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.


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



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.



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 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


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.

The Only Way Out is Through the Door: Strange Days in the Land of TBI

Calico Door

Calico Door

location: Bakersfield Hilton
mood:     cranky   date: November 26, 2006

We made it to Bakersfield with everyone intact. Terry didn’t escape and I didn’t kill him.

We drove through the night and the guys, bless their firefighter hearts, pulled the monster motor home into a gas station in Bakersfield and filled it up. About $150.00 of gas cash from my pocket later, they dropped us at the car rental place at the Bakersfield airport and turned for home. I love them for being so generous, you can’t pay back that kind of caring. I got the car rented, loaded Terry and our luggage into it and headed for the hotel. I have schools in Bakersfield so I at least know my way around. Its nice to see the sunshine again and I’d like to think it makes Terry happy too.

Terry and friends outside the motorhome

Terry and friends outside the motorhome

We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant which was not memorable except that Terry dribbled salsa down his front and in spite of my sotto voce command of, “Don’t do that!” He ate the hot salsa with a spoon like soup. Note to self: find the tums and tell him they are dessert.

Terry, the sad prisoner

Terry, the sad prisoner

I am so glad there is only one more day before Terry goes to the center tomorrow. I would like to stick him in a wicker basket  on their porch with a note on his chest and drive off into the sunset, but instead I’ll be there, the dutiful wonderful wife at his side supporting him. And yes, I still am that but I’m tired, frustrated, sick of him and want this whole nightmare to be over. I feel so sad for him sometimes, he really is pitiful now in a lot of ways. This strong man is wandering around the hotel room hunched over without a shirt on, he looks like a little old 80 year with a saggy body because he’s lost so much weight.

In our room he is very agitated because he is sure we need to burn our clothes as part of the hotel fire protection. Thank God there are no matches. He pulls a case off a pillow because he needs a fusible link and we are off to the races. He demands the keys and tells me he is going to sleep in the car because I am such a bitch. Just what I need, my naked husband with the hotel coverlet wrapped around him running through the lobby. Perfect.

At this point, I finally call Shayne on his cell phone and make him talk to his father. Shayne can usually get him in off the ledge because Shayne is never with him for more than an hour and they are still at the “I love you, Dad, you are my hero phase.” Gag. I’m at the shut the fuck up and sit down phase. Poor Terry. Most of the time I cope just fine and things are as okay as they can be in this insane anteroom to hell.

He goes to bed starting at about 6:00 and comes out every five minutes to see if the t.v. is turned up too high or I’m still up or whatever. Of course I’m up. I’m still working until after midnight most nights at home. Terry throws his clothes on the floor and changes four or five times a day. I’m doing excess laundry, dishes, whatever it takes to keep the world running. No one is helping anymore. After the drama the grind sets in and friends fade. When I get my nerve up I call and ask for an hour here and there to go shopping for groceries.  We  had a ‘housekeeper’ for two days. What a mistake that was! She was supposed to watch Terry but was totally unable to relate to him in any way and mostly she smoked outside and sulked inside.  I called the agency and said to not send her back. It’s easier to do it myself.

I’m so glad we finally have at least a ray of hope. A window of chance to get him some help that I cannot provide. What are the parameters? If I baby him and put up with him will he just stall and stay in this terrible place? If I push him, when is it too much for both of us? I just don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does who is an unexpected caregiver.

After Terry talks to Shayne, Tor calls. He’s 14 and this is scary. He doesn’t know where Shayne and Heather are and it is getting dark.  He’s there and I’m here, helpless and mad.  Poor kid, one more lousy Terry thing for him to cope with. They were supposed to be at the house hours ago to stay there for the week I would be gone, so far no sign of them. I finally run them down and they say they are doing laundry.

Another hour passes, another call from Tor, home alone in the dark in in Olympia.

I finally get a call on my cell phone while sitting on the floor in front of the hotel room door to keep Terry from escaping naked to run through the corridors. “We can’t come, Heather has allergies to your cat.” I don’t even get mad, I just hang up. I will have time to be angry and never forgive them later. I  simply called my friend Faye, my go-to girl. She is in her pajamas but she jumps right in her car and comes over to spend the night, now that’s a friend. My son Corey who works two hours away from Olympia,  has promised to stay at my house with two dogs, two cats and one kid for the rest of the week. His poor wife and kids will be sacrificing him to the gods of TBI for the duration.

Calico Cowboys and Indians, California tourist town fun

Calico Cowboys and Indians, California tourist town fun

I am in my own one ring circus with Terry again. It’s 6:01 on Sunday morning. Terry decided he had to get up at 5:05–started to get up at 4:14. I want to kill him. He slept like a log from about 8:00 on due to the Trazodone I stuffed into him. It makes him giggle weirdly and he’s off balance but he sleeps. I’m glad Robin posts the ‘tidier’ emails about Terry because if only my posts were read this whole thing would look demented instead of just the demented moments that I seem to need to catch.

Its the day after after our amusement park ride that lasted 24 hours in the RV. I hate sitting sideways and I hate not being able to see out. It was like being in a big, rattling, banging, noisy, box with steamed up windows. Terry was miserable and sure we were kidnapping him and taking him somewhere evil. Keep in mind, the motorhome was generously loaned to us and that the drivers were two fire fighters who are his old friends. He just knew the cops were looking for us. He wouldn’t lay down in the bedroom because it was an unsecured area. So we had to bounce along most of the night in the living room sitting up. It was like being in a silverware drawer full of silverware in a non stop earthquake. Bang bang rattle rattle thump thump and Terry sulking.

We stopped in Oregon for dinner near Roseberg and he was surprised to see his parents in the parking lot. He had only had it explained every day for weeks. He was obviously having a very foggy day….but I’m glad his mom got to see him.

Going for a ride, stuck in traffic on a sunny day makes me happy.

Going for a ride, stuck in traffic on a sunny day makes me happy.

He seems a little more sane today now that he is awake and dressed. We are going to try to drive up to Calico, a touristy ghost town that he loves. I cannot sit in a hotel room with him for 24 hours or one of us will not survive. He loves adventures so I hope this will be fun and wear him out before bed time. Tomorrow is the big day he checks into the Centre for Neuroskills for God knows how long.

I will be driving on into LA and stay from Wednesday to Friday  to meet with the boss who hired me months ago and has put up with my crazy non-working schedule and paid me anyway. I am looking forward to getting at least part of my life back. I am dreading saying good-bye to Terry, it will be a relief and a rending. I  think I will cope by going out to dinner and getting  fairly drunk one night. It’s a start.

Bakersfield Begins


Nowhere Stairs, Somewhere in Washington

Nowhere Stairs,
Somewhere in Washington

TBI 4: To Bakersfield With Love

Like a silverware drawer in an earthquake
this old motor home rattles with every hole,
trundling down highway 101 as if we were stuck inside a fat man running
slow, but we’ll get there. Trying to nap on the trampoline in the back room
counting the daylight between me and the sheets, sleeping with only one eye.

My prisoner thinks if it’s Tuesday this must be Pakistan,
or is it Germany today? He harvests words like a satellite lost in space,
picking up occasional beeps, giving them back
in random sentences that make me cock my head
like a confused dog. His brain refuses to tell him the war is over
or how to make a sandwich or the meaning of aphasia,
what we have here is a breakdown in communication.

My life inside out is just a pocket full of memory crumbs,
I  lay a trail south and hold hope like a birthday candle
lighting the way for two fire fighters, his friends in a previous edition
take turns driving through the night, to deliver him like a UPS package
shipped safely to Bakersfield in one of those big brown trucks.

He decides to run away at a rest stop somewhere outside Shasta,
puts on his shoes and coat, quietly opens the back door
I wake and catch his hand, “It’s so cold outside baby, wait
and leave in the morning.” Defeated, huddling in his jacket
he never takes off his baseball cap. Slouching in the ratty captain’s chairs
bolted to the floor of our cage we wait for morning to come for him.

I feel like a freight train clacking down the concrete,
bump ba dump bump ba dump into central California and the end of the road.
Today is November 27th and time’s dead star collapses inward
becoming a new map that leads to April when I will see him again.
I feel like my grandma’s quilt, the one she made for a five-year-old me
from scraps of clothes we loved or hated, tied at the corners
with red yarn and washed so much it has holes now like me and him.

I want to leave, I think too much. I’m past the prayers and the bargains
God. I’m working on acceptance and escape. No one told me
escape is the stage of grief that carries guilt like a stone in its greasy backpack,
Bakersfield and the Facility are waiting surrounded by fields of grapes.

I will hand him over my burden, my love, my focus
will change like a reindeer molting, I’ll lose winter fur and grow antlers
to fight insurance companies. I’ll be listening at the door with a glass of wine
in my hand, waiting for April to call, hoping he wrote down my number.

Push and Pull

Push and Pull

More than a Cup

My mysterious cup

My mysterious cup

Un souvenir lointain, the French phrase for a distant memory seems to fit perfectly around this little cup, a souvenir in the American sense, from another time and place.  I find that thrift shop fragments of other times are almost Proustian to me, remembrances of things past triggering a cascade of not-my memories. I must have been a cat in another life because I find myself endlessly curious about such things in this one.

I am the Sherlock Holmes of broken china and porcelain orphans, and I want to know more. How did this cup from Bethlehem, New Hampshire wind up in Lacey, Washington over a hundred years later? Where did the saucer go? I know where the chip came from because I banged it into a metal rabbit on my desk and sadly, gave its first nick since manufacture in Germany a long time ago.

The cup is a demitasse, almost certainly a souvenir and not one of a set to be used for sipping after dinner coffee. It was made specifically for American trade as the mark on the bottom is in English. Made in Germany could indicate one of two things–it’s a prestige item and the “made in” was a selling point, German porcelain to the nouveau riche Americans would be appealing as all get out. Or, it was made after 1914 when the McKinley Tariff was revised from just country name to the added “made in” on imported items.

Manufacture after 1914 seems unlikely for several reasons. World War I launched on July 28, 1914, and made an unholy mess of Europe–including Germany for several years. I considered  the style of the decoration too.  Very Victorian, a black and white engraving of a tree lined street with no automobiles on it would seem to place it earlier in time. The bottom of the cup tells the truth of the tale: “Copyrighted by Charles Pollock, Boston”.  More research turned up a well-known Yankee photographer, the ubiquitous Charles Pollock. Pollock seems to have had his work everywhere in the 1870s to the early 1900s, he even had a photography shop selling stereopticon equipment and photographs in Boston.

With Mister Pollock's compliments

With Mister Pollock’s compliments

My little cup was new most likely in Bethlehem’s halcyon days, 1870 to about 1910. It turns out this little town in the White Mountains was a bit late to the party, missing incorporation by losing their paperwork before the Revolutionary War, but they did manage to become a town by 1798.. No one knows where the name came from, but Bethlehem it became and still is, with their final claim to fame being the ability to cancel stamps at Christmas with a Bethlehem postmark.

In the 1870s the trains came, as many as seven a day, bringing tourist trade from the sooty cities of the east to the clean air of the mountains. The Bethlehem  entrepreneurs who discovered this mountain paradise first were not exactly slow to respond. Thirty resort hotels came into being in short order to serve these vacationers; and a whole of lot of wealthy folks including PT Barnum and the Woolworth family built lavish summer “cottages” to get away to for the weekends.

In 1887 the wealthy folks came up with the idea of a “coaching parade” and decorated horses and coaches to the max for the contest. A few cost as much as five grand to kit out according to my reading. Barnum is said to have remarked it was, “the second greatest show on earth.” The parade lasted almost forty years before dying away with the advent of the automobile, which also killed off the town as a major destination. No one had to take a train anymore, cars could get you further and go places trains couldn’t.  The town was rediscovered as a summer destination for Jewish folks with hay fever in the 1920s or so. Yes, that’s what the literature says, and I can actually picture my Jewish grandma using that as an excuse to get away for a few weeks of R&R.

The engraving

The engraving

So what exactly is on this cup anyway? Hunting around for historical reference to match I discovered a wonderful old post card on line, and identified it as the Highland Hotel.

The Highland in its heyday

The Highland in its heyday

Here is a description of  the hotel at its beginning: HIGHLAND HOUSE, J.H. Clark, on Main Street at the west end,
accomodates eighty guests. This house possessed spacious apartments
with closets, open fire-places and baths, hot and cold water on every
floor, electric bells, and other modern improvements, and has a fine
lawn tennis and croquet grounds. Good livery in connection.

And hilariously enough, the back of the postcard:Postcard BackI really want to know what buttons were not in the tub….

I am now happy to put this little cup on the shelf in my studio where I can see it and admire it and wonder who bought it, a gift? a souvenir? What was their life like? Why did they choose this cup over all other souvenirs.  Things I cannot know but I know enough to make me content.

And the postscript to this story made me laugh out loud with delight. The Highland Inn, circa 1983, is now a hotel in Bethlehem, NH which caters to women only. It is one of top lesbian destinations for vacation in the country according to Planet Pink.  Life goes on.