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She was fourteen. I was going on seventeen. We hated each other, and we fought. She was out of control, spiraling away from family. I was making plans to leave home forever as soon as graduation rolled around the following spring. She was drinking heavily, immersing her pain in drugs and sex. I blamed her for the anguish I saw in our parents’ eyes when they searched for her or she stumbled home, drunk, again, long after curfew.

There’s a lot I blame myself for: I was the older sister. I should have been an ear for her, but she never felt safe confessing her troubles to me. I was as much an enemy as the parents were, or maybe more: I was everything she was not: the A student, the over-achiever, the college-bound, the “good” girl. I took advantage of that, as only a teenage older sister can.

But there was this one night – this one hallowed evening. She was grounded. There was a carnival in town. She wanted to go; I didn’t. Frankly, I get motion sick and carnivals are *not my thing*. But my parents told me I could take her to the carnival (as if it were a great favor bestowed upon me). So I made an effort: we’d be like we were before drugs, alcohol, sex, and the move to a new town blew us apart. We’d be sisters. We’d have fun.

I can tell you exactly how much Sam cost, 43 years later. The smell of cotton candy. The sounds of the Carnies hawking their games. The array of plates you had to land your dime on to win a prize (and that prize was somewhere in the pen below, peeping and frightened: a duckling).

“I want one,” she declared.

“Dad will never let you keep it.”

“He will if I cry.” She had large, dark brown eyes. She’d gifted me a kitten a couple of years earlier, and I got to keep him because I shed alligator tears and Mom went to bat for me. It was possible, I reckoned.

“I’ll try.” I tossed dime after dime. At ten dimes, I began to hesitate.

“Pleeeze…”

“Okay, but only two more dimes. No more.”

He cost $1.20. He fit into a 16-ounce paper cup. He bonded instantly with the human carrying him. She named him “Sam”, after herself. She’d been “Sam” since a backyard baseball game when she was four, and the umpire (a neighbor) gave us all boy names so we could play baseball with the boys (“They’re girls! They can’t play!!”). My “boy” name never stuck, but hers did: she was ever afterward, “Sam”.

And now her duck was Sam.

And Dad was not happy.

And no amount of alligator tears, pleas from me, or any other begging gesture would sway him: the duck would GO. NO DUCK.

It ripped a tear into our family fabric that took ages to mend. Dad took the duck (forever named Sam) to a rancher friend of his, some 60 miles away, near Baker, Nevada. Sam would live and grow old with the ducks in the pond. My sister continued to spiral out of control, feeling unloved, lost, and betrayed. It took me years to understand and forgive Dad myself: what’s a duck worth? Yeah, Dad had the duck’s future in mind, but did he have my sister’s future in mind?

Did my parents understand the small gesture that might have swayed her out of her self-destruction? Did I?

I’ve never forgiven myself for those 12 dimes. I knew better. I knew Dad would not bless the duck. I merely hoped. And I so wanted to have a fun night with my little sister, a moment to remember – fondly.

Tonight, when I was painting this duck, he began to speak to me.

Sam - image is smaller than seen on the screen: 2x3"

I’m forgiven. By my sister and by the duck.

She died before we ever sat down and talked about The Damn Duck (as I refer to him in my memory). I assume she and Dad came to a place of forgiveness as well, as they were close when she died.

They are all gone now: Dad, Deni, the Duck. Sam, however lives on in my mini painting. And my heart. Because at that moment, at age 17, I never meant to betray my sister’s trust. It took me a long time to forgive our father for that betrayal. I got the reasoning right away, but the emotional impact…

I’m not sure I understand his reasoning tonight. It was a duck. It imprinted on my sister. It probably would have had a shortened life if we had kept it and she had to care for it, but… maybe it could have changed her life. Her self esteem.

But if her self esteem had been elevated, would I be aunt to the amazing nieces and nephews i am aunt to?

Maybe Sam was the sacrifice that had to be made for my nieces and nephews to exist. That would be a good reason for a duck to be hatched, sold to a carnival, and purchased for $1.20 in dimes.

I have written numerous posts about the dead. Happy Mom’s Day to my mother or Happy Father’s Day to my father. But I do have living in-laws, and they have supported me for over 36 years.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

It wasn’t easy – at first – to call you “Mom”. I saw how much it meant to you by your face and your body language. You wouldn’t be happy if I just called you “Carolyn”. It had to be “Mom”. We were family now.

The first time I met you, you had a huge vase of flowers on your kitchen table, a gift from your ex-husband – my husband’s father. Your boyfriend (soon to be husband) didn’t seem bothered that the flowers were there. I was impressed by how you both handled the flowers.

The first time I met you, I was afraid of almost every dog that moved on the earth and you had a very large Doberman Pinscher. Very.Large. And an ancient Dachshund cross. I could deal with “Peppy”, but “Sam” scared the bejeezus out of me. He was BIG. He was sleek. He was In.My.Face. The months before you had to put Sam down hurt me. I remember kneeling in your kitchen and scratching his head, knowing that he would NEVER hurt me, and knowing that his days were numbered. He was beautiful. He was one of the first dogs to come into my life because of you; dogs who would teach me that I didn’t need to be afraid of dogs.

You adopted me. Loaned me books. Told me stories about your early marriage to my husband’s father. Told me how you still loved him, but could never be married to him again (and why – I totally get that!). You love my children and my grandchildren.

I just sent you some photos of the greats. I don’t know how they will print out for you or if you will just want to save the CD to look at. There are so many greats now! I hope and pray that you will get to meet each and every one of them sometime soon.

Mom, my kids are trying to come out here this summer. I hope they can. I hope it will work out so you can see as many of the greats as possible. It’s the pits that some of them have other parents they ave to be with, you know?

I love that you brought me into the family of your second husband (who was your boyfriend when I met Sam). My kids thinks of him and “Grandpa Terry” with much fondness. My husband’s step- brother and sisters became my friends. Thank you.

Oh, and there’s your son. That guy I married. The one who brought me into your family. Thank you for him. I know he calls you almost weekly. I am glad he has that relationship with you. It’s beautiful.

Love you, Mom.

Mom

 

It isn’t often that I am surprised by someone else’s lack of knowledge about poetry; it is a taste that some folks never develop. I do, however, assume that everyone knows the names of the great poets, like Robert W. Service.

Who is that, you say? You’d be joining the ranks of my associates at work, and several of my Facebook friends.

But how can you *not* know who he was? Don’t they read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in school these days? Oh, wait. I didn’t read it in school, either: my father quoted it to me, and I begged to see the book it was written in. A life-long love affair with “The Bard of the Yukon” was born (and while “Sam McGee” is his most quotable poem, “The Spell of the Yukon” is his most beautiful ode to that wild, untamed, brutish land where most of his poems are set).

Poetry gets a bad rap, face it. I had a college professor who hated Robert Frost; I love Robert Frost (he was not adored by his contemporaries). I’m not a fan of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, but snippets from her poems are found in greeting cards everywhere. There are some who find John Donne tedious, but if I can bury my nose in his Holy Sonnets:

“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You

as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;” (Holy Sonnet 14).

Thomas Carew wrote a moving poem upon the death of Dr. John Donne:

Here lies a king, that ruled as he thought fit

the universal monarchy of wit;

Here lie two flamens, and both those the best:

Apollo’s first, at that the true God’s priest.” (flamens: a crown of bays or laurel)

Some poems are so quotable that you might think everyone would know them (I’m coming back to Robert W. Service here):

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales/that would make you blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

but the queerest they ever did see

was that night on Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee”

Every kid can quote “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe (at least I assume they can!) but he wrote poetry that was not so macabre as well.

I don’t know when I fell in love with poetry, but I do know when I discovered Langston Hughes. 1973. I bought a poster with a poem of his on it. In later years, I read his biography and all of his poems from “Hold Fast to Dreams” to “Harlem”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

and then run?

How about this freestyle from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, titled “Dog”:

The dog trots freely in the street

and sees reality and the things he sees 

are bigger than himself

and the things he sees

are his reality

Poetry covers every aspect of human life. Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Robert Browning, Thomas Gray: Ode (On the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes), Henry David Thoroeau, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats.

What of William Blake?

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These are but snippets of favorite poems, many forgotten in the dusty attic of my memory. And I have so many more books of poetry to read.

But let me return to Robert Service one more time. My friends who read Sam McGee were highly entertained and realized there was something more to be said about the world of poetry.

I want to leave them with this classic, written by The Great ANONYMOUS (and, despite that name, this poem is a classic in all regards): The Whore on the Snow Crust:

Bastards are not at all time got

In feather beds, we know;

The strumpet’s oath convinces both

Ofttimes it is not so…

If I fell in love with poetry because of Rudyard Kipling or William Blake, and then proceeded to devour my way through Shelley, Longfellow, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings, then I am, perhaps, guilty of a sort of elitism way of thinking. Of course you know who this was!!

Let me leave you with this visual from Carl Sandburg:

The Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

 

 

I saw a commercial on the TV tonight that made me want to reflect back upon the good teachers I had as a youth (there were quite a few bad ones, too). I’d also like to redeem myself to the teaching community, who often sees homeschoolers as people who hate public school teachers. Not so – we hate the system that teaches to the test, puts children in boxes, and produces the afore-mentioned bad teachers. But I’m not going to talk about them, at least not tonight. Tonight is about the teachers who influenced me.

There was Mrs. Roberts, principle of Sonoma Heights Elementary School. She was my stand-in when my parents did not come for Parent’s Day. She also stood on the playground as a playground guard and fixed my unruly hair for me. I was painfully shy, embarrassed by my parents’ “no show”, and without any words spoken, she told me that I was worth something. I was in Second Grade.

Mrs. Rackley came next, in the order of good teachers. Fourth Grade. New Math. An entire classroom of children so confused as to how math could change overnight from 3rd Grade to 4th Grade, and what the heck were decimals? I was excited to bring my parents to Parent Night, so they could see the picture of quail that I drew. Mrs. Rackley pulled them aside and told them the cruel truth: I lied about being finished in a required subject so I could be excused to draw (but the drawing was excellent).

Mrs. Christianson hovers on the line between the worst and best. She was young, newly wed, childless. We were her first group of 5th graders, and she didn’t quite know how to draw the line. Hence, I peed my panties in class because I wasn’t allowed to raise my hand to be asked to be excused. My parents nearly had her fired, poor woman. After that, however, she often stopped to fix the bobby pins in my hair and to encourage me in my artistic endeavors. Alas, I was absent that last two weeks of school when she discovered that having us pass our workbooks to our friends for grading was a very, very grave mistake.

Mrs. C. gained immortality because of a novel. Trudi started it, and Peggy and I shared in the writing of it. It was all about our adventures with Mrs. C., whom Trudi adored and admired. I don’t know whatever became of the novel.

The best was yet to come: Mrs. Haskell. She could not pronounce “Alfalfa”. She called it “alfa-alfa” much to our range-bred humor. She passed little balls of mercury around the classroom so we could see how it rolled, divided, and regroups. Yes, bare hands. Hey, who knew? And then we read about mercury madness (poisoning) among the early silver miners. But it was what Mrs. Haskell did when she saw me getting teased in the playground that forever etched her in my heart as The Best Teacher Ever.

D.M., a popular boy, made me dump half the Valentine’s cupcakes I had carefully crafted. they landed frosting-side down in the gravel. He laughed. The popular clique laughed. I wanted to cry. Mrs. Haskell cleaned the gravel out of all but one cup cake. When time came to hand them out, she told me what to do with the gravelly cup cake, and I can’t say I didn’t gloat just a little as I set the damaged item on D.M.’s desk. He threw up his arm and called out. “Look what she put on my desk!”

“What’s the matter, D? You dumped it in the gravel. Isn’t that how you like your cupcakes?”

Oh my Lord – if every picked on kid could have a Mrs. Haskell in their life! She was there for me so many times over, never allowing me to back down.

Mrs. Foster came next. The woman who instilled in me a love of history and of writing. I later asked her to write a college recommendation letter for me. I don’t remember her specific classes or anything she said, but only that her stern hand and her direction toward the classics forever left an imprint in my heart and mind. She knew the sordid history of the haunted house I lived in, and could share stories of the construction of it. She had a wicked sense of humor.

And if a substitute teacher can have a spot, Mrs. Elgis. “Eagle Eyes and Elephant Ears” we called her behind her back. She taught some kids’ parents, and some of their grandparents. She was OLD. Ancient. She could hear a note passed when her back was turned and she knew who passed it without ever turning around. If you tried to signal your girlfriend while her back was turned, she’d say, “Put the antennas down girls,” without ever turning to look. When a boy irritated a girl in 5th Grade, I remember Mrs. Elgis looking up and saying, “Loretta, take this book and hit him on the head.”

She had no mercy. She missed nothing. She was an artist who corresponded with me briefly after I moved to another community. She took interest.

I had two wonderful college professors, too, but I no longer remember their names – probably because I was not cut out for college and dropped out after my freshman year. One was an art teacher (Design 102) and the other was my humanities professor who instilled a life-long love of poetry in me (specifically John Donne) and a continuing fascination with classical mythology.

I doubt that I could have been brave enough to homeschool my children without the influence of these teachers, especially Mrs. Foster. I didn’t always like them. But when I think of how they shaped my life – yes. Even Mrs. C. makes the list because she loved the arts, and she encouraged our entire class in the arts. And she was a nice person despite her silly first-year-teacher rules.

Thank you, Public School, Private School, and Homeschool Teachers.

Yesterday, I turned to my husband and said, “There must be something wrong with me.” I didn’t get any further because he started laughing and said, “Um, yes – there is something wrong with you.”

Gee, thanks.

What I wanted to say was “I have so much frenetic energy. I have to be ‘doing’. I don’t know how to relax.”

(It’s OK – he took me for a lovely walk and bought me ice cream half-way through.)

But this energy. This need to be doing. I need to be achieving. Where does that come from? Why can’t I just relax on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Why do I feel like I have to be doing something?

Here’s what I was doing while I was “relaxing”:

I was spraying several coats of primer on an old real estate sign. I primed a wrought iron vintage planter holder. I plotted a Pinterest project. I never stopped thinking or doing.

It’s my father. I had to do things to earn his approval (or so I thought). Achievement meant acceptance. Approval. A report card full of A’s and B’s meant I was worth something.

I tell you this, not because that always rules my life, but sometimes it carries over into other areas, even when I think I have conquered that demon. I was working on two mini portraits for my art website (and to sell, eventually),

I had to walk away from both projects last night, because I was trying too hard to make the art work. I can’t paint like that. the art has to speak to me. It needs to flow. I knew what I wanted to happen, but it was clearly not happening. I was painting in a frenetic energy, trying to create something to meet the approval of an unseen audience.

I took photos of it at that point and walked away from it. I knew what was wrong, and I didn’t wish to feed into that energy any more. I just don’t know how to stop that demon from haunting me and driving me.

I did come back and finish those two pieces this evening. I’ll post them on my website later this week.

I shortened the cape and revealed more of the mara (that’s an animal) and I changed the color of the ribbons. She’s Mara Mapuche, an elder of the Mapuche Indian people of the Patagonia.

Maxine was a difficult portrait: my first instinct was to put her in leggings, but I decided that was *not* happening (or maybe she told me so). Fuzzy pink sweater, pill box hat, and a little bling. Office Manager of the month.

I should mention that is my job title. And Maxine is named after my husband’s paternal grandmother whom I loved dearly. Might even be a slight resemblance (God rest Maxine’s soul).

I need to work on my website. Frenetic energy is often a disguise to keep me from doing what is needed – like updating a website!!

shrunken5

That photo has nothing to do with this post. It’s just a “shrunken head” I made a few years back (I carved the apple and let it dry, so actually, Nature “made” the shrunken head).

This weekend was an “almost perfect” May weekend, just a tad below normal, and sunny. Saturday, I took my “boy” to a new groomer because my favorite is booked through June, and my dog can’t wait that long to get his summer cut. His hair grows so long and thick – a by-product of being an English breed – that when temps start rising about 60 degrees (F), he starts suffering.

New groomer did good. He looks like a Dalmatian, but that will only last about six weeks, before his hair starts to get long again. He’s so much happier, has so much more energy, and we walked further today than we have since he developed his mystery cough. We got in a full mile before he got winded.

Today was so much nicer than yesterday, and I piddled around the garden. Frenetically. I didn’t want to weed too much, because now is the season when lawn clippings trump garden weeds in the yard debris bins. We get free yard debris recycling in the Portland, Oregon, Metro area, and we have two yard bins that get filled every week from April to July. I have to pace my weeding so as to not compete with the lawn mowing.

I cleaned all the hummingbird feeders and refilled them (4 parts boiled water + 1 part sugar, dissolved and cooled). I moved wind chimes around. I sprayed several coats of primer over an old real estate sign,

007

It took four coats per side to cover up the professional paint of the real estate sign. I’m going to paint my art logo on this to use in my art booth when I go to the next art show as Two Crow Feather Woman. Sign is 20×29″

Did I mention I was frenetically doing all this yard work and piddling? Yeah, me. The constant, on-the-go, we have to get something done, person. My husband came out and sat in the lawn chair. He did one thing. I couldn’t sit still.  I could tell he wanted me to just sit and visit, but I felt compelled to be doing something.

Is this conditioning from my childhood, when our father viewed any idle moment as a moment to put a child to work? All those hours of being “grounded” and having to weed the public area between sidewalk and street? Saturday morning chores that had to be finished before we could go play and explore?

Or is it a by-product of un-diagnosed ADHD?

I lean toward the former: I am still striving to please my father by working, working, working. “Idle hands are the devils’ workshop” and all that. I.Can’t.Relax.

I turned to my husband and said, “There must be something wrong with me. I can’t relax.”

He got as far as “something wrong with” and said, “Yes, there is.” Men!

I suggested we should go for a walk to burn off my energy.

We walked down to Dairy Queen – there’s a trail that cuts through Waterboard Park, As the crow flies – or as the trail goes – we’re only a half mile from DQ. It’s much further to drive to.

We bought ice cream and ate it there, then he suggested we take the long way back, from the bluff to Waterboard Park, and up to the top bluff. It makes sense if you live here, where the city is situated on three different planes. Waterboard Park is situated around an old pave wagon trail that long ago gave in to the landslides. The path up through the park is an old paved road that has slipped and fallen. It’s blocked to motor vehicle traffic.

Steep cliffs, tall trees. and a long hike upward. Wildflowers. My husband and I. It was glorious.

Cell phone pics from the top of the trail, the Overlook. The one on the right (with the snowy mountain on the right) is Mt. St, Helens. The other photo is of Mt. Rainier, 150 miles north. We rarely get to see Rainier this clearly.

I’m tired.

There was more, but I am leaving this here. My frenetic energy was directed at doing something. My husband needed my companionship and not the “doing” part.

I’m still fighting my inner demons of perfectionism, action, and doing to earn favor.

Baby steps.

He was never, ever, “Daddy”. He was “Dad” and he was bigger than life, meaner than a crocodile, and funnier than Red Skelton. I came to terms with my image of him decades ago, when I needed to address my idea of a father figure vs. what God wants a father figure to be like. My father was not a God-like father-figure, make no mistake of that. But the man who terrified me was the same man who amused my best friend, and bantered with her on a chalkboard next to the refrigerator.

I was horrified the first time I noticed that she’d written a note on the board – and signed it, no less, with the name “Krazy Kat”. Dad would blow a gasket. That board was only for parental instructions and the once-a-year greeting of “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” scrawled in Dad’s left-handed print. But Lisa had left an off-hand remark and signed it, there, on the forbidden board.

Moreover, Dad answered her with some tongue-in-cheek repartee that had us all giggling. They corresponded for years like this, Lisa and my father, while my siblings and I cowered under his authoritarian rule and dodged his “black” moods. Their notes on the blackboard were some of my earliest memories of his humanity.

Not my earliest, however. I remember that sometimes – and very rarely – he would let my sister and I try to tickle him to death. Somewhere in the tickling, he would “swallow” his cigarette, and we would rear back, afraid we’d kill him or he’s be mad at us. And then, miraculously, he produced the butt of the cigarette from his mouth, still smoldering, and we’d all fall in a heap, giggling.

More often, he was the authoritarian. He was moody and unpredictable. He could say something simple and it felt like it cut like a knife, We all longed for his approval, and we all felt like we fell short of it.

But that was the early Dad, not the Dad of our adulthood. He still had his moods, but he seemed more mellow. Kinder. More patient.

My sister was very needy. A single mother, an addict, an alcoholic, a woman with no marketable skills. Dad taught her how to do her own plumbing. Encouraged her to get minimum wage jobs. Got guardianship of her oldest when it was needed, but didn’t try to interfere with the younger ones. He loved his grands to the moon and back, and don’t you think they knew it? Where was the drawer with cookies in it? Have a fight with Mom (my sister)? Ride your bike over to Gramps’ house and hang out. Dad was proud of Deni.

I was closer to my mother than to Dad, but when she died, roles changed, as they needed to. Dad became my friend, my confidant. He and my brother went on many trips to revisit Dad’s childhood. Our sons stopped to visit Dad when they were in the area, and Dad loved Jared and Levi for that. He had other kids he “adopted”: my sister’s friends, our childhood friends. Their children. He took care of them, shared drinks with them. Tomi (my niece via my foster sister) was his favorite.

Somewhere along the line, I addressed all my issues toward him, and he toward me. We became friends. I talked to him the week before he died, and we made plans.

And then he was gone. Just like that. A candle blown out. The papery feel of the skin on his hands just a memory. His face – which mine echoes – and his eyes – mine resemble – gone. The good, the bad, the ugly. The beautiful.

So – we’re driving down the two-lane from Lages to Ely. All of us on the bench seat of the old pea-soup green GMC. Dad, Mom, Me, Deni. Dad lights a cigarette and passes it to Mom. Dad lights another cigarette and passes it to Mom, who passes it to me (the non-smoker). I pass it to Deni. Dad lights a third cigarette, which he takes a long drag on.

Deni, “Um, Dad, you just lit three cigarettes,” She’s staring at the one in her hand with lust.

Dad: “I thought you were a smoker. That’s for you.”

Mom and I collapsed in laughter. Deni rolled her eyes and smoked her cigarette. “Thanks.”

He died on May 5, 2011. I miss him so. But not in a painful way. I miss him like I miss my mother and sister. They’re gone. Will-o-wisps. Voices that whisper from the grave once in awhile. A faint touch on the shoulder. A nod in the wind.