My Unpopular Opinion


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The recent events where pro ball players taking to the knee while our National Anthem is played has led me to do a lot of thinking about freedom and what it means to me.

I am an Army brat. I was born to a soldier and then 52 years later, held him in my arms as he died. To say that I was proud of that man and all of his accomplishments during his life and the 3 wars in which he fought and almost died would be an understatement. I grew up on Army posts around the world, went to school with other army brats, eaten dinner at the tables of soldiers, from NCOs to generals. I have attended more military funerals than I care to remember and have wept at them all, some, my school friends, from war wounds and others just old soldiers.

I am army through and through. When I think of my father, his friends, comrades in arms, and my own friends, I really believe that what they were fighting for was not so much our own freedom but the concept of freedom for individuals of any nationality. True, they were often political pawns but fought nonetheless for someone’s freedom.

But foremost, in thinking of what my own father taught me, was that our founding fathers envisioned the freedoms of thought, action, and speech. Those were my Dad’s guiding principles and what he taught me to cherish.

I might find the kneeling and fist raising unpleasant to watch and even disrespectful but they are each fulfilling the dreams of our founding fathers, exercising their freedom of speech as it were. How can I possibly cherish the foundation of our country if I deny others the right to their freedom.

I have no doubt that my Dad would have harsh words for those ball players but I also have no doubt that he would accept their expression as much as he would expect them to accept his.

I stand with those who really believe in what our founding fathers enumerated for us to use as guideposts to a free society.

Listen to that with which you disagree, consider it and ignore it if you choose but never believe that your efforts to exercise freedom supersedes theirs.

 


The Final Breath


There are moments when time stands still, moments when the earth seems to stop revolving on its’ axis, when the sun disappears from the sky, the stars are extinguished and the moon drops into the abyss of a far off universe; times when the air we breath ceases to exist as we hold our breath, waiting, just waiting. There are moments frozen in time and burned into the personal history of our lives.

But we live with courage and we survive, changed forever but going forward for those who cannot

Some years ago, I had written a piece about living our lives in moments, some wonderful beyond compare and others that could shatter the universe in which we live.  There was a woman in our group known by the name of “Wee Granny Mush” and after publishing my thoughts on moments, she told me about hers – when she was sitting by her daughter’s bed, holding her hand as her adult child died.  As her daughter took her final breath, Wee Granny Mush felt a light squeeze to her hand, the final earthly connection between mother and child.

It was that thought, that image which led me to write about moments when time stands still.  It was meant for Wee Granny Mush but we all have them at some time in our lives, some dramatic and others less so but no less impactful.  My own came when my father died in my arms just a few short weeks after my mother had died.  As I held my dad as he was dying I cried “Daddy don’t leave me.”  Of course he did and at 52 years old, I became an orphan.


A Rich Full Life


LiveWithCourage

 

 

Early one morning last week, I was enjoying a few minutes of tale telling with one of the women who works for me.   We are very much alike and easily share laughter and truth about life.

She said that some day, we should run topless through the field that abuts our shop. She heard me chuckling to myself and demanded, in that prim and proper New England school-marm way, that I fess up! Nothing too dramatic to tell, just that I had run naked through many fields in my life and the one next to the shop wasn’t a prime spot for a couple of old women with sagging breasts and pudgy thighs that would create the sound of gulls flying over. We laughed at the image but before we got back to work, she commented that I have lived such a rich and full life.

I guess that I have been so busy living my life, I failed to realize how rich and full it has been.

I have know laughter that couldn’t be contained, smiles that warmed my spirit, and grief so deep I didn’t think I would survive.

I have been blessed to know that the love for one’s child comes not from the act of birthing but from the never-ending act of parenting so I have known motherhood not only by example but also by experience and I have been the father when there was no one else to fill that role.   I have known the joy of music and art and my hand in creating both and the satisfaction of a body exhausted by hard physical labor.  Thanks to the gift of confidence given to me by the love of my own parents, I built my life in the same way that I built my home, on my own terms.

I have swum in oceans and rivers and lakes and felt my body cut through the cool water without letting it swallow me. I have loved, deeply and passionately, and have been loved the same way in return. I have known friendship that is like the other part of me that was separated at birth.

I have slept under stars, on boats and in beds that I have shared with a variety of creatures, most of them invited.  I have read through many nights, great books and trashy novels, until I was forced to reluctantly put aside the book because it was time to leave for work.

I have shed tears alone in the bathtub but seldom in front of others, my pride I guess, and my reluctance to appear vulnerable in the eyes of anyone, myself included.

I have been blessed with a spirit that needs to keep learning and being challenged to either surpass my own expectations or gracefully learn from my failures.

I never really noticed when my hair turned to silver, when my blue eyes changed to a pastel facsimile or when my skin began resembling that of my mother. I have written my own rules, created the woman I have become, lived deliberately and tried to carry out my dreams without intentionally hurting others, and I’ve never looked back.

Yes, I have lived a rich and full life

 


An Ignoble Death


YankeeAfter hearing the results of the primaries that took place yesterday, I am at a loss to understand what has become of the infamous “Yankee Spirit.” Up through even the 1970’s we were known for and proud of the heritage that taught us we were responsible for ourselves and our families. We were generous in caring for our friends and neighbors, faithful to the tenets of our constitution and accepted the Bill of Rights as sacrosanct. We believed in ourselves, in the strength of our character and the dignity of perseverance.

None of us expected the government to take care of us or our families, that was our job. We didn’t ask for or accept the government stepping in to usurp what was rightfully our own, the self-respect we earned through hard work and diligence. When disaster befell one of us, our family, our church or our neighbors were there to offer the help we needed to get back on our feet.

We raised our children to have an intimate knowledge of “consequences” and they grew into adults who shared the values we held dear.

We valued education but that didn’t mean that college was the only education that had any meaning. The farmer, the mechanic, and the plumber were as respected for their knowledge and ability as the engineer who lived down the street.

We prepared for the future, saved our money, were frugal, valued self-reliance over “things.” We were the opposite of a disposable culture.

Unfortunately, that “Yankee” no longer exists. His heart may still beat somewhere in the far reaches of one of the colonies but he cannot be revived. He has died an ignoble death. In his place has arisen a citizenry who has been taught that the individual is either too feeble to take care of one’s self and one’s family or too greedy to care what troubles come to our fellow man and therefore need a the powerful, strong hand of the government to equalize everyone; a government who will distribute to each according to their needs. Hmmm, where have I heard that phrase before?

It is indeed a sad day when our children are taught that someone else is responsible for meeting not only their needs but their every desire. That child will suckle at the teat of Mother America until the teat is dry at which time they will be ill equipped to sustain themselves. They will pass from this life without ever having known the pride that comes from being a strong, self-reliant Yankee.


The Aftermath


Flowering_dogwood3

As the blossoms fall from the cherry tree,
the dogwood withers and dies,
a whirlwind whips sodden leaves from the ground
as the rainbow fades from the sky.


Phantom Pain, An Allegory


Tales of Liberty and lesser things

Phantom Pain – Part One

He didn’t hear the screeching tires
or the sirens when they came.
As he lay there on the black top
He felt no fear or pain.

He wondered how he got there
In the stillness of this night,
The last thing he remembered
Was the glare of that head light.

And then he looked on down the road
And saw the mangled steel,
The handle bars and spinning tires,
Broken struts and upturned wheels.

In that very instant
He began to feel the pain.
He saw the river of his blood.
Felt his life force as it waned.

Phantom Pain – Part Two

He woke up to a myriad
Of people dressed in white
Who spoke in quiet voices
Like whispers in the night.

And then a kindly doctor
Sat down beside his bed
“There’s no easy way to tell you, son,
The things that…

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The Woman in the Back of the Bus


Back of the Bus2Had it not been for her slight smile, she would have seemed imperious in her ownership of the bench seat in the back of the 7th street bus.

Her handsome countenance, testimony of her former beauty, was accented by the elegance of her pale gray slacks, pearlescent pink high necked sweater and paisley scarf in shades of charcoal and pink. Her flat heeled black shoes, while old, wore the buttery sheen of years of careful polishing. She was a woman who gave the appearance of control, both of herself and her surroundings, of knowing things that others did not, and one of holding herself slightly apart from the rest of the world.

She was an enigma to the other daily passengers of the 7th Street transit. No one seemed to know where she came from or where she went since those who saw her board had long since left the bus by the time her journey came to an end. She was merely a curious presence among the ever rotating group of men in suits, women with children on their laps, janitorial workers, and teenagers with their boisterous enthusiasm. She gave all the regulars a slight nod as they took their seats but otherwise always seemed to be lost in her own thoughts.

With only a few passengers remaining, she finally rose from her seat, stepped to the exit and regally descended the steps, turning left to begin her long walk down Almeda Avenue toward the corner of now and then.

The six flights of stairs in the old building creaked as she climbed slowly but purposefully, her body erect and her hand, devoid of jewelry, on the old painted wood railing. Removing her key from the bag on her arm, she entered her room as if she were walking toward her throne on the dais that was the center of everyone’s attention. Taking her cup from it’s accustomed place on the hook on the wall, she prepared her tea with the water heated on the hot plate that stood on the board that served as her counter, and sat peacefully at the old Formica table that was the center of her home.


Letter in the Snow


Pictures from FranceThe white envelope was laying on top of the snow and ice mound next to my letterbox at the end of my driveway.  Most likely it had been dropped by the mail carrier as she tried to maneuver her truck close enough to the box. My headlights flashed over it as I returned home in the early morning hours before dawn and I almost dismissed it since most of the mail that comes to the street side is junk.  For some reason I felt I should retrieve the envelope before it was buried by the slush of the plow trucks that would be coming through soon.

It was postmarked “Republique Francaise, La Poste, France” where I have distant relatives and it had been in transit for two months. The handwriting had that European charm I had seen in my grandparents writing and it carried me back to a time when I sat at my grandmother’s side as she wrote, in her lovely script, letters to family and friends in her homeland.  Her mother, my great grandmother, had emigrated to America with her daughter and two sons after the death of her husband.  I never knew my great grandmere but I felt as if I had know her from the stories told to me by my mother who adored her.

The letter in the snow read “Madame; this letter will be a surprise for you. I find in my mother’s home those photos. My mother was a friend to your grandmother, Josephine Vannson Chagnot before about 1912!! They write always until she dead. So I am 86 years old and I don’t want keep those photos. Maybe you will be glad to get them. This is your family. I hope your address is good, I find it on internet Google. If you receive this letter, please tell me. this is my address E-mail xxxxxxxx . sorry for my English but there is a long time I don’t speak English and I did not know if you speak French. Sincerely Regina, Eaubonne, France.”

This stranger, this new friend, this person who connected me to those I had loved so dearly, had sent me the treasured gift of photographs of my family, my grandmother and great grandmother as they were crossing from France to America in 1912. There were pictures of my grandparents’ wedding, great uncles, homes they had built, my parents and their newborn infant, my brother.

What Madame Parmentier could not have know is that some years ago, during a break-in at my home, the thieves had stolen not only things of monetary value but for some unknown reason, my box of treasured family photographs. The photos that arrived today are some of the only ones I now have, something to pass on to my own grandchildren to stretch the thread of family across the generations.

I am the last remaining member of my mother’s family.  They have all died and I stay on as their memory keeper.


Music for my Soul


music notesThe sky was at its bluest and the clouds their whitest on that sunny but crisp October afternoon as I sped down the interstate trying, by sheer force of will, to shorten the two-hour trip to the hospital. I had no room for thoughts other than the silent whispered prayers for intercession.

My dad had begun hemorrhaging and the ambulance summoned by my mother had just pulled out of the driveway when she called my office. There were so many things I needed to say and words I needed to hear. This man had been central in my life for 40 years and I found it impossible to believe we didn’t have more time. Death always comes as an ugly surprise, regardless of age or circumstance.

Racing at 85 mph, hoping there were no state troopers lurking behind the berms, my hands shook and my heart beat as though I had run a marathon. Suddenly, a song on the radio answered my questions, filled my need.  I could hear my father talking to me, they were his words anyway, of that I was certain and they were telling me exactly what I wanted him to say and what I needed to say to him, “I will Always Love You.”

“And I hope life will treat you kind And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of
Oh, I do wish you joy And I wish you happiness
But above all this I wish you love
I love you, I will always love you”       Dolly Parton

So, all these years later, every time I hear this song I am pulled back in time. Even now writing this, my tears are as fresh as they were on that drive so many years ago and my heart swells with love and affection for the man who was my Dad.

It seems as though my every life event of consequence has a theme song and I relive days, both happy and sad, in the replay of the music. Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” reminds me that I have loved and been loved in return, that the intimacy that completes the circle is not beyond the sphere merely out of reach.

I allow myself to swim in Clair de Lune; my heart swells, I hold my breath, waiting…..waiting…..for that next bar that will take me through the waves and out to sea.

How can I limit my words about the power of music in my life?  I have a dear friend, a songwriter and performer, who saw me teetering on the edge of an abyss and sent me his song “Some Things You Gotta Keep, Some Things You Throw Away.”  The words brought me back to safety and I carry them with me always, remembering and calling them up when I need them the most.    Billy Preston and Dennis Wilson’s “You Are So Beautiful” was the lullaby I sang my baby daughter and even as I hear it today, I can feel her in my arms, fighting the sleep that wants to carry her away and I can smell that beautiful scent that is my child.  When I leave this earth, these are the memories that I will carry with me into eternity.

Music is such a powerful influence in my life, a companion, a friend, a shelter, something to which I turn for comfort as well as pleasure. Some people hear music as background sound but for others of us, it colors our soul and rounds out the edges that are sharpest. It is the nourishment that sustains us after we have been living on bread and water.

When writing about my photography, I said “Great images are the ones that make me wonder what happened one millisecond before the click of the lens or one millisecond after the image was captured. A great photo, like a great piece of music, is one that carries me into the unknown. Its the river on which I can travel toward the ocean.” Continue reading


What Color Brings


Alley-2 0664The image is filtered and cropped to reflect the feeling this alley brought to me one cold October Sunday morning as I walking through the little village in Lebanon, TN, enjoying the colors and the company.  The concrete walls seemed to emanate the warmth that was missing from the air brought in following the rains of the prior few days.

Tinges of soft moss green touched the brick column that was the corner stone of an old building.  Even the cracks in the cement held strings of that same green, a remnant of the summer past.

There was the vague scent of dampness that seemed to come more from age than the weather, that slightly acrid but not unpleasant smell of decay.

The buildings that surround the perimeter of the small  square all wear festive colors that belie the general downtrodden state of the little shops that inhabit  their walls.  Building-2 0670Collections of dusty remnants from days and lives past clutter every available space from tilting wooden floor to sagging wooden ceiling.  Old tables, glass cabinets, bed frames, dishes, piles of old patchwork quilts, wood carvings, mantle clocks and knives, well honed from generations of use.  I’m fascinated by the assorted debris of other peoples lives, lives that came long before mine most likely.  I envision the homes once ornamented by this eclectic blend of grace and utility.   I hear snippets of conversation as the women of the house gather in the kitchen to make pies and Sunday dinner and the shutter of the screen door slamming closed as the children race out, all trying to be the first to reach the swing.  I feel the heat of the stove, not unwelcome on this cool day, and  smell the bread rising in the covered bowl in the pantry.

I am carried to a time no less simple than today but different and I have a vague longing to join them on this October morning in Lebanon, TN. Continue reading


In Between


I was speaking with someone the other night who was relating an experience and in the description, he said that he had been “between wives”   which led me to think about all of the permutations of the word “between.”

“Between” bridges two separate places, people, things, emotions, events.  It supposes there will be two as in “between wives” but sometimes it is merely a hope or an expectation.  We might desSplit_Rock_-_geograph.org.uk_-_25518cribe our work life as being between jobs, or our education as between semesters or our dilemma as between a rock and a hard place but it is always the connecting thread that links the past with the future and “in Between” is a place for dreaming, hoping and even decision making.  It is where we  consider where we went wrong and how we will change ourselves to fit this new place that is at the other end.  It is where we decide to cut our hair, shave our beard, change our wardrobe, smile more, or maybe be kinder but knowing that the zebra can’t change his stripes, that last is simply our response to our past self, the very same self who will move through “in between” until the other end is reached.

The only absolute “between” is that journey from birth to death so every day of our lives is in a state of “in between.”


Dinner at Dimitri’s


In the land of lost smiles04-05-2015I think we all have moments when we see ourselves in a mirror, when our armor is invisible if only to ourselves.  Such was my dinner at Dimitri’s.

The occasion was the gathering of a group of people who had shared time together in a decade long past.  Some of them had kept the thread of connection intact through the years and their sense of friendship and community was obvious even to a casual observer.  There were stories of shared adventures as well as shared memories and I was the observer to their recollections just as I had been the observer of the events themselves.  I had been on the periphery rather than an active participant so the stories were much like an old newsreel, displayed in black and white and as choppy as a windblown surf.  I long for the panoramic colors of intimacy that I deny myself.

What the image in the mirror reminded me is that I have always lived my life apart from others. Even though I have had a desire for close relationships, only once in all these years have I been able to break through the self-imposed barriers that kept me on the other side of the the experience of living.  I’ve worn what I think of as my life cloth in presenting myself to the world, the life cloth that protects me and keeps me in my solitary place.

And so, as we sat having our dinner at Dimitri’s, I observed, as I always do, and was envious of their ease and familiarity. I wondered, somewhat absently , if I would ever again open the cloak of life cloth I wore or if having had the experience once would have to be sufficient to fill the part of me that was devoid of connection, standing alone like an aging tree on the mesa Continue reading


The Clutter Project – Day 1 – Dad’s Workshop


HardwareDay 1 – Dad’s Workshop

This is an interesting process to say the least. Decisions at every turn. What might I use in the future and what can be discarded, given, sold, or thrown. If the afternoon progresses as I hope it will, I will be able to start filling the dumpster I have rented for the purpose.

My dad’s workshop is a veritable treasure trove of useful items, redundant useful items, as well as things I’m sure even he forgot he had and even if he had not forgotten, I wonder if he remembered their purpose. Such are the arcane remnants of a lifetime. Continue reading


The Clutter Project


alphabet        I‘ve been trying to clear the clutter from my life. The other day, I was walking around the house in which I live, the one in which I grew up having returned to care for my parents before they died and I was thinking about those things that I have, things that I own, that I have collected through the years, and the things that have been passed down to me from generations past.

Do they still have meaning to me beyond their memory? Isn’t the memory enough  

I have some beautiful ivory sculpture but I realized that I haven’t even really looked at those pieces in a couple years. They simply exist on a shelf. Why do I keep them when I could pass them on to someone who would enjoy them. I have little things that hold memories for me even if there is no financial value. Why do I keep those when I can just keep the memory.

The attic and the basement are filled with “things” neither useful nor even remembered. They are part of the past but not the present and probably not the future.

I think its time to empty the shelves, the boxes and the trunks and get rid of the superfluous keeping only that which I cannot do without.

 

Continue reading


Footsteps to Nowhere


Footsteps to Nowhere


The Harlequin


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Bruised, she ached but showed no pain;
Hurt, she bled but hid the stain.
Her mirrors bidden out of sight
Could not betray the cursed fright.

In private moments she would dare
Concede the wound disguised with care
But never would another see
A shade of fear or trace of need.

She worked to hide the trespass lines,
The telltale gray not hard to find
And dressed in bright bravado red,
She gave no hint of a lonely bed.

She hid her eyes and clothed her soul
Behind a smile, the truth untold.
So often was the mask in place
One day she knew it was her face.

And when the act was polished bright,
The costumes bought, the make-up right,
She could not fathom why she cried;
It was her script, her child of pride. Continue reading


Dreamscape #2


DarkHouse2

Not sure how I got here
to this unfamiliar place,
to this house with rooms once empty
with no color, with no grace;
With windows boarded over
as if bracing for a storm
and doors locked so securely
hinges rusted and deformed.

Not sure how I got here
or even if I’ll stay,
there is a candle’s flicker
and it’s scaring me away.
I’m just not used to living
in a house that has no walls,
in rooms not closed off to the world
with long and winding halls.

Not sure how I got here
and I’m startled now to find
my fortress may be crumbling
and no longer solely mine
for if that candle’s flicker
turns into a shaft of light
the door may open one last time
and put an end to night.


The Southern Story Teller


Southern Sotry Teller


Upon the Queen’s Return to Castle Down


Upon The Queens Return to Castle Down


Phantom Pain, An Allegory


Phantom Pain – Part One

He didn’t hear the screeching tires
or the sirens when they came.
As he lay there on the black top
He felt no fear or pain.

He wondered how he got there
In the stillness of this night,
The last thing he remembered
Was the glare of that head light.

And then he looked on down the road
And saw the mangled steel,
The handle bars and spinning tires,
Broken struts and upturned wheels.

In that very instant
He began to feel the pain.
He saw the river of his blood.
Felt his life force as it waned.

Phantom Pain – Part Two

He woke up to a myriad
Of people dressed in white
Who spoke in quiet voices
Like whispers in the night.

And then a kindly doctor
Sat down beside his bed
“There’s no easy way to tell you, son,
The things that must be said.”

“We used every bit of skill we had
To try to save your life
And God was there among us
To guide the hand that held the knife.”

“You’ll live to love another day
and be your mother’s son
But you’ll do it in a different way,
Not with two legs but with one”

The anger festered in his heart
He cursed and cried and swore
As he tried to wrap his brain around
This new adjective he wore.

Handicapped was not a word
That slid gently from his lips
And so he said he wouldn’t be
This was just a little blip.

Phantom Pain – Part Three

First there came a walker
Then crutches two by two
As his broken body mended,
his spirit once again broke through

His new leg finally came to him
Made of steel and wood
Maybe not a real one
But he’s a man and now he stood.

What lingered through the months and years
With no words to explain,
The sudden stabs of agony
Known as phantom pain.

The doctors told of causes and
spoke in scientific terms.
No one said its primal
Your loss must be reaffirmed.

The sudden loss of what was there
and shall never be again
deserves its recognition
like the mourning for a friend

So phantom pain is part of life
The reminder of the loss
Of this sudden separation
And the ache its endless cost.


the music ended


when the music had ended,
the last note had been played,
the instruments silenced
and all put away
that lingering melody
replayed in my head
a chorus of feelings
I so wanted dead
Rain in my heart
and tears on my face
shadows of memories
of time and of place
Where can I hide
how long will it be
til I’m deaf to the music
and dead to the need


When Childhood Dies


Childhood Dies

Very few people are able to hold onto their childhood. Some of us struggle out of it as if we are pecking our way out of a shell while for others, its just part of a journey. Some of us have it stolen from us before we’re ready to deal with the complexities of adulthood. Some people remember only happiness, trust, and confidence; others only pain, fear, and shame. Most of us live with more balanced memories.

I remember in infinite detail the moment I think of as the death of my own childhood. It was summer time and the dampness of the midnight air clung to my skin and left me chilled. It wasn’t a starry night and the moon had long since left the sky to an early setting. I was seventeen and full of the confidence felt only by seventeen year olds. I delighted in speed and pushed my car to the limits, I spoke to strangers, I sneaked out with boys on motorcycles, I smoked cigarettes, and I’d once had a beer at a party. I was invulnerable to danger.

Then, one night, a man I knew in acquaintance asked for a favor. Since I knew more of trust that I did of fear, I never thought that I should be afraid or that I should say no. He owned a little diner where I stopped every night on my way home from work. He drank beer behind the counter and wore a once white apron with assorted stains of his trade. I never saw his face shaved clean as my father’s always was but he was kind and I was in need of friendship. As the months passed, I thought he was a friend. He asked me about my work and about my boyfriends and told me about the baby his wife was expecting any day and about his four other young children. He offered advise when I confided my problems with my parents and he told me how hard it was for him to work long hours to try to keep his little restaurant going with no help.

This summer night he was anxious to close-up because his wife had given birth that morning and his children were at home with a sitter but he was concerned about leaving them sleeping alone in the house while he drove her home. What if there was a fire or one of them awoke to the emptiness. I knew I could help him, as I was sure he would have helped me if I needed it. So, in my little car, I followed him to his house to stay with his children for the few minutes they needed tending. It was a short drive, about 15 minutes, and I followed closely because the night was very dark.

I’ve looked back on that night so many times as the years have passed and I’ve come to know that it was the last fifteen minutes when I felt fully trusting and with no hint of fear.

His house was more of a cottage than the kind of house I knew and it had a messy yard with un-mowed grass. Still, I wasn’t afraid. As we walked up the dirt path that led to the front door, he told me one last time how much he appreciated my help. Still, I trusted him.

Of course, there was no sitter. The children, if here were any, were sleeping alone in the pitch-black house with only a bulb shinning at the front door. He closed the door behind us and turned the lock, which I though was curious but not alarming.

I remember the next few minutes in a strange combination of fast-forward and slow motion. His movements were quick and strong as he grabbed me and pulled me against him in what he might have thought was a kiss. He told me I didn’t have to pretend anymore and that his children were asleep and no one could hear us. He pushed me down onto the floor and moved his hands roughly over my body. I remember saying that I would scream if he didn’t’ stop and he told me if I woke his kids up it would be the last thing I ever said.

My mind screamed anyway and I must have really done it because he jammed his fist over my mouth and pushed my lips into my teeth. He ripped my blouse out of my skirt and put his hand on my skin. I pushed and kicked and mumbled through his fist. I don’t know if the tears were on the outside or just on the inside. He raged at my skirt and pulled it toward my chest but not far enough to cover me. With his one free hand, pulled my underwear down as best he could as he tried to push his dirty hand into me.

Something happened in my head at that instant and I stopped fighting him. My body went slack and maybe the terror left my eyes because he took his hand away from my mouth. His beery breath filled my senses but still I did not fight. In a voice ever so calm and uncaring, I told him to do whatever he wanted but I had to warn him that I was being treated for syphilis and the doctor said sex wasn’t safe for another month. He pulled his hand away from me but I grabbed it and brought it back down again between my legs and made him touch what I said was a lesion. He seemed nervous and for the next five or ten minutes, he wavered back and forth between belief and disbelief. He started to get up off the floor and I scrambled to my feet and tried to run for the door but he grabbed me by the hair and put a knife to my throat, telling me I was lying so I told him about the early symptoms, the shots I got three times a week, about having to give a sex history to public health. I told him every damn think I had ever read about the disease and in the end, he wasn’t sure enough to continue and let me go. He just let me walk out the door without another word.

I drove home slowly that night with my doors locked, windows up and the heat on full blast because I couldn’t get warm. When I drove into my driveway, I was afraid to get out of the car and sat there with the heater blasting for ever so long. I pulled my cloths together and ran into the house, locking the door quickly as if my childhood bogeyman were after me. I slipped into the bathroom and took a steaming shower and washed my hair, then lathered again and got a fresh washcloth and scrubbed. I wrapped a towel around my head and ran upstairs to bed, the bogeyman still in hot pursuit of me.

I lay awake all night but never cried. I was ashamed about what I thought I had done. I was afraid someone would find out or that he would tell someone I had a venereal disease. I had been a virgin until that night and even though he had not penetrated me, I felt as though I no longer was. In the sixties, only bad girls “did it” so I was now one of the bad girls.

For 17 years, I never told a soul about that night because I felt so much responsibility and shame. The quality of the fear changed in time, but it never left. In my heart, I knew that it was my fault and that I had been asking for it. Every cliché about rape became my self-definition.

When I was in my mid-thirties, having been married and divorced, I learned that a rape crisis center was looking for counselors and since social work was an early goal in college, I signed up to join their next counselor training. I went through a six-month training and began working with clients but I still hadn’t told anyone about my experience.

Months later, I was facilitating a group session for survivors and it was obvious that one woman was in a great deal of emotional pain as the result of an assault. We went outside together on break, sharing a cigarette, and when the group resumed, I did what a good facilitator never does, I began to tell about that summer night. It has taken me 17 years to tell someone that I was guilty of the unforgivable sin of trust. Once I had told my secret, everything started to flood out of me and I was faced with every fear and shame renewed in the telling. In the months to follow, as I was counseling clients, I too was seeing a counselor.

It has been many years since I first exposed the assault and it is still difficult to talk about but I do talk about it. I talk to young women, to older women, to groups, to individuals, to everyone who needs to know that there is no shame in trusting or making a bad decision. I want them to know how important it is for them to try to avoid being vulnerable but if they are attacked, no matter what the circumstances nor what they have to do to survive it, they are not diminished by it.

All these years later, I still grapple with issues of trust. There have only been a few people in my life for whom I have felt absolute trust. I try not to be vulnerable. I won’t get in an elevator with a stranger. I won’t climb and empty staircase. I have my keys in hand before I leave a building and always park directly under lights. I take walks with my dogs but never alone. I try to repair everything I can to avoid having workers come into my home. I leave men’s clothing hanging in the basement so the oil burner man doesn’t know I’m alone. I refer to “we” when I speak to strangers. I am cautious in my relationships as I learn to trust people. It’s easier for me to offer affection than receive it, which sends mixed messages sometimes. At times, I panic and push people away even when I care for them. I don’t live in fear, but I respect it.

That one moment made my life neither worse nor better, merely different than it might have been. It has made me stronger and less vulnerable, more faithful to people I have learned to trust, less cavalier about the value of honest affection. It inspired me to become a counselor, which, in turn, allowed me to feel useful.

I have had people ask me how I can publicly reveal such an intimate experience and I always explain that it was not an intimate experience – it was an assault and it was a crime. I wasted too many years allowing myself to feel shame and now I have none. If relating this event either helps one person avoid an assault or helps them recover from one, why would I try to keep the secret.

The experience doesn’t define me. It is but one thread, along with many others. in the texture of my life.


Reverie


Reverie

As I sat in the dark
Where no one could see
I thought about you
and I thought about me

I thought about ripples
and songs in my head
I thought about feelings
now long since dead

I thought about roads
travelled by day
And I thought about obstacles
put in my way

I thought about tears
that fell on my face
I thought about laughter
and friendship’s good grace

I thought about childhood
with memories strong
I thought of the future
and where I belong

I thought about chances
I’d been willing to take
I thought of the risks
I thought of the breaks

I thought of the house
I once called my home
While I thought of the ghosts
and the rooms where they roam

I thought of the places
I’d once layed my head
I thought about those
who had once shared my bed

As I sat in the dark
where no one could see
I thought about you
and I thought about me


The Ramblings of an Old Warrior


I am what, for many of you, is your worst nightmare – a feminist. I was a feminist before it had a name and a feminist after it became a label. I represent every girl who was told she “couldn’t” take shop in high school because of her gender, who was “discouraged” from studying engineering in college because of her gender, who was told my her math professor that she should be home taking care of babies, who needed her husband’s signature to get a business loan for her own business, who’s opinions were dismissed because she was female, who had customers ask to speak to one of the salesmen because it never crossed their minds that a woman knew more about a typically male business than any of the men in the company.

So, the cat’s out of the bag. I’m a feminist. What does that mean? Well, for me, it means being seen as a human being first and foremost. I love being a woman, have never wanted to be a man, I don’t want to compete with you strictly because of gender but in spite of it and in competitive arenas only. I want my opinions to be evaluated on the basis of their intellect and not dismissed because my body grew breasts at puberty. If you open the door for me, I’ll say thank you and expect the same from you when I open the door for you. I don’t expect you to defer to me because I am female because I won’t defer to you strictly because you are male. I will gladly accept your help when my old body isn’t strong enough to do something myself but I’ll put my full effort into taking care of myself before asking for help. I’m not offended by images of naked women, just a little jealous of their youth and beauty because they are always young and beautiful. Heck, at times, I like to see images of good looking guys (that is God’s plan after all). The difference is, I like the guys a little older than I did when I was in my 20’s. I like to see a little character in their faces, a little living on their bodies, and a little humor in their eyes. I like to see hands that have know hard work and have a little dirt under the nails to prove it. I can only hope that men value the same in me. You’ll have to forgive me if I get a little testy when I am reminded that most often it isn’t so.

I believe that when families decide to have a child, they should do their best to see that either the mother or father will be there to raise that child and avoid routine daycare whenever possible. I think that caring for our children is more important than that second car or the new dining room set. In my opinion, a big house and lots of ‘toys’ don’t equal quality of life when raising a child.

I’m a feminist, a conservative, a woman of a certain age with gray hair and eyes that don’t see as well as they used to and I can still laugh at myself for all that I am and all that I’m not.

But don’t let any of that fool you. I am an old warrior who will continue to fight, until my life is over, so that my daughter, my granddaughters, and your daughters, and wives, and sisters, and female friends have the opportunity to prove themselves in this world.

When you attribute our responses strictly to our hormones, you are saying that you value what we look like, particularly when we are naked, but not what we think or what we feel. I admit that our hormones do strange things to us, the same as your hormones do to you. It’d all part of this glorious adventure known as life.

And when the women in your life come home and tell you they have decided to be an engineer, or a soldier or a sailor, or a ship’s captain, or a police officer, or a fireman, a hairdresser, a fashion designer, a business woman, or a homemaker and a mother, look around for old warriors like me and thank them for never giving up.


October in New England


It’s the time we await and long for throughout the cold winter, wet spring and hot, humid summer. The slightly acrid aroma of the red, yellow and brown leaves fills the air and mixes with the musty smell of damp leaf mold underfoot. The sky is always at its bluest, and the clouds their whitest. I believe that heaven is modeled after the New England fall.

It’s a time for grandmothers to watch their grandsons play “fall ball’ and sew halloween costumes for their princess granddaughters. It’s a time to carry a thermos of hot coffee while tramping through the woods at daybreak and sit on a old stone wall completely at peace. 

No matter what happens for the rest of the year, I’m in love with New England in the fall.


My Kitchen


As someone who loves to cook, Sundays are my time to prepare my food for the week. I love the smells and colors of the kitchen.

I have a few favorites in my kitchen. My big black cast one frying pan that belonged first to my great-grandmother, then my grandmother, my mother, and now me. Someday it will be my daughter’s and then my granddaughters. I have thousands of dollars worth of professional cookware but cast iron is still my favorite. 

I love my chef’s knives which I sharpen on my father’s honing stone and store carefully in teak sheaths made especially for each knife by a cabinetmaker friend of mine.

I love my custom made baking sheets I had one of the guys in my shop make for me 20 yrs ago. Thick stainless steel that heats so evenly that if one biscuit is burned on the bottom, you can count on them all being burned exactly the same.

From years of use, my wok has acquired the color of ironstone, a shiny grayish black.

These are the tools of my hobby.

At the moment, the house is filled with the aroma of peppers and onions cooking slowly in the cast iron pan. Green, red, and orange peppers and a giant Vidalia onion. Soon, I’ll add some beautiful fresh white mushrooms and brown mushrooms from a local mushroom farm and then later, a little of what I call my Harvest Sauce that I canned at the end of the growing season. A tomato based concoction with whatever needs to be picked before frost added in. Later in the week, I put this over fresh made bread or maybe a little Mostacholli.

There is stew meat braising in the oven but soon I’ll move it to the stovetop and add some carrots and onions and a little of the harvest sauce. Tonight I’ll add the rest of the veggies and top it will some dumplings.

I have cranberries on a slow heat so the smell of these beautiful red jewels and the orange zest adds a tart aroma to the mix. This will be for Thanksgiving (if there is any left by Thursday)

I have a couple lbs of fresh carrots cooking slowly in Guinness with some cloves, mustard seeds, and pepper corns.

Later today I’ll make some pepper jelly to add to the Thanksgiving table. I love the clear green color and tangy flavor.

I’m ready for the week.


A Winter Morning


As I sit here, the sound of sleet and ice beating against the windows brings a chill to my body although I’m not cold. It’s a mental chill rather than a physical one. As I look out the east facing window behind my desk, the gunmetal gray sky and the treetops of century old hardwoods being tossed about in the wind all add to the cold. The boughs of the hemlocks are brittle with the ice that encapsules the needles turning them into oblong blocks of frozen green.

The pup hasn’t budged from the pile of blankets on my bed in which he is nested. Its as though he knows it will be a day to stay cozy and snug inside. Eventually, he’ll have to venture outside but for now, he’s warm and happy.

Today’s storm is in total contrast to the snow earlier this week when silence engulfed the world as large flakes quickly laid a blanket of white over everything. Such beauty is hard to describe within the limits of language. It has to be experienced by the heart to be truly appreciate.

I love weekend winter storms. There is a peacefulness that comes from watching nature paint her picture.


Je me souviens – I Remember


It’s almost Thanksgiving again. For me, there is always a tinge of sadness that surrounds that day of giving thanks because my only sibling, my dearest friend, my brother Raymond died the week before Thanksgiving in 1962. It’s been 47 years and I miss him still, as I do my parents and grandparents. They are all gone now and I am the memory keeper.

I love to cook. I come by it naturally since both my grandmother and my mother were known for their cooking skills, I collect cookbooks, preferably old, but among my favorites are those that have been passed down to me through my family. I have several written in French and dating back to the 1800’s. They were among the few things my great-grandmother brought with her when, as a young widow, she emigrated from France with her teenaged daughter and two sons. It was either a very brave thing to do or an act of desperation – I’ll never know which.

Tonight, I was looking though one of the old books for a recipe that was a family tradition during the holidays, Beignets de Carnavals. In the old books, the cooks always made notes and added their own recipies on the blank pages provided for that purpose. What I noticed tonight is that this book had three generations of recipies added in the handwriting of my great-grand, my grand, and my mom. There is a common thread to their handwriting as well as to their words and I can hear their voices with English and French mixing together. I hear the laughter of women in the kitchen, sharing stories and gossiping. I yearn to be with them but I can only observe and I can only remember. 

I am the memory keeper.


Christmas Eve – Anticipation and Memories


Here we are on the eve of another Christmas. Those of us with children in our lives have the opportunity to relive our own childhood through them. We hear their giggles and see the glimmer in their eyes. It is our chance to carry family traditions into the next generation but it is also a time of some sadness. Last year, our “baby” was 10 and still wrote a letter to Santa to leave by his tray of cookies and milk which the adults dutifully ate leaving crumbs scattered about as proof of his sweet repast. We left her a thank you note from Santa that also told her how proud the old gentleman was that she valued family and kindness over gifts. Her older brother and sister helped keep her belief alive but I fear it was the last letter to Santa as they have all grown beyond that joyful illusion and are, therefore, more aware of the realities of life with the sorrows that accompany the joy.

My memories are of Christmases spend around the world with the small family who left not doubt in anyone’s thoughts that the love that was shared between the parents and for their children would be neverending. Santa found us, no matter where we were, There was one in Germany, another in Japan, one in Panama, two in Virginia and then one in California. There were also some here in Connecticut, home with all that word encompasses.

My mother loved Christmas and spent months preparing. The first Christmas after my marriage, she surprised me with a beautiful wool braided rug she had lovingly made for the dining room in my small apartment. It traveled with me to every home I had after that and it is with me still as a constant reminder of a mother’s love. My mom died on Christmas eve which seemed so unfair for someone who so loved that holiday but maybe it spared her the thought that she could no longer do the things she had so enjoyed doing in earlier years. That was the year without Christmas for me.

But I also hold the most wonderful memories of other years and those are what I choose to allow into the Christmases I celebrate today. I still have a poem my Dad sent me when I was 4 as his gift to his much loved daughter from the war that kept him so far away in Korea . I wonder if my grandchildren will carry such a treasured gift into their elder years. I hope their memories are as bright and shining as mine.

To all of my friends in our little digital village, I hope you will take this time to celebrate your memories and to build lasting ones for those you love.


Confronting Grief


Still days away from the official beginning of fall, we have been getting frost at night that make us search the cedar chests for blankets and fills the house with that cold dampness that comes only at this time of year. The smell of brewing coffee fills the downstairs as I dress in the dark for a hike into the woods to the place where I have always felt most able to confront the demons that haunt my spirit.

With a thermos filled with the strong black liquid, I begin my morning journey following the wet path so familiar to me that I can travel it in the darkness without fear of getting lost. I have been making this same trip since childhood and I look forward to reaching the crest of the hill to the spot that overlooks the valley where the stream divides the land between woods and fields.

The old stonewall at the top of the hill is the northern border of my land and a favorite place for me to sit and wait. It’s been months since I have made this early morning trip, missing it all summer but unable to stir myself to go without my pup knowing that his absence would force me to accept his death but I need to make room in my life for these small pleasures which, somehow, are more important to me than the bigger moments visible to the rest of the world.

We appreciate the light most when we are in darkness and I sit with my coffee as the first hint of day begins to show itself through the trees. The sun has not come up yet so the shafts of light that will come later are only an expectation.

In my memory, I hear the sounds of my pup running through the woods, stopping to sniff the smells of nature and dislodge the wild mushrooms with his nose. My eyes fill with tears as my minds eye sees him race back to my side with an expression that seems to say “thank you for today.” I let the sadness envelop me until the sobs abate. These are the memories and the tears I have been avoiding but now that they have been allowed to come, I have a peacefulness that is almost solemn as I open my heart to joy, something that has been on the other side of the mountain for longer than I would like to admit.

With the sun up, I recap the thermos and head for home feeling relief from the burden of grief that has rested heavily on my soul for far too long, grief not only over the death of my pup but for other losses I have kept buried in my heart. I don’t think I would have understood the importance of this trip had it not been for a friend who heard my pain and encouraged me and I know I have been given strength to confront the future as well as the past.

There is more sadness to come in my life but today is going to be a beautiful day.


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