Category Archives: Announcements [A]
My friend Nancy Chappell is dying of a brain tumor.
Locked away inside her finely tuned mind is a treasury of Art– schematics, principles, esoterica, unrealized creations…
I’ve known her for 2/3 of my life. She is like an older sister.
The problem is, how can I get these WORDS to convey to you the West Coast ambience of the ’60′s? Or was it just my stepping out into the new world of my early 20′s, into a life far removed from my parents and childhood surrounds… I think not. I think the world had cracked open in the middle 1960′s, a freshness breathed into the air, Light was somehow brighter, anything was suddenly possible.
I had not yet been brought up short against the hobbles and cripples of my inner workings. There was that unexamined simplicity…
Nancy was living with her husband Walter Chappell over the side of a Big Sur cliff below the Coast Gallery, in a narrow house overlooking the western sea through huge windows from one end to the other. Doug Madsen had built it from salvaged timbers from when all the Coast bridges were replaced by concrete. The cement floors were embedded with little round river pebbles which massaged bare feet almost uncomfortably, the huge fireplace mantled by a 6′ double-ended sawblade, its viciously jagged teeth buried in the chimney masonry.
Walter was a tall older man with tatty hair and no front teeth, a photographer in the ranks of Steichen and Steiglitz and Minor White. Quite charismatic and intimidating for me at half his age… I was subject in some of his work (anything around the place was a likely subject). He would stand there behind his camera and WAIT. Wait. Wait… While he waited, I got over my selfconsciousness, my mind settled out, I settled in… and he would always wait to click until I was in a ‘certain space’, and somehow he always knew exactly when I arrived there.
The Sandpiper was being filmed up the coast, over the side of another cliff in a little cabin built there for the purpose. Locals snorted– it was badly located, and everyone predicted it would never survive the winter storms. An interminable stairway had been built to access it, and we’d watch two people haul Elizabeth Taylor back up after the day’s shooting– she had been dieting heavily for the film, and had absolutely no energy as result.
Marty Ransohoff was directing, and had brought his protege Sharon Tate along so that Walter could shoot her portfolio. I have never met, before or since, such a beautiful woman. Once I saw her put on her shoes in front of those huge windows over the sea– the web of skin at her Achilles’ tendon was so fine, the sun shone right through. And her beauty was not just skin deep; she had a simplicity and a purity about her that floated ‘way above Hollywood and its trips, even past Marty and his baser designs. Once I had to bring her a towel when she was taking a shower– she seemed so delighted to be naked around another woman. The studio owned her body otherwise– I doubt they even noticed her soul.
The hot springs were still Big Sur Hot Springs, set up for the chain gangs who’d built Highway 1 down the coast. Faint wisps of sulphur hung over the area. A potter and his wife kept the office, and kept their toddler in the confines of a ceramic cauldron there.
No one wore clothes at Chappells’. I walked in first on a summer day– Nancy was behind the counter in the kitchen, a long black braid down her back over a blue cardigan… as I came to greet her she said “I don’t have a bottom half!” What freedom!! I instantly took off my travelling clothes. (Earlier that year another girlfriend had introduced me to the freedoms of peeing in a remote meadow, no toilets in sight!)
Their first son Theo, a toddler with a blond bowlcut and a short babybottle clutched by the nipple between his front teeth, knew one word: ‘wheel’. The picture of a train brought him to ecstasy: all those wheels!! I am still watching him, decades later, for the metaphysical manifestating of this early preoccupation…
Nancy had been a painter, but was frustrated that her paintings were staying on the wall while she was out and about, and had taken up painting cloth to make into garments. This was right in line with my talents– as eldest of 3 closely-spaced siblings, Mother had taught me sewing and knitting to occupy myself while everyone else took the naps I had outgrown. I was a lanky girl in a time of short round Misses patterns– Junior sizing did not come out ’til the ’60′s either– and had been making and making up my own clothing for years. We started a sewing business! What fun! The Phoenix, a gift shop down the coast at Nepenthe, carried mostly the products of Big Sur artists and was our first outlet, although with time I had clothing at a sandal shop and House of Today in Palo Alto, and B’tzalel in San Francisco.
Our garments were based on Eastern philosophies– designed from geometric shapes, respecting the loom, and as beautiful inside as out. They stood alone, complete without a human body occupying them. I’d accumulated a large boxful of patterns over the years, one bought for the sleeves, another for the bodice etc., and shortly pitched out the whole thing in the face of this new way of considering garment construction. I still operate from that basis.
There was a strong spiritual side to this art: early on, Nancy and Walter announced that I needed an Inner Life. What an exciting concept for this rebellious one who had left the confines of the Episcopal church ‘way far behind… We were sent to see Willem Nyland in New York, a side trip to bringing #2 Son to meet the grandparents, who lived conveniently near the Berkshires. There began a 7-year association with the Gurdjieff ideas. I may find a way to discuss that in time…
Their landlord was becoming impossible and the Chappells began looking around for another place to live. One weekend on my way down to visit them I spotted Walter’s jeep at the house of a real estate agent Margaret Lisle, and pulled over. Margaret had just asked Walter if he’d found any sign of First People at Doug’s place– Walter had dug out a small pond in the garden, and in the black soil had turned up ahuman femur and a piece of skull which currently sat on a windowsill in the house. Margaret became agitated and asked him to quickly rebury the bones in similar dirt, and to ask foregiveness for having disturbed them. She went on to relate that another real estate agent who was building a motel just north of the hot springs had brought a potful of the earth from there and left it on Margaret’s porch with a note saying that it would be good for her houseplants… Margaret said she came to herself halfway back down the coast, driving furiously toward the motel site with the pot of earth in the back of her car. She’d spread the dirt over the site with prayers and apologies… and during that night had awakened from a sound sleep because of a strange and pervasive odor. A tall chief was standing in her living room, wearing a white feather headdress down to the floor. He told her “Do not let them disturb the soil!” Later investigations found this same chief appearing to seers all up and down the West Coast, with the same message.
Later I had the bad timing to be first car in line just north of the hot springs while they replaced yet more bridge timbers, an hour’s wait ’til traffic would be again allowed to pass. A small Cat was ‘way up the cliff above the road, doing daylight work for a larger bulldozer. To pass time I asked the foreman if he’d ever found remains of Indians, with all this excavating– oh yes, he’d found part of a stone bowl, which he’d swapped for a pint of whiskey. This was so offensive! I told him Margaret Lisle’s story and the chief’s message… as I finished, we were startled by some stones falling to the road in front of my Volkswagen bus– overhead, part of the cliff had fallen away and the small Cat teetered on the edge, one tread half out in the air… the driver jumped off as it tumbled down and landed smack in front of my ‘bus! The foreman ran over and shut off the ignition– in the flurry of activity, the line of cars was flagged on through. As I drove past, I looked at him fearfully out of the corner of my eye, certain that I’d be arrested for causing this accident! He did not appear to connect the dots…
Dear one, I am beginning to stumble badly over the converging paths that this conversation has drawn in!! Life has been so FULL, and I have been so blessed: what did I do to deserve such good fortunes, and how could I begin to return such favor, or even shovel fast enough to pass it on?? It seems that reviewing my life could take as long as having lived it…
In any case… Nancy. She had studied with Mr. Nyland’s wife Ilonka Karacz. Ilonka had created hundreds of covers for the New Yorker magazine, and was ancillary to the burgeoning art movements of the early 20th century. There was much of the esoteric stirred into her work, and Nancy is party to this, and this is no longer accessible through her– Ilonka is long gone.
There is a formidable storage unit down in Sonoma County with Nancy’s life packed in there every which way. Her youngest son has risen chivalrously to the occasion, and his mother is passing her final days at his house within reach of mine– When time comes, I’ve volunteered to sort through that welter of stuff. Perhaps my perspective will be adequate to the task of arranging its judicious dispersal. The book she never wrote, the study course never set up, the fine spiritual aspect of art must be scattered throughout.
Wish me luck with this impending project: we all would benefit so much from its light!
www.FiberFanatics.com, contact me by clikking on the Contact button….
My winter habits were disrupted in January, usually The Empty Month, but this year I won the Gov’mint Lottery and was called up for Grand Jury duty. No time for REST. (And: unfortunately, my suspicions have been confirmed: our legal system is all bandaids, just like our medical system!!) Recuperation from the Holiday season, if not from the year past, was extended into Lent. HELLO!! I’m back finally! Enough braincells have awakened for higher functioning (not just knitting) to pick up again…
Despite this long silence, please know that you’ve been on my mind and in my heart. I’ve even made attempts to write but this wretched blogsite (speaking here of my earlier ‘site) refused to publish me!!, took some-or-other exception to my SYNTAX, wouldja believe… the indignation from such uninvited kibbitzing further hampered my getting back with you.
And I DID struggle with posting fotos… even put GirlFriend Maggie the Barefoot Buffalo Woman onto the project: she concludes that intercession by a File Clerk is required, and nonesuch is available– I bide my time ’til the Webmistress shifts my whole website to a new hostess with a different blog arrangement, hopefully ACCESSIBLE. Do keep an eye out, at least now my camera is communicating with this ‘Puter, and a nice pile of images awaits…
There’s a little pink stickum on the ledge over my desk here listing halfadozen topics that I want to write you about, but please excuse me a little longer, still incubating. Meanwhile, I’m deep into the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. She is very good with images, and writes of an era about a thousand years ago– the comforts of distance and simplicity are standing me in good stead during these brittle, fragile times. Besides, it’s been too snowy and frozen for working stuff off in the garden!
I’ll be dropping in more frequently now. I light a candle and think of you.
There’s a couple people I’m looking for from the dim reaches of the past… in my usual Jumbled Gemini style I’m gonna approach this matter from left field:
Moving from the ’50′s to the ’60′s was a cultural change equivalent to Dorothy’s “We’re not in Kansas anymore…” ‘Flower Children’ is an apt designation! Everything was blooming. My first wasband, first son and I had just driven across country from Swarthmore and Haverford, two small Quaker-influenced liberal arts colleges outside of Philadelphia, to Stanford University where he was seeking a PhD. in pschology. We drove onto campus in utter disbelief, laughing incredulously: grey granite and ivy had been supplanted by adobe and palm trees!! Was this a resort, or what???
Betimes #2 Son was born, we had found the BEST PLACE to live– Los Trancos Woods, an unincorporated area off Alpine Road near Woodside. Stanford’s linear accelerator would shortly be built on the way out there, and some Chinese folks– was it Ah Sun? had a huge crysanthemum nursery. It had been a summer community ’til the 1940′s, when folks began staying year-round, and by the ’50′s had gotten a water system together. The population was radically varied– about 100-150 families from wallpaper hangers to artists to college professors.
There was a babysitting pool! A different member was secretary each month. If you needed a sitter, you called her and she told you who owed the most hours– they’d either come to your house, or you could drop the kids off at theirs.
There was a cooperative nursery school! in the Gates’s basement next door. The teacher was hired, and you were Mother On once a month to help out. Joan Gates even knew to put peppermint extract in the playdough to keep it fresher, ‘way back then…
We were at 66 Old Spanish Trail, and our landlord was a 7-footer named Ro Nagle, a weatherman. The extreme test of his abilities came a few years later when he and my next wasband pulled the roof off the house and redid it as rainclouds threatened ominously… This was such a distracting process that I forgot bread baking in the oven– they were accompanied all afternoon by the lovely wafting odors of this process, even though the product was on beyond melba toast…
The Woods was scattered over a north-facing hillside, accessible by narrow roads and many switchbacks. The houses went from fashionable A-frames to traditional cabins and everything in between. Halfway up the Trail was a small pond, ringed with emerald green grassy banks. Scotch broom was beginning to take over, not a bad idea on the foggy days of early spring, because its yellow blooms were an adequate substitute for sunshine. And later on hot summer nights, the little pods burst open with subdued pops, and in early morning was the businesslike chatter of quails gathering the seed.
You could see the whole south Bay area from my deck.
ANYways… the All Points bulletin I am putting out is for (at least) a couple women from that era:
The Wolf Family lived down on the circle. Mort, Nina and their children Eva and Stefan, redheaded Jewish kids with that mysterious olive overtone so unlike redheads from the British Isles. They were a little older than my first two. Mort was abruptly killed later in a freaky accident, the car he was working on falling off its jacks and rolling over him. Nina went on to become a sort of metaphysical clown, on the order of court jester/king’s advisor. I’d heard she went up to Canada to teach, on one of those offcoast islands… 16 years ago I still had a fone # for her, and called, to find it’d been given to someone else. That woman volunteered to ask after her around the island, but in one of those obstinate moments for which I eternally kick myself, I demurred… Oh Nina, where ARE you??
The other one is my babysitter, Missy Moses. I hear her mother Jean is in Oakland CA, and I know her dad Lincoln was a professor at Stanford. Sociology? Philosophy?? She was a middle child, a quite capable 14-year old babysitter for my first two, a ‘hard sit’, that pair of little wallbouncers… and though we were 10 years apart, she was easy to talk with. I’d started my garment business by then– ‘SCURVY LOUTS, Clothiers to the Barbarian Hordes’ had not surfaced yet, I was thinking more in line of ‘Peasant Stock’– and I’d make her clothes in exchange for sitting. Missy, I still have scraps from that French blue blouse with the little birds on it!!
If you know these two, or others from those days, please send them home to me… clik the CONTACT button at www.FiberFanatics.com. There’s also Stan and Ruth Bean, Betty Bauer the dayschool teacher; our neighbors up the hill, Bev and Norman Oaks. I already know where to find the Guys, in whose meadow the second one and I were married during a glorious huge hippie wedding, and the Gateses with a brood that I fell one short of matching (if you don’t count Corky the Beagle), and the entire Hobson Clan from a magical forested house beyond where Alpine Rd. turned to dirt, who probably don’t want to have a thing to do with me as I suffered severe growing pains under their wing… Peggy Dickinson, a potter next door whose kiln openings I attended with delight– she was always disgusted with how her glazes turned out, but I LOVE potter’s rejects!; the Bowmans, whose young cowboy son Arne was my Stephen’s best sidekick; but also the entire population of Pacific High School, who used my place as a halfway house on their way out of school, what about John Virgil Fischer and Merry Thacher, and that one Michael Dustin Hoffman who just HAD to ride his big Yamaha motorcycle in my front door; and a Gurdjieff group, now scattered around Sonoma County north of San Francisco. And Stanley, Willie and Letta Tayler. Willie was a middle-schooler at the Peninsula School (where any sentient parent would want to send their children!!!) with aspirations to be a woodsman– I brought him, at great personal expense, a roadkill skunk from Big Sur to skin for his collection, which he did with the slavish admiration of his classmates; unfortunately the tannery wouldn’t take it as the scent glands had leaked severely at its demise.
And Autumn Simmons, who made the BEST BUTTONS in a little kiln on her kitchen counter. They were a major inspiration for my garments– still have one of ‘em in my button box!!
I’m so enamoured of the past, and so interested in these reconnexions. How could I help it?? Those years are framed in golden sparkling light, and I was so blessed by tolerant folk who held the shores firm while big waves washed over my life. Old friends could make the best new friends– if they can locate me through my welter of changing names!!
January was looking pleasantly empty BUT… suddenly I’m on a Grand Jury for the month. Hum now: this is my 4th call. They waited 45 years to get me… The first 2 times I was wading in little kids. Last time, Richard had just had a stroke. This time, I actually made it in to the courthouse. The clerk looked right at me and drew my number out of the lotto barrel!
There are 7 of us. It’s really quite pleasant: the bailiff is a chirpy ol’ dear named Hazel, replete with doilies and coffeepots. All the police who come in to testify are light and jolly, and in their work admit to a surprising degree of reliance on intuition. The lawyers are pretty slick: it is our job to determine whether there is enough damning evidence to merit bringing a case to trial, and they have everything all packaged up tidily, no loose ends, cut and dried. Hard to avoid feeling like a rubber stamp.
I doubt they’d’ve let me on a regular jury– one of the basic tenets of my church is, ‘Redemption comes from forgiveness, not retaliation’.
We never get to see the defendant, only the victim and any witnesses. Or lab papers proving test results…
The fact that someone’s life path is at stake hardly appears. I told the Saturday Mkt Manager that now I was on a grand jury I felt like a sledge hammer… she pointed out I was more nearly like the flipper in a pinball machine.
Yknow, there ARE other ways of dealing with these matters. My #2 Son says the longest jail sentence in Norway is 8 years– they figure they can get a criminal turned around into a useful citizen within that time. His best friend works in the Danish prison system. I’ve met Max– he has a solid core of shining silence. Beautiful. Benj says he’s the World’s Best Listener. In Denmark, prisoners are treated with compassion and respect, and are regarded as lost souls who need a hand finding their way.
Nor do I feel there is any support in calling someone a VICTIM. My most major realization this lifetime came from that falsity. Tell you about it sometime.
Right now, however, I did want to branch off about the tenets of my church…
The Episcopalians have a Creed, the Quakers have Queries; since the Church of the Open Forest does not foster a religion but rather a spiritual path, we have Considerations:
Everything’s alive. EVERYTHING. And bears the stamp of the Creator.
How may I be of service?
Every step a blessing, every breath a prayer.
Redemption comes by forgiveness, not retaliation.
Do as you would be done by.
Care to add to this list? Our congregation is lateral, not hierarchical, brothers and sisters. No secret passwords or tithing.
So now! I left the Comments line open for you, & am still available at the Contact button on www.FiberFanatics.com.
May blessings abound.
(The first one was the Solstice…)
If you came here via my Welcome! page, I’m proud o’ ya for braving thru that Rude Message on your way in.
This ‘site had been heavily bombarded by spammers (don’t they have ANYTHING better to do with their energies???) and I got rid of ‘em by adding ‘http://’ to the Forbidden Words. They disappeared! but now even you, dear one, are suspect until I find a way into my antispam list…
Seemed like a good day for a little ceremony, so I lit a juniper smudge and walked around my house trailing a plume of smoke and blessings… you are one of those blessings, mdear, so glad of your presence!
Yes! I do know you’re out there, even though I missed a(nother) week writing… I’m here too and thinking of you.
Woke up at 2 am. and noticed after a bit that my heart was beating very fast. Darn. Means that I ate something my body does not agree with. Better get out my pendulum and test food again… do you know how to do that? Sounds like woo-woo magic, but it’s all a matter of electromagnetics: everything’s got an energy field and one can easily test for compatibility this way.
Haven’t seen that new movie The Secret yet, but this is the sort of thing rapidly becoming General Knowledge and I’d not be surprised to see it out in the media.
So here’s how I set up for pendulum work, may be more cumbersome than necessary, but since I’m already set up I can’t test any other way!
Get/make the pendulum.
You could go buy a beautiful crystal on a little silver chain, or tie a few paper clips on a foot or so of yarn. Anything with a little weight to it would do, there’s quite a lot of leeway here. My sister likes something with more than one kind of metal involved, like a litttle pair of those stork scissors which are goldplated stainless steel. I guess one could get really precious about this, but when push comes to shove I’ve often just taken off my necklace, whatever I’m wearing, and used that.
Go someplace quiet for a minute, sit down and hold the pendulum by the end of its ‘string’.
Ask to be connected to an Advisor. While you’re at it, ask for a Very High Order of advisor!! Knowledgeable and advanced.
(At this point I got a terrific rush of energy move down my arm! What a surprise. It was like a whole bunch of folks were shouting, ‘Yay!!! FINALLY we’ve got a way to REACH her!!!”)
Ask to be shown a “Yes”.
The pendulum will move in some pattern. Notice it!
Now ask to be shown a “No.” Note that pattern as well.
Okay, you’re all set up! At least, set up the way I did… I suspect, however that the above shenannigans can be ignored, and you could just haul out the pendulum, check by holding it over a few obvious things for positive and negative response and be on your way… Less woo-woo and more quantum physics.
Before any interaction I used to check to make sure somebody’s there, and on the High Order end of the spectrum. Never can tell who might slip in… nowadays, however, I am quite more aware of the forces around, and most times can identify the energy before it reaches down my arm to the pendulum.
One April thereafter, Richard and I took a trip by pendulum. Whenever we reached a choice point, we’d haul out a map and hold the pendulum over it. He was especially interested in taking me out to a favorite haunt up in the mountains, but when we approached that area the pendulum said no. So we asked if we could go there on the way back. NO. We asked Pretty Please? NO!!!!
So we visited our friends in the lowlands. They told us that Richard’s favorite place was snowed in!! Eight feet of snow in late April, who’d of thought… This made True Believers of us. Not that I abdicate all responsibility, but when stymied it has been really helpful to have this trusty mechanism.
One last big outpouring this week, then it’s Winter Hibernation! Actually, a LOT will be happening, but not very public… the same as with Great Nature this time of year, all underground.
Something woke me up in the wee small ones this Monday morning… maybe it was a little query from you: ‘So! Where’s this Sunday’s blog??’
Okayyy… here’s about the house where I grew up.
In the pressures of teenage years and concomitant escape into twentysomethings, I’d dismissed my childhood. It wasn’t until my 4th pregnancy that vivid dreams came nightly of that early time and place– the smell of concord grapes, the purple of small violets beneath a dark redbudded rosebush… welling delight in the meadows, creek and woods that surrounded a small old house.
The house was a couple hundred years old then. My mother had fallen in love with it at first sight– a Cape Cod cottage tucked under a rock ledge with a huge old apple tree aloft. They borrowed money for GreatUncle Phil to make the purchase price of $3,000 (Mom knitted him annual black socks in gratitude for this enormous favor, always complaining how boring plain black was).
My little brother was just born, and I remember Mother holding me as she made her goodbyes to the house on Thaxter St. before we moved. It was during WW II, and everything had a raw sparse feel… there was still great spaces between the little New England towns and you had to drive quite a way to get from one to the next. We had an Austin 7, probably from the 1930′s, with a convertible top and isinglass sidecurtains for windows. You couldn’t touch them or they might crack. Dad kept an old raccoon coat (with hardly any hair left on it) over the bonnet to keep the engine warm at night. A crank below the radiator started her up on cold mornings– then we were piled in the back, and an old laprobe was tucked around to keep us snug while Mom got groceries at Rizotto’s down by the harbor.
Rumer Godden writes evocatively of the relationship between houses and families, and the almost independent life that certain houses could take on…
A Cape Cod house has a central chimney with fireplaces into every room: we had one in the living room where we would dry our hair before bed, one in the master bedroom which served as a nursery in deference to our greater numbers (my little sister showed up a year later), and a big working fireplace in the old dining room, with an oven in the brick wall next to it and a longhandled flat wrought iron paddle to fetch out the baked goods. The front stairs, unmanageably steep, wound alongside the chimney to a double attic with a halfsized little fireplace, which my father refused to light– I think he was concerned that draughts from all the other fireplaces would cause a conflagration. The owl andirons had glass eyes designed to twinkle from flickering flames, but I never got to see that happen.
I was moved out of the nursery on the advent of my sister. Everyone was exclaiming over how fair she was. I struggled to get my nose over the edge of her bassinet, but was puzzled to see she that she was quite RED.
I remember struggling up those front stairs with my little pink chair… there was a huge double bed under the eaves, and a hissing radiator under the window. Although the room was cozy enough, it was surrounded by Danger Zones: the stairs had gloomy recesses overhead and to the sides, and goodness only knew what went on behind the door to the other half of this attic! It was not finished, and cobwebs swathed the exposed beams. My mother’s cedar chest was in there, full of alluring mysteries and alluring things we couldn’t touch when she opened it… boxes were piled everywhere, and in the far corner was a silk parachute, which I pirated for doll dresses when I started sewing. It became pocked from swatches cut hastily before whoever-it-was got to me in there…
I was a fearful child. People said I had ‘too much imagination’ but frankly, they didn’t sense the things I sensed. It took years to recall that I had terrible nightmares– I’d wake and scream for my parents. You had to scream really loud, because they slept ‘way downstairs in a little room behind the nursery. One or another of them would lumber up the stairs and climb in bed with me till I settled down. Mostly it was Daddy. You could snuggle up near him, as close as 1/2″, but if you actually touched him he would get up and leave. Sigh. So after a bit he’d return to his own bed with Mom, but I wasn’t left totally alone, because the fairies would come and bring me strings of beautiful jewelled little dreams to make up for the nightmare. It was almost worth the fright.
When I was 10, my parents put an addition on the back of the house, a nicely conceived gambrelroofed kitchen and upstairs bedroom for my brother, with a powder room and shower to share. A set of back stairs led up there from the new kitchen, with a boot compartment under the landing and a washingmachine tucked next to it where the stairs rose. Construction dragged on a little, with items stored in what was to be my closet off the connecting hall. This passage ruffled up my fear of the dark– I had to make it all the way from downstairs to the bureau lamp on the far side of my room without freaking, and somehow get past the ming green toilet stored in the doorless closet. I just knew somebody was gonna be sitting on that toilet sometime!!
There was another stairwell leading down to the cellar. Ceilings were low in this house: I could touch them by the 4th grade, and put my palms on them in the 8th– my father was 6′ 2″ and developed a peculiar slouch to avoid cracking his forehead on the door lintels. In the cellar, he had to walk bent over. There was an oil furnace down there, and shelves and shelves of canning jars which would bob around in the early spring thaws when water seeped in. A hole in the concrete floor allegedly let it drain out again, but parts of the rock ledge from behind the house protruded near the walls.
The house had seaweed for insulation as it was situated near the coast. Over the years the seaweed had settled and turned to dust, though, and the winter wind would blow through the plaster walls. As the one with the longest arms, my job was to go around at nightfall and draw all the curtains– the strange old embroidered rough brown homespun ones in the dining room that hung from recalcitrant wooden rings, and sweet little muslin curtains on stretched springs in all the rest of the rooms, very ‘New England’, that hid us from view but let the light through. Across the front livingroom wall drew an overcurtain that insulated from impingeing weather. Then we were really cozy!
An Italian family had lived at 88 East St. before us, probably for a couple generations, for there were ancient established grape arbors, 3 of them, on the property. More Italians lived up the street– the Rizottos of grocery fame, and then the Galuzzos. Dominick would come every year to prune the grapes severely, but they regained themselves lushly and produced quantities of black and white Concords, which Mom juiced, jellied and canned. In the fall, I’d kick my way home from elementary school thru kneedeep maple leaves on the sidewalks– I remember when the town planted those trees all down the street, and then sprayed them with DDT against tent caterpillars (we were called inside, but the smell of that spray is still sweet in the back of my nose)– wading thru the drifts of falling maple leaves, then drop off my lunchbox on the back step and head for the grape arbor out back. I’d lie on the cedar rails of the arbor and pick grapes, eating them like a Roman Emperor.
There was also a chicken house, with laying boxes and occasional porcelain eggs to fool the hens into overlaying. That place felt really good. My father used it as an adjunct to his boatbuilding– he was on the US Navy’s sucker list and received countless auction notices, from which he acquired a double ender whale boat and later, the #1 motor launch from the aircraft carrier Antietam, which he converted into cabin cruisers that took the whole family down as far as Long Island.
Well, pretty soon this’ll be as long as a Rumer Godden novel. Her “China Court” is eversomuch better– I’m just ruminating, she has a plot. Try “Greengage Summer”, frinstance– I plantedÂ one of thoseÂ plum trees in honor of that book.
To Be Continued…
You’ve been on my mind.
I know it’s been a while since my last posting… frrrankly, I’ve been putting it off because what ELSE’s on my mind would kind of involve spilling my guts, and I’m nervous about losing my balance. (PLUS: a lot of energy/attention is going into Produxion for the upcoming Holiday Markets, taking care of Richard &c; the place)… but here’s what I’ve been mulling over:
Surely you’ve seen them, freshly out and about: a couple, generally older. You notice that the man is impaired somehow, maybe toting an oxygen tank with a little clear tube in his nostril, or with a cane or on crutches, or even in a wheelchair. Perhaps part of his face is unresponsive, or his arm is limp. Maybe he’s got a cloud about him from drugs or their residue. But his attention is right NOW in the present moment, engaged with a mighty struggle to run his body which is suddenly unfamiliar.
And the woman beside him: ah, SHE’s the one who looks dazed, in shock. As well she might!, because her world has turned upside down without hint or warning. The one who opened stuck jar lids, pushed the car out of ditches, hefted haybales, lent a presence of protection and oversight– even earned all the money– that one of the strong arm and comfortingly substantial chest is suddenly replaced by a shadow of his former self, and all those items, activities, responsibilities are now hers and hers alone.
In hospital, all attentions were on the subject of the attack/illness/accident… she, suddenly become main support and 24-hour caregiver, is given no invigorating transfusion, no assessing look, seldom a pat on the back. Yet she is now the Chief Executive Officer overseeing every detail ever after. From where does she draw the strength to carry on? Is it true that the Creator never would hand her a load greater than she could carry?? Regardless of that, CAN she???
Disbelief colors her days.
In this culture, illness and impending death are NOT an item. Few have experienced them, fewer are comfortable around them or even know how to act. (In retrospect, I surely didn’t…)
Friends and neighbors back away rapidly– overly polite, afraid of “interrupting something” with a fonecall, thinking it a one-time event and not grasping its minute-by-minute nature. She knows how busy everyone else’s lives are, does not want to sound complaining, or weak, or needy.
She hunts around for sleeping aids– calcium, magnesium, nervine herbs– whatever will keep her mind quiet, hold at bay those wakeful moments in the midnight hours that extend fed by adrenalin worrying, in the dark where troubles are magnified because their borders are so indistinct…
Really, though, it’s not all that bad. Just at first… One can get used to all sorts of conditions, and the sun does come up every morning, miraculously, shrinking troubles down to pocket size.
This turnabout seems a common event in the lives of women. Guys, tough and resilient as they seem, have an inherent fragility and tend to wear out early. They like to spend it all in great gobs and bucketsful; society, the marketplace and our culture burn them out before their time, and the women, with higher tolerance for pain and deeper reserves, are left to manage what remains.
Grief comes unexpected in small bursts, sometimes for no reason, sometimes for good reason. Despite that, despite everything, though, HE’S STILL HERE, howevermuch of him is left. And the depths formed by new grief can contain, just as easily, far greater joy– an unexpected gift!
Hope you don’t find all this a DOWNER.
It’s just what IS.
Events in our life since Richard’s stroke on 8 April (see ‘Dealing with Bodys’, an earlier posting, and the Hindsight postscript to this that I’m about to write) have certainly caused us to consider stuff that I’d thought would be put off for another quarter-century… stuff like death &c; dying, burial, widowhood, life alone, life without him, what about this amazing high-powered dog we’ve got… there is little that mainstream medicine could do that he finds acceptable. He’s chipper and cheerful most times, most times with little energy, asleep sometimes half the day… in a way, we’re living like russian roulette as his blood pressure tends to be astoundingly high and we’ve found no way to lower it. Cayenne is good, prayers are good, this moment right now is very good, I’m gonna quit now and jump in bed with him for a good nightlong SNUGGLE.
Wishing you the same.
All love and huggs to you…
My mother Mildred was born on the wrong side of the tracks in Charleston SC. Her daddy was a brakeman on the railroad, content at that position and unwilling to accept promotion to conductor. Although they had train passes to go anywhere on vacations, there was not much money, and she remembers sitting on the curb crying because she’d outgrown her shoes and they hurt her feet. I remember her toes, distorted from this, with large bunions.
She and her sister made all their own clothes. They were quite talented: could walk quickly through a department store, memorize all details of the latest Paris fashions, head for home and duplicate exactly. They’d have buttonhole races– who’d have the least thread left over on finishing (this is an insider’s contest, understandable only if you sew by hand).
She was 2nd youngest in a family of 7 children, and the oldest, her only sister, married and left to make her own home when Mildred was 8 years old. This meant: walking home from school at noon every day wash dishes from her brothers’ lunch. I think the family ‘had pretensions’ and was raising its sons to be Southern Gentlemen (read: in need of being waited on).
Without a by-your-leave, her parents decided she would be the one to stay and take care of them in their old age. Despite this, Mom fell in love when she was in her teens. Her mother’s response to this was to call off the engagement and lock her in her room for 10 days. Mom said she had a “complete nervous breakdown” then… Apparently her fiance never got her out of his mind, and later married another woman with her name who looked just like her.
My father showed up in Charleston when mother was 29 years old, as result of a shipwreck. He’d been working at the shipyard in Weymouth MA and was on a ship taking her maiden voyage. The captain ran her up on the sandbanks outside of Charleston harbor, and it took 10 days for a tug to get down from New York… during that wait, Dad somehow met Mom through mutual friends. He disappeared thereafter for a month. Apparently he was nailing down a job and otherwise preparing to be a Responsible Married Man, for he came back, they eloped, and he took her North forever.
My mom was a complicated woman. Due to her habit of intense social climbing it was hard to get a straight answer out of her– ‘upwardly mobile middle class’ means: striving to be who you are NOT– and I’ve had to piece stuff together, meditating on scraps ’til they fell into place. Her early life at the end of the Victorian era, which included abusiveness at the hands of her brothers, closed many of her interior doors. No tools were available with which to open them- let alone deal with the items shut therein. This situation manifested as depression, which she handled by busyness, always cleaning, gardening, making our clothes & dollclothes for church bazaars, chat-chat-chatting, gobbling romance novels… and some crying jags.
At one point, Mother moved into Dispersal Mode and started handing out her family heirlooms from the jewelry box we’d been allowed to explore occasionally, when we’d been really good children… She put a diamond ring in my hand, saying it had been given her by her mother and I was to have it now.
I nearly dropped the thing! It about burned my palm, a cold hard diamond! Developed an instant dislike for it, buried it in a box, trailed it around with me for a couple decades… until #2 Son became engaged. His fiancee was a Norwegian girl named Line Sofie; my grandmother was nicknamed Lena (pronounced the same). It was close enough!, and I passed the diamond on to Benjamin for her…. BUT FIRST!! Clean up that thing!!!
Although I could hardly bear to look at it, I sat with the ring: WHAT had gone on here??
Gradually the picture emerged: Adeline had given my mother the diamond ring as a sop to patch the broken engagement. No wonder it had such a bad vibe. I have no idea of the ring’s earlier history– my husband, the metaphysical geologist, knows which mine the stone came from. It’s likely that it was bought at that time, late 1920′s, for its express purpose.
Happenstantially, a group of esoterically-minded friends were getting together… I can’t remember THEIR purpose, but I had definite plans for them: the ring came to our first meeting, and I asked their help, prayer and intention for clearing its karmic past.
This worked: song, water, fire, salt… suddenly we had a beautiful ring in our hands! 63 facets in a brilliant setting, and it remains a bright light reflecting the strong true connection between my son and his wife.