Category Archives: Life

My Dead Do Not Whisper

04

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.

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Filed under Family, Family Tree, Genealogy, Immigrant, Life, Scotland, Scotland's People, Story Telling, Writing

Grannie Sands, the Surviving Teapot and Sirens with your Supper

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.

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Filed under Griff, Humor, Immigrant, Life, My Husband's Parents, Stories, True Life, World War II, Writing

The Night of Two Christmases and the Hassle of Hogmanay

I was 9 the night of two Christmases.

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.

Not tonight.

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.

Really 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.

Right.

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.

No more.

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.

Hogmanay.

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.

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Filed under Children, Family, Humor, Life, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Clean

The game we play, my father-in-law and I, has no written rules, no tiny hour glasses filled with sand,  buzzers, or points to be counted.   Well,  that’s not exactly true, there is a type of score. 

This time the score is 7 days, 4 hours and 27 minutes.

That’s 7 days, 4 hours and approximately 27 minutes since Griffy’s last shower.

The first move is always his.

“Sharon, I think I’ll go for a shower.”  …although he has started calling me Karen…

“Ok Griffy,” my reply.

Let the game begin.

The announcement comes mid-afternoon,  never in the morning, never at night. He declares his intent, shuffles off down the hall, slippers buffing, scuffing all the way. One does not need to watch, you can hear his progress, down the hall fainter and fainter until he reaches his room, opens the door and goes inside.

The shower isn’t in there.

There is nothing he needs to retrieve; supplies and towels are ever ready in the master bath. Do not ask me what he is doing, there are  some things I just don’t care to know.   A few minutes later, the door opens, he comes out empty-handed, and heads for the master bath.

The next move is mine.

I sit and count to 100, not too slow, not too fast, 1 -1000, 2-1000,  3-1000; like a game of hide and go seek only now there is no seeking,  just me hiding out of sight.  

I take my cell phone and into the master bedroom I go, taking my place just outside the bathroom door and wait.

Well,  not just wait exactly. I listen.

I listen for the sound of the water being turned on, and when it starts, I look down at my cell phone  and start the stopwatch.

It started out just listening, listening for trouble. The plastic shower seat, hand rails, and hand-held shower were there to assist, make it easier, but  the mommie mind  raced, never at ease waiting on the other side of the house for his return. He can barely keep upright walking on a solid dry surface, never mind on a wet soapy one. So instead of waiting out of ear shot heart racing thinking every noise is a sign of distress, heart pounding call the paramedics!  I started sitting in the bedroom listening for trouble just outside the bath room door. 

The proximity eased my worry.

I don’t know why that is, why being closer  seems to alleviate the fear. It just does. It’s the same with  all my children, as long as they are near, as long as they are close,  as long as they are under my roof, in my house, they can come to no harm.

The simple nearness is a strange comfort, but it works.  So I sit, just outside the bathroom door assuring that no harm will befall the tottering 75 year-old man just  beyond the door, nothing can happen, because I am near.

That’s when I first noticed it. I noticed that despite the fact that the water takes a while to warm up to even body temperature, it never seemed to run for very long.  

So I started timing it. The water did shut off almost as soon as it was turned on.

How soon?  

Less than two minutes. As in you have got to be kidding  there is no way  you are soaping up and rinsing off  anything in that amount of time, soon.

That’s how the game began.

It started off with me just listening, making sure he didn’t fall in the shower, and evolved into me playing  some sort of hygiene monitor.  I now arrange the soap, shampoo and even his tooth-brush and when I check them after his almost weekly attempts at personal hygiene they have not been moved.

His tooth-brush is never wet.

That’s the game we play, Griffy and I. 

He pretends that he washed.

And I pretend not to notice he was in the shower for less than 120 seconds.

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The Easter Bonnet, the Bag of Chips, and the Cricket Obstacle Course

 

Nothing rocks like a train. It catches you off guard, rolls you from side to side, throwing you off-balance.  

The ride south is sunfilled; mirror glass icons gleam, alleys and chain link fences anchored with discarded cups, straws and empty plastic bags. The other side of the tracks. The facades faded, flat; chipped paint and rusty doors rule.

The backside of business. Count the Bed Bath Beyonds’, Taco Bells, and Dominos. What the market will bare.

The city blooms and suburbs fade; smokers litter the sidewalks, each wearing plastic name tags, badges, and labels; the new lepers of polite society.

Outside please.

Big slow turn, spy the grassy knoll, see the flag, the window, brass markers gleam on the sidewalk and always remember, never forget. Yes,  it really happened…right there.

All stop. Switch westward bound. TRE means half way there, bigger train, commuter filled, bags and brief cases hogging the seats.  The sweat and barbecue sauce, oil and designer fragrance mix.

See her wipe the table top with antibacterial wipes; lemon fresh. Add to the bouquet. 

The paper napkin from the bag, unfolded, placed on the clean table. All is ready, out comes the sandwich, the juice box, the carrots and ranch?  Dinner is served. With each small bite she looks out the window; she watches where we just left.

The rolled up sleeves and black aprons board.

“Ever have a raw habanero?”one apron asks the other.

“Many times, but it’s not the hottest. The hottest she is the ghost pepper.” 

His pronoun choice makes me smile.

“Hotter than… the hat, ah what is the word,  the ….cap pepper?” he gestures with both hands  on top of his head which necessitates letting go of the strap that steadies him.

weebles wobble but they don’t fall down…Scotch bonnet

“The Scotch bonnet pepper. Ghost pepper ten times hotter, your mouth will break into sores, it is so hot. I have done this, just one time. In my country they smear this pepper over fences to keep the animals out, it works, even on elephants.”

Elephants and Scotch bonnet peppers. Gotta love the train ride, it’s a United Nations of world views all wrapped up in a moving metal box.

The aprons are quiet now. They step off  at the next stop and disappear. 

The westward journey over, disembark, destination just ahead. 

Intermodal Station,  dodge the buses, cross the street wrestling the roll bag filled with books along the cracked and crooked sidewalk. The best swear words are saved for this exact moment.

Usually.

Elevator down, push open the thick glass doors, the library awaits.

A different type of wrestling begins.

Afterwards pull the book bag, heavy black, filled to the brim. 

Class over, another day marked off; X marks the spot. 

The journey back in the night-time is aware at all times, don’t wear your iPod,  listen up, don’t be an idiot scary, sometimes. 

Still afraid of the night-time, watch and beware.

The eastward train everyone sees in, the mirror windows in the night-time limit the view; reflect only whats inside. 

Seats abound I take two one for me, one for the bag, and try to read. The same page over and over and over, give it up.

See his arm is around her, the wife beater white tee-shirt a bright contrast  to the blue and black letters, symbols and patterns that cover his shoulders, arms, and hands.  After a while he stands, reaches down, then slings a diaper bag over his shoulder. She stands now, so very much smaller than he. A slight, slim, dark-eyed, young mother holding her tightly wrapped baby in blue. He walks ahead, turns and holds her hand, one- two-three steps down onto the platform. The train moves and I cannot see them anymore. 

Almost there now, here the slow curve again feel it there in the dark; the shrine to historic horror.

The dark dims the view, but you know it’s there.

Union station after dark.

Iconic shapes vanish. Giant gleaming mirrors with nothing to reflect loom like a hole you can feel in the dark. Colors melt in the dark glass and blur the straight lines into shapeless waves.

Keep my head down, back against the wall, and wait; watching everything, looking down the track, willing the redline to appear. Loud voices appear from the tunnel, drunk laughter, high fives slapping, missing. They walk  along the bench asking all who wait for smokes or change, have to get home, need a smoke man…my turn next. I shake my head no, and they move on. 

Redline appears, last leg, northward now, soon back to green grassy lawns, brightly lit streets, jogging paths and home associations.

I like the seats that face forward, have to see where I am going.

The only empty seat is facing inward, back to the window and the world. 

Then I see the hat. 

The battered straw with a stiff pink tulle fringe around the brim.

It looks like a childs hat, minus the thin white elastic chin strap that always seems to pinch and snap and leave a deep mark on your skin. The small hat cradles her rocking head perfectly. The tulle and straw brim is pushed up against the glass. She is sound asleep against the window. Like a sleeping child her head starts to roll, sideways, then all the way back, coming to a stop against the back of the bench seat.  The hat stays perfectly planted. She is vulnerable grace, her smooth slender neck childlike. I fight the urge to place my sweater under her head. Instead I watch her sleep in her Wal-Mart name tag, and Easter bonnet. 

I take out another book, give it a try.

“Whats that book?”

Don’t look,  don’t answer, don’t flinch; can’t you smell the  booze?

Didn’t notice him until he spoke. That’s not good.

“Acing Torts” I hear myself reply.

“whats that mean, ….acing?”

I see the little boy he was, unable to read, trying to sound out the words, and wonder when and why he stopped trying.

“It means earning a high-grade, to do really well on a test, getting an A is acing an exam.”

He brings out a bag of chips munching as he speaks, “You…going to college or something?”

Every syllable spews flecks of potato chips in my direction.

“Something like that,” I answer.

For a moment I imagine teaching him to read. I stop the fantasy when he starts  just talking, out loud crumbs flying, one of those crazy out loud cross the street he’s a whack job rants,  to no one in particular.  I keep my head down, reading the same page over and over.

Johnny Depp’s doppelgänger boards and stands between the bag of chips man and me. 

“Nice boots” chip man sprays.

“I got these bad boys in New Orleans.” Depp replies

“Man you from New Orleans… I’m from New Orleans!” They grab hands bend elbows and chest bump.

“I miss that place man been here since Katrina man…that was hard dude, how long you been here?” chips only occasionally fly.

“I’ve been here five years bro.”

The train stops Doppelganger and Chip man step off. 

They too fade to black as the train pulls out.

Last stop Parker road. The car is parked at the far end of the lot.  Old fears creep in, push them away.

I am Eowyn, see me roar.

Fuck off fear.

Step off the train, looking back, the Easter bonnet is still asleep. I fight the urge to wake her.

what if she’s riding it back downtown and this is the only sleep she gets? ”

Black bag behind, the brick path rattles me inside and out.

The lot is empty, my car a foot ball field away.

I start to walk, aiming for each of the pools of light.

I didn’t see them until they jumped.

Crickets. Big black armoured crickets having a gathering under all the lights. I ponder my next move.

Either walk right through them and stay in the light, or go around and risk darkness.

Place your bag in front of you, not behind, and use it to clear your path….

Thanks Eowyn, brave sword wielding  princess,  I think I’ll just do that.

I put the bag in front of me and began to run, staying in the light, crickets parting like Moses and the Red Sea.

Car straight ahead, keys in hand, click to unlock throw in the bag, lock the door.

Safe!

Driving home I can’t wait to see what tomorrows train ride will bring.

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The Dinner Table, the Burping Alphabet Bet and The Peter Pan Collar

The table was always set, every night, fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, paper towel napkin folded in half tucked under the knife.  The fork was always in the left hand, still is, the knife in the right, and napkin always stayed on the lap. Under no circumstances was said napkin to be balled up, held in the hand or otherwise disfigured before the end of the meal and it found it’s way to the trash.

Mom do we need spoons?

You always asked, one didn’t want to have to set and wash spoons that were not used and more importantly;

Spoon meant jello, or custard or canned fruit or on very special occasions, ice cream.  

Spoons meant  dessert.

The fruit cocktail single half a red cherry mined and fought over;  the pears packed in syrup juice drizzled over the warm Birds custard a half a pear on the side; the frothy rectangle jello, scoopable and smooth;mix the can of evaporated milk, pour it through the hole in the top the moving blender,  the whirling teaches patience as the jello orange or strawberry creamy treat takes a while to set. Listen to the roar,  the foamy layers settle;  see them forming in the glass 8×10 on the refrigerator shelf, shake the dish still not ready,  close the door!

Will we need a spoon?

Yes,  we need spoons.

Never is the fork  to be switched the right hand  and turned up  in the- too busy shoveling to hold both required utensils maneuver; the knife was never used and then simply set aside across the plate. The knife was to be held and used with every single mouthful.

That along with  a hand around the top of your plate, guarding it as if someone was about to walk by and steal it before you finished were uncouth, common and ill-mannered and got you either a slap with the flat edge of the knife across what ever flesh was available, or if particularly egregious, a full-out stab with the tines of the fork.  In my father’s defence, he usually only gave you the  loud silent stare, a clearing of the throat, and left the stabbing ritual for my mother as she was within reach most of the time.

These things were never spoken, but clearly understood, the social moray’s of the meal.

Among the other verboten table manners were burping, spilling, chewing with your mouth open, using your fingers, cramming in or eating too-fast, and serving yourself.

My mother always served.

There was always enough, but just. 

The portions filling, but never outside of  the Thanks Giving Turkey, and Christmas Standing Rib Roast were there any left overs.

Milk,  the only beverage, salt, pepper,  the only acceptable spices.

We five sit and wait as my father brings in the evening paper,  and turns on the news. 

Noise of any kind was strictly forbidden at the table, including talking…

The news is on.

“I canny hear the news!” the usual single warning uttered before temper flared.

Above all he must be able to hear the news.

In his defense my brother was easily led a stray.  One could actually egg him into doing almost anything before the age of ten.

Something this especially evil older sister did with regularity. 

“I bet you can’t burp ten times in a row before dad gets here,” I offer.

Honestly they came so quickly I really couldn’t count them, so I had him do it again.

Never once did the boy ever ask to what I was betting, what he would get in return, never once.

He just innocently accepted whatever challenge I could think of.

Sucker.

“ok…I bet you can’t say the entire alphabet while burping.”

It took him two glasses of milk, three attempts but he was able to do the entire alphabet in two long consecutive burps.

Laughter was uncontrollable. My brother was laying flat on the floor as his stomach was distended with the large gulps of air he has swallowed to produce said entertainment, when my father finally entered the dining room.

Silence in hind-sight was too much to ask.

Silence upon the sight of  brother rolling on the floor in pain was just impossible.

“QUIET!” came the single warning.

My brother cames out from under the table, proceeded to take another gulp of milk, look straight at me,  and giggle mid swallow.

Milk upon meeting a closed throat due to laughing proceeds to exit ones nose.

Milk spewed.

Mayhem ensued.

Laughter reined.

My father lost it. Unable to hear Walter Cronkite, he roared,

“Enough!”

My father then began ejecting children one at a time, the sequence of which were based both on the timing of who laughed next and the proximity to his chair.

My brother has lost his seat at the table first, quickly followed my older sister, baby sister, and then me.

All except one were ejected pre dessert.

With each ejection my father rose and pulled out the chair, and pulled you up from your seated position by the arm, and generally motioned toward the direction of your bedroom.

He never really uttered the words, “Go to your room”

So I didn’t.

Instead I laid in the hall on the floor army crawl style and spied on my sister the last remaining laughter hold out.

I don’t remember what made her laugh, or even if she ever did.

My father rose and stood behind the last remaining hold out.

Instead of grabbing her arm,  he grabbed her collar instead.

The collar gave way with a rip, bouncing my sister back down into her chair, leaving him standing there with the peter pan collar in his hand.

From the four corners of the house, laughter broke free.

My father defeated, tossed the collar aside, returned to his chair and finished his supper alone, fork in the left, knife in the right, napkin on his lap.

The sounds of our laughter drowned out Walter Cronkite that night.

They still do.

And now you know the story of the dinner table, the burping alphabet bet, and the peter pan collar.

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Tell Tale Heart

The Cardiologist carefully  lifted and replaced the stethoscope onto each quadrant, front and back, before listening again to the front with eyes squeezed shut. The “lets give it a listen” full eye contact, and  comforting smile disappear instantly.

The words pulse silently in my head, heart murmur, heart murmur,  heart murmur a terrible triplet.  A new symptom to add to the list.  I watch the professional eyes open and then avoid; they never do meet my gaze again.

Fucking whimp.

I want to scream at him.  Go ahead asshole tell me. What you hear I see.

It is Poe printed in black bold on thick white cotton bond, this heart tells tales; See him sitting all day long, not moving, watching TV, waiting, see him dizzy, grabbing hold, holding on, see him on the floor, see his lips mumble his not quite conscious first words,

“I don’t want to live like this.”

Cardiologist looks down and away, at his chart, at the wall, says, “his EKG is abnormal,”  holds it up,  the paper with the squiggly lines held aloft.

…do I look like I can read electronic scrawl?

I silently dare him to look at me, he doesn’t.

Bad girl takes over, refuses to look away; see  high-waisted  khaki pants,  a slight tuck to the left, buttons all done up tight, scrub faced  always wears a white undershirt, tightie whities, faithful deck shoes awaiting a deck, a walking ad for  L.L. Bean.  Safe money says this is an only gets blow jobs on birthdays kinda guy.

Bad girl wants to swear just to see him jump. Big juicy swear words roll around and almost slip out.

He starts asking questions.

“Ever had swelling of your legs?”

“Oh years ago in Rome… I was” Griffy starts,  only stopping to inhale as the story is lengthy an requires frequent oxygen intake to complete. I know the end of the story, but the cardio-boy will never hear it he has moved on to question two.

“Do you have shortness of breath?”

“Oh yes… why just today I was out of breath only walking to the chair and”

“Do you tire easily?”

So close …almost got that second answer fully out before the third was asked. Close  but no cigar.

“Well I think you’ll need some further testing to exclude cardiac reasons for your fainting.”

“I’m sorry, ” I stammer. ” Isn’t Multiple System Atrophy and the related autonomic mal-functions that cause both high and low blood pressure the cause of Griff’s fainting?”

It is as though I wasn’t in the room. He looks right at Griff and says,

“A 70 % blockage would be enough to cause your symptoms, I recommend further tests.”

Cardiologist man then stands,  opens the door, looks down the hall, and says, “you know how to get out of here? They’ll set you up at checkout with the appointments.”

Dr. Oz he isn’t.

“You do know he has MSA a degenerative neurological disorder than is chronic, progressive and fatal?” I add as I get up and start to wheel Griff out.

There was no answer to the query.

First impression note for the field guide he is a silver-haired Tempe Arizona frat boy who thinks waitresses belong beneath him and always put out.

Honey, you are quickly becoming a walking cliché’ … Remember No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Thanks Eleanor, but really this place would piss off Gandhi.

“See the blue light? its right, then another right,  down the hall to the blue light, then straight on til you see checkout  Take care.” as he disappeared in the opposite direction.

Strike One.

“Blue light?” I hiss. What the fuck is this a super fucking K-mart? Blue light special on aisle three. Blue Light?” I steam out, pushing Griff at a safe but speedy pace, his hair only gets a little bit tossed, we come to a stop at check out.

There isn’t room for the wheelchair in the checkout cubicle, its three by three, three sides, padded, convenient, with a high counter, and two over stuffed chairs in a blue that screams I’m supposed to make you feel comfortable and right at home !

News flash. Your chairs just piss me off.

Strike two.

I wonder if this place has ever heard of access for disabled persons.

Strike three.

All this is before she speaks.

“The doctor wants him to have a chemical stress test as soon as possible.”

“Excuse me? I thought we were referred for an echo cardiogram?”

She makes a fatal mistake by repeating her exact words in exactly the same manner only a hundred decibels louder.

The exchange continues.

“A stress test for a man who is unable to walk the 20 feet down the hall to the bathroom without passing out?” I ask.

“Can he get out of that chair?”

“Yes”

“Well then he won’t have a problem, can he lie down, lie still? ”

“Yes and yes”

“And did you come here for Dr….. ” here she pauses to look at the computer screen as there are no less than 12 attending cardiologist that frequent this lovely Cardiac Care Center. “yes,  Dr. M, so you came for DOCTOR M’s advice correct? DOCTOR M-wants him to have a chemical stress test, then an echo.”

Griffy sits head a little tilted, face drawn. I have talked over him literally, and lost my cool, again.

He didn’t need this from me.

I take out the green book, my Dedicated Griffy Information Depository and open to write down the appointments.

It slips on the way out,

Mother Fuckers!

Griffy laughs, at least we have this.

If nothing else, I can still make him laugh.

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Twilight

Twilight is ghost in the graveyard, red-light green-light, hide and seek  mother may I; twilight is magic after dinner time, when the darkness is not yet fallen, and parents sometimes say yes, but  “stay in the yard”. 

Twilight is almost dark, twilight is when childhood fear and play walk together for a little while. 

Laughter chases the scary away, hiding and jumping out, giggles give your hiding place away the always running, hot, fall onto the grass, drinking cool water from the hose,  come in before full dark time. 

Later in the dark,  alone, scary returns and the cool sheet pulled over your head will sometimes keep it away.

Sunlight is alley archeology; the pieces of  glass, crushed metal, empty paint cans, wooden planks and bottles our bounty,  our work for the day, scouring the rocky roads between the houses, behind the gates, behind the backyards were treasures abound.

Everything can be found here, everything is thrown out in the alley.

The alley is an  in-between place.  

Our bounty is large and important finds, each has a place, a usefulness and our mission is to get each treasure home, over the fence, and into the yard before anyone sees. The mission is everything. We can not fail.

 We have to check and see if she is watching.

She won’t let us bring our finds into the yard, she calls it junk and trash, and points, hands on hips, raises her brow, and orders our treasure left behind.

It can’t happen, if she sees all is lost.

 The youngest with her brown curls is usually sent in. Small, adorable and quick she darts to the door and peers inside.

She turns, gives the signal. The coast is clear.

She waves us in, and stands watch.

Mom is no where in sight.

We race to the hedge of giant oleander,  each slim branch is filled with poison flowers of pink and white, they are brushed aside, a dangerous petal curtain, hides what lays inside.

The oleander hedge towered at the back of the yard, the boughs reached high to the sky and then bend back, creating a  crawl space deep inside, invisible to anyone, it is the perfect fort.

We run like scampering insects, back and forth dragging the big wooden plank, the empty cans two at a time, we drag our fort furniture and set it all inside. We set the plank atop the cans and create a bench, we place the other cans around for more seats, we sweep the dry hasn’t seen rain in nine months dirt, sweep it clear of leaves and roly poly bugs, earwigs and twigs.

I tag the others for another mission, supplies from the kitchen.

It will be dangerous. She is in there, almost dinner time, chances are she is watching now.

Bravely they leave the fort, I watch from the bench.

I didn’t see them enter my yard.

The two boys from school.

I stood up and parted the petals.

“What do you want?” I ask, a little voice tells me to be brave, and a strange different feeling not scary is growing.

“Hey what’s in there Gardner?”

The enter the fort, the once big space now shrinks, I lean against the branches, they sit.

I feel better somehow they sitting, they are smaller now.

The tall one speaks, “He lost a bet” He shrugs his head toward the other shorter one.

I look at one then the other, not understanding.

“He lost a bet, and he has to kiss you”.

The noise from my heart flooded my ears, as he stood and made his move.

I was looking  at him,  his face, first while he was sitting, then as he was above me.

The tips of his eye lashes were lighter brown than the rest, and curled so much that when he laughed his  deep brown eyes disappeared into them.

 His breath was warm and he smiled as his face grew closer and closer, I noticed he didn’t show his teeth when he smiled, it was more like a grin…

I stood up then, seemed like the thing to do, a girl should have her first kiss with both feet on the ground.

I looked up and then with his head slightly turned his lips met mine.

Soft and warm, and salty. I opened my eyes and his were closed.

Whoops! Oh!  I guess you close your eyes. I closed mine again.

 Soft warm salty- then minty warm softness, and the rushing of my heart gave way to a feeling much more,  more inside, way way  deep inside.

Then just as thought I liked this, it was over.

He backed away, smiled, and they backed out of the fort,  hopped over the fence and were gone.

The two youngest called from their now abandoned mission to the kitchen,”Mom says come in for supper!”

I leave the fort, fingers on my lips, wondering if yoanyone could see it, if  the warmth was showing, wondering if it will stay forever.

Later at the dinner table I look around, my mother busy with serving the chicken, only she knows who gets what part of the chicken.

I watch as my father reads the paper, and wonder if they see my lips and face red and warm, will they notice anything different?

I sit at the table, fingers still feeling the warmth on my lips, milk is spilled, dinner is served eaten and dishes cleared.

No one sees, no one but me.

Its full on twilight outside, street lights starting to shine, ghost in the grave yard time,

 “Mom can we go outside?”

“stay in the yard please”

I place the kiss and the curl of his lashes inside where now I knew my parents didn’t see; an  inside,  in-between place, and I locked it away for a while and ran out to play.

I knew I can get it out again later. I knew it will be there forever. 

I knew there is time enough for kisses after the twilight fades.

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The Good Dishes, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and Mom was Always Right

Gilded, hand painted, embossed with a pattern or plain, weightless in the hand, delicate to hold and durable despite their fragile looking nature,  fine bone English china cups were my mothers good dishes.

Hold them up to a light and see through them. Look  straight through the inside down to the bottom,  straight through the inside  hold it close to the light, and the shadow markings are seen. In the light the bottom of the fine bone china glows and it tells all it’s secrets. 

Move away from the light , and the  magic markings fade, the bottom looses its translucent  glowing nature, and the china cup becomes again, just a  smooth dainty vessel. 

My mother had different favorite cups, one for the morning  and one for the afternoon and the morning cup was never ever used for the afternoon coffee and vice versa.  Tea cups with saucers were for tea, and coffee cups were for coffee. Tea cups were wide-brimmed open flower like, and not very tall. Coffee cups were mugs, taller cylindrical shapes with larger handles for fingers to wrap inside and around thumb on top. Tea cup handles were more for show,  on a tea-cup handle one pinches between thumb and the first two fingers, never ever do you wrap your little fingers through a tea-cup handle, at least not after age 5,  it just isn’t done.

She was particular about her china, not just the make, only English Bone China, but the shape and the way the cup felt in her hand was of the utmost importance. “Too heavy” she would say as she held the possible purchase shifting it from hand to hand with a sigh. Too heavy was the most common complaint when it came to cups. There were others especially for coffee cups,  too wide a brim, too bowl like and the contents cooled to quickly. Like  a Scottish Goldy Locks and the porridge, chairs and beds, my mothers cup had to be just right.

The contents of the cup, even more so.

“Bill!  When in the creation of Christ have I ever had coffee this color?” a frequent complaint mother used to chastise my father for not being generous enough with the half and half.  He would dutifully retreat and add more cream, laughing usually, and returned only when it was the predetermined proper Helen Gardner  approved color.

This everyday occurence  we kids called “The Helen and Bill Show”.

The Helen and Bill Show,  like the Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote really didn’t have a strict antagonist/protagonist roles.

Like the cartoon, all of my parents shows followed the same predictable pattern.

Dad was sent out for product A, and no matter how specific the instructions, no matter how complete the list, no matter how accurate the map of Smitty’s Big Town, or even Fry’s Grocery, Dad always returned without product A. Whether it was the wrong brand, size or heaven forbid he came back empty-handed, Dad like Wile E. Coyote and his Acme products, could never win.

Wile E. had cliffs, and looks of doom as he waved goodbye in mid-air before the drop.

Dad didn’t have cliffs,  just waves of  angry words he would have to wade through, and  he always did,  and the show always ended with a

“Ah come on Ellie,” and then laughter,  a cuddle, an embrace and it was all forgotten, they never kept score. Never held a grudge.

If they had a cell phone in 1975, The Helen and Bill Show would never have aired in my house, I used to wish Dad had one, thinking  that it could have saved my dad a lot of trouble. Now I know it would have been a terrible loss, not witnessing all that loud loving conflict resolution The Helen and Bill Show Style. By resolution I mean of course…my mother was always right.

I have proof.

My first piece of evidence is this.

The day my sister Elaine moved out, (she who gave me my love from all things Tolkien) she unloaded a priceless pearl of wisdom so powerful so profound I am still in her debt.  As my sister packed her bag, I watched from the doorway. She turned to me and said, 

“Mom is always right”

“But Elaine, she isn’t! Just yesterday…”

“Mom is always right” she repeated slowly.

It only took about three more exchanges of similar content for the meaning of her words to finally sink in.

Ah… Mom is always right.

Even when she isn’t. Elaine was trying to save me years of knocking my head against the  solid ever standing stubborn wall that was my mother….. I so wish I would have listened…

My real proof came years later, after my mother died, and it came straight from my father.

Dad was up early the morning after mom died. I awoke to the sound of my childhood, the sound of a tinkling teaspoon spoon stirring round and round  in a coffee cup. Which was strange because five years earlier Dad had a series of strokes, and he lost the taste for coffee.

I rounded the corner, and sure enough, there was Dad, stirring his spoonful of sugar round and round in the Tasters Choice Instant brew.

“Dad what are you doing?  I thought you didn’t like the taste of coffee anymore?” I stuttered.

He took a long pause, and then put down the spoon, lifted the bone china cup and took a quick sip, before he answered,

 “No, your mother didn’t want me drinking it, she didn’t think it was good for me,”

For five years after his stroke, my father faithfully made my mother her coffee, twice a day,  in her cup of choice, stirring adding two sugars and the correct amount of half and half, and never made himself one. Not once.

That’s how I know it for sure, cause Dad didn’t have coffee for five years…Mom was always right.

Dad said so.

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Killing Cinderella

It was Mrs. Miller who first did it;  elementary school teacher, tall iconic American woman from my childhood who always wore perfectly coordinated outfits, shoes, purses, earrings, beaded necklaces and bangle bracelets.  If she was lemon, she was lemon from head to foot, it went the same for orange sherbert, grape, lime or cherry. Mrs. Miller didn’t dabble in complimentary colors, with her it was  full tone on tone, from head to toe, and usually the color of fruit.

Long before I had her as a teacher and long before I learned Mrs. Miller attended  something called a Women’s College in a far off magical land, somewhere called, back east,  she started it. It is all her fault,  and  I have no problem throwing her under the bus.

It was Mrs. Miller who planted the far-fetched idea in my thirsty and fertile imagination.

Mrs. Miller made me believe in Fairy Tales.

Ever the graceful child, I tripped while boarding the bus, and Mrs. Miller, the teacher on bus patrol duty grabbed my shoulders,  and my hand, steadying me, then gave my hand it a little squeeze, before letting it go. 

That’s when it happened.

Her perfectly matching manicured hand looked down at my chewed fingers and exclaimed,

“Prince Charming will take one look at these fingers and run the other way! You’ll never catch him if you don’t stop biting your nails!”

hey…wait a minute… prince charming is from a fairy tale…and fairy tales aren’t real…are they?

I climbed the steps onto the bus, headed straight for my seat in the almost back, the one right above the wheel, the one with the bump where I could put my feet flat on the floor and not have them dangle.

Being short always meant dangling feet, I still hate being reminded that my feet rarely hit the floor.

Prince Charming, I knew that guy.  From what I read he was kinda strange, riding around all day with a glass shoe looking for a girl who was right under his nose all the time, seemed kinda dense to me. Don’t even get me started on the glass slipper thing, just who would wear a glass shoe? I preferred Bilbo or Gandalf, flying dragons, swords and adventure, give me kids play’n hide and seek in a wardrobe and finding a new magic world, give me spiders named Charlotte who spins webs of  words and save Wilbur, give me wind funnel storms that carry away your enemies and your house and land you in Oz. Those were my stories.

My  stories were found the library bound editions, thicker, plain, in solid colors, with the titles embossed on the spine.  No pictures needed, a few little drawings were nice though, like the fancy letters that opened each chapter, or trees that started out bare and filled out full, a bird across the corner of all the pages, one you could flip between thumb and finger, faster and faster until it  flapped its wings and flew off the page.

My stories had thick cotton rag pages, ones that softened with each hand who turned the page, and had soft  uneven edges, as I sat and waited for my bus stop, my fingers rubbed across the whispery edges of my new library borrowed finds, and wondered…

Prince Charming?   Could it be possible?

My mother rolled her eyes after she read the titles of my new treasures and said, “When are you going to read real stories?”

Real stories were The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or The Bobbsey Twins.  Her real books didn’t have magic, or dragons, or girls who sprouted wings and flew out the window…real books were real people stories. 

I knew then that my mother had  lost her magic, her  believing, but I also knew Mrs. Miller still  had hers.

I wondered which way I would go, and if I would always believe.

I shrugged, grabbed the books and headed to my room, opened the window and made for the roof.

If fairy tales were real, there were going to be some much-needed changes; Charlotte never dies; Dorothy figures out about the ruby slippers, and chooses to wander through Oz, a Knight Errant, saving the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion anyway. Prince Charming is an idiot, and he is out. Cinderella grows a spine,  leaves her lazy step-mother and meets up with Bilbo and goes to Rivendell to meet the Elves. Once there she learns to put down her broom and shoot a bow, and never ever has to wear glass slippers again. 

Poor Cinderella, her feet must have been killing her.

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