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My First Bicycle — Morristown, Tennessee, BlackBerry Shot of C-41 film print, Morristown, Tennessee, April 1959, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Do you remember your first bicycle? Did you learn to ride a bike in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s? Were you sporting a Schwinn, Raleigh, or Western Flyer, 24 or 26- inch frame, balloon-tired, single-speed coaster, three-speed, or ten-speed? Whenever I could, I’d steal away on my brother’s Schwinn Sting-Ray with the banana seat. Did your bike have a Wheelie-Bar (check out this cool poster for the WHAM-O Wheelie-Bar)?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, bikes were booming. (Prior to the 1960’s, most bicycles were sold to children.) In 1960, 3.7 million bikes were sold in the U.S., with sales jumping to 15.2 million by 1973. When I took off the training wheels and graduated to a 26-inch frame, I’m pretty sure I was riding high on the Schwinn Fair Lady. Was my brother riding a Tiger? Did my sister have a Sting-Ray Stardust? I remember her bike had a white basket on the front, laced with flowers.

How many times did you fall off your bicycle when you were learning to ride? Did you use training wheels or go out into that brave new world balancing on the head of a pin. Tell me everything you know about your early bicycle experiences. The look, the feel, the wind in your hair. Were there plastic streamers flowing out of the grips, clothes pins snapped to playing cards (could they be Bicycle) and clipped to the frame, chattering over the spokes? Did you ride with “no hands?”

Get out a fast writing pen and a spiral notebook and do an old-fashioned handwritten Writing Practice. Write My First Bicycle at the top of the page and 15 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 13th, 2011

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

An old friend called on her way back home from a weekend with her partner, son, and grandson. “I have some bad news and some good news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Maybe the good news will soften the bad.”

“I didn’t expect you to say that. Here goes. The doctor found that I have endometrial cancer, undifferentiated. They have caught it at a very early stage.”

I stopped listening to her for awhile. The “C” word causes my stomach to clinch and the muscles in my neck to tighten. I’ve heard it too often in conversations with my women friends. Lost two of them to aggressive tumors that spread throughout their bodies.

But I focus too much on the losses and not on the wins. A friend diagnosed with breast cancer has remained cancer-free for 12 years. Other women have recovered completely from cancer of various organs. I’m thankful for those successes, very grateful.

My mind returns to the recurrences I’ve seen. A woman twelve years post treatment for a brain tumor has learned within the last two weeks that her cancer has returned. This time the doctor said she will die, but that’s what he said the last time and she lived for another twelve years.

Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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I had thought by the time I did this Writing Practice, we would be well into the green of Spring and Winter would have died a slow death. It’s green. But on the second day of May it dropped to 30 degrees. Ice crystals fell from the sky and pinged the windshield. I am still bundled in fleece, pulling a high collar up around the scruff of my neck to keep warm. Nature is unpredictable. So is the nature of one’s death. It happens that on the week we are writing about death and dying on red Ravine, Osama bin Laden would meet his demise. I feel no joy in his death. It is a strange mix of emotions, more like confusion and relief.

I remember the writing workshop with Natalie in Taos, New Mexico right after September 11th. She thought about canceling it but decided it was important to go ahead. It was a large group, over 50 writers, a talking workshop. The first night we went around the room, introduced ourselves, and spoke briefly about what it was like for each of us on September 11th. Some lived in New York, some had lost loved ones. I was more removed from the immediate impact. But it changed our country forever. Oddly, I don’t want to write about it. Not now. I will leave it for those whose voices ring with more certainty about what it all means. I can’t put labels on it. The whole ten years and two wars mostly makes me sad.

The older I get and the closer to death, the more I think about it. I can’t predict its time, but I can dedicate my life to living while I am on God’s green Earth. I listened to an interview with Janis Ian before seeing her in concert at the Fitzgerald last week. She had gotten very sick, and thought she may die in middle age. She said her thoughts on death before her illness were that she would take the time she had left to write songs, to write the perfect poem set to music. But when the time actually came, when she thought her life would be cut short, all she wanted to do was sit on the porch with her partner and watch the birds. To be close to her loved ones. That’s all that mattered.

It reminds me that I’m not going to be on my deathbed thinking about how hard I worked at all the jobs I have had over the years. It’s not likely I’ll be thinking of co-workers, the people with whom I’ve spent a majority of my daylight hours. I am more likely to want to spend time with Liz, stay close to home, hang out with the cats. I am more likely to want to go visit my mother and close family, to spend the time with friends I know I can trust. Friends with which I can share my deepest fears about dying and death.

There are moments when death doesn’t scare me. Late nights, when I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep, I do feel the fear. I try to befriend my idea of Death. It changes like the seasons. I do believe that life goes on after death. I find some comfort in that. I don’t have to get it right the first time. There can be second chances. But life will never be like the one I have right now, in this one moment. This is my life. I want to make the most of it while I am here.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING

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Carlsbad Cavern f autoPS

On The Trail In The Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, mailed in 1947 from Whites City, New Mexico, vintage postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Jim White, the discoverer and explorer of Carlsbad Caverns has his experiences written up in a book of thirty-two pages with 30 illustrations, of which 16 subjects are in beautiful colors, and a wonderful colored cover entitled: Jim White’s Own Story.” Be sure and read these thrilling experiences of a lone cowboy three days under the world in Carlsbad Caverns.”


Before Ione wandered through the Joshua Trees & Desert Sands of California, she went spelunking deep in the underground caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. She would have accessed the park’s only entrance road, New Mexico Highway 7, by turning north off of US Hwy 62/180 at Whites City, New Mexico – which is 16 miles southwest of Carlsbad, NM and 150 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas.

The scenic entrance road stretches 7 miles from the park gate at Whites City (formerly the entrance to Walnut Canyon) to the Visitor Center and cavern entrance (which explains why the card is postmarked Whites City). To make it even more confusing, the address for the park’s Visitor Center is 727 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM, even though it’s located 23 miles from the actual town.


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Carlsbad Caverns – Jan 23 1947, Whites City, New Mexico, vintage postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Carlsbad, N.M.

Here we are at the Caverns. You can’t imagine what they are. The most desolate country around here. All well. Everything going fine.

Ione.


Ione would have traveled 1300 miles from Dover, Minnesota to Carlsbad Caverns a year before the new visitor center was built, and one year after Jim White died in Carlsbad, on April 26, 1946 at the age of 63. Did you know April 16th – 24th is National Park week? What is your favorite national park? If you took a visit to Carlsbad Caverns you would find:

  • 117 (known) caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone
  • During the Summer, the caves are home to 400,000 Brazilian (more commonly called Mexican) free-tail bats [NOTE: To learn more about bats, visit Bats, Beautiful Bats! a piece about bat evangelist Michelle McCaulley who spreads the truth about the benefits of bats and other wildlife. Michelle runs the Rio Grande Basin Bat Project, which was created by her late father, Jim McCaulley.]
  • Carlsbad Cavern is only one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. The limestone rock that holds Carlsbad Cavern is full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys.
  • Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains; some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present day boundaries of the park.

Jim White began to explore the cave as a teenager in 1898, using a handmade wire ladder to descend 60 feet into the cave. As an early visitor to Carlsbad Cavern, you might have entered the cave via an old guano mining bucket. In 1901, Abijah Long, a fertilizer expert, realized that guano could be used as a nitrate rich fertilizer. The following year, Long filed a claim for guano mining inside the caverns, and he offered Jim White work as a foreman. In about 20 years, an estimated 100,000 tons of guano were taken from Carlsbad Caverns at as much as $90 a ton. It wasn’t until years later, January 6th, 1912, that New Mexico officially became a state. If you had visited the park in 1928, you may have bumped into Amelia Earhart who gave underground park tours that year.

Though there are many legends and myths about which immigrants first discovered “The Bat Cave” (Native Americans knew of the caves thousands of years before), Jim White spent much of his life trying to convince others of the need for preservation. In October 1923, President Calvin Coolidge declared Carlsbad Caverns a national monument, and Jim White became cavern guide. In 1924, geologist Willis T. Lee explored the caves with White and wrote an article for National Geographic attracting national attention. On February 9th, 1937, Jim White began selling his book Jim White’s Own Story (ghostwritten by Frank Ernest Nicholson) in the cave, and his wife Fanny continued to sell it until her death in 1964.


-related to posts:  WRITING TOPIC: ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, greetings from artesia haiku, Roswell, NM — Aliens Welcome Here, and for a more modern visit to the caves check out Postcards From Carlsbad Caverns

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By Susy Crandall




sometimes keeping going is the only thing to do.
just put one foot in front of the other
even when all you want to do is


STOP


and jet off, uncoiling this mortal coil, snapping the cord
that holds you here on this
terrestrial ball


sometimes I have felt myself leaving
when I look up
at the stars or sun and moon.
after all, I have been there before
looking out over the backside
of the moon at Orion.


it’s nice up there.


still something keeps telling me “No, not yet—
there is much left to do and have
and let go of,
so it will be awhile.


but when I learn to make each day
one long song of Praise,
when doing what I don’t like to do is
Sacred


even if it’s nothing but lying flat on my back
staring at that ceiling in that nursing home
making a complete Heaven of boredom
finding God in smaller
and smaller things


till this body becomes translucent with age
and evaporates into
living through my death and death
And deaths after death.


besides, the more of me that dies
the clearer my sight becomes
and beauties I never saw before I see now,
the soft-shelled turtle a foot wide
that lives in the ditch,
or the coyote crossing the road at dusk,
that sandy haired cousin
of Baryshnikov,
or the colors in the clouds.


when I could leave, I wasn’t grounded
but neither was I finished being made
and now I know I’ll never be finished


so, “No,” I say to myself
when I’m really down and out and
I want to leave.
“Not yet.”


let’s just see what’s left,
what’s left waiting to be born
out of this piece of death
this peace of death


till the last breath whispers “Now,”
and I am ready to go
birthed into death
and gone home to my love.





_______________________________________




About Susy:  Itchin’ to write, to scrape the painfully unexpressed off internal organs and lay it out in fresh air and sunshine to heal, where sharing fractionates pain. Scrubbing out the last of my angst cabinets to fill with love and light to live, a worker among workers, a friend among friends.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, April 18th, 2011

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING, Does Poetry Matter?, and Tortoise Highway

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The Yogi (Cover Page)

The Yogi (Cover Page), 14/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 14, April 8th 2011, photo © 2011 by Kathy Nguyen (A~Lotus). All rights reserved. Medium: Digital Collage using Microsoft PowerPoint 2007.


Cover for a beautiful poem by Lotus — The Yogi. The poetry and collage combine to make the BlackBerry 52 Jump-Off for Week 14, and the inspiration for the response that rises to the top by the end of the day on Sunday. For me, her free verse relates to the current red Ravine Writing Topic — Death & Dying. Though we work independently, one in Texas, the other in Minnesota, over the course of our yearly collaboration, I find we are eerily in sync.

April is also National Poetry Month and I’m delighted to have received several submissions that I’ll be posting over the coming weeks. I’ll be working on free verse this weekend for a Strange Attractors collaborative art performance next Friday called Obsoletion Blues (Liz calls it a cellular swan song). Wish us luck!

Lotus and I will continue our call and response by posting a BlackBerry photo for the 52 weeks of 2011. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration). To read more about Lotus, visit her at alotus_poetry on Twitter (where she writes poetry every day in community with other Twitter poets), at Poetry By Lotus, and on her Flickr account.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, April 8th, 2011

-related to posts: Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, Waning Moon (Haiga), The Void — January Mandalas, haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52, Alter-Ego Mandala: Dreaming Of The Albatross (For Bukowski), EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise

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Happy 4th Birthday red Ravine!


In Gratitude for another year of red Ravine, with much appreciation to our readers and guests. You keep the community going strong and inspire me every day with your courage, grace, and humor. red Ravine was conceived in Taos, New Mexico, born on November 3rd, 2006, and launched as an Aries, April 7th, 2007. It seems important to mark the passing of time, to reflect and remember how far we have come.

On the first anniversary in 2008, we were living dangerously. The second year, we celebrated poetry with a Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month. Year three explored the range of horoscopes of our readers. Here we are at the end of year four. I saw my first butterfly this afternoon signaling the birth of Spring. It held all the promise of a passionate year five. Thank you for all you have given!


-posted on red Ravine, in celebration of her 4th Birthday & Blogiversary, Thursday, April 7th, 2011

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Web & Dew: The Space Between, BlackBerry Shots, July 2010, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Over 90 inches of snow have disappeared from our lawn in temperatures that reach the 50’s by day, drop down to freezing at night. Winter is dying a slow death. Seasons change, transitions in temperament and landscape. The snowmelt runs into rivers and streams, the salt leaves potholes. But soon, tiny shoots of emerald will erupt through the dank, dead, chestnut grass. Winter must die to usher in Spring.

There is power in recognizing impending death. I remember the year my mother told me that when her time came, she was ready to die. We were visiting the South, walking down the cemetery hill from my grandmother’s grave in Georgia. I burst out crying; she hugged me and held me close. I thought the tears inside would never stop. “Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Frankenbelly 3's Birthday - 321/365 Last year, my brother nearly died, before receiving a liver transplant at the 11th hour. It’s an experience that pulled our family together, one we share with countless others. If a person who loses their spouse is a widow, what’s the name for a child who loses a parent? Or a parent who loses a child? There should be a formal naming. For children, it should not be the word “orphan.” That implies that you never held the person close, lived with or loved your parent. There should be another word.

I think of what it must be like to be the one left behind. When I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates in Minneapolis at Talk of the Stacks last week, I bought her new memoir, A Widow’s Story. Her husband Raymond died unexpectedly late one winter night in 2008; the next morning Joyce was supposed to have gone to the hospital, picked him up, and brought him home to recover. It’s the story of loss, grief, and pain; of giant gift baskets, grieving cats, and mounds of trash; of how no one really understood. Yet in the end, she realized that everyone understood. Because Death is a universal experience. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore or know how to incorporate it into our lives.

Porkys Since 1953 There is more to Death than the loss of loved ones. Sometimes whole cultures die, like the Anasazi who inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, and then disappeared. Cultural traditions die, too, like Porky’s Drive-In in St. Paul. It was owned by the same family since 1953, and closed its doors last Sunday, April 3rd, 2011. Animals die, and it is certain that we will probably outlive many of our beloved pets (our cat Chaco died a few years ago, June 25th, 2009).

Groups we are in community with have life spans, too. Circles of intimacy change and grow; sometimes we end up leaving people behind. Or they leave us. During one session of a year-long Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, one of the participants was killed in a car crash. The group was stunned. These were people we thought we would sit and write with for an entire year. It was not to be. I remember we chanted the Heart Sutra. I remember finding comfort in the ritual.

Cemetery Fog At Workmens Circle - 70/365 Ah, I feel a heaviness this Spring. But it’s a collective heaviness. Like something is shifting in the Universe. There’s too much going on in the world, too many catastrophes, too many unexpected deaths, too many aging and dying people, too many widows and widowers, for there not to be something going on at the Spiritual level. But that’s just my belief. I know there are people who say this occurred at every period in history. But there are certain paradigm shifts that happen and change the planet as a whole. We can either learn our lessons and get on board the train that moves forward. Or stay stuck in the past, not doing the work that’s required of us.

It’s the New Moon. New beginnings. There is value in what has come before, in the history we have with other people we were close to at one time. It’s good to honor and remember. All of that follows us, and I believe we transform it. All energy is creative energy. Even the energy of Death. It cycles back around into new life. Death can be a release of suffering. It also creates a giant abyss of loss. Maybe we’d be wise to befriend the Grim Reaper. Maybe it is others who are dying or have passed over who teach us the courage and strength to face our own death. Maybe the space between death and dying…is life.


_______________________


Transitions - Catch & Release Though many of our ancestors accepted and honored the process of Death through rituals, sitting, slowing down, it feels like our fast-paced modern world doesn’t know how to stop moving, how to have a conversation about death and dying, or where to put it in the flow of our day-to-day lives. It makes for a good Writing Topic, a good topic for discussion on red Ravine. Why can’t we talk face to face about death? Maybe it’s easier to write about it.

Take out a fast writing pen and notebook, or fire up your computer and write Death & Dying at the top of your page. Then 15 minutes, Go! Or do a Writing Practice on everything you know about any aspect of death and dying. Please feel free to share any insights in the comments below.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. Parts of the piece were taken from several Writing Practices written last weekend, April 2nd & 3rd.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS, Reflection — Through The Looking Glass, Make Positive Effort For The Good, The Uses Of Sorrow — What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, and a great interview with Joyce Carol Oates on MPR Midmorning with Kerri Miller – A Widow’s Story — The Story Of Joyce Carol Oates

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By Marylin Schultz




My Father In Front Of The Family Ford — Earl Russell Biggs II, vintage family postcard, circa early 1900’s, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Images from long ago—letters, photographs, postcards, communicate family history, like ribbons tying up bundles of memories. I look into the sweet innocence of children’s faces and reflect on what I do know of their lives. Little Earl Russell Biggs, II, my father, placed in front of his family’s first automobile by a proud papa. There would eventually be four generations of men in the family, given that name. Family tradition had each generation alternating the names they were “known as.” My grandfather was called Earl, my father went by Russell. My brother was called Earl and his son was known as Russ, or the nick-name,” Rusty.”

The baby, Frances Louise Oliver, my mother, was as fair in complexion as E. Russell was dark. Their childhoods would also be in stark contrast. He was born in 1910, and she was three years younger. Frances was the adored, pampered baby of her family, with three brothers and a sister, much older than she. Frances always got what she wanted, I’m told, and became a woman who maintained that expectation from life.


My Mother — Frances Louise Oliver, family photo scan
© 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Russell’s life probably began happily enough. His father and mother, Mary Dickens Biggs, lived in Childress, Texas, where he was a successful businessman in banking, and insurance, as well as owning a cattle ranch, where the family lived. Russell was big brother to Emma Ruth, five years younger than he was. In 1920, tragedy struck the young family. Mary Dickens Biggs, who was expecting their third child, died from the dreaded Influenza that took over 20 million lives in Europe and America.

The parents of E. R. Biggs, Sr. were no longer living, and Mary’s parents offered to care for the children, so the devastated father agreed. Russell and Emmy spent the next two years with the Dickens family, who were living on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, where Felix Dickens, Mary’s brother, was the BIA Agent.

E. R. Biggs married his second wife, Lillian, and the two children were moved back to their Texas home. Very soon, however, Russell, at the age of twelve, was sent off to a Military Academy, and spent the rest of his school years there, only home for the summers and holidays. E.R. and Lillian had another son and daughter. It was one of those cases of a step-mother, whose “own” children could do no wrong, and the older children felt deeply, the deprivation of approval and affection. Emma, while still a teenager, had a baby, who was immediately placed for adoption, never experiencing even one embrace of the young mother who so desperately wanted to love and be loved.




(L to R) Paul, Harriet, Eloise, Mildred, & Grace Dickens, Russell Biggs (My Father) on right, Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I always wondered what it must have been like to grow up on Indian reservations, which the five Dickens children experienced. As we know from the postcard, they were in Oklahoma, then Minnesota and later in Washington State. As a child, I remember my father’s Uncle Felix visiting us a few times at our home in California. I have a few letters that he wrote to my Aunt Emma, which were from a reservation in South Dakota. These were at a much later date, when Emma was an adult.


Side B: Back of the Postcard of Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I finally met some of my Dickens relatives in an unusual way. After the deaths of my mother and father, I received all the family documents. In going through the papers I learned that Mary Dickens was born in McGregor, Iowa. My husband and I were scheduled to drive from our home in Bismarck, No. Dakota to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a convention, the very next day. I looked at a map and saw that McGregor was only a few miles south, and across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien. I decided to see if I could find a trace of the Dickens family in the small, riverside town of McGregor.

It was a cold, gray November Saturday. The trees along the river were bare, but the drive along the river was peaceful and I was feeling hopeful. When I entered the town, I saw a building marked “Museum,” and I parked. The sign on the Museum door said something like “Closed. See you next Spring.” The only place open was the Hardware Store, so I went in. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm welcome. I told her of my quest for family members and asked if she knew of any Dickens who were still living in the area.

“Harvey Dickens lives about five miles west of town,” she replied. “Would you like to call him from here?” I answered in the affirmative just as the phone rang. She spoke to the person for a few minutes, and then I heard her say, “There’s someone here who wants to speak to you,” and handing the phone to me, with a big smile, she said, “It’s Harvey Dickens.” I gasped in amazement at the coincidence, and took the phone. I gave a very brief explanation of who I was. He invited me to come to his home, and I scribbled down the directions he gave, handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her. She smiled and wished me good luck, and I hurried to my car.


Harvey had given good directions to his farm, and I found it with no problem. The plain, two story home, painted a soft yellow, with dark green shutters at the windows, was well cared for. There was a row of pine trees to the west of the house, offering a buffer from the prevailing prairie winds, and a hedge of Lilac bushes between house and out-buildings. The tires of my car made a crunching sound on the neatly graveled driveway. Harvey opened the door of the house before I started up the steps. His smile was wide.

“Come on in, little lady, it’s cold out there!” He introduced me to his wife, Louise, and immediately I felt the genuine warmth of their welcome. They already had a box of old papers and photographs for me to look at. Harvey was a slightly built man, about 70 years old. Louise, looking comfortable in sweater and jeans, offered me coffee, as we sat down around the kitchen table.

“We have four children, but they’ve all moved away,” Louise said, filling my cup.

With a sigh, Harvey added, “Not much to keep them in a small town in Iowa, and none of ‘em was interested in farming.” Harvey took photos out of the box, pointing out each individual by name. “Better write down those names on the back,” Louise gently chided. “No one but you can identify them anymore.” I listened carefully, not recognizing any names until he said, “And this is Uncle Felix.”

“Yes,” I said, now excited, as he handed it to me. “Did he have three daughters, who lived in Washington?” He smiled broadly, and replied, giving me their names. We had made a connection, as it turned out that his grandfather was my great-grandfather. We looked at more photographs and he gave me the names and addresses of other cousins that had done more research into the family history.

We were engrossed in each others’ family anecdotes, laughing at the funny little quirks that all families have, and the morning flew quickly by. I turned down an offer of a noon meal, and told them I needed to get back to La Crosse.

“Now, if you can come back, I’ll take you to the cemetery; quite a few Dickens there,” Harvey said.

“You keep in touch,” Louise whispered in my ear, as we exchanged a hug.

“I promise I will, and thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to meet you. I feel like I’ve been with old friends,” I replied.

“Nope, better than friends, we’re family!” Those were Harvey’s last words to me as I got into my car. That brief visit opened up a whole new chapter in my family history, and as I drove across the bridge over the wide Mississippi, I felt truly blessed.




Editor’s Note: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional photographers offered customers the choice of placing photographs on postcards, like the “packages” they sell today. Some were taken in a studio and others at different locations. The photo of Frances was taken in a studio, and the other two at the homes of their clients. Images From The Past was partly inspired by conversation on the postcard piece Joshua Trees & Desert Sands — Jan 25 1947.




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy and a Writing Practice, Kindness.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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By Judith Ford


My grandmother, who was Dutch, did an incredible job of spring cleaning, every March, every year she was alive. No object and no surface was spared a scrubbing. Rugs were taken out and beaten within an inch of their threaded lives; walls were washed with a hard brown scrub brush. Curtains taken down and washed. Every closet emptied, every sheet and towel bleached and washed. Everything dried outdoors on a clothesline. In March, Wisconsin is still cold so things froze out there, pillowcases transformed into wrinkled boards. Socks turned into twisted sculptures. She washed every dish and pot and spoon. Then when it was all done and everything set back in its proper place, she’d cover the sofa and chairs and lampshades in the living room with plastic covers. She’d lay a plastic path from doorway to living room couch and into the dining room. When I was around 11, I asked her, finally, who she was keeping everything so clean for and when would she remove the ugly plastic. (I didn’t say the word, ugly, I’m sure). “The plastic keeps everything ready for company,” she replied. “But, “I protested, “Aren’t I company?” I had never once seen her living room without plastic. “You,” she explained, “are family. Not company.” She didn’t need to add that I, being a rather messy child, was one of the reasons she protected her furniture.


My mother didn’t do spring cleaning. She did like to open up all the windows on the first day the temperature rose over 50–to air everything out. I always loved that, coming home from school for lunch and finding the windows all wide open, the house looking like a toothless, eyeless caricature of itself, the air sweet and chilly. My mother hated being a housewife and did not cotton to cooking or cleaning. She did the minimums and stuck to the 50’s schedule that most of her friends observed: Monday clean and do laundry; Tuesday iron; Wednesday, volunteer work; Thursday, groceries; Friday, light cleaning (a lick and a promise, is what she called it); Saturday was the night my dad cooked burgers and Sundays we went to my grandparent’s house for dinner. My mother did what she felt she must but mostly without joy and often with many sighs. She did seem to enjoy ironing (which I so don’t get) and would sing while she ironed, in a voice like Ella Fitzgerald. Singing over the ironing and walking in the mountains – those are the times I remember my mother at her happiest. Not cleaning. Never spring cleaning.


Well, it’s sort of spring now and I am sort of spring cleaning. I’ve been putting hours in every week to clean my attic. It has to be done. We’re selling the house and moving to the country.

I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, married husband #2 after living alone here with my daughter for 5 years, moved that husband and his daughter in, had another baby, raised these kids until each one grew their feathers and flew off. Also raised a cockatiel, a parrot, four dogs and numerous gerbils and hamsters in this house. Can you imagine the debris? My attic had become a combination museum, closet (huge closet), and file cabinet. Treasures and cast-offs that have trickled down to me from three generations and two family lines. The leftover objects include outgrown clothes, games, books, and life directions. My very first poem, written at age 10. A couple of Jessie’s baby teeth, nestled inside the newborn bracelet she wore in the nursery: “Baby girl, Marks-Szedziewski, 2-19-78.” An envelope containing a curling wisp of very blond baby hair, Nic’s first haircut, 1988, a battered and faded pink pair of tiny toe shoes (mine, from 1955, I think; although they might be my aunt Jeanne’s). A hair curling iron (great-grandmother Nettie’s, late 1800’s). Aunt Jeanne’s bracelets from the 30’s. So glad I didn’t throw those away. Hundreds of notes from Jessie and from Nic: I Love You, Mommy. Mommy don’t tell anyone but I love you best. Thank you for being my mommy, You are the best Mommy, Next time you go on a trip, take me too. Mommy, I hate camp. Come and get me out of here, please!please!please! Nic’s version of Jingle Bells, written at age 4 with a few backwards letters, words scrawled across the page, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells Jingle all the way, Oh What Fun on Al’s True Ride, On the One on Holken Slay. Jessie’s school trophies, soccer and swimming, her camp and sports t-shirts, Nic’s academic medals for top scores in the state on the ACT and SAT at age 9 and 10, his IQ testing done at Northwestern U when he was 5.

The way I wept when the tester called me and told me the test results.

I wish I had known more back then how to feed his ravenous brain, his wonderful mind. So much I wish I could do over for him.


I will be 63 in a month. The past is truly the past. There are no do-overs and no time left for holding on. Time, instead, for letting go. For boxing up, and throwing away, for going to UPS to send Jessie her soccer and swim team t-shirts, to send Nic his Pokemon card collection. Handing the keepsakes over to my grown-up kids, handing over to them the job of remembering.

In the process of this sorting and cleaning, I’ve had to remind myself again and again to let go not only of the objects but the feelings. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve longed to have my children back in my arms, on my lap, longed for one more night of reading in bed with Jessie at age 7, one more night of long conversation at bedtime with Nic when he was 10. One more chance to see each of them for one hour during each year of their growing-up – one more chance to drink in the sight of them, their wispy hair, freckled faces, braces and missing teeth, to listen to their piping little voices more intently, memorize each one of them even more completely.

I had expected that cleaning out all this old stuff would help me clear the decks for this next chapter of my life, and yes, I guess that’s happening. I had anticipated reminiscing. I hadn’t anticipated the wave upon wave of memories to be so visceral, so wrenching, so expanding and swooping and full of love. I am not only clearing the decks; I am also rejuvenating both myself and the attic. Am going through some kind of death and resurrection here. Turning myself inside out and right side out again. Right side out and I must admit, a little trembly.

Spring cleaning is a piece of cake compared to this.




About Judith: Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with the piece 25 Reasons I Write. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include lang•widge, Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min. Spring Cleaning is based on a 15 minute Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING.

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By Bob Chrisman


The idea of spring cleaning stayed with me through the night, but vanished this morning, when outside, sleet peppered the streets. My tax appointment required me to catch the bus to go downtown. I rushed around and all thoughts about the meaning of spring cleaning disappeared.

As I pulled the front door closed behind me. The sound of sleet hitting the grass and trees sounded like the dry, clacking bones of dancing skeletons. What an odd association. I played with that idea as I walked.

Monday, February 28, would have been my father’s 97th birthday (and the third anniversary of my mother’s death). Perhaps they returned as dancing skeletons to remind me.

My relationship with my father has troubled me for years. I’ve written about it and published the pieces on red Ravine. The troubled times between us and the difficult life he lived aren’t all I remember about him. Perhaps the idea of the skeleton came to me as a spring cleaning of sorts, a chance to pull out the good memories I hold of him and air them.

From my dad I received a curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit the planet. My father observed the goings on around him. He liked to see how people acted in different situations and could predict what they would do. He frustrated me with that ability when he would say, “I can read you like a book.” And he could too, which made me mad.

My father read voraciously: books, magazines, newspapers, whatever printed words he could find. When he attended family gatherings he would collect reading material and retire to a chair where he would spend the time reading.

His greatest pleasure came when he found a box of books for sale. He bought it, carried it home and searched for reading treasures. The contents of those boxes rarely disappointed him because he liked books about any subject. Really he just liked books in general. He passed on that love to me.

He instilled in me the importance of questioning everything, especially religion. We had the Bible in various editions, which the late 1950’s required in the fight against godless communism, but we also had The Book of Mormon and the Quran. Although a Presbyterian, he didn’t believe that one denomination, or Christianity itself, had an inside edge over other religions or spiritual practices.

He knew how to fix cars and kept our used cars in working order. We never owned a new car, only different ones. He bought odd cars like the brown, streamlined Hudson with the plush interior when the cars of the time favored extravagant fins over aerodynamic design.

He brought home a Simca, a tiny French car, and probably the only French car in the entire city. Unlike most American cars, the gearshift stuck up out of the floor rather than off the steering column. When the shaft broke off one afternoon, Dad welded a metal bar in place and would have driven the car forever had the giant hole in the rusted floor board on my mother’s side not allowed water from a giant puddle to gush up and soak my mother’s favorite pair of Sunday shoes.

The last car he purchased before his stroke was a Corvair, the Nader deathtrap. I learned to drive in that car.

He loved the outdoors and took us on long drives through the countryside to see how the land was doing. Despite my hatred of those drives and my frequently voiced wish for Indians to scalp us, I learned to love the landscape around me. Seemingly pointless drives in the countryside bring me peace nowadays.

He helped out the neighbors. The elderly man next door spent a lot of time at a bar. He sang and shouted as staggered up the sidewalk. He fell. My mother would say, “Len, go help him. He won’t make it up those stairs to his house without hurting himself.”

Although Dad left for work at 5:30 a.m. and the neighbor returned home well after midnight, my father pulled on his pants and went outside to help the man home. Frequently my father assisted the wife in putting her drunk husband to bed. He never judged the man and never complained about the loss of sleep.

My funniest memory of Dad involves a Sunday morning church service. As an elder, he introduced applicants who, as a part of the hiring process for ministers, preached a sermon. During the weeks prior to that Sunday, Dad had worked many long hours and not had much sleep. He introduced the minister and then sat down in one of the plush, red velvet cushioned chairs on the platform and promptly fell asleep. My father snored like an approaching tornado.

Aunt Annie, director of the adult choir, motioned for someone to wake him up. Despite a variety of hand signals, no one moved. My father snored his way through a rather lengthy sermon. When the guest minister finished, he waited for Dad to announce the final hymn, but my dad had died to the world.

My aunt asked the choir and congregation to stand and sing. Dad slept on. When the ministerial candidate realized that my father wouldn’t say any final words, the young man approached the podium. “I hope I’m not responsible for Mr. Chrisman’s sound sleep.” My father remained oblivious to the world and to the congregation’s laughter. The minister shrugged his shoulders and walked down the aisle alone to the main door to shake hands with members of the congregation. That incident became a church and a family legend.

As I write, sleet continues to fall. The skeletons dance outside my window. In my mind spring cleaning reveals fond memories of the man I called my father. Happy Birthday, Dad!




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. His last pieces for red Ravine were Exit The Telephone, Desecration Day, and Uncle Howard At The Cemetery.

Other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members include: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad. Spring Cleaning In The Attic Of My Mind was inspired by the birthday anniversary of Bob’s father and Writing Topic — Spring Cleaning.

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By Teri Blair

This spring I turn 50.

The cleaning on my mind these days is an internal one. 50 is a significant marker, one that won’t be ignored. I saw Bonnie Raitt in concert the year she turned 50. She was playing the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair. She called out to the women in the audience, “Don’t be afraid to turn 50! It’s great!” And I could see she meant it, too—not just trying to buoy herself or us up. That was 11 years ago, and I was still in my 30s. 50 seemed like ages away. But it stuck with me. Her attitude.

I went to a 50th birthday party once for a woman who had a ritual to drop everything in her life that had held her back. It was done with drumming and shouting and people. Powerful stuff. She was brave and she made an announcement to her herself that she was turning a corner. A big one.

I don’t feel bad about turn 50. Mainly. There are things in my life I’m not satisfied with, but I don’t suppose that will every change. There’s some sort of release happening inside. A knowing that I don’t have all the time in the world. And because I don’t, I think about spring cleaning, and what needs to go and what needs to be aired out or left behind or turned over to the garbage heap. I don’t have my internal spring cleaning list completed, but it’s formulating. I don’t turn 50 until May 5th, so I’ve got some time.

I’m not sad about youth being over. That sounds bold and so against the grain of our culture, doesn’t it? I want to be healthy and strong. I want to take care of myself. But I don’t want to be 20 or 30 anymore. Nor do I want to pretend that I am. Nor do I want to watch someone half my age for clues about how I should live my life.

I am watching older women now. Elderly women. They seem far more interesting to me. I met one this month named Gladys—an artist/writer who has made it in the art world. She moves quietly and humbly through life. She listens well. She always seems grounded. Clearly, she had done her spring cleaning.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, PRACTICE — SPRING CLEANING — 10min by Bob Chrisman, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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Spring cleaning. Where to start. It’s quiet, late in the evening. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I remember window washing, vinegar and newspaper. I remember dusting with Pledge. The smell of Lemon Pledge, etched in the nasal cavity. I remember Johnson Paste Wax, the rotating discs on the buffer. I remember sand and sandspurs, tearing at my toes, clinging to bits of rug. Spring cleaning is symbolic. A ritual of letting go. It doesn’t have to be deep cleaning. Just the letting go.

The rugs that get hauled out to the clothesline. The rug beater, a wooden stick. Puffs of dirt from the prairie. Not my home. A little house somewhere I can’t remember. I don’t think houses are as clean as they were when I was growing up. Times have changed. Roles have changed. Both parents need to work for a living. And still it’s hard to make ends meet. Spring cleaning leads me to a sunny destination after a long Minnesota Winter. Spring cleaning leads me to Spring.

Cleaning the deck windows until they are crystal clear. Power washing the wood. There is something fun about power washing. This year we will need to replace the trim on the south windows. Weather and woodpeckers have stripped them raw and full of holes. I am fond of the woodpeckers. But they can be destructive. Have you ever watched birds do their spring cleaning? Grabbing bits of feather, lint, moss, and making a nest. Preening their young, mites and ticks. Cleaning rituals are not only for humans.

Spring cleaning means tidying up the garden space, uncovering the rosebush, gathering the old brush and weeds from the end of last Fall and tossing them to the back corner. Spring means transplanting the two pines that have sprouted near the coneflowers, watching the dogwood stems turn beet red with sap, waiting, waiting, waiting for the bloom of the peony. A whole year must pass, that’s how long I wait for the next peony to bloom. Underneath the ash, grubs, a few mice and voles. The white winter squirrel, I haven’t seen her this year. What happened? Maybe a hawk or an owl found her to be easy prey.

Another 18 inches of snow last weekend. I shoveled the driveway hill and raked the roof. I am ready for Spring. In a few days, it will drop to 10 degrees again. The wind will kick up from the North; I’ll zip my jacket a little tighter. All that after a day of sunshine at 32. It’s dangerous to wait for Spring, dangerous to wait for the future to arrive at your doorstep. When all you have is right now.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

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An Open Letter To My Father

An Open Letter To My Father, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I haven’t seen my father since I was six years old. He reached out to me that day for the first time since I was a toddler. But I was scared and didn’t want to come out of my room. I was only a child; he had become a stranger. I never saw him again.

I keep a pack of letters tied with red string in a shoebox on the top shelf of my closet. What is important comes in small packages. Snippets of correspondence become family heirlooms; letters are reminders of people whose memories and handwriting I want to remember.

One letter is from my mother, dated August of 2000. I had a hard time that year and (in an extroverted moment) reached out to 7 people in my inner circle. I asked if they would write a letter and tell me what my good qualities were; at the time, I just couldn’t remember. My mother wrote a beautiful letter to me from Pennsylvania, a story about the day I was born.

In the same shoebox is a letter from my father’s two sisters. Several years ago, by an act of grace, I reconnected with my aunts after 50 years, and stood with my mother and Aunt Annette under the Georgia pine over my Grandmother Estelle’s grave (the back story and photographs in Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave.) It was a few months later, New Year’s Day 2009, when my aunts sent the letter from South Carolina, and something more:


I feel so badly our family never got to see or know you before now. I know Mother would be so pleased about our reunion. Mother left this ring to me and I would very much like you to have it. She had it a long time and wore it as a pinky ring. This is not much, but I never want you to be left out of our lives. I hope you feel the same about us. Maybe you could try to come for Christmas one year while Annette and I are still here. We are all very much family oriented and want our kids to know you. I’m proud to pass your grandmother’s ring to you, her granddaughter.


It’s as if all that time between us never happened. My trips to the South with Mom to research and explore family history have paid off in unexpected and miraculous ways. During our brief visit, my aunts showed me old family photographs and filled me in on the paternal side of my family. They told me my father had been estranged for 10 years; a dispute had erupted after my grandmother died. I don’t take serendipitous events lightly. I believe we are reunited with the past for reasons beyond our understanding.


Letter From My Mother

A Letter From My Mother, BlackBerry Shots,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo
© 2009-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


That’s why when I called my aunts on Christmas Day 2010, they told me my father had called them out of the blue; he has cancer. He found out in September 2009, a few months before they mailed the letter with my grandmother’s ring. He didn’t contact them until a year later. During their visit, they told him they had seen me and my mother on a recent trip to Georgia. He did not jump at the chance to reconnect. Maybe for him, the past is the past.

My father was 17 years old when I was born, my mother 16. They divorced two years later—still teenagers. My mother went to work and provided for us. She eventually remarried a wonderful man who became my step-father.  After the age of 6, I never saw my blood father again. And now I find I may never get another chance. Should I write him a letter? What would I say?


Dear ______,

A few years ago on a visit to Georgia, I reconnected with your sisters, my aunts, after 50 years apart. They briefly filled me in on the family history; it made me think of you. I live in Minnesota now, have lived in the West and Midwest for most of my adult life. I try to get home once a year to visit family — for me, home is both Pennsylvania and Georgia. I may be visiting the South again this year and thought it might be a chance to touch base. Maybe we could meet for coffee or dinner.

Your daughter,

__________


I start the letter, I stop the letter. The drafts seem to fall short. What would you say? Should the salutation use his proper name? Or Father. Would you ask him to meet for dinner? Or talk on the phone. What if he doesn’t want to have contact with me? Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation where you haven’t talked to a close family member in many years. In reconnecting with my father’s sisters, it’s as if we were never apart. With parents, no matter how old you are, they are still your parents. Should I send a letter to my father?


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 6th, 2010

-related to posts: The Dying Art Of Letter Writing (Postcards From The Edge), You Can’t Go Back, WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS

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Joy. My heart is full of joy. Even though much of December has been a struggle. Joy is connected to giving. To the Holiday Spirit. I feel joy when I am connected to people who are close; I feel joy when I am alone, writing, doing art, sitting in silence. I live in the times between. Joy is not temporal, not limited by time or possessions or Earthly matters—like human happiness seems to be. Joy rises above the everyday slothing about. When I remember what I am grateful for, I feel joy. When I see the Downy Woodpecker at the suet feeder, I feel joy. I feel joy when I am out shoveling the driveway at 8pm, stop to stand in the snow and stillness, view the December Moon rising in the dark.

I remember a time when I was afraid to feel too much joy, or let it grow too big in my life. I was afraid of what would be left behind when it vanished. I waited for the other shoe to fall. I feel more connected to a Higher Power these days. I believe in what I cannot see. Joy lives in the invisible places. Tears that well up when I watch a sappy movie; the director’s vision, a tugboat of joy. Things no longer bring me joy. They might make me happy for an hour, a few days. But I’m not in the mood to accumulate things to fill the Void.

Driving through the snowstorm this week, I started thinking about the future. A solid Cancer/Taurus combo, I dwell mainly in the Present or the Past. The Future, it’s not here yet. I have to sit down and make myself plan. That’s where a yearly practice comes into play. Scheduling time in the studio, writing retreats, or art events. Goals, deadlines, something I can shoot for in the creative fields. What I was thinking about on my drive along snow packed roads and layers of black ice, is that if I live a full life, I may only have a good 30 years left. Then I started to panic. I have so many books I want to write, so many photographs I want to take, so much love. How will 30 years ever be enough?

The thought process continued over lettuce, ham & cheese, past the Grain Belt sign on the Northeast Gateway, and around the bend where the Mississippi River crosses the Plymouth bridge. Then it came to a screeching halt. There are no guarantees that I will live to the end of the day. I am planning for the future; I don’t know if I will even be alive. I still need to plan. But it’s not where I’m going that matters. It is where I am. The panic subsides. This morning I am too serious. Yet the Joy — she’s still there.

No matter what happens, I feel like I have already lived a full life. During one of my 10-year, single jags after art school, I started a timeline of my life. I drew a long thick line on a yellow parchment scroll, began with the year I was born, and started marking in significant life events. The scroll is rolled up on a shelf in my art studio. I want to take it out and look at where I left off. It’s been at least 7 years, maybe longer, since I added a new cairn. It’s a way that I honor my life, the fact that I have walked on the Earth. I am only a small dot on the planet, loved by a few, invisible to most. It’s easy to get lost. The visual teaches me to pay attention to what has passed; it informs the future.

Joy is a day of making art, writing a story, working on photographs, posting on red Ravine. Joy is not fleeting like happiness. It’s always there, waiting for me to recognize its face. Joy is not what numbs me. Joy is the first strawberry on the vine, the Strawberry Moon, the Winter Solstice, Summer in Minnesota. Joy is a film that moves, a tumble in the hay, a Stripeypants in the hand, a Kiev curled in a ball next to me on the couch. Joy is a loving partner, a new dream, the center of the labyrinth, along the edges, too. Joy is a handful of October leaves, tumbling down a mountain path. Joy is a Giant Moon rising over the Bitterroots, half in Shadow. Joy is Light.


-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — JOY

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