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Archive for May, 2010

By Bob Chrisman



After my father died in 1984, my mother made semi-annual trips to Southern California to stay with her step-sister-in-law, Aunt Gladys. Uncle Roy had died a couple of years before my dad did. I would fly out to spend some time with them and then accompany my mother home.

During my first visit, Mom and Aunt Gladys announced their desire to decorate Uncle Roy’s grave at the VA cemetery in Westminster, California, near the Pacific Coast. At 90 my aunt had stopped going. “I’m not as quick on the highway anymore. I’ll leave that to you.”

We loaded the car with grass trimmers, scissors, throw rugs, plastic buckets, dishwashing liquid, sponges, old rags, and rolls of paper towels. My aunt directed my driving.

“Take that exit. Now be careful, Bob. A lot of these people aren’t paying attention. Lucile, look. Honey, did you see those mums in front of that grocery store? Weren’t they beautiful? Roy loved mums.”

I moved into the right lane to head back to the store. Aunt Gladys wanted mums. And my mother would want to make Aunt Gladys happy. One right turn, three left turns, and 15 minutes later we pulled up to the store. They climbed out while I parked.

When I caught up with them in the store, they had removed all the pots of deep red mums from the rack and lined them up for inspection. My mother and my aunt handed me the mums they eliminated as possible choices.

“Here, put this back where it belongs.” While I redecorated the mum display, they narrowed the choice down to three.

“Bob, you pick the one you think is the best one.”

I chose, but my choice wasn’t the best one so they bought the one they had already agreed on.

That done, we headed toward the cemetery.


A sign greeted us at the entrance:

The level of the cemetery has been raised by several inches. If you have trouble finding the gravesite of a veteran, please contact the manager located on the property.


We drove to the spot closest to Uncle Roy’s grave. My aunt and my mother tottered across the grass. I, the beast of burden, unloaded the trunk and followed.

“Now, he’s here somewhere. Lucile, you don’t think they’ve moved him, do you? That sign said something…”

“No, Gladys, they only put more dirt on top of him.”

I found the spot. “Here it is.” I dropped all of the grave decorating equipment and took the bucket to get water.

As they spread out the throw rugs, Aunt Gladys said, “Lucile, I don’t remember the grave being this far from the road.”

“Gladys, it’s always been here.” Mom yelled at me. “Don’t fill the bucket too full. We don’t need that much water.”

They had donned their gardening gloves and hats and set to work. They trimmed the grass around the stone. They scrubbed the marker with old rags and dried it with the paper towels.

“Roy and I bought an in-ground vase. I can’t remember exactly where it is, but I’ll find it.”

She pulled out a knife with a long slender blade and stabbed the ground like Anthony Perkins slashed at Janet Leigh in “Psycho.” Stab, stab, stab.

“Aunt Gladys, please stop.” Mom didn’t say a word. Stab, stab, stab.

“I need to find that vase. It’s buried here. They better not have removed it. We paid good money for it.” Stab, stab, stab.

“Wait. Put the knife down. I’ll go to the office and find out where the vase is.” Stab, stab, stab.

My aunt worked up quite a sweat. “Okay. I’m tired. Why don’t you go to the office. We’ll keep ourselves busy while you’re gone.”

I ran to the car. I knew they wouldn’t wait long to do whatever they wanted to.

I drove to the office. As I entered the building, the air-conditioning hit me in the face like a block of ice. The hot and humid outside air vanished in a room where you could have hung meat without it spoiling.

A cheery young woman asked, “Hello. May I help you find your loved one?”

I smiled. “My aunt is stabbing her husband’s grave with a knife to find the in-ground vase. To avoid injury to her, can you tell me where the buried vase is located?”

The woman’s mouth dropped open.

“Let me speak to the manager.”

She disappeared only to return with a rotund man dressed in a robin’s-egg blue polyester, double-knit suit. The exertion of walking from his office to the desk had turned his face beet red and he mopped his brow with a white handkerchief.

“I’ll show you where it is.”

I asked, “Do you want me to drive?” I wasn’t sure he would fit in the rental car.

“No, I’ll take my car. Suits me better.”

He climbed in a huge car, exactly the same color as his suit and rolled down his window.

“Lead the way.”


When we arrived at the gravesite, I pointed to my aunt and mother busily working.

“That’s them.”

He nodded and waddled off, wiping his head and neck as he went.

When I arrived at the throw rugs, grass trimmings and dirt covered both women. The manager stared at the ground, his jaw agape.

Aunt Gladys said. “Honey, we don’t need him. When we couldn’t find the vase I paid for…” she looked up at the manager. “…we simply dug a little hole and planted the mums on top of Roy.” She looked very happy. They both did, but the manager didn’t.

“You…you can’t do that.”

“Can’t do what, young man?”

“Can’t go around digging holes in the cemetery. It’s…well, it’s grave desecration.” His color had grown much redder. Sweat poured off his face. His handkerchief looked sopping wet. “It’s against the law to dig holes here.”

“If we had been able to find the vase, which, I will remind you again, we paid for, my sister-in-law and I wouldn’t have dug this hole.”

He took out a pocket knife. My aunt grabbed her knife, prepared to fight.

He stepped next to the stone. He jabbed in the ground and dug out some grass.

“Here. Right here.” He stood up with a smug smile on his face.

My aunt ignored him. “Lucile, look. It was right there all the time…under a foot of grass and dirt.”

“Next time, ladies, please don’t dig a hole.” He snapped his knife shut and waddled back to his car.

“I think I’ll report him. Grave desecration? What a bad attitude these young people have.” She extended her hand to me. “Help me up.”

With both of them on their feet, I brushed off their clothes. I gathered everything, wrapped the knife in an old rag and dropped it in the bucket. I packed the stuff in the trunk.

When I went back to help them to the car, I heard my aunt ask, “I think we did a lovely job, don’t you? Roy would be pleased.” My mother agreed.



About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. Desecration Day is about his Aunt Gladys and his mother. Other pieces about his aunts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

He also wrote a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Growing Older, Goat Ranch, and Stephenie Bit Me, Too.

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In 1997, Toltec nagual (shaman) don Miguel Ruiz published a small book called The Four Agreements. The book laid out in practical terms four agreements one can make with oneself, a code of conduct to live by to transform one’s life. The idea is that these four agreements would replace or at least augment the many agreements we’ve carried with us since we were children—many harmful to our well-being—about our self-worth, our abilities, and life in general.

I learned about the book in 2000, after a particularly difficult year. I was on the brink of leaving my career. I was struggling in my marriage and with being a mother. I was unhappy and didn’t know what to do about it. My boss at the time, with whom my relationship was all but broken, gave me the book. She had just returned from a short sabbatical from work. She seemed transformed and credited the change to the wisdom of Ruiz. She handed out copies of the book to members of her staff, and then within a matter of a few weeks or months, she retired.

I remember when she gave me the book, at first I saw it as an olive branch. I had at one point before my boss left on her sabbatical become so enraged at her over matters at work that I let loose with a verbal assault that surprised even me. In my younger days I had the mouth of a sailor, but I rarely let my emotions get out of hand. Not so that year. I dropped the F-bomb on my boss like it was going out of style. In hindsight, it was amazing that she didn’t fire me for insubordination. That she could give me any gift at all seemed hugely generous.

Later, when I opened the book and saw what it contained, I took the gift as an insult. A category tag on the back of the book identified it as Personal Growth / Self-Help. I felt my former boss was trying to tell me that that I needed help; I was immature enough then to believe that I was perfectly fine and that she was the one who needed help. Reluctantly I read the book.


Fast forward to 2010. I think about my former boss now and again. I know now that not only did I in fact need help those many years ago, The Four Agreements was exactly the right kind of help. Had I been living them at the time, I would not have made the assumption that my former boss was giving me the book as way of trying to tell me something.

Recently I had the opportunity, thanks to the generosity of my good friend Patty, to see don Miguel Ruiz in Albuquerque and hear him and his son, don Jose Ruiz, talk about a new book they jointly wrote called The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery. This was the first time I’d seen either Ruiz in person. I didn’t take notes during the packed talk. I sat in the back of the Unitarian church where they spoke. I listened with an open heart. After the talk, the elder Ruiz left (we learned he had only partial heart functioning after a near-fatal heart attack in 2002) while the younger stayed in the church and signed books.


don jose ruiz and pattydon jose ruiz and roma

light and love, photos of Patty (left) and Roma with don Jose Ruiz, emanating light and love, May 19, 2010, Albuquerque, photos © 2010, all rights reserved.




Don Miguel Ruiz came from a family of healers. His mother was a curandera and his grandfather a nagual. From the book jacket of The Four Agreements, “The family anticipated that Miguel would embrace their centuries-old legacy of healing and teaching, and carry forward the esoteric Toltec knowledge. Instead, distracted by modern life, Miguel chose to attend medical school and become a surgeon.”

After nearly losing his life in a car accident, Ruiz devoted himself to becoming a nagual. He has passed on the knowledge to his son, Jose Luis, and together they are promoting The Fifth Agreement. I am reading The Fifth Agreement now, and already it has hit home for me the wisdom and power of that original small book.

I have in small but perceptible ways been transformed by Ruiz’s four agreements. They’re not easy to live by. Some are harder than others. Some I recall daily. Here they are, with a short excerpt about each:



be impeccable with your word


Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.



don’t take anything personally


Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.



don’t make assumptions


Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.



always do your best


Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.





Perhaps you are familiar with don Miguel Ruiz and his books of wisdom, or maybe this is the first time you’ve heard of any of this. In either case, reflect on the four agreements and think about what they mean to you. Write each agreement at the top of your notebook and then do a 10- or 15-minute Writing Practice on each one. If this is your first exposure to this Toltec wisdom, buy the books or check them out from your local library and take the time to learn more about them and their author. Let us know if your writings about the agreements resonate with the writings in the books.

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Art-A-Whirl, Casket Arts Building, Studio 318, Northeast Minneapolis,
Minnesota, May 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s the last day of Art-A-Whirl! If you are in the Twin Cities area, please stop by the Minneapolis Arts District in Northeast Minneapolis. I share a studio with Liz and two other artists in the Casket Arts Building. We’d love to see you at Studio 318. I am displaying the first print installation of my Writers Hands Series. Liz has a series of photographs in retro frames. Carol and Margery are displaying paintings and black and white photographs. Yesterday Carol did a demo on making egg tempera paint to a crowd of people who had gathered around. It was a great success.

The Northeast Arts District was recently written up in the New York Times. We drove down 13th Avenue yesterday on our way to the studio (past The Modern, The Ritz, and Shuga Records) and it was jammed with music and art lovers! I am grateful for the support of friends, family, and red Ravine readers over the years. And grateful for community. Thanks for the beautiful flowers for the Art-A-Whirl opening oliverowl. And to ybonesy, fellow artist and my blog partner on red Ravine. A special thanks to the Midwest Writing Group who followed my progress on this photo project month by month. And to all of our local friends who have stopped by to support us – a huge thank you.


More than 500 artists participate in AAW, including potters, tile makers, painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers, glass blowers, printmakers, and textile designers. They showcase their art in warehouses, galleries, homes, storefronts and cafes.

Art-A-Whirl, presented by the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, is the largest open studio and gallery tour in the United States.

It is a highly anticipated annual event that welcomes local and regional visitors to the Arts District in Northeast Minneapolis to see the art being made in this area and to meet the artists.

As visitors come to see the art over the three-day weekend they also experience the unique and welcoming community of Northeast Minneapolis.

Start Time: Friday, May 14, 2010 at 5:00pm
End Time: Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 5:00pm
Street: 681 17th Ave NE


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, May 16th, 2010

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poker mom

Poker Mom, ybonesy’s mom, Margie (hair up in curlers), on poker night, circa 1950s, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.






To my mom, QM’s mom, Liz’s mom, and all the moms out there:






you are the best!


happy mother’s day!






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