Archive for the ‘My Essays’ Category
My Essays and Turkey Tracks: August 7, 2016
Miss Reynolds Georgia’s Last Ride
She was born two days before my own birthday, March 15, 2002.
She was a gift to me from me.
I went alone to get her and brought her home in my lap covered with a towel since Rat Terriers are burrowers and some feel safer being under covers.
She was so tiny at eight weeks–hardly bigger than my two fists. She imprinted on me and followed my feet like a baby chick or hen follows its mother.
Here’s an early picture of her that I have always loved–taken by John Enright on the back porch of our Falls Church, Virginia, home.
For 14 1/2 years she was my shadow. Where I was, she was. There was a bed for her in every place where I spent any amount of time. When I left her, she hunkered down to wait for me to come home. And just a few days ago, she brought me a toy and wanted to play.
But health crashes can come suddenly. And hers started Friday night, after eating a good supper.
She’d had a rocky 18 months or so–there had been a stroke that robbed her of a lot of her balance. But there was much happiness too. There were some tumors that were fatty, but the tumor on her back right leg was hard and growing. She was beginning to have trouble walking for any distance, and she got tired easily. There were a few incontinent episodes at night off and on. As she slept under the covers and curled into my chest and belly, I layered the bed with pads and towels and made sure she had actually peed before we went to sleep.
Friday night, as she slept next to me on the couch, I realized she was having another stroke of some sort. I got towels and held her next to me. (She hated being in someone’s lap unless she was in the car.) She calmed, and then she threw up all her dinner. We got through the uneasy night with a little sleep. Things went from bad to worse the next day, and by late-afternoon I knew she wouldn’t be coming out of this health crisis. So, she took her last ride. And, you know, it calmed her. She settled right into her bed next to me in the car–riding shotgun as she always did–and zoned out. All the rest is history now, but a history that is still all too vivid for me.
Here’s a picture of her taken a few years ago. She was a neat, clean, pretty little dog who did, however, shed a lot. She came to Maine with a very thin coat and proceeded to grow a really lush one.
As you can see, there is hardly any grey on her face. But I noticed yesterday that she had gone quite grey almost overnight.
And here’s a picture of her enjoying a bone in the middle of last winter with snow outside. Mostly, Reynold’s ears flopped over (which is ok breed-wise), but when you spoke to her, she really listened.
She went on her last ride as the clean little lady she always was, horrified about peeing her bed and still trying to get up to go outside, though she could barely walk or keep her balance or know where she was exactly.
We got “No No Penny” after our first winter here–we got her for Reynolds, who was lonely and not used to a Maine winter. And Reynolds loved Penny with unconditional love too. She loved, as well, that she no longer had to be the “head dog,” that Penny could take that role. And Penny did, and Reynolds felt protected and safe.
Here’s a picture of both of them a year or so after Penny, who is a year younger than Reynolds, came to us in 2005 or 2006. It’s one of my favorite pictures and was taken by John. Reynolds is on the right.
Reynolds could be a picky eater. She would march up to her food, look it over, and if it did not come up to scratch that day, she would look at me over her shoulder with a look that plainly said “Not this today, Louisa. This is not what I expected.”
When she wanted something, she would come and stare at you–giving you “the look”–until you got up and followed her. In that way, she “talked” for Penny. Sometimes it was that Penny wanted to go out. Sometimes it was that Penny now wanted to come in. Or, both of them wanted their dinner. Or, they were tired of me sewing. Or, they wanted to go for a ride in the car.
I spent hours on the floor of the sewing room Saturday, holding Reynolds inside her soft bed, in the curve of my body. It gave us both some comfort. Occasionally she would “purr” deep in her throat which she did when I petted her and held her close. Penny came to check on us and to smell Reynolds on a regular basis.
And I did a lot of thinking and talking to her and saying good-bye. You know, she came to me in a time of personal chaos and turmoil. And she brought with her unconditional love, a sense of play, and a sense of being connected to me by an invisible cord of love. She was not my dog baby. She was something between a little sister and a bestest girlfriend. She gave as much as she got. And she did not leave me until she knew that I could go on alone, taking with me the lessons of love that she taught me. She was, is, and always will be one of the best “loves of my life.”
Last night Penny came up on the couch and slept next to me. And when we went to bed, she, who never likes being under the covers for long, slept for as long as she could next to me, curled into me like Reynolds used to do. Penny has “shadowed” me all day. She is, like me, more than a bit lost today.
This morning, before garden chores (watering, watering, dead-heading, weeding), I read a little on the porch and had breakfast out there. The flowers in the container next to me seemed unusually bright, and I realized I had been looking at their little faces all summer, but had not slowed down to really appreciate their exquisite details fully.
And I grew fascinated with the stark line between the sunny hillside and the dense darkness of the summer woods.
Yet, the dark coolness beckons, too. And at some point, we all enter it.
Miss Reynolds Georgia, also known as “The Beauty Queen”: March 15, 2002 to August 6, 2014.
Rest in Peace Beloved Creature.
My Essays: March 2016
Big House: Reynolds, Georgia
A cousin who lives in Georgia recently posted this picture of our family home in Reynolds, Georgia.
I cannot even begin to tell you the memories and love that this house holds for so many people. I cannot even begin to tell you that I still dream of being in that house among the beloved members of my family–the older members of which can now live only in my memories and dreams.
Or, how happy I am to see that it is being lovingly restored so that it will go on to be a haven for even more people.
Big House was a casualty of the consolidation of small farms into big ones, of changes in federal monetary policy, of the movement of rural people into cities. It had just been bought and restoration started the last time I saw it–at my mother’s funeral.
Behind the two windows on the upper left was the “blue” bedroom. One could crawl through a third window on the “poka chez” (porte cochère) side– quietly as the floor out there was tin that crackled–and spy on an older cousin coming in from a date. Would she let her date kiss her or not??? I fell asleep, so never really found out. We were, of course, strictly forbidden from going out onto those roofs.
Upstairs were the blue room, the pink room, the red room, the small sleeping room, and in the middle, over the stairs, the sleeping porch with its bed raised up to the height of the windows so it could catch any summer breeze. (Air conditioning wasn’t around when I was about 10 or so.) Big windows opened up over the central stair well from this room, and once, a cousin sleep walked out of them and fell down the stairs. Why that fall didn’t kill him, we will never know. He didn’t seem to be hurt at all. It was a drop of 8 feet or so to the middle stair landing.
Upstairs had ONE bathroom that we all shared–even when all the bedrooms were full. I never recall feeling I needed it and could not get into it.
Downstairs ceilings were so high–at least twelve feet. The rooms had BIG fireplaces, and in the winter, roaring fires, around which we gathered, were part of that season.
On the right, behind the green tree, lower level, is “the north porch”–site of many evenings of sitting in the dark after dinner and visiting, telling stories, and talking politics sometimes–with the glow of the adults’ cigarettes the only light as the dark closed in on a hot summer night. Often, after breakfast, my grandfather would come in from the farm with a mess of peas or beans that needed shelling for dinner, and we’d sit in the cool of this porch and do this work before being driven out to the “Reynolds pool” for a morning swim. This pool was fed by three artisan wells that were crystal clear and icy cold.
The back yard was shady and covered with pine straw. When freshly laid down, we had to walk gently with our bare feet. My grandmother’s famous garden stretched to the right side of the house for several hundred feet or so and was laid out in sandy paths bordered by river rocks. She had so many azaleas and camellias. It was here that I learned from her so many plant names–and where attempts to pick up baby blue jays in the spring resulted in the mother bird dive bombing my head with real intent to harm. We played “kick the can” by the hours in this back yard, with grandmother threatening our deaths if we hurt any of her bushes when we hid beneath them. Or if we pulled any of the red Nandina berries to use for weapons. With all that running, someone always stubbed a toe on the pathway river rocks, and grandmother used to laugh her great big belly laugh. We had to laugh, too, through the pain, and realized we had just learned a lesson about being more careful. We used to climb up onto the roof of the garage–using the roof of the smoke house to get started–though forbidden. None of us ever fell off.
Pop and Grandmother had any of their grandchildren or children of their cousins who could come–at any time of the year. Big House was our home away from home. It was my anchor in a military life of moving every few years. It was where my love of the land, of gardening, of growing food, of preserving good, of cooking, of making your own fun, of being part of a family started and grew. I spent a lot of time in a city while raising my own children (and myself, truth to tell), so it an utter joy to be able to live once again close to the land up here in Maine and among people who value a more rural life and who still have small farms.
Big House is lost. That way of life is lost. At 71 now, I often mourn that loss and wish for those simpler times. They were simple, yes, but also harder. Cash was hard to come by. Credit, too. Goods had not yet flooded the market as they have now. Racism ran rampant, yes, and that’s a whole other story. But, many people could and did take a month’s vacation without worrying about their jobs. People lived with having less and made do. We fished, we swam, we spent time in the woods, we visited with friends, we grew and harvested food, and we ate well three times a day–together–with food freshly cooked that we shared. (No one had special meals made for them.) Life was not so “instant,” so fast, so connected in ways that have killed one’s privacy and time off. There was time for reflection before acting. Educated people were respected, even though some of the “educated” were sometimes thought to be a bit strange. Nevertheless, getting good grades in school was important.
Kindness was valued. Personal honor was valued. Community was supported. Winning was not ok if one cheated or lied to win. Sex was private and personal, and bodies and body parts were not flaunted. Polite language was demanded in mixed company. Of course people still “sinned” in those ways, but they were socially punished when they did. Those sanctions could last a life time if the deeds were severe enough.
Where are we now? Today’s politics tells it all. Kindness is not valued. Personal honor is not valued. Community is not supported when factions of it are called out for ridicule and demonization and when good people support this behavior because they believe that they, personally, will benefit. Cheating and lying are par for the course, and people do not care because they think they, personally, will benefit. Sex and body parts are flaunted–the wife of one presidential wannabe who has been married three times has naked, sexy pictures all over the internet. Polite language and manners are a thing of the past. Education and knowledge is demeaned; the hard work of learning about issues or government structures is not done. And the one candidate who “sins” in this way every day could win the GOP primary, though not, I think, the national election.
Indeed, it’s more clear every day that winning an election is more important than honor for many of these candidates and for their political party. Personal ego and preserving wealth for the wealthy has overridden community. The market, with all its mandates (like business driven health care/insurance) and controls (deep pockets in legal fights) and political money infusions, is winning. And we, all, will be further lost in this morass of false promises because the ends do not ever justify the means. No one can “lead” from inside such a morass.
I want to go back…
…to my childhood days at Big House.
It was not a perfect time, but the rules were clear and the punishments clearer, and we were all better for them.
My Essays: March 12, 2015
My News Break
I’ve been on a “news break” for about eighteen months now.
I don’t watch ANY news programs on MSNBC, CNN, or Fox (which I could never watch for longer than 5 minutes anyway).
I don’t listen to the news-type NPR podcasts I used to enjoy while quilting, like Diane Rehm and Tom Ashbrook. I love Garrison Keiler, Stuart McLean and Terry Gross, but I have not made time to catch their programs. Instead, I’ve been downloading audio books from the Maine State Library System through my local library. I am loving disappearing into the bliss of sewing and hearing a professional read a book to me.
Why the news break?
Sometime last year, I began to think seriously about how upsetting all these news programs are. How addictive. How toxic it is to listen–day in and day out–to the outrages, or perceived outrages, perpetrated by people in power. Mostly, I’ve felt there is very little I personally can do to rectify the excesses of late capitalism, where industries have captured our democracy and are busily enslaving us all to an endless need for more and more money.
It’s been such a peaceful year, a year full of laughter with friends and family, great sleep, soothing sewing, relaxing reading, and restorative time spent in nature.
I’m pretty clear that I won’t, that I cannot, go back to the toxicity of the news circuit.
I’m going to be seventy this March 2015. I tell myself that I’ve earned the right to a peaceful decade or so. I tell myself that I don’t feel guilty for turning over the responsibility for this nation to the younger generations. I’ve done my part, right?
I’ll continue to read, to think, and to put that information up on my blog. I am a life-long student deep inside myself. I can remember clearly that at age nine or ten my parents gave me a beautiful new bike and my own library card–which meant I could go to the library whenever I wanted. I remember snuggling into a round, soft, living room armchair after school and reading, reading, reading. My mother used to say that at breakfast I’d read the back of the cereal boxes.
Turning over the responsibility for change gives me a certain emotional distance from the information I share. I like to believe that I read and think for those who do not have the time to do so. My blog posts are meant to be guides which lead people to explore for themselves serious health issues.
But, I have another side. I was born to warrior parents. My military dad was a stone cold, decorated, World War II hero, and my feisty southern mother insisted we be truthful and honorable. It turns out my name, Louisa, springs from a celtic word meaning warrior woman. My mother thought she was giving me a family name that goes way back, but now that I think about it, one family story is about an early Louisa who lived on the 1830s Georgia frontier and who stood down an Indian man who appeared in her front yard.
Recently, though, my need for quiet peace has run headlong into my warrior woman blood. The news that Americans are losing the right to control their own bodies has come filtering through my news barrier.
The founding principle of classical liberalism is the right to own one’s own body. We’ve had war drafts in the past, in the name of national safety, but for the most part now, unless one breaks the law, we, not kings or liege lords or the military, have the right to control our own bodies.
Or, at least we used to…
Now, in this moment of American late capitalism, our government, our laws and courts, our politicians, and our media are controlled by industry. Under the guise of public safety and the “rights” of children, we have lost or are losing our rights to our bodies and our rights as parents to protect our children’s bodies.
Supported by the courts, doctors can take and have taken children away from their parents to perform chemotherapy, in the name of “saving” these children from cancer, though statistics around the use of chemicals to treat cancer are beyond abysmal. Many of these children are suffering and dying even more horrific deaths than they would have if left alone.
Some states, like New York, have mandated vaccines for ALL children, regardless of whether or not they have had serious reactions to earlier vaccines. Recently, a New York court upheld this practice based on a 1905 law. (Who, then, are the children this “herd immunity” is supposed to protect if not a child with a serious vaccine reaction?)
California schools can vaccinate children with Gardasil without parents’ consent or knowledge. California is letting the 12-year olds decide. (Ironically, the HPV virus might not be connected to cervical cancer at all, and Gardasil, which was fast-tracked and untested for safety, is killing young women.)
Religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines are being rolled back state by state. My own state of Maine is considering watering down the right for vaccine exemptions by making parents first visit a doctor to be “educated.”
This week, an incoming email revealed that Democratic Senators Feinstein and Boxer of California are proposing a new national law that will MANDATE an adult vaccination program—which is kind of a sideways admission that vaccines don’t create permanent, full immunity. (Here’s how the vaccine industry will expand its market share.)
In one of our local papers, The Free Press, a doctor is writing columns urging people to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Vaccinations, he writes, will cure all the chronic illnesses our children are now having.
As horrified as I am by this vaccine cultural war, I am intrigued also in terms of my field: Cultural Studies—the study of systems of cultural power, such as can develop in any system where industry, the government, the media, the police/army, and the courts are intertwined and marching forward toward each particular system’s own ends. When this situation happens, there are no brakes in place as they’ve all been dismantled. The result is that in America today, there is no longer a “democracy.” People are no longer protected from the excesses of industries seeking more money. Our bodies can be and are being coopted to that agenda.
Our current vaccine policy is a poster child for what can and does happen. Industry is given the right to perform the safety studies for a new product. The new product has problems, so industry creates false science about the product’s safety and efficacy. Our government regulatory agencies—run now by political appointees from industry—accepts industry’s “science”—even over the objections of government scientists who point to flaws in the industry-created science. Along the way, industry gets politicians to pass laws that prevent industry from being sued when its harmful product harms someone.
Next, industry mounts massive advertising campaigns in which industry lies about its products, such as the lie that the science about vaccines is a done deal. Or the lie that vaccines eradicated certain diseases. Or the lie that vaccines are safe for “almost” everyone. Or the fear-mongering lie that childhood diseases that give life-long immunity are “killers.” Or the lie that the unvaccinated are spreading disease when it’s the vaccinated and/or those from abroad who come in with different strains of a disease. Or the lie that vaccines give life-long immunity—a lie industry is now revising so that it can give adults booster vaccines. So that last lie is now saying that if everyone is vaccinated, “herd immunity” can be achieved.
This situation is what I have been calling a kool-aid circuit on my blog—after Jim Jones, who convinced his followers to follow him to Africa and to drink the poisoned kool-aid he offered them. No one objected, and death followed swiftly.
Here’s how a kool-aid circuit works: first, the media, doctors, public health officials, politicians, and the public believe these industry lies without doing even the most simple research. They believe because everyone trusts that the industry-colonized government is protecting us. The public trusts their doctors, their public health officials, and the media as they all repeat the industry-created lies. Everyone believes until they come face to face with horrific harm in their own family or among their friends. Scratch the surface of most anti-vaxers, and you’ll find someone with a hurt loved one.
Anyone who challenges these lies is demonized, fired, and no longer funded. Published studies, good studies, are deemed to be the work of “quacks.” Hysteria about public safety is created and fomented. The unethical idea evolves that it’s all right to kill or permanently maim someone else’s child with a mandated vaccine as long as your child is protected. Anyone whose child is harmed cannot sue the vaccine industry and gets no help with a child who now requires massive, permanent aid. Accurate statistics of harm are not collected.
How do I manage the conflict inside myself when my need for peace and the reality of my warrior blood collide—as they have with this vaccine juggernaut issue? The local doctor’s columns, a newly proposed law here in Maine that dilutes our vaccine exemptions, and Senators Feinstein and Boxer’s proposed adult vaccine mandate has pushed me over the edge. I spent several sleepless nights writing letters in my head after the local doctor’s “kool-aid” published response to a local woman who wrote to question what he was saying—a response that just repeated more industry propaganda and mostly ignored her valid questions.
I have gifts. I have been so lucky to have acquired the education and the research and writing skills that few other people have. Through research I know solid information that can prevent harm to others. Do I have the right to impose my peace agenda on who I am, what I know, and what I can do? I know what my parents would say: what is occurring is neither truthful nor honorable, and it’s harming people.
My body demanded writing. I wrote a letter to the local paper refuting the doctor’s industry propaganda, a letter that urged readers to research for themselves and that gave them some easy, but reputable places to start. I wrote a short letter that I sent to Senators Feinstein and Boxer, asking them to look deeper into the vaccine issue and to recognize the role of industry. Again, I included easy research sites. I sent the letter to my two Maine senators. I wrote to NPR to tell them why I’m not going to give them any more money until they stop repeating the kool-aid and start to report the whole of the vaccine issue. I will write to the Maine state representative—a retired doctor—who is proposing a law that will dilute Maine’s religious and philosophical exemption for vaccines. I will continue to post good vaccine information on my blog.
My internal roiling has stopped for the moment. I’ve done my part toward trying to guide people to look deeper, to understand what is happening, and to resist an inherently and legally dangerous practice. Peace is gradually returning. I know I have to trust that enough people will educate themselves to effect a change.
But…I ordered two well-regarded books on vaccines this morning. One looks at vaccine history and the other at the role of the vaccine industry.
So, yes, I’ll do what I can to stand down that indian in my front yard.
PS: THE FREE PRESS refused to publish my letter, and therein lies the problem with a kool-aid circuit. No contrary information is allowed, no matter how genuine.
Turkey Tracks and My Essays: February 5, 2015
Why I Love Winter in Maine
It snowed all night again and is still snowing now.
The paths dug through the snow from four storms in ten days are now running like mazes through what is, in places, shoulder high snow banks. The untouched snow is well over knee deep up here on Howe Hill, and in places where it has drifted, much deeper.
I just came in from a trip to the garage and down the driveway to the mailbox. This new snow comes to the tops of my black boots–or about 10 inches or so. The end of the driveway was knee-deep with plowed snow. I waded through it gingerly, feeling for a solid bottom as I went. (Falling over into snow is no fun: it is very difficult to get back up as there is no way to get traction to get up again. You can’t just push down on the snow bank to push yourself up as your arms go in too.) My mailbox door was open, and it was, again, filled with mail and snow–which is why I knew I needed to get down there. I cleaned it out and banged it shut again. The mailbox is almost covered by the plow’s snowbanks–only the top sticks out now. I put a reflective marker in front of it to alert the plow guys, and retraced my steps up the hill. Last winter that mailbox got hit and was in pieces in the road.
My writers’ meeting cancelled for this afternoon. It’s a moot point for me as there is no way I’m going anywhere with four feet of snow at the end of the driveway. And, truth to tell, I’m enjoying this quiet, sweet day of falling snow and cancelled events. After lunch (I made lamb liver pate, which I’ll have with toast, cherry tomatoes, and dilled lacto-fermented pickles), I’ll sew and listen to the P. D James mystery I’ve almost finished.
In the garage, I filled two buckets: one with chicken feed (they eat so much in the cold, and temps will drop again to single digits and below tonight) and one with bounty from my freezers. The food I put up all summer is being eaten now–orange pumpkin roasted and frozen, red tomatoes frozen whole, greens of all kinds (beans, kale, parsley, zucchini)–all laced with grass fed beef and lamb and truly free-range chickens. The garage refrigerator freezer is packed with fruit from my garden (strawberries and raspberries) and from Hope’s Edge CSA (which finds organic blueberries for members). And every day now, I am getting three to five fresh, soy-free eggs. I have all sorts of lacto-fermented foods that glow red, orange, and green in my kitchen refrigerator and provide crunch and a sense of freshness. And I get fresh Milk House raw milk and yogurt from friend Rose each Wednesday. I am so blessed, and it’s so great to enjoy the fruits of one’s summer labor.
So, when people from away ask me why I stay in Maine in the winter, or why I keep chickens that have to be cared for–whatever the weather–first thing in the morning, sometimes at midday, and at night when they roost and need to be locked into their safe little coop, I’m never quite sure where to start with explanations.
You know, sometimes it’s hard to deal with all the snow, the cold, and the chickens. In the blizzard, it was hard to keep the back door and the path over the deck to the steps clear. It has to be kept clear so I could get out that door to go to the chickens. And, the chickens are especially hard to get to in the deep snow I have to negotiate before my terrific guys who shovel me out come. The chicken coop has been “snowed in” several times now in the past ten days, and it has to be cleared.
But, I never feel more alive than when I successfully solve a winter problem–like getting the mail and protecting the mailbox (hopefully) and getting to the chickens.
These trips “wake me up” in so many beautiful ways.
They get my blood flowing strong and true.
They put me squarely into nature–which can bite (snow in my boots, bitter cold, blowing wind), but which can also provide such incredible beauty.
Look at what I saw coming in from locking up the chickens at dusk the other day. The soft blue of dusk and the rising moon were so beautiful.
It’s hard to describe or even take a good picture of the sunsets–where, often, the real show is not in the west, but in the backlighting of the east:
Today, everything outside is coated with snow–so the trees and shrubs look like they have been coated with spun sugar:
The snow is so deep that the turkeys have to fly everywhere–which takes so much energy for them.
They came late morning looking for a handout of sunflower seeds. One–at the top of this picture–got stuck in the snow, and I watched him struggle until he was able to get under the pine tree.
A bunch of the turkeys are sheltering under that big pine now as I write. They must be so hungry today.
The little turkey hens fly up to the upper porch and look for billed-out sunflower seeds on the porch. They fly to nearby trees when I come out.
I’ve never seen so much snow at once. Not even in my years in Bellevue, Nebraska (outside Omaha). I guess that in itself is kind of exciting.
It’s unclear to me what the weather will be like on Saturday. The weather folks seem to be waiting to see what two large storms headed our way are going to do when they collide and merge. It could mean more snow. A lot of more snow. But there is no use worrying until things are clearer.
Meanwhile, I had a lovely day yesterday: Linda was here in the morning and visited as well as cleaned, lunch and a Zoot’s coffee with friend Giovanna, and a lovely meeting of the monthly knitting club at Eleanor’s.
I am happy to stay mostly inside today.
I have to go feed the chickens now…
My Essays: February 5, 2015
Note: I am starting a new category on this blog: “My Essays”
I am going to try to write at least one a month–maybe sometimes more if the writing muse strikes…
The other day I drove up my steep drive in Maine and paused in front of the garage door. I wanted to sit quietly for one brief moment to enjoy and reflect on the profound sense of pleasure I was feeling.
Tom Jackson had solved the problem with the overflowing well that was pouring water over the driveway and making a death-trap sheet of slick ice between the garage and the house. PDQ Doors had just fixed the problems with the automatic garage doors, problems friend Gina Caceci and I couldn’t sort out with her on a ladder with a Phillips Head screwdriver and with me holding the ladder, her leg, and a spare light bulb. And Stephen Pennoyer had been at my house for nearly two weeks fixing EVERYTHING inside that needed repairing, painting, or upgrading.
I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a house where everything inside was in tip-top order all at the same time. I smiled to myself, reached for the garage door opener, and…nothing. The gods of chance and mayhem had struck anew.
Since January of 2013, when my husband John died, I have been alone and have carried the responsibility for myself, for my home, and for all my actions and decisions. I have spent these past two years either learning to do all the things that my husband John used to do, or, in finding who can help me do what I cannot. At times this learning curve has been quite steep.
Of course I am not totally alone. I have a warm and loving family, though they live in Charleston, South Carolina. I have a sister who calls frequently from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and fusses at me for not carrying my cell phone every time I go outside to take care of my chickens. (Suppose you fall out there?) I have a sister-in-law and Enright cousins who come to see me from Boston. I have wonderful neighbors who help me with emergencies—like the time last winter when Chris Richmond and his son Carleton helped me bail out a flooding garage. And I have a lot of local and faraway friends whom I enjoy and who spoil me to death.
At some level, I find myself wondering, are we not always “alone,” even if we are married? Are we not all single souls who traverse our lives with differing amounts of connection along the way? Being married does not always mean that all responsibilities get shared. Most marriages, I think, divide up responsibilities. I didn’t help John with repairs or keep our financial books once our sons entered college, and he did not help me shop, cook, garden, or organize the dailyness of our lives.
Perhaps the relationships and responsibilities within a marriage and the subsequent loss of it all contains lessons for us to learn in this life. Perhaps these lessons are part of our work here on earth. It interests me that I am now learning the parts of what John knew, while he never got to learn what I know.
I have never lived on my own until now. I married at twenty-one, so went from my father’s house to marriage and our first apartment. And though I worked for many years at various jobs outside the home, I have never been totally financially responsible for myself. Predictably, my new situation has been scary, but also exhilarating.
I have mostly faced and conquered my worst fears. Our joint hard work of thirty-eight years produced savings that buttress my present life—so long as the stock market does not crash utterly and our banks don’t disappear into a dark night—fears about which I’ve accepted I cannot do anything whatsoever. My health is good, and if it goes south, I can go there too to be with my family. Or, not, for I do love where I live with all my heart and soul. I no longer wake often in the night wondering if I have heard a strange noise or if I smell smoke or if I have left on the oven or iron.
I have set some safety rules. After a bad fall a few days after John died, I determined that I would not get out of bed without turning on the light first. I think it’s wise not to put any pot or pan on the stove unless I am inside the house. (Suppose I fall outside or get distracted?) I concentrate on the stairs or on the winter ice. I am careful in restaurants as I have food allergies that can cause me to pass out. And I am careful with the cord on the electric mower and with the propped-up lid of the chicken coop.
I have learned who my real friends are. Actually, some of these lessons have been surprising. People have disappeared who cannot make the switch from wanting to be with “the Enrights” to wanting to spend some time with just me. Some of these losses have been painful, but not overwhelmingly so as I have realized that this change is common to widowhood. And I will confess that I have let go of some people, too. I am finding that I deeply treasure the peace of my days and have less patience with the cruelty of others. I am finding, too, that doors open even as others shut.
There are many joys to being alone. I can call an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter, a painter, or a gardener whenever I want to without having a pitched marital battle about “doing it yourself” or “emasculating your husband.” I can change anything I want to around the house without the need of coming to consensus. I can read in the middle of the night in my own bed if I wake and want to do so. I can cook and eat what I want when I want. And I am learning to travel by myself and to plan treats for myself when others cannot join me.
This winter, I have been thinking that I have spent much of my life nurturing others in my kinship network and in the greater community. As wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, granddaughter, grandmother, friend, neighbor, and so forth, a chunk of my time has been spent thinking about or doing for others. Suddenly, it seems ok to concentrate on being more nurturing to myself, to further learn who I am on my own outside the responsibilities of those relationships—especially as I never had the early learning of being alone and on my own.
I am not discarding these kinship and communal relationships. But in the stark clearness of both my aloneness and my age (seventy in March), I am deciding to examine where I think I have a relational responsibility a bit more closely. Is help really needed, or do I need to be helpful to try to create meaning in my life? The latter case is not always a healthy place to be.
I hoped, as I examined the garage door opener, that it just needed a new battery. When John was alive, I would have taken it to him and waited for a solution to the problem. Now, I hoped that Radio Shack in Rockland carried the tiny little battery that emerged from the opener. And, a day later, when I got home from Rockland and the opener still did not work, I took out the battery the young man had installed, turned it around, and put it back. Voila! The door shuddered open, the light came on, and once again, everything inside my house and garage was in tip-top shape.
As was I.