Lisnahunchin, Portglenone Ireland 1936
Photo By George Morrow
My dead do not whisper.
They are not soft shadowy forms seen out of the corner of the eye at twilight.
They are not the simple black and white images framed and hung or saved and filed on my hard drive. Nor are they just the facts printed on documents found after long searches on-line.
My dead are so much more.
They stare at me. Locking eyes and daring me to discover and dish out their particular details…
How fitting that I managed to finally place the last piece of your story today, Annie Jane, on this your 142nd birthday.
Annie Jane Gamble, my grandfathers mother. I can tell you that she was the daughter of a weaver, born in Lisnahunchin, Portglenone Ireland in 1874. Annie Jane Gamble moved to Scotland where she married a man, George Morrow, 5 years her junior. They had five children, one of which was my grandfather, George Morrow who took all these photos and then left this treasure trove without markings or notations of any kind, and in the process drove me mad with curiosity for nearly 5 decades…
The woman in black velvet, is her mother, Mary Dempsey, who married said weaver John Gamble in the 1st Presbyterian church in Aghogill in 1871.
Today after years of searching I finally found the marriage license of the the younger woman, Agnes Morrow Howard, my grandfathers sister, and the birth certificate for her child, Anna Gamble Howard. Anna was born in 1932, which was the key. The child in the photo was long thought to be a grandchild, but nameless. I knew the photo had to be taken before Annie’s death on January 5th 1938, and the child looks about 4, so I guess this to be the summer of 1936.
Four generations. Mary, Annie, Agnes and Anna. Named and noted at last.
Happy Birthday Annie. I will keep writing and we will remember.
You read that correctly, 3x. I, Sharon Gardner Lloyd have failed the Texas Bar Exam three times.
Some like to phrase it a little differently, they say, “you have been unsuccessful in your attempt.”
Please. Get the fuck over the language already.
Call it what it is. If you are going to administer the exam, and not allow those with a score of less than 675 to get a law license, lets not sugar coat it shall we? I failed. Period. To do otherwise minimizes the success of those who PASSED. It also conjures images of a poor customer service representative whispering “sorry” with an ever slightly tilted head, but I digress…
The minimum score for passing in Texas is 675/1000. This too has some verbal baggage attached. It is frequently referred to as a number that reflects “minimum competency”, or even better, a C-.
Slightly below average, Oh Ouch.
Oh how my unsuccessful spirit loves those phrases, for I have been weighed and measured and found to be neither minimally competent or capable of achieving a C-.
Thank you for playing.
It has been a week since I finished the July 2015 Texas Bar Exam, my fourth and last attempt to pass the bar. Although technically I am allowed a fifth try, so come November 6th if my name is not on the list published for the world to see, or not see, at least I could take it again, but as of today I don’t think I have the heart to give it one more go.
I know I don’t have the ass for it, mine is now flat and square and has assumed the shape of my office chair as is what happens when one sits and studies for 10 to 12 hours a day for two months… times 4.
I have begun fielding the question …come on, you know which question I mean.
“So… how do you think you did?”
In all honesty, I have no idea. My previous attempts I missed the score, by a few points each time.
In February 2014, I scored a 662, missed passing by 13 points, which is 1.3%, OMG did I just do math!
I took it again in July 2014, the year of upload-mageddon. Remember the software failure heard round the country resulted in panic? Here the final score was 651, 2.4% off the mark,
I especially loved the February 15 taking. Cars sliding off freeways, Ice Storm cancels the Cowtown Marathon, Schools closed, but the Bar exam must go on… The Fort Worth Convention Center, without heat. In sub-zero temperatures, (it was 28 inside) we all crammed in the same arena where horses and cattle were shown…moo.
I felt very much like a character in a Charles Dickens novel for the first two days of that taking, as they had the blowers going full-bore, blowing said sub-zero temps from outside, frozen fingers typing …two shirts a sweater and coat, looking rather like the stay-puff-marshmallow grannie…grey short scalp exposed as no hats allowed! But alas I fell short again, with a 658, 1.7% off the required 675.
Which brings us to July 2015. Arlington Convention Center…All I know is I prepared, I followed the plan, I worked hard. But there are factors over which I have no control, by which I mean the scaled score, the bell curve and other students performance. ( good for them I say, you pass by huge margins? Good, all the better for the profession.) Everything is graded on a scale and a curve and that depends greatly upon all those kids that took the bar exam with me…yes kids. I am a 53-year-old grandmother of two, have you not been following along?
So Day Two in Texas is the ever thoughtful gift to law students everywhere the MBE.
It is given on the same day around the Country, the Wednesday of the last week in February or July and consists of a six-hour 200 multiple choice exam on 7 subjects, contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, real property, and the new darling Federal Procedure. It is tough. Seriously I have given birth three times, twice without any anesthetic, been in Reagan’s Navy and boot camp, and sat the naturalized citizenship exam to become a citizen of the United States. MBE in particular and bar exam in general are by far the hardest mental challenges of my life.
It is made that way. I know now after taking it now more than once; the morning session is filled with questions that make you wonder if you ever went to law school, it makes you doubt your very existence and will to live…then you break for lunch and hit it all over again in the afternoon, and then at least sometimes you seem to understand the questions…
So this happened…that Wednesday night after the horrible terrible not very great feeling MBE day.
I’m back in the hotel room…yes we stay there because who wants to miss the bar exam because some idiot was texting and crashed and closed the highway….so I’m in my room getting ready for a full day three of the Texas Bar Exam, Texas Essay day.
My room has an adjoining door, I’ve seen the young ladies who are staying there pass me in the hall, I know they are fellow bar takers… total strangers, but then I hear it. That sound.
The sound mothers everywhere know.
It’s a different type of cry. Its instinctive and different and I instantly know someone is in deep distress.
Like when you have a baby and you know its hungry, or wet or just needing to be held. I stop looking over my essay outlines and listen. It is crying, coming from next door. I hear the muffled sounds of crying and hear a few words…then I hear a knocking and others entering…friends trying to comfort.
The fucking MBE it does just wipe your confidence out…it leaves you with nothing. And there is a full day of essays ahead…
The momma in me just took over.
I grabbed an index card, the essential tool of law students everywhere…I paused to think about what to write.
In the end it was something like, “It will be ok, I have failed this thing, (I believe I fibbed and said only twice, as really, who would take anything I said seriously If I had said three times…) and I said “it is the nature of the beast. It makes you doubt yourself. Chin up, you will pass…” then I slid it under the door.
I woke up the next morning to this slid under my door…
I didn’t think about the curve, or how someone elses lower score might be beneficial, that is not how I roll. For almost a decade I worked with a non-profit that represents children in the court system, and I believe with all I have that being an Attorney is a job that brings with it a deep social responsibility. It is a job of service to others. With the knowledge gained we are meant to serve others, to help them and guide them when they need it most. That type of thinking is not congruent with my belief system, we help each other, we don’t look away, even on the bar exam.
So when you ask me how it went, I think it went well. I do hope Allison and Ashley pass.
As for my passing, …that will be up to the holders of the scale and the curve to decide whether I have what it takes to be declared minimally competent…as for me, I believe I have already passed the only test that matters.
Texas your churches people’s and pastors are safe to practice their sincerely held religious beliefs.
You don’t want to preside over a marriage of two people with the same gender, then don’t.
Your Constitutional Right to practice your faith is intact.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It is the first Amendment to the Constitution.
The very first one.
Like a sharp double-edged sword it states, ” yes… you have freedom to practice your faith,” and then cuts through the other side when it ORDERS congress not to establish any one religion.
Could you imagine if we did? Which faith… shall we choose? The Jewish Faith? Muslim? Oh …Christian. Which Christian faith would you have it be? Baptist? Methodist? Lutheran? Roman Catholic? Mormon? (Enter your particular brand of Jesus Christ Worship here)
Whose Holy tenants shall then be officially sanctioned by the Government? Would you allow the holy sacrament with only grape juice and send all those who use wine to jail? Would you fine those who’s Sabbath Day is different from yours? What about Mass on Friday? That would be a slippery slope indeed.
When our Founding Fathers and Mothers created our Country and our Constitution they knew what could and did happen when the Government recognized one faith over all others. They Chose Not to Establish a State Religion, instead they created a form of Government where it is separate from the church, all churches, all faiths.
Make no mistake, all people’s faiths, beliefs and non-beliefs are equal BECAUSE the Constitution does not play favorites to one faith.
You are free to go forth and worship your faith. Define marriage however you like.
Governor Abbott, Attorney General Paxton, I know you are both lawyers, and unlike me passed the bar exam on the first try…but listen… tone down the rhetoric, the Bible is a book. It is a Holy book of faith. What is described within its covers is between you, your GOD, your faith, and your conscience. The definition of marriage that is found in that book has nothing to do with anyones fundamental right to marry, and it is certainly not the only definition.
Your beliefs are your own, but realize that your right to freely practice your faith ends where it infringes on my Constitutional rights, so forgive me but I don’t have to take your particular definition of any word as my gospel.
DO try to remember, the First Amendment ORDERS you not to establish your particular religious definition of the marriage word as law.
Let’s not cloud the issue, let’s not fear monger and attempt to scare the Texas people by saying their religious freedoms are infringed by giving others their rights. Make no mistake, You are here by put on Notice Mr. Abbott and Mr. Paxton, Fear mongering will no longer be tolerated by rational free thinking Texans.
Can’t wait till I pass the Bar…
They always bombed at tea time.
Not the pass the cookies, pinky finger out thank you very much kinda tea; but the this is the real meal, pass the plate, wash your hands, elbows off the table, kinda tea.
They always came together, the sirens with the supper. It was as if Hitler didn’t want the English to ever have a hot meal.
Sirens sounded, chairs pushed away from the table, leave everything, and remember to close the blackout curtains before you go.
Then with gas masks in hand, the family, the block, the entire city, would walk, not run to their designated bomb shelters. Not easily rattled, those English.
The children carried children sized gas masks in little boxes tied with string. Hand in hand, down they would go, each family to their assigned spot, each spot marked with a mattress propped against the wall. The mattresses were lowered onto the floor and they all sat and waited.
First they waited for it to start.
Then they waited for it to stop.
The all clear sounded, the mattresses were propped back onto the wall, and hand in hand they all emerged and went home.
Life went on in Liverpool.
Juxtapose that with my house, present day where life just isn’t worth living if the cable, internet or electricity are out. All three would sign the beginning of the apocalypse. I shudder to think what would happen if everyone should be in the same room, at the same time, talking, and forced to have actual eye contact.
My father-in law, Griffy was one of those children, the ones with the little boxes tied with string.
The night his house blew up, the sirens went off but the supper wasn’t the only thing left behind.
That night, the last night in the house, Griffy was bedridden and coughing and Grannie refused to go until the tea he had a cuppa tea to sooth his throat.
“We will be right behind you, ” she said as the rest of the family left for the shelter.
Grannie put the kettle on, and as she went to close the curtains, she saw her neighbor across the street writing a letter at her kitchen table. Her boyfriend was away at war, and afterwards Grannie liked to imagined the young woman’s last thoughts were filled with love.
The whistle of the kettle and the bombing were simultaneous. Grannie Sands filled the Brown Betty teapot with hot water and then collected Griffy from the bed. Teapot in one hand and child over her shoulder Grannie Sands made for the shelter.
She made it to the front door before Hitler landed a direct hit on the neighbors house across the street.
Griffy was blown into the alley and landed unharmed. He stood and ran to find Grannie Sands.
He found her in the street, sitting straight up, arms out, with her ass wedged into the street drain.
The teapot still clutched in her hand.
and she hadn’t spilled a drop.
The drugs were very disappointing.
I had really hoped for something a little more….recreational.
One second I am being pushed into the OR with white cotton heated heavy cuddle-up this is almost like a spa blanket and looking into the face of a very handsome….Argentinian anesthesiologist, a dark curly-haired Polo player… bet he drives a sports car… god he is really short, but look at those dark curls… can’t see the size of his feet from my position, Damn! Wow..very handsome…the vain bitch in me wonders if he likes short pudgy middle-aged women who can make killer soup…
My inner monologue never really shuts up. Even laying naked with a slit up the back please leave it open cotton gown, it will not be silenced.
The next he looks into my eyes says “Bye Bye, you might feel a little stinging…” and proceeds to take a rather large vial of a white milky substance and inject it into my IV.
My monologue continues only momentarily…
STING!…shit this crap burns like a motherfucker…and then almost simulateosly…I wonder if the is the same stuff that killed Michael Jackson?
I started to wonder if it was going to be a slow sleepy decent into oblivion, and as soon as that thought materialized. It happened.
No sleepy decent, no calm feeling, no comforting dreams, nothing. From constant contained inner chatter to nothing.
Then I opened my eyes, the not so magic sleep of childhood ended as abruptly as it began.
I look at the clock. An hour has passed.
Past. Unsettling really.
An hour of you have been unconscious and things have happened to your body you have no memory of, totally unsettling.
Wow the last time this happened it was the ’80’s…remember?
ah no, no I don’t and I would deny it even if I did…..
The nurse hands me my four page patient instructions…complete with full color photos of the inner workings of my colon.
“Can I get you anything?”
All I want is water, one bottle down I ask for another, half way through I start looking at the instructions, the words, three 7 to 9 mm polyps resected and retrieved… pop out immediately.
Ohhhh I told you not to eat that McDonald’s cheeseburger!
I then brave the second and third pages with the proof, the full on color, complete with location guide to find the exact location place, pictures.
Wow… this is easier than a Disney World Map…
It’s then I wonder how sore I am going to be tomorrow considering each polyp seems to have had its own spot light, camera crew and removal team up my ass…
Wonderful, all this without a happy ending or a cigarette great.
I had seen other pictures, seen what a polyp looks like, the little stalks, tiny little mushroom like innocent polyps.
These don’t look like that.
Oh joy! See how the Doc. highlighted the polyps in yellow boxes and made them easier to see?
The yellow boxes make me think of the middle light in a traffic light, which depending on your world view and the cost of insurance means either speed up, slow down, or all stop….
yellow means caution,
yellow means slow down,
yellow light means hurry , hurry through or you’ll miss it?
Miss everything…. you dolt.
I look again and again and again. I am amazed in a rather disconnected way.
An hour ago with no risk factors whatsoever, little miss granola never eat anything from a package girl…was totally sure nothing was going to be found…after all no family history, unless…
Unless you count the lovely time I had in Florida watching my mother-in-law die from colon cancer, isn’t life funny? What a coincidence!
An hour ago it was, “I don’t think we are going to find anything, we are just ruling it out, if we don’t find the cause of your pain it’s off for a CT scan…”
Yea, nice coincidence.
Dr. Raja opens the curtain and takes a seat.
Ha ha funny girl, gotta laugh, gotta admit your word choice is funny…
ah no I don’t…. And while I have your attention, please shutthefuckup.
Quiet inside and out, and I don’t like the fact that he is sitting down.
Sitting means he has more to say than maybe I want to hear.
“So we did find, three what I would call medium to large polyps…they have been sent to pathology, and I recommend another colonoscopy in three years…. you should take it easy for the rest of the day, we will let you know when the pathology report comes in, it usually takes 6-7 days. Do you have any questions?”
Please take note, for future reference, I was quiet, both inside and out.
Great 6-7 days.
Today is December 16, 2010.
Husband out of the country for the second time in less than two weeks, my eldest daughter is going to have to drive my knocked out ass home, where I will still have to wait hand and foot on a grumpy old man who really is dying and before this moment, I had considered to be the biggest pain in my ass.
Merry Christmas to me….
On the way home I am greatly irritated by the automobiles who are shoving happiness in my direction. Little stickers on the windows denoting child and activity, ya great way for the pedophiles to learn your kids names, really smart…. families of fishes, getthefuckover evolution already…and the ultimate in obnoxious, the little reindeer antlers sticking out your windows and a red pom-pom stuck to your front grill…really…like I am supposed to think your Yukon is a fucking reindeer?
I did not take it easy, to do so would have been too logical and really beyond the scope of my ability.
For the few days I made armies of gingerbread men that would break a tooth, but looked wonderful if not quite so anatomically correct…
“Mom what did you do to the frosting?”
I baked shortbread, Empire biscuits, and made more pots of soup than we could consume..
I sorted out the laundry room, scoured the washer, just how the little plastic trays that held the soap and softener get so gross is still a mystery.
I vacuumed the dryer hose to eliminate the ever-present fire hazard of lint build up, and most astonishingly finally found matches to the millions of odd socks that had accumulated atop said dryer for most of the year.
I kept busy during the day, but thoughtful most of the sleepless nights.
I did not worry about finishing law school, or bills, or house repairs or anything that really doesn’t matter.
I thought instead, that I should write, finish the stories, and laugh, a whole lot more.
I could not remember the last time, the last time I had fun…
When was the last time I went to brunch?
When was the last time the warm sun and beach was all there was on today’s schedule?
I told ya,…gotta listen to the flight attendant.
The flight attendant…you know the part about the oxygen mask?
You know…how ya gotta put your own on first,
you know before you help anybody else….
you gotta have yours on first…
The call came on Sunday, the 19.
Had it only been three days?
The Adenomatous polyps were not cancerous, but were premalignant.
I was ok.
There is something to be said about following your gut.
For a long time my body was telling me something was wrong.
I had not only been in pain, but not at ease….
I finally followed my gut, and it saved my life.
But as happy as I am just don’t look at me to stick no fucking reindeer antlers and pom-poms on my car, ever….
Not two, gotta go to both grandma’s house Christmases. Or two open presents Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Christmases.
Two Christmases, in one place on the very same night.
It was the clocks fault.
The mantel clock with the Westminster chimes my Nana got as a wedding present.
It sat on her mantel, then on my mothers, and now it is on mine.
It was hurry, hurry go to sleep.
‘Cause sleep was like magic.
Magic sleep is the kid kinda sleep.
The kind when you close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, its morning.
Magic sleep won’t come with wishing or squeezing your eyes closed real tight.
The sooner you sleep , the sooner it comes.
When you wake, it will be Christmas.
The magic isn’t working.
I am thinking about my stocking.
Stocking are Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Black Cherry and Tangerine.
Stockings are Loves Baby Soft, lavender soaps, licorice whips, Life Savers books, and the little rose flavored candies that come in a metal tin so pretty you can’t ever throw them away.
Stockings are new crayons, trace the outline first then fill in the color new coloring books.
They are new tooth brushes, socks and undies.
But mostly stockings are chocolate.
Chocolate only appeared three times a year in my house.
Easter, Halloween and Christmas.
Solid chocolate Santa’s, in milk and white, gold coins and candy canes filled with M&M’s.
That was the American kind.
Then there was the other kind.
The British kind. Cadbury’s and Fry’s Turkish Delight, Flakey Bars, Roses Assorted, and Black Magic. There was Terries All Gold with creamy orange or strawberry filling. The best part was, you could eat as much as you wanted. Chocolate for breakfast, chocolate for lunch, and chocolate for dinner. It doesn’t get any better, even now.
You could open no presents on fear of death before my mother woke up with her instamatic little light cube flash camera.
Before parents were up, presents were piled by recipient, mounded and counted always equal, always.
But sorting piles and seeing stockings will not come, not until I sleep and wake.
Stop thinking about the chocolate, count things instead.
One minute my feet are seeking cold spots in the sheets and the next magic happens, and I am asleep.
Then it is jump out of bed, gotta be first, round the corner see the tree…
see the stockings are slack and nothing is wrapped.
The clock, it says 6. I skip a beat, feel it stop.. sink a bit…. then start again.
I see the yellow Caterpillar dump truck with the real shovel and bed that dumps, Baby Tender Love, Barbie dolls with the bendable knees, click click see her sit… a pile of books, crayons and coloring books, packages of undies, socks and toothbrushes…
I see and know.
I see then what my parents said, saw the lists and letters I wrote to Santa. The folded letters I had thrown into the blazing fire…. that is how you reach Sanata..they said.
I see the letters dissolve into ashes; they rise and fly up the chimney and across the world to Santa’s workshop.
No more would I wonder why Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents, why his writing looked like the notes I took to my teachers and why Santa always seem to know exactly what I wanted.
See the wrapping paper, tape and ribbon and just start. Start to wrap.
I know but the others should not.
I wrap and guess who get’s what until there is nothing left sit back and see, the piles and packages of the first Christmas after, knowing.
The door opened, parents laughing, next door for a drink, they laughed at my worry laughed and shoo-fly my tears, go to sleep, back to your room, back to bed, back…but I can’t really go back , not all the way.
The kids will be up soon I say, look to the clock, it no longer says 6, but 1230 instead.
The magic sleep comes quickly the second time around.
My second Christmas I do not bound, I do not want to be- the- first- to- see just what is underneath the Christmas tree.
I have already seen.
My second Christmas, the packages are piled, and the stockings are full the others are laughing, and counting, and the chocolate is just a little less sweet.
Christmas is here Hogmanay yet to come. My father has the giant green Hefty bag at the ready for the boxes, the wrapping he tosses into the fireplace with glee.
The time to ready, the time to clean, the time when the house must be, what it will be for the coming year.
Every Scottish housewife knows, the house will be, what ever it is when the New Year comes.
If it is dirty, dirty it will be.
If it is tidy at the New Year, then tidy it will be.
New Year. Hogmanay.
The way you end the year, will tell you how you will be in the next.
The dressers are cleaned, the clothes folded, the trash taken out.
The laundry is done, and baskets are empty. The fridge is full, the rooms are cleaned, toilets scrubbed, closets cleared, and garbage out, and no stuffing anything under the bed.
The way you enter the New Year, is the way it will be.
Hogmanay meant cleaning, and hassle and hiding out till the work was done.
When the sun went down on New Years Eve, the feast began, the friends came, the scotch flowed, and Hogmanay really happened.
It was ceilidhs…Kailey’s… dancing and laughter.
Hogmanay was meat pies, and dark-haired first footed strangers after midnight at your door.
The darker the hair the stranger, the better the luck.
A hold over from the days of unlucky light-haired Nordic Viking blondes who raped and pillaged; the darker the stranger the better the luck.
Mom always looked for a dark-haired man enter the door first after the New Year. First foot was not to be ignored.
It meant the best of luck, the best of things to come, even now 40 years after the year of the two Christmases, and the clock who told the wrong time, I look for a dark-haired stranger to cross my threshold at the New year, and bring the best of things; it means the best is yet to come, in the New Year.
Slainte! (Slan-ja) To your Health, all you dark- first- footed- strangers, imaginary or not.