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A Tale of Turning Hearts

A tale of turning hearts

Yesterday, November 18th, I attended my Aunt Lugene’s funeral.  She was 11 days shy of her 93rd birthday and had been in ill health for a while.  The service was a celebration of her life.  She had been a patient Army Wife, mother, grand-, great grand-, and great-great grandmother.  “The best grandma ever”, was a phrase used by more than one grandchild.  Warm, loving, accepting were among the many descriptions.  Tears were shed, and she will be missed, but no one was inconsolable or hopeless.  This was partly due to the feeling that a wonderful woman was finally out of discomfort and in the arms of her sweetheart again and part of a unique biblical prophecy.

Malachi chapter 4 verse 6 speaks of a last-days turning of “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”  I have been to other family funerals, with the same batch of cousins and sisters, but at no time has anyone suggested a family reunion.  Oh, yeah, the basic “we only get together for weddings and funerals” comment was made at least once, but this time, the suggestion of a full family get together was made and agreed upon.

Perhaps this was because Aunt Lugene was the last of the “parents”.  The last of my paternal grandparents’ children/children-in-law.  The generations officially moved up in ranks.  Death is closer to the now “old folks” (my level) especially since a cousin on that level has cancer.   I think more so it agrees perfectly with the trend to know one’s roots.  Several companies exist in many countries, to help one with genealogy.  I can think of at least two popular television shows in which people are helped to research ancestry.  Even my co-worker was bitten by the bug and has been researching her and her husband’s lines to find out just how German they are.  Turns out they better like Sauerbraten and Pumpernickel.

There can be something elevating in finding out about one’s ancestors.  My co-worker discovered she has two relations who were published poets.  They have works in the Smithsonian Institution and hob-knobbed with noted poet John Greenleaf Whittier and showman P.T. Barnum.  Pretty Cool.  Beats being related to the cheap schnook who snuck into the circus!

One can find mysteries in genealogy.  My father-in-law used to claim that the Stams were descended from royalty.  One day, we took a good look at my sister-in-law’s pedigree chart.  The father/son chain was interrupted with a mother/son link.  Her father was a Stam.  King’s mistress???

And one of these days I may find out if my dad was right when he told me one of my great-greats was an employee of Napoleon Bonaparte, who changed his name when he hightailed it to England after his boss got “fired”.   I know which great-great grandfather was a Scottish Seaman, but not which was a Knight in England’s Wars of The Roses.  And, there’s probably a horse thief in there somewhere.  Hey, they had children too.

I suppose this summer the first Hebert James Morris Family Reunion will be held.  That will be good.  Thanks for reading.

The Story behind “The House Behind the Cedars”

photo credit:  https://alchetron.com/Charles-W-Chesnutt-1199237-W

“I think I must write a book. I am almost afraid to undertake a book so early and with so little experience in composition. But it has been a cherished dream, and I feel an influence that I cannot resist calling me to the task. . . . The object of my writing would not be so much the elevation of the colored people as the elevation of the whites–for I consider the unjust spirit of caste which is so insidious as to pervade a whole nation, and so powerful as to subject a whole race and all connected with it to scorn and social ostracism–I consider this a barrier to the moral progress of the American people: and I would be one of the first to head a determined, organized crusade against it.”
–Charles W. Chesnutt, journal, May 1880

“The House Behind the Cedars” written in 1900, is a story about post Civil War racial identification, prejudice, relationships and does not have a happy ending.  But, if it did, it wouldn’t make anywhere near the powerful statement that it does.

Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 20 June, 1858, two years before the Civil War.  He was largely self-taught, even when he took the legal bar exam in Cleveland, Ohio, and passed it.  His family moved to North Carolina and at the age of 14, he worked as a pupil-teacher at Fayetteville.  He taught at other schools for black students in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.  In 1877 he became assistant principal of the “normal school” in Fayetteville.  This was one of a number of colleges established to train black teachers.  It later became Fayetteville State University.  He was a long-time supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  He loved literature and education.  He saw it as a way to show that not only Black lives matter, but that All lives matter.  He had good reason to believe this.

His parents were both free “blacks”.  His father was the son of an African American house slave, and her European American owner.  His mother was also bi-racial.  The word back then was mulatto.  Charles inherited enough genes from his European American ancestors to pass as “white”.  Back then that would have meant a much easier way to prosperity and financial security.  The ladder of life would not have been as hard to climb.  He chose however, to be honest with himself and his total ancestry and identified himself as “black”.  Back then, things were “black and white”, yellow and red too I suppose if you looked at Asian Americans and Native Americans.  If you didn’t label yourself, someone else would.

He married and moved his family to New York for a while and ended up back in Cleveland.  He wanted to raise his children in a more accepting atmosphere than the Southern States and appreciated the literary atmosphere New York offered.  After arriving in Cleveland and passing the bar exam, he started a very successful court reporting (legal stenographer) business.  So, when he finally put his life experiences as a “white black man” into story, he had a variety of tales to tell.  His works were widely recognized and awarded.  These works were sketches, essays, short stories and one novel, “The House Behind the Cedars”.

In short, (and this “Reader’s Digest version does the story no justice at all) Rena and John Walden are brother and sister, light skinned, African Americans or Negros as they were called then.  Okay people, it’s a word.  It comes from the Spanish word for black, “negro” (pronounced nae-grow).  Yes, it was incorrectly applied, let’s face it, no human being has truly black skin or, except for a person with Albinism, truly white skin.  Yes. it was shortened into an insult, but in this reference, it is correctly used.

John is quite a bit older than Rena and at the beginning of the story is coming home to take his sister into society.  He has changed his name to Warwick and is a prosperous “white” man.  Their mother reluctantly gives late teenaged Rena leave to go and help John with his newly motherless child.  Rena becomes enamored with high society and the finer things in life.  She is courted by a young man, a genuine European American who wishes to marry her.  Until that is, he finds out she is a “fraud”.

From the chapter “The Bottom Falls Out”.  “At first he could see nothing but the fraud of which he had been made the victim. A negro girl had been foisted upon him for a white woman, and he had almost committed the unpardonable sin against his race of marrying her.”  http://www.online-literature.com/charles-chesnutt/house-behind-the-cedars/

Rena, rejected and forcibly removed from the life she almost knew, leaves.  They try to forget each other and can’t.  She falls into a deeper and deeper depression until she returns home, physically as well as mentally ill.  He decides that she is worth being his wife no matter who she is and arrives at her mother’s house to find she has just died.

My first impression was “you’ve got to be kidding, why on earth did you write this?”  Then I put the end into historical and literary context.  Even if he would have revived her and married her, in that time their life would have been one long struggle.  He would have truly had to have loved her more than his life, and he wasn’t written that way.  The characters were basically honest, caring people who were saturated with a system that rewarded one look and punished another.  They were living inside, on both sides, societal lies and had to balance feelings and beliefs.  I realized from the way Chesnutt gave all characters, even a lowly delivery boy, quality and humanity that he was decrying the unequal treatment of his time and expressing the belief that all lives matter.

There is a slogan and an accompanying group in the news.  “Black Lives Matter.”  They do, they truly do.  However, the more I hear of and from the group, the more I agree with Larry Pinkney.  Mr. Pinkney was one of the founders of the original Black Panther’s group and is a member of the Black Activists Writers Guild.  When asked recently, on the show InfoWars, to comment on the Black Lives Matter group, he said.

“The most diplomatic thing that I can say about Black Lives Matter is that they are a farce.  They’re not about serving.  They love attention but in terms of going into the community and doing something, and by doing something I mean serving the people, body and soul which we used to say, not jumping up on prime-time news and talking about black lives matter as if all lives are not precious.  All lives are precious.  We have a commonality and if they were sincere and for real about wanting to change the systemic chorus that people across the board, black, white, brown, red and yellow people, that we face, then they would find commonality, work together even with those with whom they might disagree.”  https://www.infowars.com/larry-pinckney-to-the-nfl-get-off-your-knees/

Much has changed since Mr. Chesnutt’s time.  Much has stayed the same.

What do you think?  Thanks for reading.

Two other places to read about Charles W. Chesnutt are http://www.chesnuttarchive.org/classroom/biography.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_W_Chesnutt

If you would like to read more about Mr. Pinkney look at http://blackactivistwg.org/Larry%20Pinkney/

 

The Societal Pits and the Emotional Pendulums

“The Pit and the Pendulum” is a short story by the 19th century horror master, Edgar Allen Poe.  It tells of a Frenchman’s brush with a horrific death during the Spanish Inquisition.  For those of you whose history is a bit fuzzy, the Spanish Inquisition was a forceful, futile attempt to keep Spain Catholic.  It began in 1478 and wasn’t definitively abolished until 1834.  Heresy was illegal and punishable by death so the Inquisition was started to be sure there were no unjust executions.  Good intentions gone awry and taken too far.  About 150,000 people were charged with crimes and 3,000 to 5,000 were executed.  Eventually targeted were Jews and Muslims, former Jews and Muslims who were thought to have not given up their ways, Protestants (although they were already in the minority), Witches, blasphemers, bigamists, sodomites (LGBT?), Freemasons, and women who did not fit the accepted idea of how a woman should act and what she should do.  It started out with “evidence” gathering:  testimony from neighbors and observations of the accused’s activities to find anything that would show a lifestyle other than mainstream Catholicism.  For example, a family who routinely bought extra food on Friday and none on Saturday might be observing the Jewish Sabbath.  After not too long, physical coercion was added.  In other words, torture.

In Poe’s story, a man has been found guilty and condemned to death.  He is placed in a pitch-black cell and discovers, by almost falling into it, that there is a deep, water and creature filled, circular pit in the middle of it.  He passes out and awakens strapped to a wooden palate.  His prison is now dimly lit.  This light is enough for him to see a sharp blade suspended above him.  He watches the blade swing slowly right to left dropping a small amount with each swing.  With the help of the local rat population he is able to free himself.  Now, however, two opposing walls of the room move toward each other, pushing him into the pit.  Just when he is on the brink of destruction, the walls stop, his cell is entered and a French army officer grabs him.  Spain has been invaded.

This summary does not do the intensity of the story justice.  Check out your local library or The Literature Network (link on the list to the right) for the full story.  What it does is form a basis for comparison to today’s social pits and emotional pendulums that we, the citizens of the world, should strive to not fall into and work to not be destroyed by.

The pit of tolerance, the pendulum of respect.

One definition of the word tolerance as found in good ol’ Meriam Webster is: “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs and practices different from one’s own.”  Should one allow another to practice religion, live a lifestyle or have a belief system that is different?  Certainly, as long as the religion, lifestyle or system does not injure, kill, damage, steal, extort, you get the idea.  Should the other in turn allow the one to practice religion, live a lifestyle or have a belief system that is different?  (With the above restrictions of course.)  Again, certainly.  What if the one has a request of the other, seemingly benign, that the other deems a violation of belief or an insult?  Tolerance becomes a pit when the pendulum of respect has not stopped at its middle.  Meriam Webster tells us that respect is: “to consider deserving of high regard” or “to refrain from interfering with.”  In this case, the pendulum swings from respect of self but not others to respect of others but not self.  At the former end, the request is denied with the requestee feeling insulted but justified and the requestor feeling upset, angry, insulted and wanting satisfaction.  Pistols at 100 paces has been replaced by court dates, less deadly, more expensive.  At the latter end, the request is granted, leaving the requestee frustrated and let down with himself for going against his beliefs or not standing up against the insult.  The requestors will be perfectly happy and blissfully unaware, leaving the possibility open for repeat actions perhaps not with such a satisfying ending.  If the balance of respect for self and others is obtained, the requestee either kindly denies the request adding a suggestion of where to go for fulfillment, or he finds a way to fulfill what is asked and not compromise his beliefs.  Above all, he does not take insult.  The requestor, having the same balance, accepts the denial and goes elsewhere, or finds a way to fill the request himself.  Above all, he also does not take insult.

The pit of bigotry, the pendulum of fear.

A bigot according to Webster is:  “one intolerantly devoted to his own church, party or opinion.”  Bigotry can be innocently created when one ignorantly stays staunchly with one’s belief system and excludes all other information.  This kind reverses with knowledge:  getting to know the strange neighbors, learning about another church, culture or way of life are examples.  The creatures in the pit of bigotry are fear fed.  Fear of losing one’s identity, fear of physical harm, or fear of divine retribution are common pit food.  Usually one’s sense of self solidifies with knowledge.  Love one another as I have loved you is divine counsel.  But, physical harm sometimes is a valid concern.  The pendulum of fear swings from fear inspiring intolerance, leading to negative or destructive actions to fearless acceptance of any and all.  Acceptance that is so wide open one loses sight of moral proprieties and divinely set boundaries.  The central point contains enough concern to inspire thought provoking conversation and learning about how “their ideas/lifestyle” and “ours” can peacefully co-exist.  Mental strategies are then created and put into place to “love the sinner and hate the sin.”  Friendships are created, bridges are built, understanding and love flourish.  On the one end of the swing are the actions that are all to commonly reported in the media, fighting, lawsuits, sustained hatred, lawlessness.  Leaving the pendulum on the other would be a boring day on CNN indeed, but is that the best for each side?  If the difference is just difference, ancestral nationality, language, food choices, religious beliefs, all those parts of cultural difference, stopping the swing at the wide-open end may be as good as resting it in the center.  However, if the difference is associated with a moral imperative or divine command, the Acceptor could easily lose spiritual balance.  Should one be rejected due to ways of living that are contrary to our ways?  As above, as long as those ways do not injure, kill, damage, steal, extort, etc., most certainly not.  Should another embrace the ways to the point of avoiding subjects that, through stating truths, negatively criticize the way or shun one?  Should the other be so concerned with the feelings of the one as to give comfort and apologies when anything is said that puts the way into a negative light?  If that way is against divinely set boundaries, most certainly not!  Feelings, desires, wishes are not sins.  As the saying goes, “stress is when the mind overrides the body’s desire to choke the daylights out of a jerk who desperately needs it.”  Crime would be actually doing it.  Crime is committing actions that violate man’s law.  Sin is committing actions that violate God’s laws.  There are various consequences for crime, but only repentance for sin.  Repentance involves a measure of discomfort.  That’s the way God communicates the need to change.  If one feels uncomfortable during a conversation, perhaps God is saying something and one needs to listen.  For another to attempt to relieve the discomfort is doing one a grave disservice.

The pit of despair, the pendulum of selfishness.

Despair is beyond sadness or depression.  It is losing all hope, all confidence in one’s life.  The pendulum of selfishness swings from narcissistic “I am the center of and reason for all life” to uncontrolled selflessness.  This is putting others before self to the point of neglect of basic needs and fostering feelings of worthlessness.  Despair flourishes at this end.  In the center, lies an area where one is able to meet one’s basic physical and emotional needs and then gives to others.  This area also includes allowing others to give, while graciously receiving the gifts.  Unless genuine mental illness is present, we, human kind, need to be needed.  We need to feel worthwhile and important to those around us.  The best way to do this is to serve and graciously accept service.  Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”  The upside-down is also true.  If you love people, you have no time to judge them.  Keeping your selfishness pendulum in the center not only avoids despair, but also bigotry and keeps tolerance and respect in a healthy balance.

Thanks for reading.

Retire or Retread?

Next Life chapter:  Retire or Retread

What is your next Life chapter?

Now and then, on my way to here and there, I see shells of a tire on the roadside.  Not the whole tire, just a piece of the outside, as if someone cut a ragged slice off of the tread.  Sometimes they are called Road Alligators, but I have always heard them called retreads.  According to Dictionary.com, a retread is a tire that has had a new tread glued onto or cut into the old, worn down surface.  So when a set of automobile tires no longer passes inspection, the owner either re-tires (buys new tires) or retreads.  A retread is also a person retrained for a new job or “a person representing older or previous times, ideas, policies, etc., especially when they are deemed passé or tiresome.”

                Two of the definitions of the word retire are, to remove or withdraw oneself and to quit working or leading an active life due to age.  In two years, I will retire from my position in Granite School District.  I will quit working full time as a Registered Nurse but I have no intention of withdrawing or removing myself from an active life.  I think I’ll retread.  Art classes sound good.  Volunteering in a hospital or school doing “busy work” to free up the Nurses and Teachers is another option.  Or maybe I’ll be a story reader in my local library.  Most of all I intend to be a person who represents older values.  Much older, as in “in the beginning was the word”, especially when they are deemed passé or tiresome.

So, what is your next Life chapter?

 

Little Free Library Update

This story about a story is wonderful! The book and likely the series sounds very interesting and worth the look.

Records of the Ohanzee

Little Free Library There’s Reflection: The Stranger in the Mirror on top of the stack!

Two years ago, I dropped off a copy of the first edition of my book, Reflection: The Stranger in the Mirror, in the Little Free Library that stands beside the local bike trail. (See the original post from August 2015 here.) I wrote an inscription on the inside in the hopes of one day hearing from someone who happened to pick up the book. Weeks passed, then months and years, and I assumed that the book must have disappeared somewhere along it’s journey.

And then–just last week–something amazing happened. This appeared on Instagram…

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You can imagine my surprise at seeing one of the few original copies of my book make an appearance after so many years. But this wasn’t simply one of the originals…

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…it was the copy I left in the Little Free Library. And…

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“Just a piece of string”

photo credit: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/06/the-what-and-why-and-how-of-bearing-a-testimony?lang=eng

Latter-day Saints have a service each first Sunday of the month called Fast and Testimony meeting.  The day before we fast two meals and give the cost, or more to the Fast Offering fund.  Then in place of a regular church service we have a time when whoever wishes to may stand and bear testimony to how the gospel and God have helped their lives.  Yesterday was Testimony meeting for September.

One young member, about 10 or 11 years old.  Stood and bore a beautiful testimony of how forgiveness helps her.  She come from a loving, supportive family.  They sit reasonably well behaved during church and I have seen her help with younger sibling.  So, at first glance one wonders what she has to forgive.  Well, she’s the oldest of four girls and as the second oldest of five girls, I can relate.  She has three younger sisters!

She stated that forgiving someone makes her feel good.  That she thinks it is easy and then finds out it can be hard.  She said, “I think sometimes, we say we forgive, but do we really?  I have to forgive my sisters and I have to forgive my friends, and I have to forgive myself.”

photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/yarn-colors/

The story goes that one day, a soldier traveling between battles, found himself in a small town.  He was jauntily strolling the streets when he saw a length of colorful string on the sidewalk.  He picked it up and put it into his pocket thinking, perhaps I can use this, it might bring me luck.  Later that day, as the soldier was enjoying a simple but delicious dinner, he was accosted by the local constabulary, arrested for theft and taken to jail.  It seems a girl had lost her brightly colored purse and someone had seen the soldier pick up a brightly colored object and place it into his pocket.

Try as he might, even by producing the string, the soldier could not convince the suspicious folk he was not the thief.  Some days later, the purse was found and the soldier was unceremoniously released.

Feeling that he was justly insulted for being unjustly condemned, he tried to obtain an apology from the locals, to no avail.  Finally, he left town but told his tale of woe to everyone he encountered, without ceasing.  In fact, his last mortal words were, “a piece of string, it was just a piece of string.”

I looked for a picture of forgiveness and found a quote, lots of them.   One site listed 2461 quotes tagged as forgiveness.  Obviously more people than my young church sister think that forgiveness is important.

Someone, perhaps the great philosopher Anonymous wrote, “To heal a wound you need to stop touching it.”  As a nurse, I understand that.  Even a simple cut can become infected and enlarged if not treated properly and then left alone to heal.  A small scab may become an ugly scar if repeatedly ripped off before it falls on its own.  How many emotional wounds do we keep touching?

My young church sister asked the question, “I think sometimes, we say we forgive, but do we really?”  I’m asking what if?

What if the leaders on both sides of the conflict in ___pick a place____ decided to take Oscar Wilde’s advice, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much?”  Well, that’s pretty obvious, ISIS would simply be an old Egyptian goddess (a peaceful one at that), and the newspaper would be a lot thinner.

What if then, if you and I forgave our sisters, brothers, friends, parents, children, co-workers, idiots on the road or in Congress, would we even have the inclination to make enemies?

Above all, what if we forgave ourselves?

A Sweet Love Story

I usually don’t read those internet stories.  You know, the ones you have to click through an unearthly number of pages wishing all the time it would have just been put on one:  why this celebrity did this, what this one looks now is whatever, and see what we caught on a hidden camera (seriously who cares), but, I am a sucker for animal stories.  This one makes me wonder, if a person can care this much for a dog, surely we all can care this much for each other.  Honestly, it’s worth the clicks.

http://www.wonderbuzz.com/animals/36/g/tabcdalldoeca/bronson-puppy-rescue/1?cs=synacor-centurylink1&ck=This+Puppy+Was+Going+To+Be+Euthanized.++What+She+Did+Will+Bring+Tears+To+Your+Eyes.#

Not a Solar Eclipse Story

photo credit:  Google images/Photo Bucket

I thought about sharing stories about solar eclipses, but there are so many entries on line, myths, superstitions, experiences of the recent one, that I decided, “nope.”  However, I couldn’t get myself to totally leave it alone so, this is a story I placed on Watpad.  I hope you like it.

Eclipse of the Heart

“Turn around.  Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you’re never coming round.  Turn around.  Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears.”1

The song drifted woefully out of the old speakers and past the man who seemed to be half listening, half staring out the living room window.  It flowed across the room, over the breakfast bar, and into the mind of his wife who was aimlessly wiping the kitchen counter for the sixth time.

I used to know that song, she thought and her hand paused its circling.

“Turn around.  Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by.”

The green stripes of the tile became fuzzy and then faded as tears filled her eyes.  A drop hit her right hand.  She raised that hand to her face and stared blankly as the tear randown her wrist.

“All the best years have gone by,” she whispered, just audibly.  She gave a deep uneven sigh, turned around and leaned against the counter.  Her eyes closed as her head rolled back.

Gone, she thought, ten years.  Ten years harried with hopes and tests and trails and this method and that method.  For what?  A very small coffin and a dark hole.  My baby, my little sunshine.  So much brightness in six short months, all dark now, all gone.

She turned back around and leaned on her hands at the edge of the sink.  She reached for the tissue box in front of her on the ledge and felt the rattle inside.  It was the baby’s favorite, hidden there by her brother Greg, yesterday after the funeral.  He had stayed with her in the cemetery for a while after everyone else left, then had brought her home.

They were greeted by her husband.  “Mother is straightening up a bit.  Why don’t you go lie down?”

His tone was too insistent, and she felt a knot format the base of her skull.  “Where is she, Mark?  What is she doing?”

He must have seen her growing panic because he took her shoulders and begged, “honey, she means well.  Mother has been through many crises and heartaches.  She knows best.  Please.”

She yanked out of his grasp and ran for the baby’s room.  Greg followed.  Once there, she screamed, “no, what are you doing?”

Her mother-in-law was methodically packing all the clothes, all the toys, into dark boxes with tight lids.  She calmly, without stopping explained, “it’s time to move on.  I’m not taking her away.  The baby will always be with us.

“Tisha my dear,” she said as she clamped a lid firmly, “you are so emotional.  If her things stay as they were, the temptation to enshrine this room will be too great.  You must grieve for her in pieces, until you have rid yourself of all your pain.  These things will be here for you to go through whenever you are ready.”  She placed the box on two others and carried them to the closet.

Those words were a further darkening of the shroud that had wrapped her heart.  She scanned the room to see what else was in that closet.  Greg swiftly scooped the rattle off of the changing table, nodded slightly and stepped out of the room.

Tisha ordered her mother-in-law out of her house, grabbed a stuffed cat and held it tightly.  The woman protested as Greg returned, stood by Tisha and placed an arm around her.

“Mrs. Tobias, it would be a good idea if you left,” he said quietly.  “Tisha is in no shape to think sensibly right now.  Come back in a couple of weeks.”

She followed Greg as he escorted Mrs. Tobias out.  She saw Mark standing in the hallway with a blank, faraway stare.  He remained there while Greg sat with her on the couch.  The shroud darkened.

“What are you feeling right now?” Greg asked.

She didn’t answer him, just shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.  After a long silence she spoke.  “You better go home.  Your family will worry about you.”

He kissed her head gently and replied, “you are my family too.  Hey, I put that red rattle in the tissue box in the kitchen.  I didn’t want your mother-in-law to get her mitts on it.  I’ll check on you tomorrow.”

After he left she walked into the hall.  “Am I your family too?” she asked Mark.  He didn’t answer.

That night she was aware of both being next to her husband in bed and being alone.  All alone and gradually sinking down into a still, dark space.  She heard her voice, detached and faint, crying “too much feeling spent, too much time spent, all spent, all gone.”  The sinking had faded into sleep.

The song was not quite over when the radio announcer’s booming voice smashed into her eardrums.

“Why don’t they ever let a song finish?” she grumbled to herself.  “I never hear the last verse to that song either.  How does it go?

She sang softly, “turn around.  Every now and then you’ll be a—no.”  She shook her head and frowned.  “That wasn’t it.  It’s something about the only boy.  I don’t remember.”

She shook the donut-shaped rattle she held.  Fluorescent green stripes danced boldly on an equally radiant red background.  Jingle bells sang enthusiastically inside the smooth, hard plastic.  It’s so loud, she thought, but calming at the same time, sort of hypnotic.  Maybe that’s why the baby liked it so much.

“I bought it at that gift store by East City Park.”  She jumped at the quiet voice.  He was standing in the doorway tracing the rim of his coffee cup with his finger.  He looked down when she looked up.  “I was on my way to take you two home from the hospital, and I remembered they had stuffed animals there.  That rattle,” he raised his cup to her, but not his eyes, “was so bright I knew it would be perfect for my—“  His voice broke.  He took a deep breath and finished, “my little girl.”

“Am I still your big girl?” she asked dully.

He flung his head up.  Pain churned his usually calm countenance and flattened his usually sparkling hazel eyes to a dull brown.  It stabbed from those wide, wet eyes into her heart’s shroud and ripped it.

He really hurts, as she thought, her pain entwined with his.  I should have known.  He’s so quiet, so controlled, he must have pulled away from the hurt.

Memories of the very few times his emotions had betrayed his quiet control shredded the heart shroud to bits.  The strongest was when they had become pregnant.  He not only enthusiastically yelled, he danced a circle around her.  Then he picked her up and swung her around.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered, feeling the love that had been wrapped up for days.  “I let my own grief blind me to yours.  I don’t know how you’ve put up with me this long.”

She opened her arms to him.  He took the invitation and completely closed the distance between them.

He whispered into her hair, “it’s alright.  I love you, always have, always will.  Even when my mother told me you were wrong, I knew you were right.”

She pulled back enough to see his sparkling hazel eyes.  “I remembered the last verse of the song that was just on the radio.  ’Every now and then I know you’ll always be the only boy who wanted me the way that I am.’1  I never wanted to forget that.  But I think all the thoughts of giving you the large family you grew up in and being the perfect mom you grew up with pushed it out.”

He gently twisted a lock of her hair.  “My mom is not at all perfect.  ‘Bout time I acted like I knew that.  And you and I are a large enough family.  We’ll always have our little girl if we always keep each other.

“Tell you what,” he released her and took the rattle.  “Let’s put this on the mantle, in front of our family picture.  Then when we see it, we will always remember.”

As they left the kitchen, hand in hand, the last part of the song played in her mind.  Turn around.  Every now and then I know there’s no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you. — And I need you now tonight — and if you’ll only hold me tight we’ll be holding on forever. – Forever’s gonna start tonight.1

  1. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Copyright 1982, 1983.  Lost Boys Music, Administered by Edward B. Marks Music Co.

A Kettle full of Stories Part 2

Story 3—A Tale of Two Boys

photo credit Evelyn Stam, vacation photos

There are three area of geyser density in Yellowstone National Park.  These are called Upper, Midway and Lower Geyser Basins.  Because the soil’s crust is so fragile and thin, each has a boardwalk to safely see the area.  There are many signs telling people to stay on the boardwalk.  These not only have words, but a picture of a child falling through the crust to scalding water below.  People have been boiled to death by stepping off the path.

So, one would think that any reasonably intelligent person would obey the signs.  One boy did, one, yeah, almost did.  Fortunately for him almost counted.  I met him first.  He was 16 or 17, old enough to know better, young enough to forget that fact.  He and six or seven like aged friends were ahead of me on the boardwalk.  They were talking, joking, but not causing trouble.  Then, the brilliant idea entered his mind that even though the sulfur scented air was hot and humid and the water was steaming, he needed to find out first hand if the water was hot.  I was taken aback for a moment that anyone would actually squat down, grab the guard rail with one hand and shove the other (and his head!) toward the nearest steaming pool.  By the time I collected myself to say anything, he was back up.  He then announced to his friends.  “It really is hot.”

Did I mention the boardwalk was slightly slippery?  And that there were signs advertising the fact?  It was made of composite wood to last a long time, but it was more slippery than genuine board.  His Guardian Angel was on duty.  The only thing I could think of to say was.  “That was not smart.”  Then I told him.  “The last guy who tried something like that, well, his friends went to his funeral.”  I don’t think it even fazed him.

As I walked back, I met the second boy.  I heard a young woman say something and a small voice repeatedly ask, “why”.  I turned to see a young mother carrying her 3-year-old son.  He wanted to know why the pools were called sapphire.  I told him what a sapphire was and that the pools were the same color.  He reacted with the typical toddler shy look.

His mother explained, “He’s confused that he’s in a park, but can’t play.”  I told him, “Yea, some parks have playgrounds and some trees and pools.”  My daughter Evelyn added and him mother nodded, “And some have boiling pools that can kill you.”

I thought about the two boys.  Maybe, if the second keeps asking why, by the time he’s as old as the first, he won’t need to do something dangerous to answer his question, because he’ll already know.

 

Story 4—The tale of Acoma, City in the Sky

photo credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoma_Pueblo

Set up in the old West Yellowstone airfield was a Mountain Man Festival.  Dozens of white canvas, three sided tents formed a rectangle on the huge dirt and dried grass patch.  Merchants of all kinds filled the tents with their wares.  One held a knapper busily making a flint knife blade.  The weathered old man lives in Idaho, winters in Utah and gets his flint stone in Oregon.  In another tent, a furrier displayed his caps, coats, holsters and quivers.  There were jewelers, toy makers, musicians, “pioneer” clothing makers, painters, sculptures and music makers.  Every aspect of life in the 1800’s was represented.

One tent held my interest most of all.  It was an outdoor, mini antique shop.  Pottery, wood sculptures, old kitchen ware, were among the bric-a-brac sold by the spindly middle-aged gentleman decked out in buckskin, denim and straw (hat that is).  He was a cheerful, friendly, storyteller and magician.  He soon had a crowd of children engrossed in his rope and ring tricks, but his wares were what held my gaze.

photo credit hp scanner

I first saw this wooden Storyteller Doll.  I asked how much.  He replied, “Five dollars.”  I repeated that and he said, “It can be ten.”  I explained, “In town they’re asking fifty for something like this.”  He explained that he had bought it from a woman in Utah for five dollars and was selling it for five dollars.  He pointed out that it was weathered and so old, but he didn’t know the story behind the Storyteller.   If any reader recognizes this and knows the story, please comment.

However, he did know this one.

Did I know Acoma, City in the Sky?  No I didn’t.  Well, it seems about 2000 years ago, a group of Pueblo dwellers in present day New Mexico, USA, built their city on top of a mesa (flat topped, rocky hill).  This made for a nice stronghold.  In fact, the first Spanish visitors in 1540 were sorry they had tried to climb the thing.  The storyteller/merchant told me the Acoma people had rebuffed the Spanish completely.  This is only partly true.  It took until January, 1599, for the Spanish soldiers to turn peaceful trade into full blown conquest.  The Conquistadors managed to drag a cannon up the hill and blasted/burnt the village killing 800 of the 6000 people.  They mutilated and enslaved the rest as the brave Conquistadors were wont to do.  Well, the Soldiers died but the Acoma people lived and still live.  Having the last word is a good ending to a story.

My spindly merchant told me this story to tell me the story of a small vase, similar to this one found on a google search.  An Acoma wedding vase.  I found a longer version than he told me on http://www.sfaol.com/store/wedding.html.

STORY OF THE WEDDING VASE

Usually a week or two before they are married by a priest, the future husband’s parents make the Wedding Vase.

When the vase has been made, the husband, along with his parents and all his relatives go to the bride’s house. The bride brings out everything she will need to establish their new home together: clothing, utensils, mattress, moccasins, corn and any other homemaking essentials, including her white manta wedding dress.

The parents of both the bride and the groom give the young couple advice to help them have a happy and successful marriage.

Indian holy water is placed in the wedding vase, and the vase is turned around and given to the bride.

She drinks from one side of the vase, turns it around again, and gives it to the groom, who then drinks from the opposite side. This ceremony unites them as one.

The couple will treasure the Vase throughout their married life. Should one of them outlive the other, the remaining person will give the vase to a couple known to be living a happily married life.

The wedding vase is treasured and protected always-it is never broken, discarded or destroyed.

http://www.arizonaflutes.com/wedding_vase.htm is another site listing a slightly different, longer version.  My storyteller was certain that I would be back for the vase and if I would have had the money, I would have been (it was much more than the $5 I “borrowed” from my husband).

 

Story 5—Old Man Coyote strikes again

I mentioned the humans at the festival and they were fun.  I talked to a woman wearing a tartan shawl over one shoulder and carrying a small dog.  A tartan is the colors of a Scottish clan (family).  I am part of the Southerland clan so I spoke with her.  Her clan, she said, was wrongly accused of being cattle thieves.  So, now when she and her husband attend Scottish Highland Festivals, they use this to have some fun.  A stuffed calf is placed somewhere among the booths.  It is then the goal of the youth attending to steal the calf, write their names on it and leave it somewhere else for someone else to steal.  The theft must be done with stealth or it will be stopped.

Well, there was a theft that day, but not by human hands.  By Coyote paws.  Now there are plenty of regular coyotes around the Yellowstone area, but I’m not talking about them.  I’m talking about the original, one and only, Old Man Coyote.  He is the eternal trickster who as often as not ends up tricking himself.  I guess he just didn’t want my pictures in this blog.  You see, at home I found an old roll of unexposed film and my old camera.  I loaded the camera, took it along and promptly lost it in the tent.  Okay, figured I’d find it—I mean really, how can something be lost in a six-man space?  And it was found, the day we went home.  Anyway, I didn’t worry because I had our camcorder and since our campsite had electrical hook-ups, I even charged it at night.  I guess the batteries didn’t like almost freezing nighttime temperatures because I only got 4 pictures per charge.  But I figured that’s 4 pictures.

So, I took a couple of pictures at the festival and decided to put the camcorder away until we arrived at the park—after I used the port-a-potty.  Okay, so I placed both the Storyteller Doll and the camcorder on the small shelf in the plastic pit toilet, did my do, sanitized my hands and walked to our van to store the items.  So I had both hands full.  I transferred the Doll to my left hand, with the camcorder, pulled keys out of my pocket with my right hand and opened the van door.  The keys went back into the pocket, the Doll went into the right hand and onto a cooler on the back seat.  Then, I looked for a good place to put the camcorder and put it there with my left hand.  Or at least that’s what I think I remember.  When I looked for the camcorder, it wasn’t there.  I checked the entire back seat area, including the garbage sack, and the floor of the van.  And it wasn’t in any of the suitcases and boxes we packed.  I hope Coyote likes my photo of Dragon’s Mouth cave.

I can’t blame this on Old Man.  I neglected to write down the name of the woman’s clan.  So, Scottish Sister, if you are reading this, please comment.  Thanks for reading.

A Kettle full of Stories Part 1

Story 1—The Yellowstone Caldera

My family and I spent last week, Monday, August 7th to Friday, August 11th exploring Yellowstone National Park.  Once upon a time, oh, 640,000 years ago a hot spot, of magma from Earth’s core built up enough pressure to blow its way to the surface.  It turned everything above it in a 35-mile (56.33 km) by 50-mile (80.47 km) ragged oval to ashes and took the ash up with it.  Scientists have identified deposits of this ash in California, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Then the hot spot “cooled down” to power geysers, mud pots, hot springs and meadows that are warm enough to grow grass in the winter.  What’s that?  The perfect area for a Spa?  Well, okay, if you like bathing in superheated, boiling water, sipping on a sulfuric acid cocktail or enjoying a heat loving bacteria mud pack.  If however, you value your health (and life!), it is a Spa for the spirit.  To be enjoyed with the eyes, not with the hands.  (Or any other body part.  Except the hearing, there are some wonderfully interesting sounds made as steam and gas blast out of rock tunnels.  You might want to leave your nose home though.  Rotten egg gas is not the most enticing perfume.)  The depression remaining after the explosion is called the Yellowstone Caldera.

Caldera is the Spanish word for large pot or kettle.  Instead of Grandma’s stew or 5-Alarm Chili, this kettle cooked some of the most fascinating acreage on Earth.  Interspersed between verdant green Lodgepole Pine and Fir forest are rock meadows, thinly crusted earth between “bottomless” holes spewing forth demonically scented gas and steam.  Some of these holes contain crystal clear water bubbling with both heat and more gas.  The colors in this Hades inspired place are heavenly.  Sapphire, emerald and beryl describe the ponds and waterfalls.  Yellow orange and ochers decorate the pool edges and follow the runoff rivulets.  These vibrant, larger than life colors are made by microscopic, heat loving, or thermophilic, bacteria.                                                                     As the bacteria ages, dries and dies, the color fades into the grays and white of the surrounding rock.  A few places have bacteria and mineral combinations of dark brown and black.  Elsewhere in the park are sub-alpine areas filled with gorgeous red, yellow, blue and violet flowers.  The North swath is carpeted by a silver-green Juniper-Sage forest to rival anything Southeastern Idaho or Northern Utah has to offer.

Small warm water lakes and their accompanying rivers dot the park.  The central Southeastern portion houses the very large, very blue Yellowstone Lake.  It is 7,732 feet (2,357 m) above sea level, has 110 miles (180 km) of shoreline, and covers 136 square miles (350 km2).  The lake bed has just recently been explored with camera containing robotic craft.  The deepest areas are about 400 ft (120 m) and contain gray, white and green rock        pillars made of fossil diatoms, single celled aquatic creatures.  Cutthroat Trout are the native fish.  From a bird’s eye view, it looks like a hiker, a hitch-hiker with one arm and a huge fist and thumb.  (The area is called Thumb Point.)

Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Trumpeter Swan, Pelican, Canadian Geese, Ducks and lots of friendly Squirrels can be seen in and around the Caldera.  If you travel to the Northeast Range, away from lodges, hiking trails, boardwalks, roads, in short, away from people, you will also find Wolves, Coyotes, Pronghorn Antelope, Bobcats, Cougars and yes, Bears.  The days of feeding the Bears garbage as a crowd gathering spectacle are, thank heaven, long gone.  The rule of thumb now is “you have your spot, we have ours and with 100 yards between us, we’ll be just fine.”  There were also the largest butterflies I have ever seen with orange and brown colors to rival the rocks.

(photo credits = 1-4, 6  Evelyn Stam vacation photos, 5 Yellowstone Lake as seen from space, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Lake

Story 2—The only thing constant is change

One day, in the galactic timeline, Earth’s crust will have floated itself over the magma hot spot and Old Faithful, the most celebrated geyser, will be just another cold-water spring.  Until then, the interaction between inside and out constantly changes the look of the park.  Two examples:  In August of 1959, when I was just over two years old, an earthquake rocked Hebgen Lake, 15 miles (24.14 km) away in Montana.  The shock caused a plot of grass to spew forth red mud and earn the name Red Squirter.  Since then the area has doubled.  It spews mud mostly in the spring when there is the most water and whistles “scented” steam as the area dries.  Dragon’s Mouth, a cave out of which used to come a stream of hot water shot out to the outlook boardwalk a good 30 or 40 feet (9.14 m or 12.19 m) away.  In 1994 the Dragon must have found something to be happy about and he quit “flaming”.  Now the water simply pours out, bubbling up and down to be sure, with a spray that mists the platform now and then.  He expresses his opinion though.  As the gasses, water and air flow through the underground tunnels, they make a growling, howling noise like, well, a dragon.

I wish I could be there when the mud pots plop their last sulfur spewing plop to see what other wonders Mother Nature has made.  I could too, if I could figure out how to live for another 640,000 or so years.  Until then (if ever) I’ll have to return to see what else has popped up.