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She reconnected with him at their 30th high school reunion. Rekindled friendship blossomed into love. Then he was diagnosed with a degenerative brain cancer. She nurtured, they married, he died, she grieved. All of this in about a year’s time. Bereft, spent, and still grieving, she returned to her job as a high school counselor. Then this week, in the space of two days, two students die. What little reserves she’d built up evaporated in a flash. Only adrenaline keeps her functioning.
Her sobs drew me down the hallway. Head in hands, arms spread on the desktop, she wept inconsolably.
Closing the door, I gently stroked her back and rubbed her neck, murmuring soothing affirmations. “It’s OK sweet lady, this is all too much, you’ve been through way too much trauma, unfair to expect yourself to push on, no one could absorb this much so soon, it’s all so close, so raw, too much pain for anyone.”
I found a box of kleenex and handed her a fistful. She accepted them gratefully, and looked into my eyes; “I miss him so much,” she whimpered, her body and voice trembling as the tears welled and spilled anew. Oh! dear, tender friend.
Humming, I clean the house in anticipation of Jocelyn and her mom’s visit next weekend. Yellow maple leaves fall, prompting melancholy melodies to float through my mind and come out in song; "c’est un chanson...les feuilles mortes, la-de-da, de-da-de-da, 'tis autumn.
Jocelyn will walk 13.1 miles, in the inaugural half marathon event in the Portland Marathon. We met when we both were on the WEA board, and have nurtured a dear friendship since. Now that I’m no longer active in WEA, getting together happens less frequently. So, when I saw she’d be in town, I immediately extended the invitation.
The race is Sunday. She will arrive Thursday evening, and her mom will fly in from San Diego on Friday morning. “Don’t worry about mom! She’s easy, like me!” Jocelyn assures me. And I’m not worried. Both Creighton and I are excited to see Jocelyn, and meet her mom, Irene.
Not worried, but I do like to have things planned in advance so I emailed Jocelyn with questions about food preferences and a tentative outline of what we could do while she and Irene are here. The weather is great right now, but will likely be wet by weeks end.
The first time I met Jocelyn face to face was at a WEA board meeting. I was sitting in the back of the conference room at a table for two. She’d arrived a bit late. She hustled to the table, asked if the other seat was taken, and settled right in. Soon we were making sidebar comments, sharing observations, and laughing at the sublimely ridiculous. That’s how I remember it anyway. After that, we always saved seats for one another, and through mutual fondness for wine and good pedicures, we became closer. Our initial giggling friendship deepened as we shared.
Something about surgery, having been sick, prompted her to go on a healthy self improvement plan. She wanted a reason outside herself, so she chose the half marathon and then found a worthy group, Neuro Fibromyalgia Organization to associate with and raise funds for, by walking in the Portland event.
Just as I had aspired to move into a higher position with WEA, Jocelyn has applied for internships and staff positions, including one with her home UniServ Council. And, like me, she wasn’t even granted an interview. Peas in a pod in so many ways. We will survive, thrive.
There is a deep and turbid sadness that comes from being denied an opportunity one is suited for, has aspired towards, and is totally prepared and competent to perform. The exasperation comes, not so much from the absence of affirmation, but from the parochial snobbery of those in positions to accept or deny one’s application. People who, unlike you, have not gone through the fire, faced opposition unflinching, forged compromises, protected the vulnerable.
Both Jocelyn and I have been “tossed under the bus” by people who use the power of position to control. Our job now is to rise.
Jocelyn’s mom, Irene arrived this morning from San Diego. I took Jocelyn to the airport so they could connect. Afterward they hopped the MAX lightrail to downtown Portland for some time together and to get Jocelyn’s race packet.
First impressions are so telling. Like Jocelyn, Irene is all smiles and warmth. We hugged on first meeting, and when I picked them up in the afternoon and brought them home, my impression expanded into a fuller knowledge. The last time I can recall opening our home this way was when Catherine and Dominique came through Vancouver on their USA bus tour.
Oh my, did we have fun! Went to Salty’s on the Columbia for dinner and sat so we could see the Mel Brown trio and listen to the cool jazz sound while we had dinner. It was a total success, in part because the bassist is a former teacher of Creighton’s and they reconnected. During the band’s break Tim came over and sat with us, and we met Mel Brown, shook his hand, complimented him.
This morning we padded about in our jamma’s, drank coffee, visited, did computers stuff, planned the day, very mellow, so easy.
We are up at 5:00 preparing; Jocelyn to walk a half marathon, Irene and me to get her there, cheer her on, and bring her back home. It is drizzling when we drive into downtown Portland. I drop Jocelyn off to meet with her NF group. Irene and I follow the crowd, ask someone where a good place to observe the run is, and then finally meet another NF supporter. We station ourselves on the median of Naito Parkway, under the Morrison Street Bridge. By the time the thousands of runners have passed by us, it is raining steadily.
How many times have I driven past Fat Dave’s Restaurant and Lounge in the 26 years I’ve lived here, and never gone in? Impossible to guess, but that’s where Jocelyn wanted to go after her half marathon walk! A place that serves breakfast all day, and where she could get a Bloody Mary, so we did.
Later, Creighton and Irene watched football, while Jocelyn and I mellowed out with our laptops. After dinner, we all ended up downstairs, singing, dancing and then by the pond we held hands, saying prayers of thanksgiving; of renewed faith in humankind.
Even after I hug you goodbye
and you have flown off
one north, one south
I hear your voices
echo in my home
Even believing we’ll reunite soon
to kindle, affirm this love
of life, music, dance
the spirit of being
old as clay.
red Georgia mud
impossible to move
could one run to
freedom in such
deep dense clay?
“I wouldn’t have
Still, she walks freely
through Pacific storms,
with poise and purpose
linger, mixed with
A sense of nostalgia that comes with the season is intensified by the absence of my friend. My home, returned to the comfort of its original configuration, seems empty without the laughter and continual activity she and her mother brought during the four days they visited.
Soon frost will greet me in the mornings as night temperatures plummet. Already fir cones and deciduous tree leaves fall like rain. Sitting by the pond, my favorite place to write, I almost need an umbrella to protect my laptop! A cup of tea, cooling in the fading afternoon sun, hosts gnats and needles.
Someday it would be hers, but not yet. Well, at least it would be his and therefore hers too. She took it under her wing; found someone who could repair and rebuild the clock and calendar mechanics, transported it 100 miles each way, and paid $350 to have it restored to working order. But it did not belong to her, it was his mother’s and she wanted it back.
When his mother died the clock would be passed to her son and once again live on this mantle, ticking away the minutes of a fourth generation to their end.
He would never have taken it. Instead, contrary to his feelings for the clock itself, he would have had it professionally packed and shipped.
It was only that he wanted nothing to do with her any more. After 64 years of her instability, and his own, being around her caused too much anxiety, and anger; too many unsettling feelings for him to make himself visit her again.
Still, he wanted to know how it had been; how his mother responded, how she looked.
“Very thin now, almost ethereal, translucent in a way. Her failing eyes no longer look into mine.”
She walked right up to me and said, “you don’t recognize me do you?” I was standing in the bed of my old Datsun Kingcab truck, shoveling dirt into a garden plot. I wiped the sweat from my brow, and looked more closely at this young woman who had parked a dazzling blue PT Cruiser across the street, then walked into my yard.
“You are familiar,” I replied, “I recognize your voice, your face, but...” She introduced herself, and went on to say; “I just want you to know, what you do makes a difference. I’m living proof.”
Five months have passed since we have been together. Although Bill, C and I made a bit of music at Beach Haven, it was minimally OK. Jazz Casual, as so many good and wonderful creative ventures, is fading away. We give in reluctantly.
Today, the tension in Bill was as live as a hot wire. After a few tunes we found a groove, but it was tenuous at best. I slipped in and out of key, Bill was rarely satisfied with his solos, and twice asked Creighton to do two beats to a bar where before he’d wanted four.
A string of sunshiny days keeps spirits high. Simultaneously, cold nights announce with finality the end of summer, the beginning of true autumn. At the end of my work day, it is still early and warm enough to go for a walk with Jacques. Today Creighton joins us. As we round the corner at the top of Sherwood Drive, a friendly neighbor, Dave, who often sits out front of his tidy home with his old dog by his side, stands alone.
Expecting the usual dog biscuit treat from Dave, Jacques advances eagerly. But there is no treat, no old dog.
To celebrate his 84th birthday, Dave will look for a new best friend at the Humane Society. Having lived most his life with canine buddies, he’s not about to stop now. Acknowledging his loss, we commend his resilience. Confused, Jacques manages to get his nose back in joint as we proceed on our walk.
Have you ever seen a dog with its nose out of joint? The first time I did, I was driving and Scooter sat in the passenger seat, facing forward. She was quietly upset, and when I glanced her way, there it was in perfect profile.
Since then I have observed the “nose out of joint” reaction in all three of the Beagles who have lived with me. The top side of their muzzle is usually a fairly straight line from between the eyes to the tip of their noses. When they are upset, confused, or simply pissed off, and have no other immediate way to express their distress (like barking, running, pawing) their muzzle sends the message. The line from eyes to mid muzzle is straight, then from mid muzzle to nose there is a marked downward angle. Not quite 45 degrees, but clearly noticeable.
Talking to seniors; that is a lower case “s” meaning grade level, not upper case ‘S” meaning older, wiser folks like me. The challenge is to recognizing when the seeds of wisdom have begun to sprout in these young ones, and then, most rewarding for me, is sprinkling my own wise water and warmth; to nurture what is an eternal desire to stretch upward, to seek the sun.
Their goals, once murky mud, have solidified into workable clay. We pinch it, poke it, determine what needs to happen next, and move another step closer to launching them into their future.
Inspiration finally grabs me and I set up a drawing with large autumn colored maple leaves as my subject. I last drew in July, when we were at Beach Haven! There was one day I had everything else done, my house work, my laundry, shopping, dog cared for, husband content, words written, no book in process. I set up to draw, my boxes of colored pencils ready, sketchpad open to a fresh page, sitting out on the deck with great light and no wind. And I drew a blank. Couldn’t settle on a subject, frittered, spewed, and gave up.
Sort of sad to have maybe a couple hours to pursue my passions after work and before dinner and an early bed time. So I write my words, continue to create the Autumn Leaves drawing, and leave my book on the side table unopened.
The Mill on the Floss
, only the second of George Eliot’s works that I’ve determined to read. It goes slowly, mainly because the language used, the expressions employed to help me visualize are both archaic and lengthy. But so rich too, and I’ll persevere. Already Maggie reminds me of me.
When I ask Jacques “want to go for a walk?” he cocks his Beagle head aside, makes absolute eye contact with me, and waits for affirmation. My smile is a glimmer of hope. At the clap of my hands he bounds into action. Running up and down the hallway, he slides into the area rug at the top of the stairs, turns on a dime, and roars back into the bedroom where I change into outside clothes.
The brief pause in rain doesn’t last our entire walk, but we make it home in good spirits and not too wet.
Steel gray skies are blown clear to blue, with fleeting shreds of white racing past the tips of distant poplar trees, which bend and sway in the storm. Hints of the scent of snow in the cold air remind me that Cascade Mountain passes will receiving their first of the season blanket today.
Squirrels run one another in circles around the trees, and knock over the feeding station there to provide them easy eats. The wooden structure, once fresh cedar, now is broken into chewed upon pieces, and sadly rests in a pile of rotting sunflower seed shells.
Twenty years ago our neighborhood was very different. There were young families living up and down the streets, and kids played and romped in yards all around us. On Halloween, the parents of wee tykes accompanied them to our door just before dusk, signaling the parade was about to begin. All donned up in their pumpkin and princess outfits, we’d remark upon the costumes in exaggerated awe as we plopped candy into their bags.
As darkness fell, squeals and chatter in the streets announced the older tricksters were on the prowl. We were prepared and excited to greet them.
Waves of youngsters bounced up the stairs to our porch, rang the bell, and greeted us with, “Trick or Treat.” As we opened the door, Scooter would jump to greet them. Just a puppy then, she’d wiggle and smile as the children pet her silky soft ears. We always made sure to give small candy bars, the kind of treat we would have wanted when we were young.
Neighbor kids who knew us had great fun when we couldn’t identify them. They would dare us to guess, and in the dare give it away with voice or gesture!
Eventually the commotion on the streets diminished and we greeted increasingly older tricksters at the door. When cars started unloading packs of children from who knew where, we’d turn down the lights, blow out the candles, and sit quietly satisfied in the living room. By then puppy Scooter would be exhausted and asleep in her basket, and we weren’t far behind.
All that has changed. Children grew up, young parents became empty-nesters, the neighborhood aged. We kept up our tradition until a couple years ago. Now, as Halloween approaches, I wonder what to do. Treat or trick?
College football, The World Series, Election 2010, Halloween, rain, yellow maple leaves the size of platters, splattered all over the yard, the airwaves, the now.
I’m reading a book first published in 1860. At first I struggled with it, in part because the comparatives, while functional then, do little to exemplify the point for me today. And, sometimes the colloquial English used, took me a couple readings to get. Well, after all, it is 150 years old!
Point is though, the story is ageless. The characters, dressed in today's clothes, with today's vocabulary, would be indistinguishable in the now.
Guilty pleasure: spend all day reading, a luxury I usually only give myself on vacation. The day broke drizzly. Creighton had a hard night. He didn’t sleep, couldn’t settle down, watched movies all night and was wired when I arose at 5:30, to make an egg and toast breakfast. I don’t get mad any more. It’s better just to get him stable and focus on getting him to bed.
While he slept all morning, I sat by the window in the Keeping Room reading,
The Mill on the Floss
, by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans).
Still equivocating on how to deal with All Hallows Eve. Twilight approaches. Fatigue sets in. There’s baseball to watch, words to write, and any child that might ring my doorbell will not be one I know. But, I did buy some fun size Butterfingers and Snickers, and have decided to turn on the lights, at least for a while.
The night is clear, but our sidewalks and byways do not echo with the voices of young ones trooping through the neighborhood.
The doorbell only rang twice; a group of three girls followed by another two girls. That was it.
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