- A Little Story
- A Bear In Her Life
- Emergency Room
- Ginger Returns
- Bony Little Behind
- The Disappearing Act
- Old Enough To Baby-Sit
Each of the above follows below ↓
A LITTLE STORY
She sat there, quite still. She has never forgotten that time when she had tried to write a story about her sparrow. When the story was first conceived and first lived it began, she could recount the exact words: “She heard the voice, a common voice, the voice of a sparrow; their sound encircles the world” … so what?
Well, she once had her own sparrow. July 20th she arrived. September 15th, she departed, joy departed, love remained.” No. She couldn’t write any more, it was not as it should be, written on the day after the sparrow left, too emotional, too melodramatic.
Then, weeks later, she recollected now that she began again. “This is a little story, about a little baby bird, a little old woman, and the sorrowful joy of finding the missing tears of love.” She wondered aloud, “This is trying to be a story about a sparrow and a human being…OK. Not the right opening.”
But how does one tell a story about such insignificant creatures and such a trivial event? Where to begin? At the very beginning to the end, at the end of the story to the how it began, then ramble on in a memory charged scattering of events, or should she find a twist, an irony in the telling? Why had it been so important for her to pursue the time of this story? What to say and who is going to say it? Who am I telling this story to? So: she composed her self and began again: The familiar:
She heard the voice, a common voice, the voice of a sparrow; their sound encircles the world … so what? Once she had her own sparrow. July 20th she arrived. September 15th, she departed, joy departed, love remained. As she sat there recomposing, her hand opened, a warm breath of air stirred the leaves, browns fluttered around, filled the atmosphere. And the drama, unfolded in her head, written in chronological order; it began and ended there without continuity.
“Imagine this, I wrote and read that fragment and more the day after.”
So, she began again:
When the sparrow first entered my life it was perhaps a week old, featherless, eyes still shut. It has become a part of my life that will always be there. No! Terrible!
I didn’t know that it was a sparrow; it had fallen out of a borrowed swallow’s mud nest. Uh, uh.
This adventure began on a usual non-descript day in Southern California. There was an unexpected knock at the door, her student Jerry. It was too early for his lessons.
” I found this baby bird in the dirt. Can you save it? You know how to raise baby birds, please, save this one.”
And after that:
Truman Capote gave Holly Golightly these word in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Never love a wild thing…the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky… If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”
She couldn’t help but smile, whenever she thought of Little Bird, she always smiled.
“I loved a wild thing; I ended up looking at the sky. But it was good; loving a wild thing for the wild thing loved me back, left me with glorious memories and the spontaneous desire, to cry, real tears; to mourn on the outside; to dismiss hidden inside anger.” She began to recite to herself,
“Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart feel lonely?
She couldn’t get the next lines into her head but:
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches over me
More words had departed from her remembrances of poems past: But she still recollected:
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free”
“Little bird always had a song, simple but delightful.” Again a smile crept across her lips as she thought: ” I remember: Grieving. Who’d a thought that grieving was a gift waiting out there: for years and years, and years, to be accepted, given to me by a sparrow?”
Gifts had always been so hard for her to accept, to trust and to understand.
No so with The Babe, her little one, her sparrow.
A BEAR IN HER LIFE
“Look, look, there is a bear in her tree. She wasn’t kidding,” yelled a bald headed, skinny rail of a man. “What’s a bear doing up in that tree?”, shrieked a woman, her shrill voice as sharp as her face from forehead to nose to chin. A deep voice of authority hollered out from the front of the gathering crowd, “Call 911, call the Humane Society, call the fire department, somebody get your cell. What the hell! How did that bear get up in that tree? When and how did he manage to get through town, without being seen, and get into this tree?” “Why would a bear come into our town?” Queried an adolescent whose voice indicated his doubts as to its stability.
The bear peers down through the mass of pine needles, he seems quite comfortable sitting at the junction of three branches resting his back against the trunk, scratching his brown behind. He looks as though he might be laughing, teeth showing from beneath his curled up lips.
“What am I doing in this tree? I’m waiting. Geeze, what a stupid question. Just like
all the other screaming unremarkable questions. I’m sitting, I’m waiting. Obviously these Yahoos are all victims of public education at it’s finest. Like, for instance, how did I get up this tree? I climbed up; bears can climb, big as we are. I have long, sharp hand-like claws, I am extremely athletic, and after a winter of fasting I am slim and fit. And why am I in this tree? Bunch of ass holes, certainly not for the view of this stinking urban sprawl neighborhood I had to lumber through on my way here. This tree is the only one left in town, and obviously there isn’t a cave where I can wait: it’s the only place where I could get close to her when she sent me the signal.
What a bunch of dummies down there, like a horde of scavengers; they haven’t a clue. Group and grope mentality. If they get close enough I can cover them all with one big dump. Yes, yes, here I am in this tree! I see all of you, and piss on you if you interrupt my mission.
There! Over there! At last, I see her, this one woman, apart from the crowd ― in the background, calm, silent, standing on the porch of her house, arms crossed, chin up, body in perfect balance. I know that this is her tree. She’s the one! Does she realize that I am her bear? Yes, she must, but she doesn’t seem to know yet how far back and how well we know one another. I can tell that she’s puzzled, that she’s trying to figure me out.”
This distinctive, lonely figure is looking: first at the backs of the sea of heads, then at this solitary bear half hidden in the thick branches of this solitary tree. She sees the entire scene as picture perfect, clear, hears and feels all, but then, her concentration deteriorates, her consciousness begins to darken; the live action scene, the sense of excitement, the anticipation of the crowd, the sound of the uproar are all vanishing. But she hears another voice. Whose is it? Sounds familiar … I know ― it’s mine!
“Who are all these people? All I can make out is a barricade of heads, the back of heads, not a face to be seen in the lot, and waving arms, pointing fingers, bodies moving up and down, all out of phase. What a mess. And the shouting, disgraceful, crude, ignorant… But there is a bear in my tree.” Her expression is one of deep absorption. For a moment her brow is furrowed, then her eyes emptied out ― her gaze cast down, studying the worn wooden porch floor, the cobwebs in the corners, the posts, the corner of the fitted joist, the berry vines draped over the railing, heavy with crimson fruit. She flits her eyes, runs her tongue over her top front teeth; her mouth falls open then closes, her lips purse:
“A bear is in the tree: My tree.i.e. must be my bear. Why? Well, let me think about bears: a bear climbs a tree for safety, or if it’s hungry there could be a beehive to raid. Pine nuts? Bears are omnivorous. Bears are fight animal when trapped, but in most cases they first take a crack at outsmarting their foes. They are strong, fearless, solitary, independent, bears are smart. They don’t fear death. Hunted for sport, bears have been exploited, most likely still are, displayed in zoos, used in circuses and for other gruesome amusements. Bears were lead around the streets in the 18thcentury to attract attention and money. Bonding and loyalty to humans is well known. Bear hides are used for warmth and protection. Rendered bear fat is used medicinally. Bear meat is nutritious. Bear cubs, usually two, are born during their mother’s hibernation, instinctively knowing to stay close and suckle until spring and their mother’s awakening. She-bears protect their cubs to death; will take on any threat to do so. She-bears are strict disciplinarians, they teach their cubs the skills of survival. Bears can gut any mammal with one swipe of their paws. And bears never eat the dead. In one of Aesop’s tales, the fox says to the bear,
“Oh! That you would eat the dead and not the living.”
“Bears catch and eat fish, harvest berries, vegetables. Poppa bear stays clear of the she-bear unless she indicates otherwise. Bears travel on all fours but can stand upright and walk on two legs; they copulate upright, embracing one another. Bears have been driven out of their own territories and considered threatening by the interlopers. Some bears are on the endangered species list, even so, many blood lusting, money hungry humans don’t give a damn.
“Bears have been the subjects of well known stories, myths, legends: Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Winnie the Pooh, Gentle Ben, Faulkner’s bear, Old Ben. Smokey the Bear, Ursa Major constellation and the seven stars of ‘The Great Bear,’ Then there are Teddy Bears, and bear the bell,
And let’s see which of you shall bear
To speak of love aright?
“Bizarre! Now I’m remembering this joke from my adolescence. Two hunters run into a bear. One drops his gun and runs. The other drops his gun but before he can turn to run the bear grabs him, wraps him in his arms and pulls him close. The old bear hug ― ha! The hunter feels the hot breath on his neck, reaches for anything that he can get a hold of and finds the bear’s organ, grabs it and yanks as hard as he can. The bear throws back his head and howls, lets him go, arms flung wide; the hunter runs for his life but looks back. The bear is now waving his arms, ‘Hey ― come back!’ I didn’t understand that joke completely when I heard it or for that matter when I told it.”
The crowd is gaining in number and ferocity. Her reverie ends with a deep perspective image: she is standing in a meadow in Yosemite National Park. She is eight. An older camp counselor has his hands on her …She hears screaming…
“Shoot the damn thing, that’ll get it down fast.” ” Don’t kill it, dart it with a tranquillizer, and have the zoo put it on display.” “You idiot, the bear would drop like a rock. Wait until dark; let it get down on its own. He got up there, he can get down.” “Get a helicopter, lower a rope, get it around his neck and hang the damn nuisance or even better they could drop it from 1000 feet to see if bears really can fly.”
“Boy Oh Boy! Are those remarks examples of human unkindness or what? At least the primitives honored me with a totem. To them I represented: harmony, balance, strength, meditation, introspection, healing, dreams, visions, wisdom and listening ― My medicine is I can heal myself, that’s how I became mankind’s teacher ― healing begins inside you. We had respect for one another in those days. I became a threat to ― There’s this story about a bear chasing a hunter to the edge of a cliff. The hunter shouts out, ‘Dear God! Please give this bear some ‘religion!’ And the bear says, ‘Thank you, God, for the food I am about to receive.’
” Hey, down there, you people, go away, just leave us alone, me and my lady, we have issues, just the two of us. She’s the one, the one who dreamed me up. So bug off!”
She, too, has grown impatient with the crowd. She wants them gone. Her body gains stature and height. From her new towering position she is in command. She hears the anger in her voice as she orders: “Get out of my yard, get out of my life, if you had taught the bear to use a ladder in the first place, he could get down.”
She had no idea why she shouted these words; she could not help but smile and then laugh. Yet, with this clear outburst of voiced purpose the crowd washed out, its sight, its sound, its confused image gone. And she looked up into the tree, at her bear. He looked back, she nodded her head, turned, opened the door. She would wait to welcome him inside.
He has his ladder, he will join her, they will embrace, they are old friends.
Now she remembered: a bear, the thicket patch of red berries, the meadow; the meadow covered with unattainable flowers protected by swarms of mosquitoes. She had wanted to pick flowers. She had heard the shouting. It came from all directions. “Bear, bear, there’s a bear, everyone back to camp.” He had dropped his hands, pulled up his pants, turned and run off….
And then she woke up
There she sat at her desk. Just like every other day. Different though. Today cloaked in a gray robe, with her thoughts gray, colorless, unimaginative. She leaned backed, folded her hands behind her head, rocked, stared upward. The ceiling stared back from its neat rows of tongue and grove planks. Her fingers drummed on the keys. She lowered her gaze, refocused: the curser was blinking, challenging, daring her to get on with her creative writing. Nothing happened, no words magically formed in front of her. She pushed her glasses up, they tended to slide down, needed to be adjusted, would get to that one day.
Nothing to inspire, not the many years of the good past, her horse showing, piloting her own plane, travel, travel, travel, developing a farm, getting her teaching career underway, finding surfing, her mental good list was long. The real bad past being fired for supporting the have not’s, making poor, poor mate selections, this was a short list. The current year of living, tranquil. Where was the problem? Was there a problem? There was zilch. What about the future, even tomorrow, what was there? All she wanted was an inspiration for story writing.
How to show happiness, productivity, excitement on the inside, anger on the outside? So, let’s get on with the positive. Go away depression; anger turned inward she knew. Begin right now to be shedding hopes of the easy way out. Just STOP IT! Get on with all the good in life. Get on with something, anything. Misery was a habit. She nodded in agreement. I was all in her head. Her body reminded her of that. Was it some degree of perfection? An acceptance? Approval?
To the kitchen to defrost ten peas. Back to her chair to squeeze the peas out of their hulls for the baby bird; her rescued one. She had been able to write quite a story about this bird. The juices had flowed while she was composing then they had dried up leaving her in a drought of misgivings. What to do now? Play a game of solitaire. Click on the icon, moved the mouse cursor over the queen of hearts, click, move her over to the king of clubs. At least that would take up the time before the evening routine.
Later made no difference. She checked the time. Got up, pushed off her gray walking shoes not bothering to untie the laces, marched down the hallway to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, took out a bottle of white wine, poured in half a glass, got her cheese stick, stripped off the sealing wrapper, went back to her room, into the chair, bit off a piece for the bird began to ruminate. How to be happy, pleased with the seventy-six years, “that’s the spirit,” that had brought her this far into living a good life, she thought that it was a good, enviable life; but what now? She couldn’t help the smile, heard the quiet laughter. What a fool. She was loved, respected, had done well, what in hell did she want? She knew.
She wanted that high productivity, the high of her manic stages in life, but not the painful lows. She had to admit that some productive writing was done during lows. Being in neutral was a bore. She scratched her ear, elbow on the desk pad, hand beneath her chin, fingers moving with a soft stroking pattern, began to consider the absurdity of the situation. She shook her head laughed to herself at herself. It was supposed to be simple.
Just make up a character, a plot and get on with it! Thank God, this day was over.
The rain had passed on to the east. This morning was full of bright light. So was she. No inspiration yet, but no being in the depths of dark despair. Today it was ok to be in the search for an idea. It was like her dream from last night; restoration and recovery after an earthquake; to cover up the destruction or clear out the relics, profit from the healing process time creates.
She looked around her room. She had designed, built all the furnishings: cabinets, desk, counters, bookcases, shelves. Miles of books, videos, DVDs, pictures, trophies, handcrafts, notebooks filled with research projects, the bird cages, the miscellaneous office items. White, clean, just to her liking. Everything was to the good. Years ago, she had written a story that started in this same room. Unfinished. Perhaps she should get back to that manuscript. Classical music coming from the Bose radio. Her sparrow came to her shoulder for a snack. She had already prepared the fireplace for the evening, done her chores of bird feeding and dog cleanup. It was too muddy to work in the garden. She did manage to plant a new plot of scallions. No lunch today in preparation for an MRI at 2:00; blood given at the lab early the morning.
Writing words but no creative direction. Come on ideas. She closed her eyes, quieted, lifted her hands, rubbed them together, settled her fingers back on the keyboard, a-s-d-f-j-k-l-;, she waited for inspiration. She was acquainted with the maxim that art was not all inspiration but hard work. I am willing to work, the question was on what. The plot? Who is the character, with what intention, for that matter, what was her intention? Keeping in mind, what would she do? Do was the mantra taught in her class. DO, do, do? First, a situation, then a character. Good grief, nothing. Give it a rest. Go get the mail. ______________________________________________________________
In the shower, rubbing her fingers through her soapy hair; the idea came: what about a character who has a bout with multiple medical contacts during a short period? The character was clearly defined in her mind, the events somewhat blurred. The creative would fill in as she composed even if it was just for fun: She rushed back to the keyboard typed: words flashed across the screen.
The fires were nearing the neighborhood from the northeast. Smoke, ash, yellow sky; water pump ready by the pool, roof sprinklers tested, hoses laid out, connected ready for the fight; voluntary evacuation, by phone and police blow horn announcements throughout the area. The roads were blocked both into and out of the area. The waiting began. Night illuminated by red/orange glowing only a mile up the road. To bed. Not to sleep.
The pain, excruciating, across her lower back, right side; hours of retching. She could not even hold down a sliver of ice. She held her head up long enough to nod in agreement to a very late evening’s trip to the ER. Off to see the wizards. At this point, her recollection of incidents faded in and out. The drive went on forever. Streetlights flashed by, headlights from car were blinding, the sounds resonating in her head like those of a parade …. She disappeared gradually into her own private oblivion.
There he was, her favorite cowboy, Roy Rogers; riding his wonder horse Trigger. She had to reach him. Out into the street she dashed. She wanted a ride. He reached down, grasped her outreaching hands, pulled her up, swung her up into the saddle in front of him. She was moving ahead. Lights, music, Christmas trees on all sides, cheering, waving; looking down there was a familiar black figure running alongside the horse reaching for her, a tone of a voice pleading with her. She heard herself. No, no, let me be here.
The voice penetrated, broke into her unconsciousness. “We’re here.” She felt a hand on her shoulder, she didn’t want it there, brushed it away. She wanted to ride, ride into the sunset. Her closed eye lids quivered, her tongue stuck to the top of her mouth, so thirsty, she couldn’t hear any music, intense lights, unfamiliar lights interrupted her parade no longer colorful but yellow, horribly harsh, “where am I, what am I doing here?” The pain brought her here.Emergency Entrance.
“Can you walk to that open door”, “I think I can, I think I can, no I can’t.” It didn’t happen, she didn’t walk, couldn’t; legs quivering. She was loaded like a sack of jellybeans, poured into a wheelchair, arms flapping over the wheels. A Raggedy Ann. Her body, doubled over, disorganized, too disjointed to move itself coherently. She could do nothing, collapsed, really collapsed; pushed through the illumination of a hushed void.
The guard, his immediacy, the intake nurse, a bed, a plea for pain relief, needle in her arm, the drip. She had to vomit; a bag placed in her outstretched hands, used immediately. She felt warmth, the diminished consciousness, she did not fight the feeling, deep breaths, her thoughts left to do whatever they wanted, and they did.
Back, back to the early days of yester year, out of the past comes the thundering hoof beats of the great white horse, Silver. Hi ho Silver. No, no, no, not hoof beats but the thundering sounds of an airplane engine, winds were whipping through her long black curly hair, she felt arms holding her, gripping. Then her world turned up side down. The sky was at her feet. She was delirious with joy, clapping her hands, laughing, shouting with excitement. Another spiral the sky back where it belonged. The earth at her feet came closer, closer, she felt the bounce, the roaring subsided, the rush of wind, speed reduced. The airplane came to a stop. Arms released her; straps fell, gentle hands lifted her up and out. Stong arms embraced her. She hugged back. She heard herself, “Thank you, Mr. Cummings, some day I am going to fly my own airplane just like you.”
A strange, harsh voice came through the empty air above her head. But a gentle familiar hand smoothed back her hair, held her hand, caressed, stroked her arm.
The voice dominated. “Let’s have your arm, turn your head away so you don’t breathe on me.” Who was this nasty person, dressed in white? If she is so damn hygienic, why doesn’t she wear a mask?” She felt a needle prick, then more nothingness as she lay on the bed; glanced down, pulled a loose thread from the sheet, reached for the blanket, tried to pull it up; cold; smells, unfamiliar yet not. Sounds of voices echoed, buzzing sounds, vision blurred. She followed the sensations.
The crack of a bat, crowds roaring, she was on her feet, shouting. She felt the shadow, then a hand on her shoulder. Looking around lifting her head up. A man in a uniform, hand reaching. “You’ll have to show me your ticket, or leave these seats. You don’t belong here do you?” The blood rushed out of her head, feet frozen to the spot! Caught! She had watched the empty home plate boxes for three innings from her fifty-cent seat, which she hadn’t paid for either. She knew where and how to sneak into the ballpark, watch the empties, drift down section by section to one that was unoccupied, A voice; “Hey, let her stay, there’s plenty of room, if not she can sit in my lap.” Picked up, placed on the lap of a man who smelled of cigar like her daddy, but he had hair, lots of dark hair, a big bushy mustache, prominent nose, and yes, big cigar. It moved up and down as he spoke. He was somewhat homely too. Her focus, eyes were on the moving cigar. She smiled weakly. There were hot dogs, cool drinks, popcorn in front of her. He was laughing, all the time laughing, a funny way. She was laughing too. “Who is your daddy?” Oh my, I know him; he’s the attorney for Sam Goldwyn and Bob Roberts. I had no idea he had such a grown-up daughter. Tell him hello for me;” She was having an extraordinary time. Bouncing around. Being in the box seats her favorite Hollywood Stars beating the Los Angeles Angels at Gilmore Field sitting on the lap of Groucho Marx. The game ended. The shouting did not.
A piercing voice, “We need a contrast CAT Scan. Drink this.” A straw was placed between her lips, sucked on, she couldn’t. Every sip that went down came back up into her vomit bag. Her body lifted out of the bed, moved, rolling along on a gurney. She opened her eyes, everything, everybody misted in a fog of bright lights and white. All movement stopped. It was dark again. “Get up here, we’ll help you, then lie still.” OK. She could do the lie still part; she had no desire to move. Was it dark and cold or was she dark and cold? She raised her un-needled tethered arm to balance herself as she slid her bottom onto a table, it must be a table it was certainly not a bed. The sound of a machine
dim star like flashing lights, all else, dark, dark, darkness. “I don’t want to be here.” She felt wet with perspiration, it was washing over her. “I’ll make a wish. When you wish upon a star…”
The pool water so cool: The Beverly Hill Country Club with Daddy. He played tennis there Wednesday afternoons. Always movie stars. John Garfield, unpleasant little man, mean, poor looser kind. As she was having lunch he even got into a fistfight with that nice Larry Adler, the harmonica player. She ran out of the dining room, hated anger and yelling. At the pool today, a tall, big-shouldered woman, who needed a bath began to talk about her wild daughter. “You’re such a sweet child, so quiet, polite, I should have adopted a child like you. Wouldn’t you like being my daughter?”
She ducked under the water paddled to the other side of the pool, hung out as far as possible from her reach. “Why did she talk to me, I don’t know, but I watched her as she kept drinking from a tall glass, talking into the air. My hold on the pool edge was firm.” She reached for the ladder grabbed…
“Tell me” a voice from out of the air above her head. “When did this all begin?”
She felt heard words coming out of her mouth, they made no sense. She rambled, knew she was rambling, had to relinquish her story telling. She turned her head “Tell him.” Grabbed for the bag, vaguely heard her organ recital. She had been below par for a long time. Gone again.
What time was it? Did it matter? Yes! Where was a clock? She could not find the clock. Thoughts were swirling again. A watch was hanging by a golden chain above her head, just out of reach. The face was ebony black with the hours designated with diamonds. Sitting in a very comfortable lap, her hair being stroked, a soft voice say nice things. She heard, “quiet on the set, action, music up, cut, another take. Mr. Young, is the music placed in the correct sequence?” Her lap answered softly,” yes”. The watch was in her hands. It was so smooth. It was her Uncle Victor. Mother was working on his hands as the Paramount Studio manicurist.
“I strongly advise that she be admitted.” “I want to go home.” She looked at her live-in nurse, pleading in her eyes. “Home it is. I’ll give her the pain and nausea med there.”
Glow of the fires visible as the top of the road. Pain gone, sleep in her own bed.
She knew where she was going. Not all of it. But it would come as she wrote, rewrote:
The tiger was being held by the tail. Don’t let it go!
Now time to develop an outline for the progression of the character’s actions during events; or by the events that trigger the characters actions? Should it be by time line or by another means of presentation? Think, think, think.
“You’ve got a urinary infection.” “I do not, the lab is in error, I know the symptoms and I don’t have them.” I also knew that I had dropped the specimen lid into the toilet. That was the contamination, not me. Poor, shy doctor, he of Middle Eastern descent. A tiny man in stature; had just recently bought this practice from two doctors who had moved away from the area. He didn’t argue or suggest a re- test. “See you next year for your annual.” Fine with me.
Next year became eighteen months. Eighteen month of not feeling on top of the world, night sweats, but age may be creeping up on the energy level. Then over a year later, came the on and off terrible pain during urination. Surmising, “If it is a bladder infection it would be constant discomfort, yes. What in hell was going on?” Was it from the back problem, the very recent epidermal to the lower lumbar region? Couldn’t be, the extreme discomfort was before the procedure.
Calling OB/Gyn, symptoms described, sounded like a chronic urinary tract infection. She ordered an antibiotic and urinalysis. She was going away, two weeks.
Let’s see. She had taken the first tablet in the morning. By coincidence or not, it was that evening that the acute pain and vomiting started. Was it related, the cause?
Trying to relate all the medical history in some order was difficult to construct. For over a year her chronic back pain had unbearable. She couldn’t walk, sit with out extreme discomfort. Time for a visit to the back doctor.
He couldn’t be a doctor! Looks about eighteen and handsome too. “The best way to precede…Plan A go to physical therapy for two months, before we go to a more invasive treatment.” “Sounds good! I like conservative medicine, he’s not a cutter.”
Physical therapy was fun, therapist working on the right places, the massage, heat, electrical stem and rest. Mild core exercises. The acute back attacks diminished but not the overall pain. To plan B. The total diagnosis via MRI. Yes indeed, problems at lumbar three and four, pressure on nerves, a spinal stenosis …. An epidural, numbing of the area to reduce pain and swelling ordered.
Simple procedure, no sweat. This doctor at a surgical center spoke to her before the injection. She mentioned the urinary problem; could it be related to the back problem? No. After the procedure she was relieved of the extreme pain. Her back condition was tolerable.
All this happening prior to the acute attack that took her to the ER. The doctor there surmised that the incident was possibly bowel infection of bacterial origin. Given antibiotic and antiemetic. Advised to see regular internist. Saw him the next day. He thought that the GI problem might be viral but agreed that the antibiotic should be finished out. Advised a routine Colonoscopy.
Called OB/GYN about the antibiotic she had ordered. Don’t take it but come in for another urinalysis so a more specific antibiotic can be ordered if needed when the ER antibiotic is finished. She would call the gastroenterologist with her findings and request ASAP appointment. A miracle worker.
Next day, visited GI Doctor. His initial review of the records and evaluation of history and symptoms leads to possible stone in the common bile duct as the explanation of attack. It would be gone. However, imaging reports from ER show some other areas of question. Within a week the colonoscopy was completed. All finding OK. Then six days later the Upper GI. Findings show some areas of irritation in stomach and duodenum. Ordered acid suppressing meds for thirty days.
Then back with the OB/GYN with orders of another antibiotic to treat the urinary infection that was still present.
Finally, a subsequent urinalysis shows that the infection is gone. No further instances of abdominal problems. No episodes of back spasms. No nausea.
Then came the shoulder.
A One-Hoss Shay was I.
“How it went to pieces all at once,
“All at once, and nothing first,
“Just as bubbles do when they burst.”
Now, how to write this up in a more literary manner. Maybe later. I have an idea for another story.
Yes, she remembered the ecstasy of trust. She also remembered the anguish of distrust. She had written a story about her mother. She loves her as a child loves the only mother she has. It wasn’t easy for her to be the tom boy daughter of a glamorous woman.
“Mac, I had always wanted an I Remember Mama type like Irene Dunn portrayed in the film. There was a neighbor and friend of Mother’s who was more to my liking, I enjoyed every moment I spent at her house.”
She had always found 140 So. Martel a difficult place. She had left it when she was seventeen, just after Mother announced that she was pregnant.
“I told her that my room would be vacant to make way for the additional member of her family. Good bye.”
So many years ago. It was when Mother had to leave the house.
The daughter waits for her mother to leave the house. There they are, three people together but in different worlds: The Mother, Gerry; the daughter, Adrienne; the friend, Beverly. Each in the same moments in time close to the same place in space: Mother in her house, preparing to depart; daughter outside the house, standing next to a van; friend in the van, sitting behind the wheel — moving truck parked at the curb.
Mother stands in her upstairs hallway enclosed in a chaos of silence. What else is there to do? It is over, done with. She sees, hears, feels only that which is directly in her path. There is no one, no sound, no movement, because this is the last time. Walk down the spiral staircase, step across the purple carpet, turn off the crystal chandelier, open the front door, step across the threshold, close it, insert the key, lock it. She touches, then pats the surface, strokes the heavy grained, varnished wood; it is warm. She remembers, it could have happened five minutes ago — I threw Stuart’s mother, Elsie, out this door, grabbed her by the back of the neck and the seat of her pants, out she went, crazy bitch, trying to break up our marriage.
Now, Mother walks through the patio filled with the dying camellias, her high heels clicking against the porch tiles. She pulls open the gate, warped and twisted with age and neglect, the latch is broken, closes it as best she can, making a mental note:
Stuart will have to hire someone to fix it.
She turns, her back to the house, sees her —oh — so familiar street, the parkway lined with messy purple flowering trees: why can’t I ever remember what those trees are called? The traffic is howling by. Years ago, no traffic, no sirens, no helicopters; a quiet street: pregnant. Richard, the sought after son.
The daughter, Adrienne, watchful of her mother as she fusses with the gate latch, thinking, “As though latching it matters now.” The reflection from the overhead glare of the sun on the white cement driveway makes her shade her eyes. She shifts from one foot to the other; edgy, impatient, forced immobility seeps out and spills over her feet to form a naked, minute shadow. Her back is killing her. She continues to watch as her mother stands there, back to the gate, lingering, staring up and then down the street. And then as though she is writing one of her research papers she deliberately revisits events of the years gone by, gathering her materials, organizing the scenario: of what had brought them to this final day: her eyes narrow, fingers tapping her thighs, she begins:
Learned, as I grew up that this architecturally styled Spanish house was one of three built next to one another in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.
This two storied, four bedroom, three bath, two balcony house with vaulted and beamed front room ceiling, formal dining room, maid’s quarters, spacious kitchen, den, breakfast nook, huge front and back yards, front patio, front and back balconies, cedar lined closets, built in cupboards lining the walls, a spiral staircase, a great basement.
The $17,000 price to be an extravagance.
Dad’s law practice was flourishing.
Another baby was expected.
There was room for each one of us, at least for a while
That was then. Dad died.
It was the 1994 Northridge earthquake that foreshadowed, set the stage, and began the beginning of the last act.
W .C. Fields was right when he said: “There is no proof that earthquakes aren’t all bad.”
Adrienne’s concentration was broken by a flutter of movement, the scent of tobacco. She looks up — the driveway. Mother’s still there, now smoking a cigarette — she will be patient; she returns to her thinking:
Mother should have left — years ago, Albert died — Albert, her last companion: ashes in the garden. It was too much for her. Fifty years — her house is exhibiting all the symptoms of age as well as was the occupant: eighty-three, alone. Mother and the house both are now shattered by time and events. For the house is a chimney pulling away from the walls, windows that would no longer close, roof tiles broken, ceiling leaking, pipes leaking, the walls mildewing. Everything of what was in and what was out so utterly destabilized by age and then add the trauma associated with movements of the earth. For the Mother it was also time and neglect plus loneliness that was stealing away her youthful vitality: dental losses, sight impairments, unsteady mobility, judgment and memory failure.
A familiar clicking sound interrupts Adrienne’s concentration. The Mother is moving down the last thirty feet, maintaining her balance from step to step, with the daughter poised, ready, almost sneaking behind her, in case — muttering, if I hear about dancing and balance and her legs again I’ll choke, but there is such dignity, such pride and vanity in one little body. And she won’t want help getting into the van, but I have to do it anyhow.
Little by little, step-by-step, tottering down the sloping driveway, to the vehicle parked curbside. Then into it and then the ride to Adrienne’s ranch an hour away, to stay there the night before the longer three-day journey north. And, no, she doesn’t want help getting into the rented van, Adrienne insists:
“Place your left foot and leg in first, put your left hand on the front grab bar, pull and swing your body, fanny first, onto the seat. I’ll fasten your belt.”
Mother is seated, belted in. The door closes decisively. Her two dogs on their rugs in the third seat: no, no, no, I told them, not my dogs on an airplane; too hard on them, even for a two hour flight.
Her body is rigid, feet on the floor, hands folded in her lap, statue like, head positioned to the front; a painted smile on her lips, but hidden behind the darkening of her transitional lenses her eyes are fixed, sightless; she closes them, but still she is looking, trying to open them to the closed window within.
No, no, no. I’ll never, no never give up my high heels — “Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep” — my legs, my strongest feature, won’t function today.
Her hands clammy and rigid, gripped her upper legs, then she crosses her right leg over her left, feeling the ankle straps of her four-inch high heel shoes, her whole body shuddering, this time not with cold but with fright. She reaches over to her left, wraps her arms around her foundling dog, Laurie, takes in a great breath, reaches once more, into her unconditional self — makes contact, her memory… she had danced with the then renowned Ted Lewis Band, 1926, her first theatrical job in America; danced with her sister Willa — the New York newspapers headlined her, Belgium Beauty; before that in Europe; her Mother the café entertainer, World War I.
Willa, Willa, poor Willa, Did I put my jewels in the purse? Stuart and I danced. We won contests. He loved my dancing, and the rest of me, too. Dinner at 5:00, he insisted, Prime Rib every Wednesday. Could that be true? No, no, that isn’t what I did? Never!
She drags her bag across the floor, pulls it onto the seat; the house keys are still in her hand. I can throw away the keys, no, not yet. “Life can be so sweet, on the sunny side of the street.” Did I turn off the heat? She drops the keys into her bag, into obscurity; pats her dogs, gives them each a cookie, gets slobbery kisses in return. She isn’t really ready to be ready.
And what is the weather like this day? Is it sunny? Yes, but it could be anything, windy, raining, with thunder and lightening, hail, snow; Mother wouldn’t notice, it doesn’t matter: she is cold; she was always cold, and now she has the bitter taste of bile in her mouth, painful knots in her stomach force her to stretch, straighten her body, she fumbles around in her bag, her quivering
hands find, grasp, pull out her cigarettes, she shakes the pack, cigarettes spill out, she grabs at one, fumbles around in her bag again, finds her matches, pulls off one, strikes it, holds it, lights her cigarette; cigarettes scattered across her lap, unseen. She sits there bitterly detached, shivering, even though the sun’s heat is radiating through the roof of the van, through the clouds of smoke that swirl around her head.
Something’s not right — me — Scared? “I used to walk in the shade with those blues on parade. But I’m not afraid …this rover’s crossed over”…
Frightened? I feel…damn, I feel — empty, hollow, alone — no man in my life— old? No — not this chick— it’s the car. Yes, the damn car, the drive, the bitchin drive: She has always told herself and others of her dread of going in an automobile. Once or was it twice she had tried to learn how to drive, was that 60 years ago?
In her last spouseless years it was taxis and buses or walking to the Farmer’s Market and Gilmore Bank, Good-bye Farmers Market, good-bye Gilmore Bank, good-bye Third Street walks, good-bye dinners at El Coyote, “On the sunny side of the street”. Mmm…ta, ta, ta, “the pitter-pat and that happy tune in your step…Is anybody happy? No, It’s… Is everybody happy?”… But her first husband, her stage door Johnnie, had been such a grand driver, so handsome, so chivalrous. He came home one day driving a new 1933 luxury Cord. No job, no prospects, owes money to friends and family; I’m in a $ 1.98 Mode-o-Day dress, Adrienne isn’t paid for. That was it, the end of our marriage. When she developed her fear-of-driving she could not remember, but it lasted through two more husbands.
To regain her stability, her poise, she leans back and inhales. She has cupped her left hand under her right and holding firm, lifts the cigarette to her lips, takes a second drag. Even, deep, soothing, thinking, Smoking is not going to be the cause of my premature death, I mean, after all, how premature can premature be at my age?
Her dogs are curled up on their blanketed seat. Her eldest daughter is seated in front of her. Beverly, the friend, is at the wheel. Without turning back, Adrienne says, “It’s OK to look back, mom. Say your final goodbye.” Beverly says, “Close your eyes Gerry, we’re ready to move out.”
She has to do it, take that one last look. She turns, extends her arm out the window, her cigarette falls into the wet gutter — she turns back, fumbles in her purse, sees the cigarettes all over her lap, grabs one, pulls off a match, lights another. Smoke coils and drifts out the window. Bev reaches for the key already waiting in the ignition switch.
Again, Mother twists her body around, this time keeping her hand in. As she turns, time turns with her; her eyes clench shut, she does not struggle to open them. She is inadvertantly delving into her long gone private world knowing who will not be there: the children, Richard and Cynthia, the grandchildren; and all her friends, her neighbors: no one will be there waving their good-byes. No one. No Edith, no Sally, no Frances, no Frankie, no Pauline, Bernice, Francine, no Chris and Nancy, Todd and Kyle, the Heckler boys, Jerry and Ronnie, Patty, the Cherrys, the Bruckners, Mrs. Muckler, the Millers, the Pastel boys: they all had either moved, died or were in nursing homes. Strangers, now unfriendly Hassidic Jews with countless unfriendly children occupy the houses on both sides of the street.
Mother looks back: the street more than empty — barren. “Stuart…my God…Stuart. Without opening her eyes she caresses her ample wealth filled breasts, nods, money’s all there. Then she stabs her hand into the depths of her purse, twists it around, pulls out her cosmetic bag, feels for her lipstick, finds the familiar shape, pulls off the interlocking cover of the long cylinder, twists the tube, raises the red stick, she paints her trembling lips, flecks of red stain her front teeth, she runs her tongue over them; sucks in saliva, the stain spreads.
Her eyes open, she drinks in the images as she would drink a cup of tea.
She sees a white stucco two story Spanish style house with red roof tiles, a low garden wall of peeling white painted bricks that enclose the patio, the front balcony, a flower garden she has always planted with Zinnias, Snapdragons, Pansies, and the Iris, the ginger, the Coral tree, the one remaining palm tree of the three that once marked the south side of the property. Adrienne looks and sees what Mother doesn’t: a dying grass covered slope, broken cement flower beds, the leaky sprinklers making their moss covered marks on the sidewalk, the wrought iron gate hanging from crumbling adobe posts, the rusted entrance bell, the twisted mail box, the broken address stone, 140 South, the cement driveway, now cracked with age, shifting down the incline.
Something flashes through Mother’s memory, unexplainable: riding in the trunk of a car — it’s gone. Thinking: I never even handled the finances until Stuart died, I gave him a son, he gave me a sable coat, my furs, are they safe? I think I did well, for what I wanted to be, a kept woman. I promised, I was promised that I could die in this house; my promise to him, my beloved Stuart, his shrine, his castle. She chokes back a deep sob, the corners of her mouth quiver .Mmm, these last years, empty, lonely years. Albert, dear, devoted, Albert did his best. “And If I never have a cent, I’d be rich as Rockefeller.”
This last morning she had labored, struggled to dream on, resisted wakefulness. Her bed was empty, cold, the room was cold, everything, everywhere was cold. She had punched the furnace button to ON, full blast, her last hurrah! — her husband had disapproved of the heat on high.
As usual, she had gone downstairs to the kitchen; made herself a cup of tea, a bowl of oatmeal, a bite or two, at the sink to have a cigarette. What will happen to my beautiful stove? She washed her dishes, stacked them to dry for later, padded back up the stairs, threading her way around, between, and past all the pieces of her life, now labeled, enclosed in cardboard.
For almost a month Adrienne and Beverly had been sorting, packing, stacking, tagging boxes for the movers. Every room was stripped. Adrienne had innocently asked, “What do you want us to pack?” “Everything!”
And this very morning, as she prepared herself before the movers and carriers arrival to finish up the last of what she termed “their dirty work,” she mused on the fact that: It’s been twenty-seven days of preparation, hmm, Stuart and I were married on the 27th of April.
Standing there, wearing a silken purple robe, in her ornate Roman style bathroom with the vanity lights framing the entire mirrored wall, she put herself together: lavish, theatrical makeup applied to skin, eyes, lips (it took her longer these days, glaucoma slowed down the artistic application). Curlers dropped into her hands, hair combed out, sprayed into place (she had been a blond for more than sixty years) nails polished a favorite bright red (she had been a manicurist at Yalmer’s Barber Shop at Paramount Studios in the early
1930’s). Thinking but not thinking: now, my nails are not as strong and long as they once were; I have my father’s beautiful hands. Hair formula Mark, wrote it down. Purse, yes, he put it in my purs.
Absent-mindedly she lets her robe slip off of her shoulders to the floor; reaches for her elaborate lingerie, leans against the shower door that encloses the enormous sunken tub.
For the journey, she has selected her most appropriate traveling clothes, a one-piece safari jump suit, which she smoothes out over her petite, beautifully proportioned figure, (the 1962 implants had restored her breasts to their original fullness). Next in the sequence, her sparkling gold four inch spiked high heels, she sits on the commode to do this, then comes the dangling diamond earrings, jeweled rings on her fingers and bracelets to match.
A cigarette is lit, inhaled, placed on the edge of the sink; she lifts her colossal purse up to the tiled sink apron and begins to check the contents and as she inventories she adds whatever is left within her reach: in drops a bag of jewels, a bag of money (the big bills are slipped into her brassiere). Next in, her wallet, pictures, folding umbrella, tissues, matches, lighters, six packs of cigarettes, a box of dog biscuits. She is all set: her journey to a new house, close to her number two daughter’s house in Oregon. Stuart’s first born when he was thirty-eight. I knew that he had to have a family to round out, fill in his lonely life. I couldn’t save him — Elsie, evil, controlling, lying, bitch, she finally took her son back. I’ll never get to visit his grave again, but I left my words there:
He Lived With Honor
“Gold dust at my feet, on the sunny side of the street”.
Bev checks on the dogs, they are calm. She smiles as she thinks, by now they should be relaxed, quiet, with the soothing effect of the tranquilizers I gave them. But, Adrienne is not smiling, her eyes shift from her mother to the old house, she glares at it, the old house glares back.
I will never fucking ever again have to see, hear, smell, stay under your fucking roof, walk up your fucking long, narrow driveway, the very one, you’ll remember, that was witness to my dog Ginger being torn from my arms, witness to the screaming of “If you don’t like it here, go live with your father.” How many times did I wash your damn cement surface? It was never enough to clean away the pain. Never again will I open your fucking gate, see your fucking garden, sit in your fucking rooms full of the fucking display of gaud, of gold and purple, climb your fucking spiral staircase; enter the fucking room that was once mine, decorated by a fucking stranger for a stranger: fucking Early American maple, frills, do dads, a canopy bed, ugly. Never fucking again to be fearful about being late! Never will I have to remember the sneaking in your fucking giant front door; pressing down hard to prevent the squeak; never fucking ever again.
Her left hand races up to her mouth; covers it, just for a second, then she passes her tongue, front teeth over her thumbnail. No, I won’t begin that childhood habit, not now, not ever again. I have strong, well-manicured nails now, like Mother’s.
She turns, 180°, her back to the house, looks up the street, down the street, across the street. I can never remember the name of those trees, messy purple flowers, Eddie Gonick lived in that house, great pal, lovely mother, mean father, the Dietz’s lived there, the Silks, there …the umm, what was their name, the father owned a glass company, and over there, Mrs. Muckler, grew enviable Camellias, and the crazy Bruckners, next door. She shouted day in and day out, “Raymond, Raymond, get in here.” There’re all gone now. She bent down, a fleeting look into the van, smiled, nodded, Beverly smiled, nodded back. Adrienne straightened her body, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, turned back to face the house. She couldn’t stop the continuing procession of intruding thoughts: and I won’t have to travel down the 405, veer left to the 10 to Fairfax, to Hauser, to 140. Thank God, I’ll never have to swallow the anger, the pain; shit, I couldn’t do that very well, could I. And then that horrible, distorted portrait on the wall in the living room, Mother and her three children, she has four. She had it painted for their father. I knew that. It still hurts.
But finally, a smile, she remembers her impressive Step-dad: their Saturday afternoons at the tennis club, Sundays the tennis courts at the Doheny Estate, the shopping trips, days at his office at the Subway Terminal Building in Los Angeles, and most of all their long walks together. They could talk away from the house with its ears in every room. God, he was so honest and knowing, he understood so much, died too soon.
Bev knows that soon the doors will be locked, seat belts secured. The engine will quietly come to life — She watches in the side view mirror as Adrienne stretches out her hand to her Mother.
The Mother of 140 South Martel has left the house.
Our eyes are fixed on one another. It has been a long time. I figured it out, fifty-five human years. The last time I saw her she was thirteen. I was three.
“Stay behind the yellow line,” commands the freight handler.
The building is gigantic: metal shelving floor to ceiling, cement flooring, boxes stacked one atop the other, machines moving, people shouting as they rush through the early morning arrival and departure cargo.
A man directs his forklift over to my crate, lifts it up and drives to the yellow line. I am gently lowered to the cement floor. My old companion follows the progress with her tear filled eyes, but she’s laughing at the same time, jumping from one foot to the other. She does really remember me? I remember her! I have no doubts about this. I am back, back home at long last, back to my precious Buddy.
Our eyes remain locked on one another. All around us, on every side are people, cars, trucks and t he noises in the building. We hear nothing; see nothing, only each other. She hasn’t forgotten me!
She’s brought some goodies, hot dogs I’ll bet, and her own scented soft blanket for me to lie on for our trip home.
It is a beautiful day. The sun is and I, I am going home. I am going to be free to roam the ranch. Free to see and sense everything, with her. I will be by her side; where I belong. No one will part us this time.
I watch as she reaches over to open the shipping crate. She doesn’t wait for anyone to tell her that it’s permissible. I can see that her hands are trembling. Now the tears are running down her cheeks. She doesn’t have to reach in for me. I am in her arms.
“Hello again!” I cried.
“Hello my lovely Ginger, she answers. “It’s you! My, oh my! It is really you! I’m so thankful, so overwhelmed! It’s hard to believe! You have returned! For a lifetime I doubted that we would ever be together again. It’s been so long.”
I know that kissing in public is not in the best of manners, but I can’t help myself; to hell with the public! In this life I didn’t have much of a tail to wag, so I wiggled all over; with my paws on her shoulders, I kiss away her tears.
“You ought to have known better than that!” I whisper to her. “We promised one another. We said that one-day, some how, we would find our lives interwoven for a second time, no matter how long it took. Of course, even I didn’t know it would be this long either.”
“That’s what we screamed to one another on that terrible day when we were separated.”
“That’s a day I wish I could forget, it was so horrible.”
“Me too! I have tried to dismiss it from my memory but …”
“You know that I had no choice, the men just dragged me to the truck. I struggled and pulled and yanked at the end of the rope. You tried to stop them. I saw her holding you. I heard your screaming. I can still feel your last embrace as I was torn from your arms. I was crying.”
“You were crying?’ I only heard barking.”
“That what dogs do.”
“You know I tried to find out where they had taken you. Then we were going to run away.”
“Even if you found out where, you wouldn’t have been in time.”
She sighed, “Yes, it seems like it was only yesterday.”
“Do you remember when we first saw one another? Now that was some amazing day.”
“I have never forgotten.”
She slips a leash on my collar and we walk for a bit. The airplane ride wasn’t too long but I feel like stretching out before the ride home, that and some other business. Her hand was constantly stroking my head. I walk as close as I can to her legs. My body caresses her as we move along a dirt area. After a few minutes, it is time to get on the road home. I leap into the front seat of the white truck. She climbs into the wheel side. She can’t keep her hands off of me. I can’t stop kissing her.
“Want a snack? I brought raw hot dogs. I don’t know why I brought raw hot dogs. It just popped into my head, don’t forget hot dogs.”
“I sent you a mental message. You can’t imagine my excitement when I heard that I was being retired from the breeding program at the kennel; sent to a ranch in California to a person named Buddy. I envisioned all sorts of memories. Yes, raw hot dogs have always been my favorite snack, yours too. You would sneak them out of the refrigerator when we went on our exploring jaunts. I’ll have one now, thank you. Too many and I may get car sick.”
“We’ll both have, just one.”
“You don’t mind if I put my head in your lap?” The traffic on the city’s freeways looks dangerous. It is rush hour too. I don’t want to be a distraction.
“I would welcome your nearness.” She strokes my ears. Scratches me under my chin. Lifts my head and gazes into my eyes. What a grand familiar feeling.
“You remember our first meeting?
“How could I ever forget?”
“Ginger, I never asked you, what was it like before we met?”
I kissed her hand again and again, reminding her to keep both hands on the wheel.
“Well, let’s see. My foremost memory: the noise, continuous, day and night. Then the cold: penetrating, floor to ceiling. I was never warm. And then the loneliness: so absolute. I wasn’t alone, but I was alone. Confused. Miserable. It was the wet time of the year: short days, early darkness.
I retreated to a back corner of this tall wire cage. I huddled there shivering, hiding, but hoping. I made myself as small as possible. I wrapped my tail under my body. I had a tail then, I am sure you remember that.”
“A beautiful tail. But tails don’t make the dog.” She glances down radiating happiness.
“The shelter was not crowded during the early mornings. The attendants wore brown outfits and black rubber boots. Their time was spent going from one cage to the other, hosing down the cement floors before the morning meals were served. They were silent, methodical, and impersonal. The sounds of metal bowls on cement, barking, whining, the crash of furry bodies against wire enclosures, all inescapable, tragic.”
I can tell that she is visualizing the scene, so I go on with my story.
“All the other orphan dogs in my cage were big. Every time the door opened they would rush to the front of the cage, sliding through the wet, throwing any recently deposited debris all over everything and everyone. I hated the stink. I hated the: Bark, bark, bark, take me, take me, please, take me.”
“I can relate to the stink and the wet and the din of all the voices.” She interjected.
“All I could do was to hide my head under my paws and peek out whenever the barking signaled the arrival of possible adopters. It would get quiet again as people left.”
“In animal shelters dogs come and go, people come and go. Some leave together, others do not. You, like so many dogs were part of the lost and the unwanted.”
No one had been able to keep me, not my mother, who had done her best to raise me, or the human owners. I became one of the many who are dumped in places like that, the fates to decide our future, if there was to be a future.”
“That won’t ever happen to you again. So then—“
“So, then the barking and chaos started. I peeked out through a gap between my paws; I saw you, your hands covering your ears, being pushed along by your parents. Pushed right by my cage. You were so small. I saw you glance in my direction with those big blue eyes.”
“I caught a glimpse of you in the corner. They had a good hold on me. Not much that I could do at that moment.”
“I prayed that you would come back.” I pressed in closer to her as we moved along the road.
“I was promised my own puppy. They had this cantankerous Terrier/Chow mix, Rusty. He was always running away, a world-class bum. The puppy choice was to be mine. I saw you, cringing at the back. But, they did not give me a chance to stop. They wanted to look in the boy dog pens. I wanted a girl dog.”
“But, you came back. You were alone, too. Getting away from your folks was a masterful move. I realized that after I got to know them. I never asked you before, how did you manage that?”
“I waited until they were totally engrossed checking out the dogs at the end of the opposite side of the building. I crept away and found your cage. The big dogs were bouncing against the front entrance to the cage. I had to squat down and hang onto the wire to peer in.”
“I saw your sweet face in between the legs and feet that were flailing out in every direction. I couldn’t move I was too scared. I would have been trampled.”
“Your eyes said it all, ‘please, take me’ I was determined! You were going to be my pup.”
“It wasn’t a popular decision. Your folks came back. I saw them shake their heads. No, no, no! Your Mom took hold of one of your hands and tried to pull you away. You hung on to the cage with the other. I saw you begin to cry. I heard you wail, I saw you fight their efforts to drag you to another cage. You were shouting, over and over, ‘you promised!’ Everyone was sending disapproving looks their way. Were they ever embarrassed! But at last, they shrugged their shoulders and nodded. They sure weren’t happy.”
“I was too young to understand consequences. But at that moment it really didn’t matter. I knew how you felt. You had been cast off. Abandoned. Left to survive as best you could in a chaotic new situation. We were ‘heart and soul mates’.”
“A kennel keeper was called. He unlocked the cage, yelled at the dogs as he swung his arms and kicked the most aggressive dogs back. He reached down into my corner. He was surprisingly gentle as he picked me up, a smelly ball of fur. I was frightened. I was helpless. I was handed to you. I felt secure. I was a big bundle for a little nine-year-old to carry. No matter, you managed.”
“I wasn’t about to ask for help.”
“You looked at me and said, hello there. I am going to name you Ginger; you look like a ginger cookie baked to a perfect reddish/brown. You’re going to be my pal, my special friend. You can call me your Buddy.”
“What a memory. I had quite forgotten. I named you even before we left the shelter.”
“I could curl my entire body into your lap back then; you did not seem to mind that I was a mess.”
“Oh, I minded. But I dared not say a thing knowing that a complaint might be a signal a return to the pound for an exchange. I deliberately ignored your unseemly condition. I was planning to bath you as soon as we arrived at the house.”
“Boy, oh, boy! Do I remember that first bath! But, first you went to war against my fleas.”
This reminiscing is so much fun. I love to see her smiling, even when we are talking about the tough times we had together. She hasn’t changed too much: taller, hair shorter, white, curly. It was once silky black in long waist length curls. Her touch so loves.
“I put you through so many unpleasant experiences those first days. I made a mental list.”
“Erase it! And you, please, accept my profound apologies for being unable to make it to the yard to relieve myself. I knew better. I was just so nervous with all the yelling, screaming and violent behavior around us. I know that this was a big factor in our separation. This plus, they never wanted me, right from that first moment.”
“It’s time to dismiss that sorrow, isn’t it? It’s all past, right? My life is peaceful now.”
“What about that first day! In fact, that first hour! Embarrassing!”
“Come on, as I think about it now, it was comical.”
“So, OK let’s clear the first day data bank and get on with it.”
“Number one: the flea treatment. The fleas were thick all over your body. Your belly was covered with blood from their bites. I put you in a pillowcase, dumped in the entire can of powder, tied the top around your neck. I rubbed and fluffed and shook the bag.
Fleas came running down your nose, jumping for dear life. I powdered your head, your ears, your neck. You were so tolerant.”
“Tolerant! Did I have a choice? I hated every moment of the treatment. I’ll admit it now. It was a relief. No more itching and scratching. I think that you worked on me for hours. It felt like forever! And, you weren’t through. Not by a long shot.”
“Number two: you smelled with the grime from the Pound. You had to have a bath! You got even with me during that session.”
“Well, shaking is the natural behavior for a wet down dog. If you had been experienced at dog washing you would have kept my head high.”
“Certainly, you didn’t expect experience from a child? You have to admit that you ended up clean, fairly flea less, and your coat was silky smooth.”
“The brushing after the fluff dry was the best part of the afternoon. I adored your attention.”
They move across the city highways. Ginger is in a sitting position. She has her head resting on her Buddy’s shoulder. She is watching the other vehicles. Every once in a while someone looks at them quizzically. They are obviously deep in conversation.
“Isn’t this area near to our old haunts?”
“Not too far. It has changed, as some things must. Our acres and acres of open land are covered with high-rises; the streetcars have given way to smoky buses, the vacant lot in the middle of the block, replaced with an ugly house. Not too many trees left and the families we knew are gone.”
“Remember the day we caught an owl and you took it to the pet store? You traded it for some dog cookies for me. Exploring with you is something to write about.”
“It was you who made my escapes from the house so complete. With you by my side—each day— every available hour—a great adventure, a sense of a peaceful release from problems.”
“There was always something unpleasant going on.”
“And what about the F*U*C*K that was painted on one of the abandoned buildings. I knew it was a bad word. I don’t know why but children know these things. You ignored it.”
“Why bother with stupidity.”
“Remember the Red Ryder B-B Gun that I kept hidden in the wood pile and carried on our jaunts in the fields? Mother never found out, I don’t think that she did. I never knew with her.”
“And you were a good shot, too. Never shot at animals but at the targets you drew on the wooden planks. When our days were done we were so tired.”
“I especially remember that you always climbed into bed with me.”
“Oh, yes, and I wasn’t supposed to be there. Every time I heard footsteps approach the closed door, I would jump down and pretend that my body had been on the floor since lights off time. As soon as the door was closed, I would jump right back up. What a marvelous game.”
“I slept so much better with you near me.”
“And I was with you when you did your homework, when you cleaned house, when you washed the dishes, when you weeded and raked the garden, when you took a shower, when you sat at the dining table, when you went to school, I waited for you at the front gate. I was your shadow.”
The city disappears behind them as they travel over the crest of the hill. Their attention is focused on the valley. Not the valley of years ago but a spread of low-rise homes, strip malls, five-dollar cars intermingled with $150,000+ vehicles of wretched ostentatious excess. Freeways crisscross in every direction as they make their way home.
“You don’t live out in this mess do you? Is that the smog that I have heard about? I am sure that there are nice neighborhoods around here but this looks is so crowded and confining. You live on a ranch, right?”
“Be patient! Thirty more minutes and we will be home. I have a surprise waiting there for you.”
“If you are talking about the other dog, I know all about her.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Of course not. She’s my daughter.”
I was trying not to laugh at her expression, but it just happened. She was so shocked! I courteously turned away and watched our progress as we made a turn onto a new road going west. As we moved along, the land was more spacious: with trees, horses, cattle, fewer cars and houses.
“I don’t know what to say. How do you know it’s your daughter?”
“Trust me, I know, I’ll tell you about it some other time.”
“She’s a lovely pup. I named her Amazing Gracie. She just lost her old friend, Chelsea. You know that too?”
“Of course! That’s why I am here. The timing was perfect.”
The miles melt away as they talk. One memory triggers another and another: Ginger’s life in Colorado, her adventures as a show dog, herd dog, a companion dog, a momma dog, her many families; Buddy’s teaching career, horse showing, surfing, scuba diving, the brief political career, adventures flying her Cessna 140 in Hawaii, to Mexico, Alaska, and points across the country. The people they had both met and loved and those worth forgetting.
“Aren’t we there yet?”
“Just a minute away. It’s around the next curve, adjacent to the horse ring, the house with the chain-link fencing.”
“My most cherished Buddy, let’s make a deal right now. When we drive through the gate no more talking in public, only if there is a real need. Gracie is a bit sensitive. If you have to share some other memories with me or I you, let’s wait until we are alone. OK??
“You’re right. It’s the best way to go. I was hoping you would bring it up. Your daughter might not understand.”
“She will as she matures, but it’s too soon for her to absorb this level of life.”
“She is smart, just like you.”
“Gosh, Buddy, I almost forgot. Will you E-mail Daddy Joseph? Let him know that I arrived safely and that I am very happy.”
“You’re the same, loving, polite and thoughtful.”
“You taught me well.”
“My Ginger girl, it’s good to have you back.”
“Buddy, my dearest, it’s so good to be home.”
The gate moves back to open the way to a renewed loving friendship. They are together. The sun is shining. It is a beautiful day.
They will be parted again one from the other after eight more years. But this time it will be a gentle passing from one sphere of life to another. This time Ginger will be waiting for her Buddy’s return in a place of rest and tranquility.
BONY LITTLE BEHIND
David, the homeliest, skinniest kid I had ever seen. A perfect example of The Three P Syndrome; piss poor protoplasm: eyes set close together, pidgin breasted, legs arms like sticks, huge hands feet to match, a vacuous expression.
David enters Kindergarten: the teacher, yard supervisors register constant, desperate complaints: David won’t share, David won’t listen, David won’t talk, David ignores rules, David fights, David bits, David’s dirty, David smells, David won’t learn. David’s weird. Again and again the principal phones home; permission granted to paddle his bony little behind.
First grade. Worse. David grew in stature, complaints, his unrivaled claim to fame, urinating on the ceiling of the bathroom, (The custodian never figured out how he did it?) David was legendary. He aroused my interest my concerns. I became David focused. Something perplexing in his demeanor, the uncomfortable manner not knowing how to locate himself in his surroundings. An aged child. Never to age. Dead at twenty-three. A casualty of war.
I knew this child. I knew his family. Eight children, he’s number seven. Not one free from problems: truancies, runaways, thefts, vandalisms, pregnancies, drugs, alcohol, incest, whatever was destructive lived in his home: thrived, spread, radiated, a malignancy. Yes indeed, did I know this family. Countless home visits, advising: means of controlling the children, getting them to school. Me the white liberal social worker: lots of words, lots of ideas, lots of recommendations, hardly realistic support for a family in another cultural world, the culture of the poor. My middle class values of no use. I was so ignorant, arrogant. Gifts of clothes, food, toys, candy: “False Consciousness,” Marx called it ― and Freud, I suppose would put these efforts down as “False Kindness.”
I found out later that I was referred to, by many of my families, as the nice lady, well intentioned, but a clueless, insufferable do-gooder who thought that she could change everything with words, I had to adjust, realize that I had no experience at living their lives; being in the trenches; not one who had ever manned the oars. David changed all that.
My first encounter with David was at his house. One of the hundreds then thousands built fast and cheap, in this formally ignored valley, until 1955. Short of water, inaccessible, with high temperatures, winds, and nicknamed, the ass hole of the county, more politely arm pit, later the added portrayal; the land of the midnight movers. This house: It was a bilious green with brown trim. Paint was peeling in green and brown strips from every surface. There was a torn, dirty grey plastic sheet covering the north side of the roof. The dirt yard strewn with debris, plants skeletal brown. Black oil spots of various sizes, shapes and age covered the cracked asphalt driveway. The garage door was propped up on the right with several bent 2 x 4’s. The left side was left to hang. The garage filled with car parts, tools, broken toys, discarded clothing, baby stuff, whatever was shoved out of the house. The front door was covered with ugly words cut into the wood. I rapped a polite knock―knock―knock. No one could hear over the blare of the TV, the screaming, the swearing, sounds bounced like cannon shots off the walls. Knock again ― still louder―bam―bam―bam; better use the heel of my shoe next round. I moved to the adjoining window, peered through thin, torn, dirty curtains saw figures darting here and there. The glow of a television. Back to the door. I removed my shoe. I heard the click of the door latch. The door opened, one inch, held by a short chain. Peering into the minute opening, I saw no one, but heard breathing. Looking down, attracted by a flutter of movement, there was a splinter-sized silhouette of a little person, peeking out. Stooping down, careful not to snag my stockings, eye-ball-to-eye-ball, holding my breath “Is your mother home?” The door clicked shut. I was left kneeling before the scared wooden wall. Back into a more dignified pose I waited. I waited and waited, not about to leave. Suddenly the door was snatched open. I was facing a half-naked giant who couldn’t see his feet for his belly, those feet bare and dirty with long toenails encrusted with filth. His red face was covered by days of bristling whiskers, bloodshot squinted eyes, and the biggest hands I had ever seen. “Whatcha want?” I held my ground stammered about the truancy of one of his teenage daughters. A lopsided grin: “Come on in, girlie, close the door behind ya, I’ll get the woman.” He wheeled, took two giant steps, plopped himself down in a huge ragged chair, lifted his opened beer can shouted “Someone here to see ya.” Standing there my back to the open door, I pushed it shut not all the way so to be secured by the latch.
I looked around: Everything that I had heard and seen from the outside was the same inside. Total chaos. To my right was a light switch. Not so unusual except that on the cover plate was a naked Richard Nixon with the actual switch in the place of his genitalia. On the floor was this small huddled person, face just inches from the screen the sound blasting. Pathetic little thing, snotty nose, weepy eyes, hair crusted to his head, mouth pursed shut, thin as a famine refugee. He was in a dirty ragged tee shirt dirty yellow stained underpants, dirty bare feet. I saw dirty everything everywhere. This must have been the kid who had peered at me through the crack in the door. He turned his head around, smiled, lifted his hand just inches from the floor to wiggle his fingers towards me. All I could think to do was to smile wiggle my fingers back at him. He turned around disappeared into the television screen. A disheveled woman a drooling toddler tucked under her left arm, crashed into the room. “Damn it, turn that TV down, I can’t think for not hearing. Whatcha want? Which one of my kids is in trouble again? Want something to drink, maybe.” I wanted to talk to her about the absences of her children from school, no thank you for the drink. We talk; she assures me that she would get the kids to school. I remind her that her welfare payments are based on school attendance. Thinking, why is she on welfare? Husband is in the home. I kept my mouth shut. All the while, I could not take my eyes off the child on the floor who kept glancing up at me. “That’s David,” she says, “he don’t talk, just shy.”
Same Ol’, Same Ol’
Nothing changed for the family, but the ages of the children. They got older, they were more troublesome in the schools the neighborhood. No matter how many times I visited the home, attempted interventions, offered recommendations, I was defeated. One of their teenage girls ran away. I tracked her down living at the Charles Manson compound. She eventually disappeared as did three other children. There was nothing, no one, no agency that could alleviate their predicament. For three more years I scurried around the community, doing whatever was possible for the families in my assigned area. I thought of those families that could/would not be helped. Frequently thought of David and his family. There were successes. I was a success. I loved that job. I was developing a new expanded approach to the old position of truant officer. It came to an end. Thus, in 1975, David and I entered elementary school together.
My training for teaching was directed toward the secondary level. I had taught high school and had been an assistant principal. When I applied for work in this school district, it was for a Child Welfare and Attendance counseling position; once known as the Truant Officer. I had been stationed at a Junior High, assigned to circulate among six feeder elementary schools, identifying families and children in need, by virtue of poor attendance; the best of all indicators. After three years, my position was eliminated because of budget cuts. The services offered by my position saved the district $250.000 a year in State attendance payments. But so goes the irrationality of the educational system. I was subsequently assigned to a teaching position at an elementary school. Never mind that I was a secondary trained teacher. The decision makers thoroughly disliked my innovations in the position, my aggressiveness, (unsuitable for a woman) my ethnicity, my successes. I had lost my position but at the very least I wanted to be remembered as a successful teacher. Fortunately, for me the assigned school was one of my six schools. It was the one that David attended. I was technically qualified. I had not the slightest idea how to conduct a classroom in the primary grades except from my own vague personal memory. I conducted it as I would a high school classroom, my only experience. There was absolute order. All children had to have a three-ring notebook with dividers, a homework pad, an orderly desk. I knew how to teach. I had a lot to learn. For instance, when a six year old tells you that he has to go, and you respond with “so go!” plan on the custodian mopping up the puddle; or when it’s raining, plan on being trapped with thirty children at recess and lunch. You get the idea.
After three years of primary grade’s frustrations, I was disheartened. I knew that I needed something more. I needed a substantial challenge. I had tried private tutoring with a few children who were in need of instruction that was more individualized, increased parent involvement, after school classes of no more than five children, home visits after uncovering unusual problems (I was really good at this). Almost everything worked, but too restricted in dimension. A reading specialist had been assigned to our school, a teacher I had worked with in the past at this school. She and I had the same teaching/learning philosophy: literacy was the key to a child’s success in the entire learning process. Get them as early as possible before they got lost in the automatic grade level elevation system. Stress reading!! I found that she too was also suffering from the frustration of not having a specific focus for her program.
Slaying the Saber-tooth Tiger
We developed a plan. We met with the teaching staff, surreptitiously. We needed their total support, assistance. We got it! The hard line philosophy was that all classrooms had to be heterogeneous. Our plan would run counter to sacred, ancient progressive tenets. We proposed to slay the saber-toothed tiger. The first grade teachers would identify the children seriously deficient in reading for inclusion in this intense remedial learning program; all placed in one classroom, my classroom, the poorest scoring first in. The reading specialist would concentrate solely on reading; I would handle classroom management with additional reading, printing and arithmetic, nothing else! As soon as pupils scored at grade level, they were transferred out into the regular classroom another child on the waiting list would be transferred in. Parents had to give permission, agree to a strenuous after school homework program, meet every six weeks for group conferences.
As it turned out, this would be an exciting innovation: parents in groups of six met with us, they discovered they were not alone; that other children, other families had similar problems. We brought in mental health professionals to be of assistance. The entire faculty was supportive. They would do whatever needed: provide tables, materials, collect discarded, discontinued primary readers from the storage rooms. The custodian was included in our scheme: did he know of any tables hidden away, unused lost from the inventory. He did. He cleared away all of the single desks in my room. He hauled in from all over the campus thirty tables. A two place table for each child. Children need space, privacy, ownership. The reading specialist teacher had a smaller adjacent room. She set up her listening posts, visual reading machines, picture cards, word recognition stations. Devised a daily schedule. Six children for each forty-five minute time allowance.
We had a beginning, a middle, next the principal’s consent, a bit after the fact. We knew what his arguments would be. We prepared! His first issue, what about the support from the other teachers, we had that one covered. He objected to a homogeneous situation. We countered with there would be boys and girls involved all of whom would be a various levels of reading skills; total non-readers to readers with some skills. All would be under grade level. Then the objection, cost. Where was the money coming from? District certainly wouldn’t shell out money nor would they go for an experimental program. We countered that there was no additional costs, that remedial reading was certainly not experimental. The district wide funding for reading specialists was evidence of this. He waved his hands in submission. His approval came with the statement that he didn’t want to hear any more, just get on with the program. Moreover, he added, what District doesn’t hear about was the best path for us to pursue. That was fine with us. We were off and running.
The Soundless Barrier
The children were identified. Placed in our program. David was one among twenty-nine others well below grade level. After two years of school he was at 0.2 in reading proficiency. His problems on the playground had accelerated, paddling’s accelerated, inattentive in my classroom, not troublesome. Did his work as best he could. He was there but not really there, there. I noticed that David was just a beat behind the other children in following directions. He looked around watched before initiating a task. I moved him to row one. I began to walk back and forth across the front of the classroom watching his reactions. His eyes followed me no matter where I stood. While I was to his left, he was a bit more responsive, but to his right, not. If I raised my voice when I was next to his desk he looked up, as I moved away he just stared at me. At times, I would tap his tabletop with my pencil or fingernails, he would respond immediately. I noticed when he was out on the playground and the yard duty lady told him to give up the swing, he kept swinging, when the bell sounded, he did not stop playing. When the children were told to line up, David came late.
I suspected, knew David was seriously hard of hearing. The school nurse did an audio monitor test. David was totally deaf in his right ear and 80% in his left. Parents notified. Doctors involved. Diagnosis, sound blocking growths in his ear canals. They could be surgically removed were. David would hear, have to learn to speak, to read, to socialize, all from scratch. Could it be done? Could he do it?
Seven years of silence. Seven years of no social proprieties. Seven years of non-academic learning. David would strive to manage his deficits. Two years in our reading program through third grade, he persevered. By the end of second grade he could read some, print some, handle some math skills. He made friends. Leveled out in playground activities. A stranger to the Principal. He learned words, their sounds, their meanings. David remained in the program through third grade. After two years 2.6 reading proficiency, sufficiency in basic math skills, printing legible. Everything was falling into place. Came to school clean, brushed teeth, combed hair. Stayed after school to help clean up. A kid on cloud nine. Ditto the teacher.
David, end of third grade, the last day, after all the others had gone, came up to me, put his arms around my waist, his head burrowed into my body, felt for my hand, thrust a balled-up bit of paper, no bigger than a spit-ball, between my fingers scooted out. I carefully smoothed it: A gift of love from David.
I never saw David after that, heard mention of his average school successes, his graduation, his entry into the military. My time in the elementary school had many rewarding encounters, but none like David. I never forgot David. I wondered. Did he remember me?
THE DISAPPEARING ACT
She remembered that across from her old school at Hancock Park there was a store.
The store front was plain, butted against the sidewalk which was covered with gum wads and cigarette butts. The front window displayed a sign, Stationary Store. She would go in, find the ink eradicator. The fix was in. She had the weekend to spend on this project; Bs and a few As, that was enough.
The next events: Her parents signed the forgery they barely looked at it, she took it back to school, she handed it in. Nothing happened then but…a few days later, on the way to an assembly, Miss Dutton pulled her aside and escorted her back to the classroom.
The ensuing confrontation, being shown the ersatz report card, the “I’ll have to call your parents” created a hysterical me. I sobbed out my story: The divorce, the loss of my daddy, my new daddy, the strictness of my mother, who was not just strict, but who was predisposed to yelling and slapping around. All true.
Damn, what a kind woman. She finally asked me “what kind of grades do you want?”
“Good grades that will make them like me and be proud.” Miss Dutton took out a fresh report card, put my name and grade on the cover, looked over to me. As she was putting pen to paper, I stopped her. “Will you make it look like Sonya Coopers card? You know with the big brackets from top to bottom for “A’s?” “Will you work to earn these pre-given “A’s”? I was so astonished by this offer. She believed in me. I achieved the grades.
This became the foundation for desiring to be a teacher, to be a good, kind understanding of children when I grew up.
OLD ENOUGH TO BABY-SIT
“No, you’re not old enough to baby-sit you sister and brother, let alone yourself. You wouldn’t know what to do in case of an emergency. We’ve hired a mature woman who advertized in the newspaper.” That was the end of the discussion.
A large middle-aged woman arrives. The folks go out for their evening of dinner and dancing. I go up to my room to do homework, Joanie and Richard are playing in their room Alma is downstairs in the den with its adjacent bathroom, all freshly painted that day.
The den was a beautifully wood paneled room, books arranged neatly on the shelves; a place for dad to play cards with his buddies and see clients on occasion. Dad never drank not even a sip in his entire life, but for his visitors, he had a fully stocked liquor cabinet with all the best brands of Scotch, Bourbon, Vodka, Gin, Brandies.
I went downstairs to say goodnight, Alma followed me upstairs to put the kids to bed. All was very, very quiet, I fell asleep.
Then there was this terrible commotion, it must have been after 2:00 am. Dad was on the phone calling the fire department. There was not a whiff of smoke, why was the fire department being called?
Now let me tell you the rest of the story:
Alma was a lush. For hours she had been enjoying the supplies in the Den. So?
She had gone into the bathroom and there she stayed reading a magazine. So?
She was there for a long time. So?
Long enough to get stuck to the freshly painted toilet seat. She could not free herself, Mom and dad couldn’t get her off. She is wailing, struggling and drunk as hell. The firemen arrived with siren’s shrieking. In they came in their full regalia. They couldn’t pull her off. The solution: two firemen, one on each side of the commode, squeezed down between the wall and sink to unscrew the toilet seat. They lifted her off along with the toilet seat attached, bare bottom and hanging underpants and all, draped her with a blanket and walked her bent over staggering figure out the front door with this toilet seat protruding out from under the cover; a perfectly framed pink behind. End of story except, I got to baby sit from then on with proper payment for my time.
SIGNS OF WHITE TIMES
Tapping the keyboard; he mutters “White.” “White?” How dare he? She is astounded; who did this officious skinny little man in an ill fitting suit, glasses low on his thin nose think he is? In this day and age? So politically incorrect? When had she become “white”? She had been identified as black, brown, silvery gray but never white. “I don’t feel white. I’d better look again.” Her reflection on the Plexiglas partition at the DMV truth telling ― By God. She was white!
Several weeks later at the Pet Store: she slowly, surely, lifts ten sacks of wild bird seed into the cart. Only twenty pounds per. She shoves the weighed cart to the front. Her Visa card scanned, ID requested. The young-looking clerk studies her Driver’s License, glances up, hands her the receipt. Then…”Wait a moment …I’ll call for an associate to assist you. You’ll need help unloading these heavy bags.” Well, no one had been needed for the loading. “No thanks I can do it.” “No, no” she insisted; “You shouldn’t be doing this, way too strenuous for you. After all, that’s what we’re here for. “
Must be the white hair.
It was a Tuesday early that same spring: her day at the nursery. It was like being in an unending park of absolute beauty. Every plant could be a child in her garden. She had enough children. Pulling her little red wagon directly to the section that stocked a vast selection of seedling vegetable plants: tomatoes, lettuce, peppers; she loads up, the cucumbers, onions, basil she would grow from seed. Only grow what you can eat. Hauling the wagon to the line of gardeners she waits to check out.
The clerk adds up her purchases hands her the receipt; the total far less than expected. “This can’t be correct,” “Oh yes, I gave you your discount.”
The white hair!
And just a few weeks later. The parking lot at her favorite Home Depot store: takes hold of a flat bed cart, wheels it into the nursery soil amendment section. Checks prices for the best deal: the 2 ½ cubic size sacks: The stack is high; her cart is low, easy, slides off 12. The cart heavy. Nevertheless, she stubbornly pushes it forward, managing to move it toward the cash register. She hears, “Do you need some help?” “Nah, I can manage!” Just barely. “Let me call for the lot associate.” She stays put. No lot associate puts in an appearance. “I can do this myself.” She pushed at her cart. It moves but hardly. Idea. Drive the pick-up to the cart. Done. She backs the truck rear to cart nose. With the tail-gate lowered she reaches down to begin the laborious loading. First lifts the front end of bag one, shoves it onto the tail gate. Heaves the end of the bag into the truck bed, crawls in and shoves; climbs out to repeat the operation with bag # 2. Several shoppers rushed by. Then a hefty man wheeling his cart zips by. He stares at her as he passes looks back, stops, walks back, parks his cart, comes over, shakes his head, smiles but sadly says, “Wait lady. Let me do that. A woman of your age shouldn’t be doing this heavy loading.” A woman of my age? It must be showing but how: five feet 2 ½”, 108 pounds, physically fit. Umm, damn white hair.
And summer comes: pulling her surfboard from the rental rack, balancing it on her head walks to the sand. Waxes the board, attaches the leash heads out to the waves. She knows where the pockets are on the inside and outside. Surfing since she was forty she could handle herself. Thirty-five years of surfing at Waikiki. The skill, the etiquette well taught to her by her favorite beach boy, the legendary, Rabbit Kekai.
The inside waves are crowded with tourists taking lessons, splashing youngsters, easy to spot California boys. They paddle kneeling on their boards, having learned to keep their legs out of the cold mainland Pacific as long as possible. She’ll take a few warm-up rides on the far right inside away from the crowds. A great set is rolling in. Take the second, the crowds will be on the first. Paddle, paddle, dig deep, feel the rush, up, shoulders square, knees bent. “Get the Fuck out of here you damn old woman.” California punk cuts her off deliberately. What the hell it is her wave. First up and on the rule. She struggles to the surface in the crash zone pounded by the churning water: gets back on her board, regains composure, heads back out. The bastard sees her, follows her, glaring, snarling something, gives her the finger.
So big deal, she paddles away to the outside. “I’m here to have fun.” He follows. “Jerk!” She positions her board near one of her Hawaiian surfing buddies. “Hey Auntie, dat fella need lesson. Auntie, you take da good wave coming, I take care you safe. He no bother you no mo, I bother him.” And off he went.
What a joy to be “Auntie.” Respected, hooray white hair.