Monthly Archives: November 2017

Not Complaining But. . .

One of the wonderful things about being me (not) is that lying down hurts.

I’m not complaining but dang, can’t a girl even rest without pain?  I realize that pain is relative, pain builds character, pain allows you to appreciate pleasure.  But really, Universe And All Things Holy?  Pain just from touching the flat surface of my bed?

As I pull myself out of bed this morning, I find myself thinking about a child whom I saw in Incarnate Word Hospital in the early 1970s.  I had a job as a Unit Secretary.  I mostly hung out at the nurses’ station, transcribing orders and filling med requests.  But one evening I strayed to a floor where burn victims slept.  I can’t recall why this child had not been transferred to Children’s Hospital or the Barnes burn unit.   but there he lay, small and forlorn, swathed in bandages.

I couldn’t breathe as I watched him.  I wanted to wrap my arms around his frail frame and rock him to sleep.  I could see his eyes, the tip of his nose; gauze covered the rest of his face.  He opened his eyes as I watched, blinked, and then shut them as a tear seeped out one corner and gathered.  It could not fall.  The surrounding cotton  absorbed the tear.

I swing my legs over the side of the futon and grope for my slippers.  I stretch my spine.  The slight chill in the room feels good against my face.  I stand, and find that I’m intact. It’s not so bad.  I take a step forward into my day.

It’s the twentieth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Among friends

The evening progressed, as evenings do, with laughter and with conversation.  I sat mostly in silence, feeling something that I did not recognize.  At one point, I closed my eyes.  I sent a tender, careful probe to the corners of my mind.  When I opened my eyes, I had my answer:    Welcome.  I felt welcome.

I’ve sat at many tables.  I had in fact sat in the very restaurant at which we dined, several times, with people who smiled in my direction.    Still the feeling of being wanted rarely rises in my breast.  I unfurled it, wrapped it around my shoulders.  I waved it over the plates, with their half-eaten meals and their forks set askew.  No one so much as blinked.  The merriment continued.  I didn’t even garner a casual curious look.

A few hours later, the gathering adjourned to someone’s house.  Turkish coffee got handed round.  Stories flowed.  We played a funny video which made me laugh so hard that I hid behind  my hands.  My stomach ached.  Still later, in the dark of my empty house, a smile lingered on my face until I drifted into dreams.

Today, I will bid goodbye to a chapter of my life.  I expected to awaken with a sense of sorrow.  Instead, I stood at the back door watching the old dog lumber down the stairs, smiling again, waiting for the kettle to boil.  Turning back to the room, I regarded the piles of baking dishes in the drain basket without my usual reluctance to confront my chores.  Nothing could overwhelm me today.  I’ll get myself ready, and take myself to the End of An Era:  A Closing Reception.  I’ll mix the cider and set out the cookies which I spent all day yesterday baking.  I’ll hug each person who enters.  When the last note shimmers in the air as Jake and Angela pack their instruments; when the last person slips back into the chill of winter; I’ll still wear this silly grin.  I took it home, from last night’s dinner among friends.  I consider it a worthy souvenir.

It’s the nineteenth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Sometimes walking on the bright side takes a little effort.

I’ve been listening to the news again, so bear with me.  I remain aghast at the flood of accusations against powerful men.  The nature of the allegations does not astonish me, nor their number.  Instead, I sicken at the thought that in 2017, people still behave so badly towards one another.  I would have thought our species might have reached a higher level of evolution by now.

A secret about me:  In addition to the Food Network and every tiny house show on any channel, I binge-watch Project Runway.  Last evening, a “full-figured” or “plus-size” model cried as she thanked the show’s moderators for pioneering acceptance of Every Woman.  A beautiful girl with cocoa-colored skin, the model stood before the panel of judges wearing a gorgeous, innovative outfit.  I watched the tableau thinking of all the girls in high school, grade school, college; women in the workplace; we older gals — all of us, the entire female portion of humanity, just wanting to be considered beautiful enough to grace someone’s arm and strut our stuff.

How did our own standards twist until they festered within us?

I’m not complaining; or if I am, it’s about something so basic and yet so profound that you must excuse me.  I try to find joy in every corner of the universe but this state of affairs defies even my deliberate cheer.  A senate candidate stands accused of preying on young teenage girls while in his thirties; and though he does not deny his actions, he still plans to run and his supporters stand beside him.  This spans both sides of the aisle, from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump to Al Franken and all those politicians, movie moguls, actors, and sports figures in between them.  It’s no wonder women get a little bitchy.

Still, I rise and stand square-shouldered beside the likes of the glorious Uma Thurman.   She tells us that she will not speak until she can control her anger.  Her quest is not so different from mine.  “Complaining” does no good but speaking out against injustice always will.  That’s part of what I have been learning.  I started out with this dogged cheerfulness but in the four years during which I’ve slogged away at this blog, I’ve taken every lesson and fashioned a true path for myself.  Some things deserve to be labeled in vivid red:  POISON.  Dump this down a sturdy drain.  None of us need this garbage.

Embrace joy; disdain evil.  If you walk with evil, hold out your hand:  I’ll pull you to the bright side.  But be prepared to honor those  of us who dwell here.  We treat each other well.

It’s the seventeenth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Walking out the smack-down

I swear, some people just smack you down because they can.  I shake my head and wonder if it felt good enough that they’ll keep at it.  Will they wait for the next innocent fella to stroll into the dialogue, then slap their hands — hush their mouths?

I shrugged it off when it happened yesterday.  I had sort of expected it.  I had hesitated in the first place, tip-toeing into an arena where my welcome stood far from certain.  A mixed bag:  Smiles here, hugs there, the scornful look followed by the inevitable squelch.  I tried to take it with grace.  I cringed only inwardly, letting the small-minded have the moment.  Sarcasm rolled from my shoulders. I unfurled my invisible ermine cape and straightened my crown.  I held  my head as regally as I could and then, because that posture has never felt right, I burrowed into my soul and drew the cloak of kindness from its cupboard.

I walked away wrapped in the warm certainty that I would live to smile another day.

It’s tempting to wax bitter.  I acknowledge having an advance hint that these persons would resent my presence.  Our discord does not stem from the correctness of my energy nor the invalidity of theirs.  We take different positions on critical values.  My right juxtaposes with their might; my yin clashes with their yang.  But for a scant hour, I came within the broken circle.  I smiled; they grimaced.  The exposed throat met the gnarled grip.

I left without complaint, knowing that only I would take some deeper meaning from the nastiness of their condemnation.  I cannot say that I took the high road, but at least I solidly trudged the sane and safe middle-ground.  I let them think they’d won.  I did not raise my hand, though neither did I hang my head.

It’s the sixteenth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.

 

Of hats and airports

It seems that everyone in California admires a good hand-crocheted hat.

One of the beneficial by-products of deciding to let wheel-chair attendants push one through major airports lies in the positive feedback of passers-by to one’s attire.  The normal barriers between humans dissipates when one has a disabling condition, whether temporary or permanent.  Pregnancy, a broken limb, a rash, or crippled legs can act as a magic wand to allow others perceived license to cross normally intact lines.  This permits commentary on any aspect of the person with the impairment — “When’s the baby due?”, followed by a pat on the belly; “Does it hurt?” accompanied by an arm squeeze.

In  my case, nobody wants to know why a seemingly intact woman allows a small immigrant to propel her body through the throngs of travelers.  They see the cane which I do not actually use but which I carry on my travels. It lends a legitimacy to my request for assistance which otherwise comes only when the gate-keepers see my walk.  Fellow travelers nod as the assistants careen me past the lines.  I have a walking stick and a serene smile; I’m not contagious, but neither am I a threat to their self-confidence.  They judge me to be benign.

So they ask about collateral attributes.

On this most recent trip, the subject of inquiry most often involved my hat.  I admit it’s grand.  I made it myself.  It’s round and a bit ripply.   I crocheted it from scraps, so it’s an odd combination of brick-red and canary yellow.  By complete happenstance, I acquired a jacket in those colors earlier this year.  Suddenly an unfortunate choice becomes a fashion statement.  To top off the effect, I pinned a yellow silk flower to one side of the beret.  The addition appeals to me, though two or three of my three hundred husbands might have found it ridiculous.

In California, it made quite a stir.  A dozen people commented. Several asked where  I had purchased it.  One lady offered me twenty dollars for it.  Her money did not tempt me.  It keeps me warm and I quite like the attention.  There’s something about inducing all those people to smile as I am rushed past them which satisfies a need.  Maybe it deflects the natural embarrassment attendant to my disability.  Perhaps it’s just a lingering craving for compliments.  Or something else:  A recognition that the broken barrier had in fact  outlived its usefulness.

It’s the fourteenth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Words

Marshall Rosenberg said, “Talk to the people in language they understand.”  I bear this principle in mind when I strive to communicate.  I understand that people use words in certain ways; that they hear words in certain ways; that they react to words in certain ways.

I played Helen Keller in a high school production.  We enacted the scene at the dinner table when Helen behaves like a wild creature, going from plate to plate grabbing food.  At one point she dumps a water pitcher.  Her teacher Anne Sullivan grabs her hand and drags her to the pump to re-fill it, signing the word for “water” as she insists that the child work the lever.  Eventually, Helen connects the sign, “Water“, with the sound that Miss Sullivan articulates — “Water”, and thus with the cold, marvelous sensation on her hands as the old pump engages.

Waaa — tttter, she says, stuttering, groping for the sounds, assembling them in a flash of understanding.

In another scene, Helen’s father and Annie speak of the need for her to learn:

Keller. And what would another week accomplish? We are more than satisfied, you’ve done more than we ever thought possible, taught her constructive——

Annie. I can’t promise anything. All I can——

Keller (no break).——things to do, to behave like—even look like—a human child, so manageable, contented, cleaner, more——

Annie (withering). Cleaner.

Keller. Well. We say cleanliness is next to godliness, Miss——

Annie. Cleanliness is next to nothing. She has to learn that everything has its name! That words can be her eyes, to everything in the world outside her, and inside too. What is she without words? With them she can think, have ideas, be reached. There’s not a thought or fact in the world that can’t be hers. You publish a newspaper, Captain Keller, do I have to tell you what words are? And she has them already——

Keller. Miss Sullivan.

Annie. ——eighteen nouns and three verbs, they’re in her fingers now, I need only time to push one of them into her mind! One, and everything under the sun will follow. Don’t you see what she’s learned here is only clearing the way for that? I can’t risk her unlearning it, give me more time alone with her, another week to——”

(From, ‘The Miracle Worker’, William Gibson, adapted 1957)

Words — the collection of them, what we call ‘language’, become vehicles with which we endeavor to convey what we think, feel, want, dream.  Sometimes I have only words to offer.  I have nothing else to give.  I search for each syllable and hold them out with all the hope and tenderness that I can summon from my distended belly.

My father taught me to read and write at three because he did not expect me to walk.  He put me on his lap in front of a manual typewriter and guided my hands to the letters.  He traced the sentences in the evening paper and encouraged me to follow.  He found the gift lying within me, and drew it to the surface.  I live there, now; on the edge of disclosure.  I cannot stop the flow.  It brings me pain at times.  I might as well tear open my dress and lay my chest bare in anticipation of the knife.  And yet, I choose to do it.  My words do not merely arise from my soul.  They are my soul.  I tender them. I take my chance.

It’s the twelfth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

s

Time zones

My body woke at six today, local time.  I think it has adjusted; yesterday I rose at four local time, feeling the craziness of cross-country travel.

A mist lies over the park.  I can see that it will dissipate but as I drink coffee, it clings to the willow trees which rise over the little valley.  My muscles ache from whatever passed for work yesterday, which mainly consisted of taking pictures, directing the placement of boxes, and climbing on my old yellow ladder to get into Angels’ Haven.

About four yesterday afternoon, Joe, the guy who lives in the rusty turquoise RV at the corner of the rental cabin row and G-street, brought a set of steps for me to use until he builds my porch.  He held the measuring tape to show me that they have a seven-inch rise.  He clucked at the two-feet drop of the trailer; that’s not divisible by seven, he tells me, with a sideways glance as though I am to blame.  He ponders the wisdom of 6-1/2 inch steps.  He asks why we picked two-feet for the height off the ground.  He scuffs the roots near where we parked and studies the slight incline.  Later, Joe will tell me about the accident which killed his dog and got him sober.  He’ll speak of the lady who left him then, to go take care of her parents down south.  He’ll gaze toward the river with palpable pain shooting across his angular face.  Still later, walking towards the rental car in the night, I’ll trip over a tree root.   Joe will catch me, and then hastily, earnestly, apologize for touching me without consent.

I like Joe.  I think he’ll make a fine neighbor.

Before the first of my 300 marriages, my husband made me promise that I would never force him to dwell in a double-wide.  Just as urgently, I insisted that he swear we would never buy a ticky-tacky, vinyl-sided, post-war ranch in Prairie Village.  Now here I am, about to take up residence in a tiny house on wheels with cedar siding in an RV park and camp ground.  I’ll be surrounded by people like Joe; cheerful retirees in golf carts; and young couples who travel for work and come to their Tiny Homes on the weekends to feel the mist on their cheeks every morning.

Maybe I’m not in California after all.  Maybe I’m in Brigadoon, and I’ll disappear, returning unchanged once each century.  The notion does not offend me.

It’s the eleventh day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Looking east/southeast from the north side of the San Joaquin

The sun also rises

A person can live for a surprisingly long time on cashews, dates, and Turkish figs.

Those unlikely commodities sustained me through a grumpy flight attendant; three wild rides in wheelchairs pushed by attendants with varying degrees of passion for their jobs; and a harrowing six-mile journey down a winding levee road.  Now they serve as breakfast, along with a packet of tea from the zip-lock bag of such packets given to me by a dear friend.

The cabin in which I write reminds me of a hotel room near Custer State Park where my son, his stepfather, and I stayed in February of 1999.  Or was it 2000?  Never mind:  it had the feel of the room surrounding me.  Tile, Formica, and 1960’s cupboards comprise the kitchenette here, just as they did in that hotel room.  We nearly persuaded ourselves to make our permanent home in that place.  Two rooms had been thrown together to make something wheel-chair accessible out of one.  A little playground stood adjacent to the square of cement which served as a patio.  We could have died there and been unphased by our own demise.

Just so here:  A cabin in the Delta Bay RV Park and Campground in Isleton, California.  I’m sixty miles east of my Pacific, on the San Joaquin River.  The air outside carries no sound.  To the east, the sun has just started to rise, joining me, two hours late for breakfast.

I couldn’t be calmer.  In a half-dozen hours, my tiny house on wheels will make her way to the Delta, pulled by Kevin Kitsmuller in the company of his wife Kim.  I will be at the gate to welcome Angels’ Haven to her new home.

I don’t pretend to know the future.  I’ve been called crazy, foolish, traitorous, and wild.  Guilty as charged.  I will leave a lot behind me but one always does, as one steps forward.   To those who love me, each of you in his or her own way, in the peculiar way of each relate, know this:   I carry your heart with me; I carry it in my heart.

It’s the tenth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Above

From my current vantage point, the world passes in soft silence.  A man with a backwards hat bends over his seat, fumbling in a canvas bag.  The lights have been extinguished and others move freely around the cabin, no standing in line for the toilet, please.  Stay back until the aisle is clear, thank you very much.

The age of the flight attendants continues to astonish me.  I took my first air flight during the McGovern campaign.  When I left Denver later that week, on election day, he had a chance.  By the time I landed in St. Louis he had lost by too many to be questionable.  My dejected mother met me at the gate.  What a difference a few hours makes, she groaned.  I couldn’t even vote then.  Now I’ve watched so many presidential elections that nothing surprises me, not the misfit who currently occupies the oval office nor the jackals which circle outside.

I’ll land in San Francisco soon.  I’ve overly tipped several porters in desperation for assistance.  My artificial knee has swollen and the walking stick which I regained three years after loaning it to an attorney at the courthouse will get use this trip.  I contemplate whether I should have explored getting a new knee while I’m in the pay-nothing end of the year.  But with the old style sitting awkwardly inside my battered leg, the prospect poses its own sordid challenges.

Better to wait, I think.  Better to muddle through; get a second opinion on a new policy.  The metal inside me now put me into a seven-week tailspin at a time when my son still needed me.  I can’t repeat that, alone, at this turning point in my life.  But I’ll not complain.  A few dollars buys me cheerful assistance, or what passes for it in the lives of the transient masses.

Now and then, I wonder about roads not taken.  I reflect on the little assortment of names in my book; the sisters, the brothers, the friends, the companions.  A smattering of former lovers and spouses.    I think of them standing at my grave, eyeing one other with suspicion before dropping a rose and moving away.  I think of the single malt that I’ve made my son promise to serve at the wake.  With the angels, I’ll gaze on the lot with a painful fondness, before turning to those in the wings.  I’ll walk away, up, above, beyond.

But for now, I’m starting down another fork in the road.  At a time in my life when I should be counting the interest in a government savings plan or a corporate 401(k), I’m counting pennies and watching for land mines as I step on each stone.  It’s a strange moment.  My breath comes slowly, steadily, with a whiff of incense to tell me something special hovers nearby.

It’s the ninth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

One step closer to paradise

I  like my life — please make no mistake about that.  Though I’ve had challenges, losses, and sorrows, I have some damn fine friends and I’ve had a long wonderful run in Kansas City.

I have no complaints, despite those challenges, despite those losses, despite those sorrows.

But I have known for my entire life that I did not really belonging in the flatlands, land-locked and stifled.  My brothers gave me rocks for Christmas during our childhood because I talked so much about the mountains.  Thirty years ago, I had my chart read and turned out to be a water woman.  While the Atlantic never charmed me, Lake Michigan started  my love affair with endless expanses of variegated blue.  When I saw the Pacific for the first time, on Highway 1 just south of Half Moon Bay, my heart knew without any doubt that it had come home.

My tiny house headed for California yesterday.  I rushed to get insurance, to pack the modest collection of belongings with which I will furnish it, and to get the beautiful cherry table made by Sheldon Vogt installed before the launch.  It all meshed; insurance got bound, stuff got stowed, table found its way to a wooden bracket on the side of a cabinet in the house which I’m calling Angels’ Haven.  Kevin and Kim Kitsmuller, my fabulous builder and his enormously kind, lovely, and talented baker / home-decorator wife, left Missouri for parts west yesterday towing Angels’ Haven.

Here and there in the Holmes house, the Brookside airplane bungalow in which I raised my son, I stumble on piles of stuff that got swept out of furniture as it departed.  I’ll have to sort those piles next week.  But today’s tasks take me out of the house, to a school to visit children for whom I am guardian, to the pharmacy, to the vet.  I’ll gather what I need to travel and I’ll get the dog situated.  I’ll pack a small suitcase and load my computer bag.  At noon tomorrow, I’ll board a plane for the last flight which I’ll take to California as a full-time Midwesterner.

I’m moving 2,879 klicks west of where I’ve been.  Hold onto your hats.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

It’s the eighth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.

Sunset over the bay at Pescadero, CA, March 2015