For that man was upwardly mobile before the phrase was coined, and we were embarking on our gypsy phase that was to last for as long as we remained together as a family. By the time I was 9 years old, I could have driven between Salt Lake and L.A., if only my feet could have reached the gas and brake pedals. I knew the way that well.

But I'm speaking now of the summer I'd turn 6. I'd completed kindergarten in June. My parents had made two scouting expeditions to Salt Lake City and found us a place to live in a nice duplex at 2503 South 6th East [there's the address, Kass!]. I would begin first grade at Columbus School at 3530 South 5th East - one doesn't need to know Salt Lake to understand that school was one block west of home and several blocks south. Easy walking distance. My father wouldn't have to travel for the first 3 months, as he'd be learning the ropes of his new job in the city. Three uncles were gracious about driving ahead with our furniture, so dad could transport the family a few days afterward. Those good uncles also completely set up our home for us. Although I was only 5, when we arrived in Salt Lake and it was time for the uncles to return to L.A., I remember understanding the concern in their good-byes. I understood that they were not certain their sister could handle life and her family.

In the few years between Dad leaving the Air Force and the move to Salt Lake, we were the most rooted we would ever be. It seems there hadn't been any (or at least not many) long driving trips during those years. For we learned to our shock and horror, before we got out of Los Angeles County, that Limes was the most carsick child who ever lived (or died from it). Maybe I'd been sick from time to time on a longish outing a time or two, but there weren't enough of those for anyone to realize how bad it really was. This was the first long, sustained journey in a car and it was to alter us all for the next few years. Because I was a girl who would be sick 3 or 4 times every hour. This had happened maybe 4 or 5 times when I began to get a little fearful of announcing that the next episode was at hand. Although I write with humor and although it's been decades and although it's not the worst assault upon my senses I've ever suffered, it's fair to say those parents traumatized me about getting sick. From my vantage point in the back seat, I saw their heads and necks as broomsticks with volleyballs. I'd start the deep gasping that announced it was almost showtime and those two volleyballs would snap around on their broomsticks like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. "Are you going to be sick?" Well, favored readers, the answer became "No!" Permanently, invariably "No!" Never mind that they could see I was sweating, pale, miserable, obviously about to be sick. Never mind that it happened 50 times or more in a long day of driving. After a handful of "Yes" answers, it became forever "No!" And they were invariably surprised each time happened. As they knew it would. For at least the next 7 years.

I know that heads and hearts and psyches sometimes have selective memory, and so do mine. It seems to me that we only traveled on the road in objectionable weather. There might be some circumstantial evidence to support that, because driving for the holidays would put us in snow and moving from one home to another usually took place in the summer when school was out. But I have no recollection of one temperate miserable trip. These were the days before baby wipes and other conveniences that might have helped out. I was a kid. I usually got it all over the place. And have I mentioned that Gary rode in the car on the floor of the backseat in a travel bed they made for him . . . . directly at my feet? "Did you get it on Gary?!?" "No!" Sometimes that was true. So many of these episodes involved cleaning and changing the clothes of not one, but two, little kids in high summer or deepest winter. For 12 hours straight in heat and in snow. The aunts had many ideas: 1) Feed her tea and crackers only; 2) feed her nothing; 3) feed her a regular breakfast; 4) keep her up all night so she'll sleep in the car (I still got sick, although I slept between episodes); 5) don't let her read; 6) try Dramamine; 7) push fluids; 8) don't let her drink a drop of anything. Nothing made any difference whatsoever. I was a delightful addition to car travel until I was in my teens. I think it must have been as terrible for them as it was for me. Each of us trapped in our own personal misery in the tight confines of a passenger car . . .

The first day in our new home, we learned the selection of that duplex was fortuitous, for there lived the Christensens who were a nice complement to the Nows. Lorri was 10 months younger than I, and would be starting kindergarten at Columbus School in the fall. She was a pampered pink poodle of a girl whose parents took parenting in a deeply serious, but calm, common sense kind of way. It was a second marriage for each of them and they each had other adult children. They knew how this was done! Remarkably, to me, Lorri's mother was in her late 40s and her father was at least 55 - they looked like Granny-O and Gramps. These people were wonderful to have on the other side of the wall from where we lived. Built in girlfriend for me, from a family who felt like mine did about what girls should be doing and not doing, and what kinds of other children made acceptable playmates. Lorri's mother was good to my mother, showing her how things were done, and Mother Christensen soon learned all the intricacies of caring for Gary. When I think of the Salt Lake of the day, or maybe it was Sugarhouse, or maybe it was just our duplex and backyard on South 6th East, the words that come to mind are "wholesome" and "clean". It was the summer I broke my arm, but got my bike and it seemed we had landed in a place that was good for us and we were safe.

Special thanks and acknowledgment: To Kathryn Feigal and Glen Werner, she a most fascinating woman and intrepid photographer and he an amateur Sugarhouse historian. I thank them for the use of the picture of Columbus School and in future posts I plan to use some of the photos Kass has generously set out before me.

In my ears right now:

Something that charmed me: I landed on the blog of a really interesting woman that I want to share coffee with every morning. Her blog led me to her other blogs and I came to realize she lives in Sugarhouse. I was flooded with memories and feelings that have long needed to be poured out, and suddenly have begun to be. All I said was, "Kass, I have a Sugarhouse story to tell," and my early childhood began to escape my heart, head, soul and fingertips. I haven't enjoyed every moment of retelling it. Some of it has made me giggle. And I'll keep on. If something resonates with the reader, that's wonderful. But this is really for me. Finally.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Some Wild Horses for Kass

So,'tend friend Kass mentioned she'd had the frightful experience of hearing Susan Boyle sing "Wild Horses" on the Today Show. I have trouble wrapping my head around what that would sound like, and I also don't think "Wild Horses" should be messed with. By anyone. I shared the surprise I felt when a person of my generation tapped me on the shoulder while I danced in 2006 to ask me if I knew who sang "Wild Horses". I (barely) had the good grace not to laugh out loud, but just said, politely, "Um, the Rolling Stones."

So, here's a treat to women everywhere who think "Wild Horses" should just be left good and alone. And, Kass, may it drive Susan's version from your skull.

In my ears right now: "Childhood living is easy to do, the things that you wanted, I bought them for you . . .

Something that charmed me: You Tube's customizing options that allowed to me select a pink task bar to match my blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

King of the Wild Frontier

In August of 1955, I turned 3. My mother was pregnant with Gary, who would be born the following January. I was a quiet and "good" child, but do not mistake that for "lifeless" or "dishrag". I was enthusiastic about many things. Just not unruly or untidy. A birthday party was planned, of course. It would be held in the yards of the two uncles who married the two sisters who lived next door to one another. It was a good location for hosting 50 people or more.

I was a passionate fan of Davy Crockett, having made his acquaintance by watching the Mickey Mouse Club most afternoons. I was also a fan of Annette and Karen and Cubby and most of the other Mouseketeers, except Roy. Roy freaked me out a little. Roy still freaks me out a little when I think of him mixed in with all those children. But I digress. It's Davy Crockett I was mad for. I liked Davy's rugged, but youthful, look and I was wild about the coonskin cap. I had a coonskin cap of my own and I wore it with panache, with dresses, with pajamas, with anything. [I still own a coonskin cap that sits on the shelf in my living room coat closet. I should bring it out to display, perhaps on the wall.] I liked that Davy was a grand hunter and shooter and knew how to live off the land.

But probably the most attractive thing to me about Davy was that he was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, and my Granny-O was born in Tennessee. That must mean that Davy was a good, fine man. My hero worship was indulged, and this birthday party would feature Davy Crockett streamers, balloons, paper cups and plates, tablecloth, and whatever else in the world was sold with Davy's image in August, 1955. At least a dozen cousins dashed around the yards wearing coonskin caps, tugging at the tails hanging down the back. Those who didn't have a cap tried to pluck one off of the head of a luckier child. Games were planned, party favors waiting to be given to excited kids. It was some kind of day! An odd little snippet of reminiscence remains with me: when all of the cousins were gathered, there could be seen every hue of red hair known to man. From strawberry blond to deep copper, these were some redheaded Irish American kids. And more freckles than the law allows! I was the only one with dark hair and no freckles (and later Gary). I always remember playing outside with the cousins and the sun glinting off of their red heads.

The women worked in the kitchens of both homes, slicing tomatoes, forming hamburger patties, fixing potato and macaroni salad. The Davy Crockett birthday cake was featured as the centerpiece on a large dining table. The men fired up multiple BBQ grills and filled coolers with ice and canned drinks. An important task remained to be completed. Someone needed to pick up Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha. My father and Uncle Ed were deemed to be the best candidates to transport elderly blind people, and I'm sure that had nothing to do with the fact that my dad had a brand new 1955 Chevy he wanted to show off to his brother-in-law.

The reader should know a bit about my dad and Uncle Ed. Although in-laws, not brothers, they were very much alike. Both were short, slight men with attitude. My dad had been a pretty remarkable boxer in the Air Force, and Ed has been described to me as the toughest human being who ever lived. This is based on his survival of the last days of World War II in the Philippines in hand-to-hand combat. He was tough physically and tough mentally. But my dad is no slouch! Both men possessed deadly wit, but were also sensitive. Uncle Ed was a lifelong reader of the poet, Robert Service, and my father has been known to silently weep watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie [recently]. Neither man was particularly well-educated, but both were extremely intelligent and articulate. These were also self-sufficient, no nonsense kinds of men. Neither was ever known to brook any measure of any type of bullshit from anyone. Never. None.

So, off they went together, Dad kind of show-offy in his new two-tone, driving on the freeway for a short distance, even though it wasn't necessary.

Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha were ready, waiting with their birthday gift for me - a child-sized piano. Either someone had helped them, or maybe Uncle Ralph did it, but the gift was very credibly wrapped. Ralph strode confidently across the living room to the front door, cane tapping, rattling the keys with which he'd lock the deadbolt. Martha angled her elbows into the air so the two men could first hoist her out of the chair and then guide her outside. They did so. Ralph asked a couple of questions so he could understand where and how the car was parked. Once he imprinted that information, he walked quickly across the driveway to the curb, stepped down, walked in the street around the back end of the car, opened the driver's side door, pushed the seatback forward and got in the back seat. Dad and Uncle Ed were still maneuvering Martha toward the steps of the porch. Now it was their turn to learn that Martha was a leaner, a grasper, a clutcher. They were perspiring pretty quickly. It was high August and this was hard work!

Uncle Ed died in 2001, but he never altered one word in the retelling of this tale. My father has told it precisely the same way for 54 years and he still flushes bright red remembering that torturous trek across 25 feet of concrete to the car. The unholy trio shimmied like a hula dancer, traversing the two steps down from the porch to the driveway. It took them more than 10 minutes. Dad and Uncle Ed spoke encouragement, "Martha, step down 6 inches with your right foot and then just stop and wait." She extended her left leg as if to cross the mighty Mississippi in one step, began to wobble and nearly took the two men down. These two bright, efficient sorts wondered if she'd ever descended those stairs before, knew that she had and wondered why she seemed to have no recall of how it was done. The walk across the driveway was uneventful, but took a long time. Back at Party Central, the women thought it was about time for the car to arrive carrying party guests. Little did they know!

Arriving at the curb next to the car, Dad opened the passenger side door, flipped the seatback forward, assessed Martha's bulk, moved the front seat forward to allow more room and flipped the seatback forward again. Then began a 45 minute rodeo of the vilest sort. They tried first to give verbal instructions, but Martha seemed incapable of understanding right from left, inches from yards, forward from backward. She exhibited a fine understanding of hanging on to these men around their necks, as if for dear life, however. They knew they'd have to get physical with her - directions weren't getting the job done. They decided Dad would support Martha upright while Uncle Ed picked up her leg and put it inside the car. Then only one leg and the rest of her body would remain to be moved. She nearly toppled all three of them over backwards. They stood her in the gutter thinking she'd understand all she had to do was step up into the car, one foot at a time. They could even assist by lifting her legs for her, one at a time. Nope. She almost threw them all to the sidewalk.

It was Uncle Ralph who came up with the idea that worked. "Martha, bend into the car and give me yours hands." Uncle Ralph was going to pull. "Men, you know what to do next." Dad and Uncle Ed looked at each other, shook their heads from side to side, squared their shoulders, and each one tucked into one side of Martha's hind end. I've heard their analogy all my life: like pushing an elephant through the eye of a needle. Martha landed in the back seat a little worse for wear and tear. Her nylons had runs and her knees were banged up. Her (unnecessary) eyeglasses were askew and the floral pastel dress was rumpled. Uncle Ed always spoke of how her gray pincurls bobbed for a moment or two, like tiny springs on her head. Uncle Ralph helped settle her on the back seat and they rolled off to the party.

Lest the reader think these sweating, frustrated men were a little severe with an old, blind woman, consider this: Dad and Ed did not take a running start at Martha or execute a flying wedge maneuver up her backside. No jerking movements were made that might have harmed her neck or back. They simply dug in and pushed together against a seemingly unmovable mass. The slow forward momentum caused Martha to begin paddling her feet and legs, her body finally catching onto what her head hadn't been able to grasp. One foot got purchase on the curb and the other finally made contact with the carpet in the car. Uncle Ralph pulled for all he was worth. I wonder whether it might have been easier to install Martha in the front seat. For part of the difficulty was caused by the contortions necessary to squeeze between front and back seat. Up and into the car was not the only challenge. But it was the 1950s and those two young men didn't think to put Martha any place other than in the back seat next to her husband where she should sit.

One of the bigger kids saw the car approach and announced its arrival at the party. Some of the adults walked out to the driveway, concerned at how long it had taken to bring Martha and Ralph to Gardena. One look at Dad and Ed, and most of the adults in the clan knew there was a rich story to be told. The party began in earnest now, good food served, games played, prizes awarded. Scattered groups of kids belted out, "Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free . . . " When I opened the gift of my piano, Uncle Ralph sat behind me and showed me how to place my fingers on the keys to play more like a concert pianist than Jerry Lee Lewis. "The story" circulated quietly among the adults, most of whom had to step behind the garage for a laugh out loud. My cousins and I were not timid about approaching blind people and starting a conversation, so both Ralph and Martha were chatted up repeatedly by kids of various ages. Martha managed to do my serious, sensitive cousin Mark out of his coonskin cap by using her tried and true line, "I'm blind." I am uncertain why she thought she needed a kid's coonskin cap, but I am now a 57-year-old woman who owns one, so perhaps I should not cast aspersions upon Martha. But at least I bought my own.

At dusk, the women began to gather dishes and tired, cranky children. The party was officially over. Granny-O decided she and Grandpa should take Ralph and Martha home. Ed and Dad watched over the fence in disbelief as Martha fairly hopped into the back seat of Grandpa's Impala. My father ranted in the car all the way home about the agony of moving Martha. There was no laughter in the Chevy, as my mother was still sensitive about her shopping adventure with that good woman. When we arrived home, Dad was overcome with guilt about sending Granny-O and Grandpa off alone to deal with Martha. They were old. He and Ed were young, but had barely been able to manage. He dialed the telephone, having decided if Granny-O failed to answer, he'd drive to Ralph's home to help offload Martha. Dad was slightly surprised that Granny did pick up the phone. "Mom, I was concerned you might need help getting them inside." "Oh, it was uneventful," replied my grandmother. "Earl never even turned off the engine, I had them inside so quickly."

In my ears right now: What do you think? Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so's he'd know every tree, killed him a b'ar when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.

Something that charmed me:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turn a Blind Eye to Human Frailty

I've blogged several times about my maternal grandmother, my Granny-O, born in 1899, mother of 12, grandmother of more than 40, and the unconditional love giver in my early life. There's my Granny, less than a year old, on her mother's lap. The little boy standing between the parents is Ralph, my great uncle. No, he didn't blink when the photo was taken. He was blinded by the measles at the age of 18 months in about 1896. Here he is about 4 years of age. In a few short years, he will be put on the train and sent to the Tennessee School for the Blind, which I believe was in Nashville. But wherever its location, it was "away". Not near Knoxville. Granny was 4 when Ralph went away on the train, but she spoke of his sobs 70 years later. He was a scared, blind child going off on the train alone, away from his family. He stayed away many years. He returned in his late teens, confident, able to read Braille and write, skilled at a number of crafts including broom and brush making, as well as recaning chairs. He knew how to keep his clothes and possessions clean and in good repair, including sewing on buttons and doing his own laundry. He could get around expertly on public transportation and he knew all manner of ways to ask for just a little accommodation for the fact that he was totally blind. For all of his life, when he cashed a check at the bank, he asked the teller to fold the different bills in different ways - $20 bills folded in half vertically, $10 bills folded in half horizontally, and so on. I would wager that Ralph never "got taken" for his money by a sighted person.

Ralph lived with his parents after his return from school. The day after Granny graduated from high school, she, Ralph and her mother boarded a train for Denver. I do not know why Denver was the destination. No friends or relatives awaited their arrival. None of
Granny's 12 children ever met their grandfather. I do not know why the marriage split up. I do not know anything about that Great Grandfather after June, 1917, nor very much about him before that time. For the next 30+ years, Great Grandma and Ralph shared a home and followed Granny's family from Denver to Los Angeles, always living nearby, always in daily contact. Ralph never married. Great Grandma would not have approved of any woman on the planet, so Ralph didn't even try. He enjoyed his many nieces and and nephews, who also loved him. The brood were intrigued with the Braille books and his abacus and accordion. They wondered how he could perfectly recane a chair or weave a basket without sight. He read aloud to them often, sometimes reciting literature from memory. My mother and her siblings recall teasing Uncle Ralph by asking him what he thought "plaid" looked like and how he would know a horse from a mule if he woke up one morning, able to see, and was presented with a view of those two animals.

Great Grandma died in 1950 at age 96. Ralph bought himself a tiny one-bedroom bungalow in old Los Angeles, continued to work and made extra money by playing his accordion in the streets at holiday time. This required him to take a number of buses, making transfers often. I never heard of Uncle Ralph getting lost. Not once. He was 58 years old the year I was born, slim, tall, upright, shoulders back, a nice looking older man. His shirt was never buttoned up incorrectly and he did not sport clashing clothes. He took care of his business in a businesslike way. I think he was admirable. Some years later, he would sit beside Gary's crib, holding the child's hand and reciting something - maybe Longfellow's Hiawatha - and the little boy's head-turning took a slower pace.

I do not know how or where Ralph met Martha. She was also a southerner, but I don't know specifically where she called home. She was certainly age appropriate for Ralph. She became blind in her 30s or 40s, and I don't know what caused it. She was a tall, buxom woman with a backside like a brewer's horse, large hands, legs and feet. She looked like a typical older matron of her generation: pastel floral dresses, serious black "witch" shoes, gray pincurled hair, and the ridiculous pair of eyeglasses some blind people wear for reasons I do not understand. My god. I have just described a woman of the approximate age I am right now. I don't look like that in any way. Whew. When I was old enough to catch quietly spoken partial conversations, I drew the conclusion that Martha may have "had a past", whatever that meant. I do not know how the women in the family reached that conclusion, or whether it was a fair one. Martha brought her own money to the marriage, causing eyebrows to be raised because she liked to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue, not Sears or J.C. Penney like most of our family's good women. She had some "no account" adult children whom I did not know, but who were deemed to be scandalous for some reason. I don't think the marriage was about fire and passion. I think much of it, for Ralph, had to do with the companionship of a mature woman. He must have missed that after his mother died. I don't know what the marriage meant to Martha. Importantly, Granny-O accepted her because Ralph wanted Martha in his life.

Martha had not adjusted well to being a blind person. She constantly bumped off of walls and doorjambs in her own home. Her sweater was frequently worn inside out and she often wore shoes that were not a matching pair. Her dress and blouse buttons were usually one or two levels wrong when she presented herself for the day. She wore large clip-on earrings almost always, and almost always, they did not match. She did not master the use of a cane, and was a danger to any innocent bystanders when she attempted to use one. She preferred to have one or two people at her elbow(s) to guide her along through life. Martha was also known to cite her blindness as the reason for unfortunate events that had absolutely nothing to do with one's ability to see. After her death, Granny-O and some of the family women went to Ralph's house to pack up Martha's belongings to be shipped to her children. It was discovered that Martha had an apparent affinity for bourbon. Read this, enough bottles stashed throughout the house to choke a landfill. It made one wonder if all of Martha's clumsiness and general difficulty navigating through her day was entirely attributable to blindness. It made one wonder if, when Martha had been loud and belligerent, it was the bourbon presenting and not angst at having been struck blind.

A little rivalry grew up around taking Martha shopping. Whichever young woman was selected for such duty was in for a treat. For Martha would pay for a babysitter, pay for the bus or taxi rides - a taxi was quite an extravagance! - buy a nice lunch, and buy a little gift for her shopping companion of the day. My mother's sisters and sisters-in-law engaged in a little healthy competition for the honor. They all knew the ropes: dress up nicely including hat and heels, elbow-guide Martha through the store to the department that would display what she sought to purchase, describe the selections to Martha with many words, enjoy the lunch with mimosas and select the gift that Martha offered to buy. A nice outing by anyone's standards.

My mother's turn finally came. She was young and cute and dressed herself adorably for this outing. She knew what she would choose for her gift, because good, lacy slips didn't grow on trees. She wanted a red one. I was deposited at Granny-O's and my mother walked to Ralph and Martha's house. This may be a good point to remind the reader that my mother, in her early 20s, hadn't exhibited the strongest of coping skills. She wasn't good in a pinch and didn't always know what to do when things got hairy. Martha was in rare form that morning, gesticulating to make a point in conversation, perhaps a little loud. The taxi arrived and my mother must have felt like the tiny tugboat piloting a massive steamer out to sea. My mother admits today that the first moment she fully realized the disproportion of their body masses was approaching the taxi. Martha was a leaner, a clutcher, a grasper. But my mother was made of tough stuff. [She thought.] Mother and the driver finally got Martha situated in the taxi, and they set off for a very long ride to Wilshire Blvd.

Saks Fifth Avenue was a revelation to my young mother and she got to take it all in at a leisurely pace, as Martha was bulky and slow. They arrived in the department where Martha was given a chair to sit on and my mother ferried girdles, nylon stockings and other 1950s mature lady foundation garments back and forth from the display counters. Martha wanted detailed descriptions of each item and comparisons between one item and the other. She felt everything with her hands, stretching some of the garments to test their elasticity. She was damned touchy about the exact color of nylon stockings, pinning my mother down hard about the difference between beige and dark beige. Finally a $50 purchase was made - a huge sum in my mother's view. More old lady lingerie in a bag than the law allows.

It was after paying for her purchases that Martha loudly announced her need to "pee". My mother was a little touchy about such language in such a fine store. Her eyes darted about and she looked over her shoulder to see if anyone had noticed such an indelicate pronouncement. She also realized she was in the belly of a mighty big department store and she didn't know her way around. Mother asked a clerk where to find a restroom and was given directions to one on the floor below. As she steered Martha toward the elevator, the older woman continued to announce her urgent need, and mom began to sweat it. She rang for the elevator, which arrived fairly quickly. Pushing Martha into the elevator car, she heard the torrent begin to hit the wooden floor. The elevator operator visibly recoiled, and Martha loudly announced, as if it was a really good reason for wetting on the elevator floor, "I'm blind!" Mom began to cry and the elevator operator asked, "What do you want me to do, young lady?" He took them to the ground floor where my mother steered the dripping Martha out to the curb and hailed a taxi.

I was eating a favorite with Granny, pineapple and cottage cheese, when we heard my mother's sobbing on the back porch. Granny-O jumped up to see what was the matter. Was someone hurt? What had happened? My mother had to lie down on the sofa to start telling the story. She wept, she wrang her hands, she gnashed her teeth. "No lunch, no mimosas, no red slip." Granny was appropriately sympathetic, but she didn't give the event quite the weight my mother did. Until . . . "I had to give the taxi driver $10 of my money to clean his back seat after dropping us off. When I asked Martha to cough up the $10, she said, 'I'm blind.' "

In my ears right now: Manfred Mann, Blinded by the Light, what else?

Something that charmed me: Last night I got the loveliest, sweetest "good night" . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Sugarhouse ~ Inspired by Feelings that Kass's Blog Stirred Up: Chapter II

I think I'm doing all right getting to Sugarhouse the long way. Upon reflection, I can better tell the tales of later life - for by Sugarhouse, I'd attained the advanced age of six years - by laying all the groundwork first. If the reader doesn't know about us as individuals and know what has gone before, then the stories will have no context. If the reader doesn't know our presumed limitations, the reader won't be able to cheer loudly when we step out of character in a positive way. If the reader doesn't know how well we behaved under normal circumstances, the reader won't know when to be disappointed in us.

Dad got out of the Air Force and we settled into an apartment located a few blocks from Granny-O and Grandpa. Patterns of huge family get-togethers emerged. Two of my uncles married two sisters and they lived in homes side-by-side - a natural weekend gathering place for up to 50 people wandering from one house to the other yard, cousins moving between groups of other cousins, depending upon age, gender and just being like-minded. The uncles all worked in construction trades. There was a bricklayer, a plasterer (like Grandpa), a carpenter. The women were all stay-at-home moms of growing families. It was the early to mid-50s - Ike was president, Howdy Doody and the Mousketeers ruled. I really did love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver became a firm favorite (it still is today!).

My father went to work for Firestone Tire & Rubber at the huge facility in Downey. He worked in their printing department operating a printing press. I'm not sure why Firestone had a printing department or why he was determined to be well-suited to printing, but that is what he did. It seems his work and his judgment were well-regarded. When he recommended friends and relatives for a job, they were usually hired. He seems to have honed his craft over a few years, but he wouldn't run a printing press for very long. My mother continued to be ummm . . . anxious (thank you, Kass) and sensitive to harsh criticism, but now she was surrounded by her mother, sisters and sisters-in-law in whose care I spent a lot of time - weekends or full weeks at a time. By the time I was 3, it was acknowledged that I was bright and quiet, sweet-natured, "good as gold". 1950s children were expected to be good - good was desirable. Without siblings to show me the ropes, I hadn't worked out that maybe I could not do what I was told, or that I could be loud or messy or disobedient. I tended to play quietly or "read" my books or draw, alongside my 'tend friend, Carrie, with whom I had audible conversations. I was so attached to my father, legend has it, I'd run for the door when I heard the car arrive each evening, dropping my mother flat. I think that would have hurt her feelings. Every day.

It should also be noted that by about age 3, my fingernails were chewed down to the skin at all times. I knew how to walk into a room, look silently at my mother and sense the mood. I knew when to stay in a room with her and engage. I knew when to go back to what I was doing and wait for my dad to get home. I knew when to tiptoe, when not to speak, when to smile, when not to make eye contact. I was far too easily shamed, and very willing to accept blame for things I wasn't responsible for. Someone suggested that preschool might be good for me since I was very bright and needed some social interaction with other children each day. It was arranged that I would attend Kitty Kat Nursery School which was a wonderful experience for me.

My mother became pregnant and I have heard for more than 50 years how excited she was because now she would have a child. She apparently had surrendered me to be my father's child, and now she'd get one of her own. Her pregnancy was very difficult as she had the same hyperemesis she'd suffered while pregnant with me. My turn at that misery would come 34 years later. Gary was born in January when I was nearing 3 1/2 and I liked him immediately. I liked him so much that 'tend friend Carrie went away after Gary was born. I didn't need her any more because I had an ally who was a real person. OK, he couldn't talk to me, but they swore he eventually would and I believed them. If one pays attention to the stories, my mother was apparently very happy with her son and exhibited some good mothering skills. I've never heard any "yikes" stories about her caretaking of Gary, and if ever there was some fertile ground for "uh-ohs", it would be on Gary's path.

I always think of Gary as a beautiful baby. Dark hair on a beautifully shaped head, deep brown eyes, translucent skin ~ he looked like a blend of the two parents' families. I think of myself as a clunky-looking baby. Blue eyed, looking exactly like my father and no other person. For the portrait taken on my first birthday, they had to use Scotch tape to attach a bow to my bald head so I'd appear more like a girl. I was a tiny newborn and a kind of scrawny, colicky baby. He was a bigger baby with soft roundness to his cheeks and he seemed contented. His look makes me think of the beautiful paintings of infants by Bessie Pease Gutmann. There are pictures of him at about 3 months in the typical pose, lying on his tummy, resting on his arms. One can see he uses his neck to hold his head up, just the way babies of that age are expected to do. His eyes are dark and shining.

It was Easter and we were going to Mass - mother, Gary and me. My father was willing to take us there and pick us up, but he was not Catholic and did not intend to become one. My mother and her family battled him for two years after I was born to allow me to be baptized. He finally acquiesced. Gary was baptized as an infant - the issue had been settled when I finally was taken to the church at age 2. My mother went to the crib to gather the baby and put a hat on his head. Something was wrong with him. He was stiff and twisted, making terrible noises, shaking. The day did not progress as planned. Most of the cousins hunted Easter eggs with some of the adults in charge, while other adults joined my parents at the emergency room. "Seizure," they were told. "Why?" They didn't get the real answer until 1975. Nineteen years later. Oh, they got answers in the interim. Many answers. Wrong answers. My mother was 21 years of age that Sunday. Many things changed that Easter and were never the same again. A profoundly retarded child throws a long shadow across entire families, and we were about to lose contact with the sun.

There followed a period of learning how to do things. He was seen by doctors in the east and the west and in the middle, for years. There were surgeries that were wonderfully exploratory, but never successful. At first, both parents went to whichever destination for whatever treatment or exam. Ultimately, my mother began to show the very capable person she became (at least as an advocate for Gary). She and a sister or two, maybe a sister-in-law, would travel with Gary to whatever destination, leaving my father home to work/earn income and take care of me, Granny-O being his co-parent. Some relatives, sometimes, offered a $20 bill "to help with travel expenses". It was appreciated. Sometimes an aunt or uncle would announce a trip to Disneyland that would not be complete without Limes in attendance. It was appreciated.

My mother learned the fine points of tube feeding and other specialized care Gary required. My father continued to excel in his job and big things were about to happen for him. We were about to enter our gypsy stage of life, as he got better and better jobs requiring frequent moves. I attended a shocking number of different elementary schools. 'tend friend Carrie returned to my life, as it seemed Gary wasn't ever going to talk after all. I became an even quieter child, as Gary was often ill or just returned home from a surgery or rehabilitation facility.

Gary is a human who has never smiled out of joy or humor, never sat up, walked, held a spoon in his hand, never has spoken a word, probably never has formulated a thought. There is some debate about how he sees and if he sees. His body movements are not purposeful. He does not have the human instinct to suckle for nourishment. There is no doubt that he hears well. One only needs to stand beside the bed and say his name. He quickly turns his head in the speaker's direction. When he is awake, his head turns from side to side constantly, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. He is very beautiful. His skin has not been exposed to the sun or suffered acne. He's never skinned a knee or cut himself. He looks much as he did as that beautiful infant, except he's 6 feet tall and in his 50s. There's a little 5:00 shadow going on, sometimes. One might think there's not much to love here. But there is. We love him.

My parents were young, inexperienced at many things life threw their way, but they did one thing beautifully, seamlessly. They made Gary a part of our life and they made everyone we encountered aware that there were four Nows, not three Nows and a tragedy. There was some set-up for Gary at every relative's home - a crib at Granny-O's, at some aunts' homes just a little pallet on the floor surrounded by a mountain of pillows. That was OK - he'd be safe there. His birthday was celebrated just like all of the other cousins' and he was never left out of Christmas. My parents did so well at fostering Gary's assimilation, I've never been embarrassed about a seizure in public, or diapers on a big boy who didn't seem to be able to stand up or talk. When my mother was the class room mother during my first grade year, other children asked why Gary was in a baby buggy. I told them why, they seemed to accept it, and we went on to enjoy the cupcakes my mother had brought. I don't recall ever once being aware of someone pointing, laughing, jeering, or making me uncomfortable.

A story I love - I was right on the stage when it was played: Firestone hosted a huge Christmas party each year with multiple Santas and mountains of toys for the children of the employees. The children were asked to line up and come to select their toy. I was in one line, well-behaved, not pushing or making noise. I saw my father get in another line. It was clear he wasn't escorting me into Santa's presence. No, he was by himself in the childrens' line. One of his co-workers spotted him and started a little good-natured teasing. "Hey, Father Now, you planning to select a toy for yourself? I thought they said the kids should line up." My dad responded, "Oh, I'm selecting a toy for my son who can't line up and choose his own."

In my ears right now: Pride and Joy - Stevie Ray Vaughan. I needed some noise and some drive and some throb to write this one, folks. And I'm glad I've completed it. It's needed to be told for a long, long time.

Something that charmed me: We fired Matt yesterday. It wasn't easy and the decision was not easily made, but he left us no options. On the way out the door, he was as decent and good a man as we know he really is. He thanked me for influencing his life. I was in awe of that. That I could influence a life. We wish him well and worry about him.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Slow, Easy Sunday

We have a deal ~ Dylan, Virginia Woolf and Limes. On Sundays, the double alarm clocks do not announce the start of the day. We ease into it. Sometimes it's still in the predawn, if that's when I come to life. But when the weather is cold and our home is warm, I tend to lie in a little later. This morning we woke to Justin radio-ing in on the BlackBerry. At holiday times, we work Sundays, although I don't go in. The home dudes just radio their progress, their observations, their jokes as the day goes on. "Hey, Limes, whatcha doin' now?" "Laundry and vacuuming, homes!" "Be sure to use your carpet rake because of Dylan's fur." "Right there with you, homes." "Goin' for a walk later, Limes?" "Every day of life, homes." "Good shiott, Limes."

On Sundays, I make a fuller pot of coffee because I have the time to sit awhile and savor it longer. As I grind the beans, the cats dance figure eights around my ankles because in this establishment, fresh water is put down every morning in a new, clean bowl. It is expected. Once the coffee is brewed to perfection, I select a much loved mug from a vast collection and sit on the throne that is my desk chair. Then I read. Then I write. Today I am enjoying the music selections from Tag's post yesterday. I hadn't thought of The Highwaymen in years. I saw them perform once. I loved it. Yesterday and today I love watching them step up to their mikes, each to sing his part - the smiles, the obvious camaraderie on the stage. Waylon and Johnny gone now . . . Mr. and Mrs. Elvis Costello singing Crazy with Willie Nelson . . . Allison Krauss singing Paul Simon . . .

Saturday was a heavy blog traffic day, with some less frequent followers ringing in ~ I liked that. During e-mails throughout the afternoon and evening, the Badger commented how fun it all is and wouldn't it be grand to attend the great internet round table at some funky spot as Kass suggested. I reminded him of the sub-headline on my blog and said I'd rather host this soiree at my home, cooking red sauce in the kitchen, good music, red wine. What discussions would take place! I wonder if the walls could contain all the energy, creativity and good will? Later he e-mailed, "You're blossoming, Limes." I replied that I didn't know about that, but I certainly had rejoined the living.

I'll need to go to Fresh & Easy later. I make a macaroni and cheese to die for and it has been requested. This is an adult version of the ultimate comfort food. No child would go for this pasta creation, and it doesn't come out of a blue box. Nor is it orange when ready to be served. When I layer some Gruyere in it, the cheese strings up so badly that diners look like Lady and the Tramp eating their spaghetti. I'm hoping not to relive running into Bob at Fresh & Easy, but I won't let the possibility keep me from a store where I like to shop. Actually, I've been given so many suggestions for things I should have said to Bob, that maybe one more encounter . . . . perhaps, just once, I could make an exception and cause a really ugly public scene . . . nah. Kass, you want to join us for dinner? Feed an addiction?

So, Kass, is this the Bloom Where You're Planted image you have at your Midway cottage? Because I've had an affinity for her art for decades, I've observed that sometimes they scramble up the images with the quotes, so one's never quite sure.

I was glad you mentioned the Philip Seymour Hoffman movie yesterday. I'd forgotten it was coming out and I never want to miss anything he's acting in. I need to make a date and go see it.

Not sure if you picked this up, because it was sandwiched in with some long string of comments, but I had read you were interested in the neon boneyard and I had posted about that some five weeks ago. Tag and Kirk had been interested in it, so this post was my little offering.

And so, favored readers and 'tend friends, if I do not move myself, I will have spent another lost day and I made a promise to myself and important others that I'm not going to let that happen any more. There are places to go and people to see, food to be prepared and shared, group gatherings to be looked into, and a whole world of others to connect with. Tonight I want to begin writing Chapter 2 on the journey to Sugarhouse. Because I'm compelled to tell.

In my ears right now: Still The Highway Men singing Highway Man. Thanks, Tag. " . . . . I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can . . . "

Something that charmed me: Friend Willy and his adventures in PhotoShop. We have surely cut a rug together before, but the prize is fantasy. Nor are those Willy's or my bodies. But the faces are real and he is funny!

One photo credit: J. D. Morehouse

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Thoughts Wafting Through My Head, Like Dragonflies at the Swamp

OK, I've done the thoughts ~ dragonflies ~ swamp thing before, but I will shoulder the embarrassment of repeating the theme. For it is true that today I am full of random, misaligned trains of thought vying to be examined first and best. Also, this post was written across Friday and Saturday, so my "today" and "yesterday" references may be scrambled, but I think that's not crucial.

How did they know? And yes, this charms me. Last night a little repeating drama was played out. I dozed under the dryer at the Hair Attic, overtired. The hot air baked the customized blond tones into my follicles as I (probably) snored and drooled down the front of the robe that I detest, but Christine insists I wear. I'll be straight: I don't really want to undress and wear someone else's robe to get my hair cut and colored. I also don't want Christine to pick up my legs and feet to place them on an ottoman. But that is part of the treatment, and Christine insists. This seems to be of overarching importance to her. It's what she does. So, we take the bad with the good. My session was nearly over and it was time for the fun. Product! For Christine trots out some new potion, glop or goo every time and tantalizes me with its properties and fragrance. This time, I was struck by the coconutty fragrance. I gave it 5 stars. As long as the product did for the hair what I wanted it to do, I intended to own some of this. She'd completed the look (too bad I was just going to go home to bed), handed me my glasses to check it out, and I was sold. I wanted some of the new stuff. "What is it, Christine? Who makes it?" She told me it was a BedHead product and I wasn't surprised it drew me so strongly, because I like their hair care line. The Badger chortles when I speak of the shampoo called Self-Absorbed. How did they know? For about 3 years, I used their definition product called Wax Stick for Cool People. How did they know? And, now, the new, blue, kind of gooey, coconutty smelling putty . . . Manipulator. How did they know?

A thank you, in awe: This week I began to write about childhood, family of origin, memories and life events. It will take a long, long time to write it all out. It has been pent up for so long and it is huge. Almost as if the feelings are bigger than me in my entirety, and where do the feelings stop and I begin? This is painful writing, hard to organize and putting it out there makes me feel a little vulnerable, a little susceptible to harsh criticism. When I wrote the first installment, I drew a comment that contained two words that so deflated one of the biggest chaos balloons, I am still rocked backward. You see, when I think of my mother, when I purposely allow her into my immediate consciousness, I hear whirring and I smell vinegar and I taste tea tree oil. This tiny woman, old now, takes on Paul Bunyan-esque dimensions, and I cannot organize my thoughts or feelings. Writing and thinking about her early motherhood during my infancy and childhood occupied a football field full of questions, feelings, sorrow, confusion, resentment . . . but Kass said "anxious mother". Oh. Two words. Two words that helped me see with crystal clarity that I could put some of that stuff in a trash compactor, label the bag "anxious mother" and not churn any longer on what it was. It was an anxious mother. No more. No less. I wonder why none of the therapists, none of the professionals ever thought to take out the sharp hat pin of two words, "anxious mother", and hand it to me. Or is this the first time I am able to accept the condensed version, "anxious mother", as the answer to so much? I bubbled on that throughout my walk this morning. For I surely am feeling peaceful. I allowed her onto the battlefield of my psyche. I held the shiny shield "anxious mother". And I didn't smell or hear or taste anything. Just quietude.

New business venture - who wants in on the ground floor? I'm surprised I only just mentioned my love of Mary Engelbreit art on the blog yesterday, for the images play a large part in my daily fun and humor. I wrote that my alter ego for decades has been The Queen of Everything. Blogger Kass commented this morning: "The Queen of Everything Emblem should be on the hood of your car. I wonder if someone has thought of that yet. Coats of armor for cars? Let's get on that." Folks, I am for that! I'm a bit of an entrepreneur and I surely know how to sell. Auto coats of armor and related mottoes appeal to me. I like a little irony. My car is a nondescript, decent enough thing. People who glance at it quickly and then turn away will say "Nissan, no - Honda, no - Toyota. . . " and "Silver, no - gold, no - gray, no-champagne". This car is unremarkable in any way. So I kind of like the tongue-in-cheek pronouncement that the woman who owns this little bit of nothing is The Queen of Everything. My daughter drives an adorable Mini-Cooper that I covet. She needs this on the doors and her license plate frame should read "A Trust Fund Beneath Every Velvet Pillow" :

My coat of arms would be The Queen of Everything. My license plate frame would say: I want the good goods ~ I refuse to pay full retail for anything.

By the way, favored readers, during all the years Amber and I were Queen and Princess, Ex was the Prince of Whatever's Left, which I always thought was appropri ~ ~ ~ oh, come on! Mary Engelbreit didn't have all that many male characters at the time. It's not like I made that one up. I have no influence over Mary Engelbreit. And Ex actually thought that was pretty funny. I heard him repeat it many times with a laugh, the hierarchical order of Queen, Princess and Prince. But there's another irony in this. It was Ex who drove the Cadillacs, the shiny, flashy big beasties of the automobile world. It was Ex who had all the road flash and splash. So the Queen has the economy car and the Prince of Whatever's Left has one fine automobile.

Commenters, ring in! What would be your coat of arms and what would be your motto? Let's get this thing going! [No, it doesn't need to be Mary Engelbreit. Just tell us what your form of self-expression would be.]

I don't know where I'm going. I wonder if I'll know when I get there. My blogger friend commented: "What's to become of all this crazy/wonderful writing? Are you going to put it in book form? I understand there's a way to do that through blogger." There is no question that the writing is pouring out of me. And I am personally and emotionally emerging from some dark, musty, frightening place. By the way, I occupied that nasty cellar for decades. I am finding my voice after a lifetime of silence. I can say the words without running from them. I can accept the replies without dying on the spot. I am able to look at things that previously burned my retinas. And it is damned heady stuff. Sometimes I feel a little drunk with emotion. Sometimes I feel a little hungover from the weight of so much unsettled debris.

So, I'm not looking for a book deal. I couldn't yet write a book. I am disorganized, with thoughts firing off in every direction, and quickly - like an automatic. I am more interested in continuing to examine and then write about the things that have slowed me or stopped me because I didn't have the coping skills to deal with them. I am interested in telling my stories, simply because I need to.

I was asked how I crawled out of the gray, miserable rut. My first answer is "I'm not out. I'm still crawling." My next answer isn't well formulated yet, but I'll try. I stopped living. And I went downhill from there, depressed, unhappy, aching. I nearly destroyed myself in a variety of ways. I know a person named Westerman. Who or what Westerman is to me doesn't matter to the reader. But it should be known that I trust Westerman and listen to the advice dispensed. It is Westerman who told me over and over again, across years, that if I started to deal with just one issue that ailed me, I'd gain some of my confidence back. Westerman reminded me that I succeed at most things I take on and that dealing with life issues isn't much different from dealing with nasty customers or anything else that comes our way. I finally believed Westerman, but had so many abortive attempts to deal with things, I created a new reason to dislike myself. However, finally, under the stars in the desert, I squeaked out my first and biggest set of troubles and found peace. And I haven't looked back. What's happening in my life since that night is profound and fast-moving. And I'm liking it.

So, Kass, I will get to Sugarhouse, by slow boat. And, Badge, I'll get those purchases made, but probably a few days after I said I would. Tree, I'll pop up on your blog maybe less frequently, but just because I'm writing for mine. Tag, please keep providing the music, because it gets me across some rough spots. Kirk, please keep making me laugh because I need that, too. GJ, if you pop in and stroke my ego, I'll keep writing. Doozyanner, you always cheer for me and it's appreciated. Everyone who pops on to say "Yay!" or "Funny, Limes!" gives me a boost and I appreciate it as I zoom through busy days trying to right a life. It's mine. I need to take care of it.

In my ears right now: It's still REM. Losing My Religion. It resonates so strongly, I wear some of the words as body art.

Something that charmed me: The car coat of arms idea ~ creative and funny.