Oddments

In search of story


24 Comments

November 29.22: Coping, but barely

January 1983 was a low point in my life. I turned 40 and was starting over. I took a deep breath, went back to grad school, got an assistantship, and was assigned a cubicle.

My cubicle mate had different hours and we started leaving notes for each other. Give an English major a scrap of lined paper and stand back. Thus began our friendship.

A few years later, she developed a brain tumor which was initially misdiagnosed. It was a terrible fight she fought, but she survived. Not only that, but she earned her PhD at the same time.

That was Sandy. Sandra Littleton Uetz.

Almost thirty years later came the second tumor. She fought again but this time it was different.

I have lost a dear friend.

I don’t think I’m the only one who wonders.  When, at some low point in life, we find ourselves sharing a desk with a stranger who becomes a dear friend, what is that? Do we call it the grace of God, the luck of the Irish, random chance, some cosmic plan, serendipity?

And when the dear friend is at her low point, and we can’t do anything, what do we call it?

She had great teaching ideas, baked a mean cherry pie, was seriously conversant with Pogo and Krazy Kat and Mark Twain, collected buttons and handkerchiefs, loved books, the St. Louis Cardinals, cats, little dogs, birds, and, most deeply, her family. She was a woman of faith and fear — to live with the possibility of recurring tumors is to be just that.

One December Sandy and I drove to Valparaiso, where the square around the old courthouse had been developed into little shops. Christmas carols — REAL Christmas carols — were piped outside. We wallowed in happy nostalgia. It was one of our best hobnobbings. I promise to remember it.

One of her favorite poems, and perhaps her most favorite, is this, by Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 

May the angels lead you, Sandy.

 

 


22 Comments

November 26.22: Coping, but barely

A few are left

dry bright flutter

soon adrift

each in its oneness

a moment in the arms of air

then slowly down

leaving the shadeless world

to marvel

at the unhidden.

 

If you know me, dear reader, you have surmised that my muse has abandoned me once again. She does not request a leave of absence; she just absconds with inspiration.

I can’t be too hard on her, though. I’ve caught one of the bugs (infectiously speaking) going around and it has not improved my curmudgeon’s disposition. One of my best friends is losing her fight with a brain tumor, and my thoughts probably don’t leave much room for my muse. Maybe the truth is that I’ve abandoned her.

I had to cancel Thanksgiving at the last minute because of this rotten bug. We swapped food so everyone had a full menu, but we didn’t eat together. I had tea and toast — not cheerfully, I assure you.

Thanksgiving is for all of us a memory mishmash, I think, but it’s fitting as the door to the season of memories. I wish us all perspective.

 


17 Comments

October 30.22: Coping, but barely

With enigmatic aspect

of jarring puce-y pinks,

they gaze into unseens,

each vacant penguin sphinx.

Contemplative and placid,

in ignoble habitat,

I seem to hear their mantra:

My kingdom for a hat!

One may quibble about puce and maintain reasonably that puce is in the eye of the beholder; however, puce is also a reference to the Puce Stamps in Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Our intrepid photographer, Bill, named the color.

Many years ago, in the times of antiquity known as The Fifties, Bill and his wife Donna were high school debate partners, and one of their warmest debates was Pogo (Bill) vs Peanuts (Donna). Rowrbazzle! vs Good Grief! I should know: I was there.

Ergo, puce penguins.

I have written before about ancient friendships, and no doubt I will again. They rule!

With thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.

and apologies to Shakespeare.


14 Comments

December 24.21: Coping

My world is little

as is my tree,

yet there’s a world

inside of me.

The thing to do,

I cannot doubt,

is turn my person

inside-out,

and hang that world

with due aplomb

upon this little

tannenbaum,

and then to watch

the tree grow tall

— not so little

after all.

The world within

is mighty crowd,

kaleidoscopic,

teeming, loud,

overlapping place

and year,

mix of music,

laugh and tear.

Mishmash? Yes.

But life is that:

it isn’t neat

and folded flat.

The world inside,

the story of me,

sparkles on

my Christmas tree.

 

Whatever your traditions, your rituals, dear reader,

may they bring comfort this year,

and may they keep the story of you.

 


4 Comments

February 22.21: Coping

 

Today, dear reader, is George Washington’s birthday. It makes me think of old friendships. No, I didn’t know George.

There are four of us — Ann, Donna, Bill and I — who have our birthdays in consecutive months starting in November and ending today. I have declared — and therefore it is so — that we don’t turn the next age until the last one does. That would be Bill, the intrepid photographer. We don’t turn until he does, and then we all turn together. There is no way he gets to be the youngest.

Ann and I went to kindergarten, grade school, high school together, and ended up in the same college sorority. Bill and Donna and I have a friendship forged in homeroom and in the high school parking lot at 3:00AM as we gathered for “away meets” for speech and debate. The four of us grew up together. I am beyond grateful that we are growing old together.

So today I think about ancient friendships. Although we often make wonderful friends along life’s way, sometimes we are lucky enough to have friends who knew our parents, who knew the homes we grew up in. I marvel at this often, but particularly on February 22.

I lift a celebratory mug of coffee in salute to ancient friendships, and I wish them for you, dear reader.

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to Mama Rosa’s, Hampton, VA.


10 Comments

December 1.20: Coping

Zinnia: thoughts of absent friends

 

Once upon a long-ago 1968, two life paths — mine and Libby’s — crossed in the highly combustible, hilarious, hormone-laden world of a junior/senior high school. She taught music and I was the new English teacher.

We met in the teachers’ workroom in a haze of mimeograph fumes, and quickly established our mutual love of music.  I was enlisted on the spot as official accompanist for her junior-high musical extravaganzas. I do not forget the moment the curtain went up for the ballroom scene in “Die Fledermaus,” with its aluminum foil chandeliers, and the audience exploded into spontaneous applause.

Or when the 8th-grade Josephine ad libbed her lines to the 7th-grade Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore” rehearsal.

Or the shivering hours in Libby’s basement as she sewed the angel costumes for “Hansel und Gretel.” Her childhood on a North Dakota farm made her impervious to cold and eventually she kept a blanket just for me because she grew tired of hearing my teeth chatter.

Libby and I had the best time in those bachelor days even though she could never convert me to gin or cats. I held to a firm belief in scotch and catlessness.  But, beyond bachelorhood, many were the years of friendship, many the pastries, many the morning coffees, many the long talks.

I would say now that I am dead to Libby but the fact is that for her today I never lived. She is far into dementia. She was lovely, a world traveler, opera buff, master gardener, idealist, a tolerant, inquisitive, lifelong learner, protective of all life. Cat addict.

She still is all those things; she just doesn’t know it.

I salute her today, her 93rd birthday. I will know for both of us.

 


9 Comments

June 18.20: Coping

I see many references to isolation and aloneness these days. As an introvert, I’m comfortable with aloneness. Usually content with my own company, I do not crave the madding crowd. Aloneness isn’t always loneliness.

But I haven’t been with my family since March 6. No hugs for three months! There’s loneliness in that, as many elderly (and not-so-elderly) know.

It has recently occurred to me that there is another dimension to my aloneness. My close friends vary in age, but all of us have experienced family death in our parents’ generation. However, among my friends, I am the only one to have lost the sibling connection to the past; I’m the first to be The Last. This hit me as a revelation. Unaware, I’ve been grappling with a sense of aloneness among my friends.

I am an old single parent who is also The Last One of the family she grew up with — those are my particular circumstances — but I think most of us are grappling with some kind of aloneness, and maybe loneliness too, at this time. It doesn’t mean we have the same life experiences, only that we are in the same human condition. Human, but dangerously corrosive, all the more so swirled as it is with anger.

As I’ve said before, I think writers write about two things: what is, and what could be. Sometimes we can’t write about what could be until we write about what is. For me, this is what is.

 

 


6 Comments

April 5.20: Coping

In a chunk of bread

simplicity

crusty warm

felicity

ennobling us

this humble fare

by causing us

to want to share

and so, dear reader,

to you from me

a lap load of crumbs

symbolically.

 

Yet more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.

And kudos to McCormick & Schmick’s for the handsome sourdough.

 

To the mystery plant of my April 3 post: could that be Echinacea?

I remember potting one to save it from rabbits, the wretches.

 


4 Comments

February 17.19 (yesterday cont’d)

I’ve been thinking about “me too,” and how it is used. The photo of Emmy in yesterday’s post helped me with my thinking. “Me too” had come to suggest pretense to me, pretending someone else’s shoes fit.

Don’t get me wrong: in no way am I disparaging the MeToo movement, whose voices have given the strength of the many to the one. As depressing (if unsurprising) as MeToo truth has been, it has also been affirming; the one person who comes forward now has the voice of the many behind her or him.

But if you tell me about a worry or fear or grief you have, and I respond “me too” or some variation of it, aren’t I slamming a door on you? Dismissing you and changing the subject to me? Aren’t I saying “enough about you”?

Once I was talking to a dear friend about a problem in my life. She responded, “I can’t even imagine.” It was the most supportive thing she could have said. If she had said “me too,” she wouldn’t have helped at all; she would only have been pretending to walk in my shoes, pushing me out of them.

When is “me too” genuine empathy, and when is it just upstaging?

And that, dear reader, is how yesterday’s post came to be.