Grace and Gratitude: Accepting Money is Awful

 

The cover of the benefit thank you card

The cover of the benefit thank you card

This entry is going to be pretty brutal to write and I may hurt other kind people’s feelings, but it is my truth of what it was like from inside the fish bowl.  I am so grateful for the kindness of others. Other TBI families will face this too, wondering how to deal with people who care enough to contribute their time, money and themselves. Yes, they will be there for you.

There was a lesson to be learned from the open hearts and hard work others did on our behalf.  What was it?  To bow my stubborn proud I-can-do-it-myself head and accept what others gave with grace and a grateful heart. Above all, to  to pay it forward, because that for me is how the universe stays in balance.

Dec. 11th, 2006 | 12:15 pm

Terry is in Bakersfield now at the Centre for Neuroskills, and Torin and I are trying to paste the pieces of our lives back together. Resting up to be ready for what comes next, catching our breath and feeling like lost children.

This past weekend friends of Terry’s had a fundraiser for him/us. It wound up being stressful and successful. I got sucked in somehow doing a lot of the work for it which gave me the renegade creeps. Working to get other people to give us money made me feel  like I was somehow spidering around in the background and doing something skinky and bilking people. It was a horrible feeling and left me feeling sick and shivery.

On the positive side, I met a lot of Terry’s friends and people that believe in him. For a man who said to me, “I have no friends and I’m lonely”,  he has a lot of friends, just not the guy skills to hang out because he spent so many miserable years in a very bad marriage.   His ex came to the benefit and brought her smelly DOG to the restaurant. She swears he’s a service dog. For what? Misery? He wears a little scarf with service dog patches pinned to it. Jesus. She came in like she owned the place and said to me, “I’m sorry, who are you?” I said, “I’m Terry’s wife.” She started backing up and apologizing and saying her eyes weren’t working right. What?? It was pretty satisfying in a mean spirited way.benefit1

What I know about fundraisers is that on some level when people give you things there is ALWAYS some sort of thread of expectation attached. A lot of people donated money and I can feel there is some sort of expectation that they can dictate what their money is used for–
much like when I was on food stamps 100 years ago as a  mom in college–I never bought candy or anything frivolous because of the ugly looks on the faces of the cash customers. Even the event organizers want to count everything up and find out what was raised where and how. Let them do it. The only thing I know is that I’m NEVER doing this again, my spirit hasn’t made peace with accepting help yet.

I am done accepting free money. I think I’d rather starve. At first it was nice, but now I’m getting a little sourness around the edges. A fire chief told my friend the college president at a Rotary meeting that Terry didn’t need any benefit because EVERYTHING was paid for. Bull shit. Medically he’s got the Cadillac of coverage, but that sure doesn’t take into account that my medical insurance is now going to be Cobra at $800 per month –unless I can get my new boss to let me into the pool which is very possible.

It doesn’t take into account the fact that Terry cannot work and he may not be able to work again–he will get disability insurance at 60% for 55 months but not social security ever. Fire fighters don’t pay into that pool. And 60% of his salary only pays 60% of our bills–it doesn’t count the part where I have to fork over money to visit him in Bakersfield.It doesn’t count the refrigerator that died and has to be replaced or a leak in a roof that has to be fixed.  His firefighter’s pension got split down the middle when he got divorced. The ex-wife  with the stinky dog walked off with half of it, enough to make the house payment. Things are not going to be easy for us, but I am working now and I refuse to give up.

terry ticket

I’ve been trying to unpack, clean up and get ready for Christmas. We are going to have Christmas. We need hope and joy and to know there is going to be a tomorrow for us.  Yesterday I took my 7 and 9 year old granddaughters shopping for dresses to wear to the Nutcracker ballet in Seattle. I took my own savings out of the bank and decided this year I was going to make Christmas one to remember.  I can’t make a lot of impact on the future with my three thousand dollars,  but I can make a life long impact on the our memories and we can all stop and have an island of magic in the middle of this dark endless journey.

I am doing something special for each of my children and their families and it makes me happy. There won’t be anything under the tree because I’m doing this all now and it’s not about things to unwrap. These are gifts of the heart that last longer than a package. I guess I’m giving myself Christmas to hold the sadness at bay. Terry won’t be part of it this year but then again, he’s still stuck somewhere back around Halloween and learning to have an organized schedule. I won’t be able to visit him until later but I think that will be fine. It gives me time for me, which I need desperately about now.

So, fund raising? Money gifts from others? Nah, we’ll be fine without any more of them. I want to want to finish the thank you’s with gratitude and move on. I have to laugh again. I have had six comfortable years in my whole life–the last six. I love Terry so much for taking me and Torin on and giving us things like vacations and a nice car and dinner’s out and to him it was just the way things should be. Thank you for that, wherever you are tonight, Mr. T.

Going back to managing reduced resources is familiar territory and I know how to do this. Most of my life I have been poor– but happy and resourceful. My life has always involved Good Will for wardrobe and making do and being okay without a lot of stuff from department stores.    , I’m not some little princess who can’t get dirty or who falls apart. Sometimes I think people are offended because I won’t fall apart. If I did they could suck up some grief vapors and feel better.

I think my personal metaphor is that I’m like one of those old iron skillets. They get rusty and sometimes even get a crack in them–mine has one on the side. But if you steel wool them up and oil them and season them, they come right back and work again. They are useful, you can feed people with them and use them as a weapon if the need arises.

Life goes on. I’m managing, I’m not grieving because I don’t know what I’ve lost yet. But please don’t offer to raise funds for me, I’m likely to go all skillet on your ass.

Back from Billings, in the Belly of the Bird

PA040186

 Fabulous nurses and the pilot. Getting Tired Now –, entry from my journal of September 25, 2006.

It’s Monday and I had high expectations for what the day would bring, news that would send us home if not in one piece in several pieces held together with the potential of wholeness. Today, I walked in to find a giant machine here. “Heart murmur, testing.” “Look is that a tear? Oh my God, please don’t let his heart have a rip in it. I just don’t want more bad.
I’m nearing the edge of what I can endure with equanimity. Today he had a swallow test, did he pass? I don’t know. He talks some but makes marginal sense. I show him cards from family and he doesn’t know what they are. I want the tube out, I want him to pass the test.The nurse in charge couldn’t tell me when he gets to go home, she said we wouldn’t know until about five minutes before it happened. Nice, how can you make any plans at all?
I don’t even know when to fly Faye in. Information would be good. This is frustrating and exhausting.

So now, two days later, we are finally getting kicked to the curb with not a lot of notice. September 27th we head home. Finding a way to get Terry from Montana to Olympia was an exercise in fear, frustration and ultimately, jubilation.  When the doctors began to make rehab noises, I started the hunt a week ago. Our lovely insurance company refused to pay to transport him anywhere but the closest rehab facility: Denver, Colorado. Home is Washington State, thousands of miles away and Denver was not an option for us, a bit difficult to just drop in and find friends to visit Terry and all that.

Loading onto the plane

Loading onto the plane

The only answer for us was a life flight home on a small plane. I began to investigate flights and it was all I could do not to faint at the cost. Five grand, which insurance didn’t cover and I had to find somewhere. Second Mortgages are the pot of expensive gold at the end of the rainbow, thank you Leprechauns, where ever you are.

PIECE OF ADVICE TO EVERYONE; GET A POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR YOUR LOVED ONES, MEDICAL AND THE OTHER KIND TOO.  IF YOU HAVE TO GET MONEY OR MAKE DECISIONS AND THE OTHER HALF HAS BEEN THE PRIMARY SIGNATORY ON ACCOUNTS WITHOUT THAT POA, YOU ARE DEAD IN THE WATER AND YOU CANNOT ACCESS FUNDS YOU NEED, OR TALK TO BANKS, ATTORNEYS OR ANYTHING WITHOUT PULLING ALL OF YOUR HAIR OUT AND THEIRS TOO.

Have I mentioned how annoying insurance companies are? Their goal seems to be to play with the lives of paper doll people and steam roll the real people flat in their quest to make sure investors have pots of money to spend.

Our case is not regular rehab. We have to have minders with Terry 24-7, because he is not mentally connecting to the world and he’s becoming more mobile every day as his bones heal. What happens when he has a working body, no balance and no judgment or way to know what’s real? He’s still very  physically crippled with all those broken ribs and lungs perforated in a few places, recovering from pneumonia, a broken neck, eye socket and arm, he is still learning to walk and eat and all the things we do without thinking, so  the type of rehabilitation available in a hospital setting is the next step.

On our way

On our way

The Emily Gamelan Pavilion  houses the St Peter Hospital rehab facility a few miles from our home, and he is booked there for the next step but getting him there in a hospital bed,  casts and bandages is the next mountain to climb. Enter the magnificent male nurses who joined us and the pilot on the life flight.

Nurses tending to Terry

Nurses tending to Terry

It was a crisp, cold morning when he was moved by ambulance to the plane. The nurses who were flying with us were the same two that flew him in to Billings from the accident. They were grinning ear to ear and so happy to see him. They had been pretty convinced he wouldn’t make it and seeing him beat the odds lifted us all, all the way home.  Terry was quiet, he was sedated for the flight and slept through most of it. I  loved it. I got to sit right behind the pilot in the plane and take in the view which was bathed in sunshine all the way home.

How often do normal pedestrian people see this view off the wing of a plane?

How often do normal pedestrian people see this view off the wing of a plane?

Don Bowman, Terry’s biker bud who was with him when they got in the accident is also a fire fighter. He had gotten permission from the fire department in Tumwater, two towns over, to have transport from Terry’s own fire department meet the plane at the local small airport.  I stepped out of the plane and burst into tears when I saw an entire group  with the rig walking out to meet us. Ear to ear grins were on every face and Terry recognized each and every one of them and said hello to them as they loaded him for the ride. It was wonderful and I didn’t even try to stop the tears rolling down my face. I realized later I lost an earring on the tarmac and I think its a fitting offering to the gods of  homecoming.  There were hurdles to get over and too much too accomplish, but seeing Torin and our  home and having Terry back in more or less one piece mended a big hole in the center of me.

Mt Rainier means we are home.

Mt Rainier means we are home.

5 prairie house

Road Photos

I kind of love taking pictures that are informal and catch the feeling of a trip, like old photos you see in a junk store and wonder who took them and why? I just got back from a trip home to Colorado from Washington State, racking up over 3000 miles through what I fondly refer to as the Great Wide Open, thank you Tom Petty.

1 dog is my copilot

Dog is my copilot

A lot of people think the high sky empty spaces of Eastern Oregon, Southern Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Montana and basically all the western states, are empty and boring. Kind of like having to fly over the desert to get to Oz, aka the West coast, something to get past as fast as you can.

Into the great wide open

Into the great wide open

As a child visiting Indiana every summer to see my grandparents, getting through the Mojave desert from our Southern California home was kind of like that. Hot, terrifying and it was the DESERT. This was in the days when cars went slower and didn’t have air conditioning. We usually traveled at night those first few days, and it was mysterious and scary and included swimming at midnight in a Phoenix motel pool where the water was as warm as bath water.

Leaving Oz

Leaving Oz

Travel is so different now, you don’t see overheated cars on top of passes or cars in the desert with those canvas camel bags draped over the radiator. Now travelling through the empty is a pleasure and it isn’t empty either.

Eastern Oregon wind turbines

Eastern Oregon wind turbines

These places have tall skies and room to breathe and they are fascinating and filled with patterns and people if you know how to look. Growing up in my own version of the empty bright spaces in Southern California, I learned to love the arid almost desert east of Los Angeles and west of Palm Springs. I learned early to admire the shapes of the earth, the way brown hills look like giant paws and plowed fields look like quilting blocks. I’ve never lost my love of landscape.4 oregon wind

I finally decided to do it differently. I wanted to see the world as a road tripper not a photographer and catch the ephemeral out of the window of my truck as we went flying by or pulled over on a highway shoulder with cars whizzing by, or just cruising down two lane black top back roads where I found all these fantastical wind turbines.

Somewhere in Eastern Colorado

Somewhere in Eastern Colorado

10 wyoming snow fence

Wyoming Drift Fence

I started looking at a lot of the pictures I ‘snapped’ and the commonality was that I was looking for juxtaposition between man made and aggressive nature. These are places you have to be tough and fight to live, too much snow, too much heat, too much wind and so much beauty.

Stop for Wyoming

Stop for Wyoming

I have lots of other shots of more pastoral places but I think these dreamy post cards shots and old photo treatments are perfect to express the idea that we can only borrow the land, its not ours to keep.

Maggie, dog of the West

Maggie, dog of the West

Afterwards: The Miracle

white camellia

 

I lost my beloved crazy sister just before Thanksgiving, tragically and in a house fire. She died of smoke inhalation and when the firefighters reached her it was too late. She was cremated and I wondered about that and wrote this.

Afterwards

There is beauty in this can of ash that is not ash
It is the story of you.
Sometimes I still hear your voice and always, your laugh.
I opened the container,
Just a cookie can from an old Christmas,
and I looked inside.
Would it make you smile,
to know you sit on a child’s chair in my living room?
The chair you found for me,
The one we both loved in Carlsbad.
You put it in a cardboard box and mailed it to me with that antique bowl,
The one that was Oaxacan green and it was broken before I got it.
It was so beautiful I saved all the broken pieces from the box,
And we both cried over losing it.
I wanted to find the perfect container for you, as perfect as that bowl was,
but there you are in a cookie can.
My sister and my first best understanding of unconditional love,
my measuring stick of love and crazy.
I wondered if I had your kneecaps in that can,
or your beat up dancer’s feet or your collar bones
made strange by childhood pellagra?
I love that your bones are the story of you,
everywhere you lived, the water you drank, the food you hoarded,
all those dances you danced, the pain and the joy that marked your life,
everything was saved and marked in your bones,
unique and amazing.
It seems that we are each a map sketched out by the table of elements,
all of us one-of-a-kind wonders,
our bones like fingerprints or snowflakes.
I love knowing that since the beginning of time
things had to happen just exactly the way they happened
for us to be sisters.
Miracles really do happen don’t they?
And I think you were mine.

Me and Marji on a beach day.

Me and Marji on a beach day.

The Violet Mystery

Violetta

Violetta

It isn’t often that I am flummoxed by research into something I’ve found, but this case had me chasing my tail. Here’s the back story: I recently acquired a batch of stuff being sold by a gentleman whose very old mother had gone into assisted care, he was beginning to sell her bits and pieces to pay for her stay in the facility. It’s a common story and a sad one, but sometimes it lets me send lovely things back into the world for another life so I try to be positive and honest. In this case he had a silver Mexican bracelet that was to die for, I gave it back and told him it was worth in excess of $150 and he needed to get more than I could give him for it. Its just good karma to be fair in my world.

Stuff

Stuff

None of what I got had a ton of value other than curiosity and my love for bits of Odd Stuff. One of the other people I was with acquired lots of depression glass and some serious pieces of carnival glass, I opted for stranger things, like two shoe horns, one from JC Penney and the other Sears and Roebuck.

Paris Souvenir bracelet

Paris Souvenir bracelet

I also got a small wooden box of things including ten tiny ceramic deer, a cool brass souvenir of Paris bracelet, a hat pin and sundry bits of things that will be used to create other things.

My tiny deer accidental collection

My tiny deer accidental collection

My favorites in the mix were of course, the French bracelet and the ten tiny deer. I seem to have accidentally begun to acquire deer. They are seeking me out but that’s another entry entirely.v16 I  also got a set of very old Lancôme perfume bottles still  in their box and an odd little wooden case. More about that in a moment. The Lancôme bottles go back to the late thirties and were well and truly stuck shut. A little hot water unstuck the tops and I could pull the stoppers out and smell the heavy old perfumes in them. Did you know there are serious collectors of empty and almost empty old perfume bottles? Who knew. Those will be on their way to a new home soon…

Rieger violet Coffret

Rieger violet Coffret

Now, for the wooden box. It’s 2.75 inches tall and looks like an old cannon barrel standing on end. It’s actually a coffret, a tiny wood case, of maple that is threaded about an inch down and unscrews. The exterior has a purple and silver metal paper label that reads Florosa Fanoma, W Rieger, Frankfurt A/M, which is most likely for Am Main. At the bottom is the single word, ” Violet”.

Inside the tiny wooden coffer, or coffret more properly, is an eight-sided lead crystal bottle with a cut glass stopper. This stopper was also stuck shut until I gently ran warm just over the top, at which point the crystal perfume dauber/wand slid cleanly out. No label on the bottle inside and amber colored liquid fills the bottle about three-quarters of the way up.

Open Sesame!

Open Sesame!

A little background here: My favorite scent in the entire known universe is violets. As a child in Germany, I loved that they grew in the parks and lawns in Springtime with great abandon and very long stems. I would take hours and pick huge bunches of them to take home. Their scent was so haunting and so elusive and the air smelled like heaven wherever they perched in the water glasses my mother gave me for my bouquets. In France a few years back I brought home a bottle of Violettes de Toulouse and I have hoarded it until I can go back and get more. That’s enough of a reason to go back to France for me. Yes, I love violets.

I am serious about my violets, so it was with both  fanfare  and trepidation I pulled the stopper out and sniffed it carefully. Holy Cow! It smelled like it was bottled last week! I dabbed some on one wrist and then the other and sat there with essence of violet all around me.

How could this be? The container was old, the label was old, so how old was old anyway? I started digging and found very little information on the elusive W. Rieger. I know that he was part of Wilhelm and Guillaume Rieger and they founded a perfume company in 1860. I found a reference to Violet Perfume then and in about 1910. The style of the label tips me off that this is an old, old bottle but how can it still smell so good?

And there is another Rieger connection:Paul Rieger of California was famous for his ‘flower drops’ perfumes from the early part of the 20th century. There are a ton of Paul Rieger ads for sale on eBay, all clipped from magazines that survived until now. Apparently flower drops were THE perfume to give and wear as the ads are everywhere. There are still many actual flower drops bottles around with CALIFORNIA flower drops printed on the labels.v6

The two Rieger thing was making me as crazy as a raccoon with a can opener and a six pack of tuna. Paul Rieger and Wilhelm Rieger? How does this whole thing go together? That’s just too much of a coinkydink as my mom would have said. A few more hours of digging (God bless the internet and my research abilities) and I uncovered the 1910 San Francisco Crocker-Langley City Guide. Bingo. Paul Rieger, big wig San Francisco perfumer, is the owner of Paul Rieger Perfumes but guess who the manager is? William Rieger. I’m betting Wilhelm became William in America. There is even a Mrs. Paul Rieger, widow, listed so there may have have been even more Rieger generations in the Bay Area.

  Croaker Langley Directory

Croaker Langley Directory

Paul Reiger must have been a marketing genius, his perfumes were in Saturday Evening Post, Sunset Magazine, Photo Play and every magazine out there at the time. Reiger’s Flower Drops was the 1910 creation of Paul Rieger, but I’m betting someone else in the family made them first back in Germany and the family took the concept to the new world and unleashed it.

“Reiger’s Flower Drops were advertised as the ‘soul of the flowers’ and ‘lasting 50 times as long as ordinary perfumes’ and ‘the rarest and finest perfume ever produced. One bottle holds all the delightful fragrance crushed from thousands of living blossoms. The acme of elegance and refinement-entirely different from any other perfume you have ever known.’

The regular sized vials were about 3ml and retailed for $1.50, sample sizes were available for 20 cents.” (quote from Cleopatra’s Boudoir perfume blog)

The secret to the fragrance and my own ah ha moment was in discovering they used no alcohol in the process. In addition it’s been stored in the dark for all that time in it’s little maple coffret, and probably somewhere nice and cool to boot. This is straight concentrated oil of violet, and that is why it has lasted perhaps 100 years. If this fragrance was acquired as late as 1929 it’s still  74 years old.

Why 1929? The McKinley Tariff Act of 1930 meant everything imported had to be marked with its country of origin, as in “Made in”.  This says Frankfurt a/M, it does not say Germany, therefore it landed in the USA before the tariff did. Additionally, it predates the California Flower Drops labeling although it is similar. This purple foil label is so over the top that it has Victorian style all over it, so I’m educated guessing it was made about 1890 or so.

Imagine, this scent was created before there were telephones, or record players, or commercial airline flights, or typewriters, or plastic, or refrigerators or ball point pens or mechanical pencils, or flush toilets, washing machines and running water in every house- and it’s still alive.

I will keep it and wear it and enjoy every single lovely drop of time I wear on my wrists, I think it’s better than a watch because it doesn’t just mark time, it has kept it alive.

 

 

Perris, Trains and Tracks and Time

marji

Marji in front of our house, you can see the railroad tracks and downtown behind her in the distance.

In rummaging about for an appropriate offering for Throw Back Thursday, a fun Facebook phenomenon, I found a wonderful old photo of my sister standing at the gate of our house in Perris. Looking at the photograph  brought back so many memories of times that are fading. Like it or not, I have become one of those people who remember “the old days”. It seems very strange that the old days are the 1950s and the 1960s. As a teenager of about 13, I used think how appalling it would to be 50 and so very old. At the age of 65 I look back and realize just how young 50 is.

Grocery shopping in Germany was a little different

Grocery shopping in Germany at the markets was different but I loved it.

I had  most of a real American graffiti childhood in a small town in California. It was rudely and wonderfully interrupted when I was 8 and my Air Force father was sent to Germany.  That was 1956, I got home again in 1962, and I never quite fit in again. Looking back now, I think it was a blessing instead of a curse, although at the time I would have begged to differ. I thought how different my life would be if I had never left, if I had always been one of the gang instead of trying to figure out to reinvent myself to fit.

Because I was always a little out of step, I felt like that person at the dance that is watching everyone else’s feet to try and figure out the dance steps. Trying not to be obvious about not knowing what to do and watching my surroundings like a hawk I developed an artist’s eye and sensibilities early. That was the blessing although I didn’t know it until later.

Perris Train Depot

The Perris depot, right down the street from our house

There were some halcyon days and months in my childhood in Perris among the tough times with my mother.  I remember having dinner on summer evenings and then being allowed to go out and play until dark. Escaping into games of hide-and-go seek and tag until the stars came out.  There was always one cat under every streetlight, like they had been assigned to catch each night’s moths.   I liked to sit at the open window in my upstairs unheated bedroom, which was freezing in the winter and meltingly hot in the Southern California summer, listening to the engines purring on the tracks. That was my lullaby, locomotives just waiting, rumbling like big cats all night long half a block away.

We lived in a farm town, and onions and potatoes and the sheds where they were packed and shipped were a fact of life. The tracks ran right behind the main street, right behind the single row of town businesses that made up downtown. Packing sheds were strung along the tracks the entire length of the town and locomotives would pull in and park on the sidings waiting for their loads. The depot was just two blocks away, we could see it from our house when we crossed the dusty empty field that was railroad property.

As kids we never wore shoes from about February to November and I have a love/hate relationship with shoes to this day. I love them but they are off my feet far more than on. We were grateful when the city put new white markings on the street to warn of the railroad crossing half a block away.  In the summer, that white stuff never melted in the heat like tar and you could pelt across it barefoot without burning the soles of your feet before jumping into the blessed dust on the other side. Sometimes my mother would send us to Kirkpatrick’s market, a kitty-cornered block from our house to pick up things she’d forgotten to get for dinner. We crossed a field full of stickers, railroad tracks full of  glass and splinters and assorted trains, usually barefoot on a regular basis. Back then you could go in a store with no shoes if you were a kid, I remember still how cool the linoleum felt on the bottoms of  my scorched feet.

Grocery Store in Perris, it was Kirkpatrick's when I was a kid but I'm happy its still there!

Grocery Store in Perris, it was Kirkpatrick’s when I was a kid but I’m happy its still there!

The trains scared me when I was small and I was terrified that I couldn’t get off the tracks fast enough, although walking on the rails themselves to the sidewalk was easier than crossing 20 feet of rusty nails, rock and broken glass. We would stand close enough to the trains to feel the breeze they kicked up as they passed but we knew enough not to get close enough to get hit and to make sure all the tracks were clear before we scampered across.

In my sister’s picture you can see the railroad tracks and the railroad crossing sign in the background. That’s how far away the trains were, from our house. Early one warm spring Sunday morning when I was about 15, I was sitting in my window watching the world go by, when I spotted our fascinating neighbor, Mildred Caylor who lived one block over on B Street.

The back of our house, their is a staircase right behind the window and then fence is a whole other story.

The back of our house, their is a staircase right behind the window and then fence is a whole other story.

Mildred was a blind woman and probably in her late 60s at the time. She had a series of German Shepherd guide dogs and we could see them in their pen when we climbed the Chinaberry tree in the vacant lot down the alley. That tree always had four or five kids building a fort in it and we probably sent the dogs around the bend with our noise and proximity.  On this morning, one of the loopier later members of the menagerie of dogs was guiding Mildred to town. She had a net shopping bag and her handbag and her dog, and they proceeded briskly down the street in front of me and turned the corner and then turned the corner again.

Mildred’s dog  was taking her right down the railroad tracks like something out of a bad movie. I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Mildred’s on the railroad tracks!”  I sprinted down my steep flight of stairs and found my Dad had run out of his bedroom  half asleep to hear my frantic screeched explanation. He bolted out the front door and I ran outside after him, watching in horrified amusement. My father in nothing but his underwear, consisting of tidy whities and an undershirt, was sprinting down the street barefooted. He ran down the tracks, collared Mildred and the dog and hauled her off the tracks. A train came through about sixty seconds later. I don’t know who was shaking most, Dad or Mildred when they got back to the house. Mildred never knew she had been saved by a middle-aged man in his skivvies. She would have been so shocked.

Dad put his clothes on and Mom fed everyone coffee and doughnuts. Later, we got Mildred home in one piece. The dog was replaced a week later and life went on, the trains kept coming and we kept growing up in that magical time and place, Perris, California in the “olden days”.

Main Street, Perris. This hotel was never a hotel in my memory. The Reynolds sisters, elderly ladies lived there, but I was so glad to see it still stood when I was home last year.

Main Street, Perris. This hotel was never a hotel in my memory. The Reynolds sisters, elderly ladies lived there, but I was so glad to see it still stood when I was home last year.

Old Protestors Never Die, Just Cause

The finished poster

The finished poster

Prowling around in my archives and hunting for a photo of Los Angeles theater marquees I took a few years back, I unearthed this piece of memory: the National Lawyers Guild poster I did in 2009.

This story actually began when I got a call from a friend,  “Would I be interested in talking to the NLG about doing an image for the poster for their annual meeting in Seattle?”  I had to stop and think about it. What was the National Lawyers Guild anyway? I do poster art regularly but I did not know what they did, who they were, and about their work across a sea of causes and cases. They were involved to their eyeballs in representing the people who were arrested in the melee that became the “Battle of Seattle.”

The NLG is serious business, and although I am fairly well known as an artist here in my corner of the Pacific Northwest, my work has been cursed with the rubric “whimsical”, so was I really a good choice for this?  On a meltingly hot July day, fortified with a pitcher of iced tea and a fan, I met with the guys from the Evergreen Law group to try to get a handle on what they wanted from me.  I wound up promising to think about it and to put some sketches together and I did my research.

Even a tee shirt. Capitalism at its best.

Even a tee shirt. Capitalism at its best.

On November 30, 1999, thousands of people disrupted and ultimately shut down the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle. The crowd was mostly peaceful with a few idiot anarchists mixed in. The Seattle police assumed the worst and responded to the mass of protesters by firing tear gas and rubber bullets point blank into the crowd. Hundreds were arrested, many were sickened by the gas and others were hurt in the melee.

The protest was organized by the Direct Action Network who decided to shut down what they considered the most undemocratic institution on the planet, the WTO, aka World Trade Organization. The WTO ostensibly negotiates and aids countries in making trade easier between member nations, but in point of fact much of what they do is heavily skewed to making rich nations richer and poor nations poorer. They have fallen off a wagon that was supposedly oriented towards development-friendly outcomes in all participating countries towards a ‘market access’ direction. Poorer countries, especially those in the third world,  are being pressured to open up their agricultural, industrial and service sector leading to exploitation by the bigger WTO fish.

This scenario electrified organizers who truly believed a peaceful demonstration could send a message around the world. They began by marching out 7:00 a.m., setting up blockades around the city. Word spread and before too long a lot of people in Seattle spontaneously joined the demonstration. Linking arms and keeping delegates out of the meeting. They were amazed that they were actually shutting it down with people who had never demonstrated for anything previously.

A wood cut version of the art that became a shirt.

A wood cut version of the art that became a shirt.

The Seattle police under shaky leadership panicked, put on full riot gear and showed up in force. By 10:00 a.m. they had opened fire with chemical weapons, tear gas, concussion grenades and brought in armored vehicles to fight unarmed citizens. The people didn’t give in, shutting the meeting site down until after dark. That same day, there were corollary actions across the globe. The longshoremen  shut down every port up and down the entire West Coast.

I had seen the slanted news footage of “looters” and “rioters”, the media loves a good rampage and played it to the hilt. Slowly, the truth came out, the police were brutal that day, and it was completely unnecessary in the face of what should have been a non violent protest.

I thought a lot about the genesis of a political image. Was I a conscripted hack, a tool for the left? The answer was a solid no. I grew up in the late 60’s and my history is closely intertwined with Vietnam protests, the struggle for racial equality and women’s rights. The words that galvanized my own life? My parents saying to me, “We can’t pay for your college, we have to send your brother because he’ll marry and need to support a family. You can just get married and stay home, it would be a waste.” It may feel like a small drama in a domestic teapot, but that was when I understood how pervasive and complacent American attitudes were towards women, minorities and non-wars like Vietnam.

That was 1966 and I never did get over being angry about it. I finally finished college and like a lot of women in America, I graduated in my 30’s as a single parent, with a long history of kicking up dust along the way. I’m not sure how much has really changed since then. We are still complacent and still about 85% sheep looking for that magic shepherd who won’t morph into a wolf and eat us. The important thing seemed then and seems now to keep trying, to leave the herd, to find my inner moral compass and follow it.

So I looked at NLG on the web, I looked at photos, I talked to friends, and read up on the “Battle in Seattle”.  I thought about what this image should say. I thought about it a lot. I thought about the accidental warriors and those who set out to change things, those people who cannot and will not give up. nlg art

The result was a whole wastebasket full of discarded muddled mixed up drawings. I really didn’t think I could do it. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t seem to say it. I was so far out of my bright, fun, snarky wheelhouse that it was miserable. It felt like I was drawing wearing boxing gloves and a blindfold. It seems simple, but this is the hardest drawing I’ve ever done. I had to scrape it out of someplace inside that was buried and collecting dust, and when it came, it came whole in one quick sitting, like someone else was guiding my hand and holding my pencil.

The simple graphite on paper image is homage to the great artist and Polish worker for social justice, Kathe Kollwitz, who created searing personal images of oppressed people in the early 20th century. The couple in my drawing is drawn as Kollwitz might have portrayed them, androgynous because I wanted the viewer to bring their own story to what happened in Seattle. For me, this is everyman and everywoman who fought back and stayed in touch with their internal compasses along the way.

Art is not always easy. Its not always pretty, and it wears so many faces they are uncountable. Painting is words made with pictures and you experience the best stuff viscerally. It might be Kathe Kollwitz who almost makes me cry or it might be Helvi Smith, whose ridiculous Pink Fifi Poodle painting made me laugh out loud at her perfect catching of the essence of poodle.

Snarky Fifi cracks me up!

Snarky Fifi cracks me up!

I’m glad I had a chance to reach past my limits, yep. I am.

The Red Lunchbox

cALI TERRY SUNSET1

November 8, 2006 was the day our lives would start to change again. I drove back to the Centre for Neuroskills from the Sheraton hotel in Bakersfield, about a 20 minute drive, and I remember feeling the craziest sense of panic. I wanted to see Terry but I wanted to run away too. My hands were shaking and I felt like throwing up when I got to the apartment complex.

The apartments are gated  to keep the residents safe, you have to push a buzzer and tell them who you are to be allowed on the grounds. A disembodied female voice identified me and a loud buzz send the gate whirring and clanking open. I pulled slowly in and parked my rental car in the carport. In a normal apartment building it would have been full of cars. Here it was empty except for me and two stacks of chairs, the kind you see in cafeterias. I wondered idly why two stacks of blue chairs were sitting in a carport?  I turned off the key and just sat for a minute; breathing and getting myself to the point where I could smile and talk and make sense.

I rang the doorbell of Terry’s apartment and the door opened on a noisy non-verbal patient and helpers bustling around the living room and kitchen.”Come in, come in! We’re getting ready to go and Terry is waiting for you.” I was pulled easily into the morning bustle of getting ready to go to the center for a day’s work. Terry was dressed and standing in the kitchen, shoulders hunched and looking bewildered, the first day in a long road back had just begun.

This is the piece I wrote after that morning.IMG_0406

Red Lunchbox/TBI 2

They gave you a red lunchbox,
your name printed on it
in bold magic marker.
You knew it was a lunchbox
but not what it was for.
“Let’s make a sandwich”,
I said in my fake-cheery voice,
because I would not cry and I would not
share my sadness with you
like a drive in movie
where emotions are ten feet tall.
The butter knives were locked up
and I had to request one
like it was King Arthur’s mayonnaise sword.
47 minutes of careful direction:
walk to the refrigerator
choose bread
take out two slices
lay them on the counter
choose mayonnaise
can you open the jar?
Choose lunchmeat
it’s in that package.
You constructed your sandwich slowly
you were building the Taj Mahal of sandwiches
for your red lunchbox.
I left you there getting help with your coat,
your first day of therapy still ahead
I sat in the rental car and cried
for both of us and wondered who would help you with your sandwich tomorrow.

TBI: We Arrive at the Centre for Neuroskills

Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?

Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?

 Bakersfield, November 7, 2006

Terry didn’t sleep well and got up early, 4:30 a.m., he thinks he’s going fishing again. I’ve learned to just say, “Your friends will pick you up later, right now we have to fill-in-the-blank”, and we move on.  He’s Captain Froot Loop today and not connecting to reality well. I’m glad we are on the way to the Centre, finally, some help.

We got to the Centre for Neuro Skills around ten in the morning. Map Quest got me right to the place and I drove right past it–twice. Its an unprepossessing building in an unprepossessing area, the centre has a strip malls and a big shopping center as its nearest neighbors. After we parked and went inside the ‘vibe’ changed radically. As we got there a boatload, okay a van load, of clients were delivered from their apartments to the Centre to get their therapy day started. I was  struck by the positive energy radiating from all the staff. Everyone who comes in gets a cheery greeting by name from the receptionist, the therapists and the workers. I feel so grateful for Terry’s physical health. The people who got off that bus were tragic in so many ways, many in walkers or wheelchairs or with other really obvious disabilities and I cannot see them making it all the way back.

We got a tour of the facility and within an hour Terry had been pulled away for his first therapy appointment. He was already on the charts/schedules before we got there. Apparently the first week or so he will be intensely scrutinized and viewed and examined and conclusions will be made as to what his needs are. They will be presenting a monster-sized report to the insurance company with their findings so time is of the essence.

After an hour or so in the waiting room watching other families and clients and wondering what we were all thinking, I was escorted back to meet Terry’s therapist. He showed me something called key chaining that Terry was doing.  It was hilarious and appalling all at once. I was sitting next to Terry in the office when J.M. asked Terry to repeat after him, “The sky is blue, the ground is brown, I am wearing a hat, this is my wife.” Then he asked Terry who was next to him and Terry answered promptly, “My hat.” So, I am in good company with Oliver Sacks and his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.

Walking down endless circular corridors, I noticed that there are polka dot stickers on all the walls. I asked about them. It’s a test, and patients/clients have to work through finding their way using the dots. How long until Terry can even see a dot on the wall?

After we finished at the center today we went to the apartments dragging Terry’s giant suitcase with all his clothes and family photos and the things that make up a life. The apartments are in a really nice area of Bakersfield, gated and about ten miles away from the offices. The Centre believes that to reintegrate to the real world clients/patients need to learn to closely mimic the way the world works. This means buying their own food each week, learning to cook their meals, going on outings, doing their own laundry and as much as possible living like a normal person–all completely supervised and set in levels. Once a skill set is mastered they go to the next one until they are able to leave to live in the ‘real’ world or can go no further. The permanent residents who will never completely recover have a nice set of apartments of their own and caregivers based on their needs. I so hope that Terry can make it back to a better reality with us. It makes me lose my breath to think of him living here forever in the care of others.are you lost

The apartments are spacious, mid 70s in design, well kept and landscaped and nice. Terry is in a ground floor unit where he has his own bedroom and two roommates who share the general living quarters. I did his grocery shopping for him to get him started and put his food away on his own shelf in the refrigerator. They give the clients a set allowance for money and for outings each week. Anything like clothing and haircuts are out of the funds I left for him. He has help 24 hours a day  to relearn the skills he’s missing and they all seemed very cheerful and smart.

I learned a lot that I want to share but I’m just too  tired to put all the philosophy and such like out there and gnaw on it. I think Terry will get much better, I’m comfortable and pleased with the place he is in and so grateful we found them. I think he has far more damage than we first thought and that he won’t ever make it all the way back–but he’ll get really a lot better with time. So, I’m ending this day on a hopeful note. Tomorrow I go back to see him for the morning and in the afternoon  I say good bye and head to L.A. He kissed me good night tonight and settled in to his bed and seemed to be doing well. We’ll just have to wait and see at this point.

Good night Moon. Please make sure he can’t find a screwdriver and escape….

Hope is the thing with feathers.

Hope is the thing with feathers.

Coming Back to Earth: TBI and Re-entry

Are you there?

Are you there?

November 2006, Bakersfield, California

We had a really nice day Sunday, it was crisp and clear and we drove out to Calico, which is a state-park-recreated-ghost-town-low-key-theme park kind of thing. It was fun and this weekend was their Christmas celebration. Santa was wandering around in a black cowboy hat–why not a white one? Doesn’t he watch old movies? The black hats are the BAD guys and the WHITE hats are the good guys. There was lots of live music all over town and we just slowly strolled around and poked our noses in here and there and had a good time. I did notice the quality of stuff for sale was appallingly low, I’m such a gift shop snob….

Since Terry woke me yesterday at 4:30 a.m. and we were on the road by 7:00 it was no surprise to be headed home by lunchtime. Unfortunately we hit holiday traffic. There is, so help me, ONE traffic light outside of Barstow at a 4-way intersection that leads to San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Barstow and the Mojave desert. The traffic was backed up 10 miles at a minimum. It took three hours to go 39 miles. Stop, roll forward as long as the green light was on, stop, etc.

Terry in Calico

Terry in Calico

Needless to say it was somewhat stressful on Terry and he didn’t sleep well last night. We had our usual sundowners episode in which he intended to go sleep in the car so he wouldn’t have to put up with “a bossy woman” (me). At the time he was dressed in a long sleeved flannel shirt his underwear and tennis shoes and clutching two blankets. I did manage to convince him to stay in and he managed to finally sleep but today he is having a Captain Froot Loop day.

We got to the Centre for Neuro Skills today around ten in the morning. Map Quest got me right there and I drove right past it–twice. Unprepossessing building in an unprepossessing area, the centre has strip malls and a big mall as its nearest neighbors. Once you get inside the door of the place the ‘vibe’ changes radically.

As we arrived, a boatload, okay a van load, of clients were delivered from their apartments to the Centre to get their therapy day started. I was much struck by the positive energy. Every patient who comes in gets a cheery greeting by name from the receptionist, the therapists and the workers.

We got a tour of the facility and within an hour Terry was pulled away for his first therapy appointment. He was already on the charts/schedules before we got there. Apparently the first week or so he will be intensely scrutinized and viewed and examined and conclusions will be made as to what his needs are. They will be presenting a monster-sized report to the insurance company with their findings so time is of the essence. I  feel so grateful for Terry’s physical health. The people who got off that bus were tragic in so many ways, many in walkers or wheelchairs or with other really obvious disabilities and I cannot see them making it all the way back in some cases.

I was so tired  that I lost the car keys this morning and then I found them right where they belonged. duh… and then I thought I lost my folio with all of Terry’s stuff in it—like his birth certificate–and the power of attorney–it turned up thank heavens, but it scared me seriously. I know I need rest and I hope I can find it now that at least for a while my problems are on someone else’s shoulders.

It seems very odd to be here in this room  tonight without Terry. I am so used to having him right next to me 24/7 and jumping at every sound that I find this very strange. I think I’ll have to decompress for awhile. After we finished at the center today we went to the apartments the Centre owns to check Terry in and meet his suite mates. They are in a really nice area of Bakersfield, gated and about ten miles away. The Centre believes that to reintegrate to the real world clients/patients need to closely mimic the way the world works. This means buying their own food each week at the grocery store, cooking their meals, going on outings, doing their laundry, and as much as possible living like a normal person–all completely and carefully supervised until they are able to graduate to the next level after proving that they have mastered specific tasks. The apartments are spacious  and Terry has his own room and two roommates in this three bedroom unit.

I did his grocery shopping for him to get him started.  They give the clients a set allowance for money and for outings each week. Anything like clothing and haircuts are out of the funds I left for him. He has help 24 hours a day that each  focus on different skills to help him relearn all the things he’s missing and they all seemed very cheerful and smart.
I learned a lot that I want to share but tonight I’m just too darned tired to put all the philosophy and such like out here and gnaw on it. I think he will get much better, I’m comfortable and pleased with the place he is in and so grateful we found them. I think he has far more damage than we first thought and that he won’t ever make it all the way back–but he’ll get really a lot better with time. So, I’m ending this day on a hopeful note.

Tomorrow I go back to see him for the morning and in the afternoon  I say good bye and head to L.A. He kissed me good night tonight and settled in to his bed and seemed to be doing well. We’ll just have to wait and see at this point. He doesn’t understand why he is in prison but the windows are barred and the whole place is gated. I am going to sleep now, for the first time in months without listening with one ear for him to get up and try to leave. Good night moon.