Reflections

Don't Kill the Messenger!

The mass hysteria that overtook this country immediately after Donald Trump was elected president continues unabated. People are flooding social media with their hatred of Trump, spurred on by half-truths, outright lies and “disinformation” broadcast round the world and round-the-clock by mainstream media.

I have wondered since November what is fueling this hatred.  I think I know. These people are in denial.

As long as they refuse to believe that ISIS is determined to take over the world; that our border with Mexico is a straight path for radical Islamic terrorists to enter our country; that our national debt isn’t almost $20 trillion and growing at the rate of nearly $30,000 per SECOND; that we should not object when policemen and women are murdered in cold blood; that our military is grossly underfunded; that we should throw billions into the coffers of puppet dictators around the globe yet ignore our veterans, watch our infrastructure rot into the ground, pretend there are not tens of thousands of homeless living on the streets, that it is OK for US corporations to build their products in foreign countries with cheap labor robbing Americans of jobs, then sell those products to Americans at premium prices, that our inner cities are crime-infested centers of hopelessness . . . if they refuse to believe all this, then – in their minds - the nearly insurmountable problems facing our country do not exist.

Their solution? Kill the messenger - President Donald Trump - the one person who is willing to address the evils that have America in a death grip.  

Imagine what could be accomplished if all the hate mongering ceased, and we Americans pulled together; gave President Trump a chance. That’s not so far-fetched. Pulling together has always been the American way. We kinda got off track in the past few weeks, but that’s a problem that can easily be fixed . . .  .  by putting America first.

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SUNDOWN IS COMING . . .
I was raised on a farm and lived most of my life on the edge of nowhere, so snakes have always been an accepted fact of life. Usually they confine their activities to sliding through the thick underbrush in nearby forests, swimming in creeks, lakes or ponds, or sunning themselves on the asphalt roadway. They don’t bother me. I don’t bother them.
My husband has killed several poisonous snakes – copperheads or water moccasins with their mottled skin, large fangs and deadly venom – that were lurking on the carport or on the lower deck of our house, too near the children or grandchildren, too close for comfort for anyone.
It takes a snake a long time to die. You can run over one with a car or chop one in two with a hoe, and its head will continue to leap and strike at anything that moves, with venom as deadly as when it was whole. And a snake, regardless of the time of day it is killed, won’t die until sundown. I know because I have actually checked the status of a mangled snake throughout the day. They did not become completely still until dark.
America’s Democratic party reminds me of those reptiles. The party was mortally wounded in the November 2016 election. The Republicans now have control of the White House and the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Democratic party as we knew it is dead, yet its members continue their crazed temper tantrums; most recently with the decision of nearly 70 Democratic Congressmen and women to boycott the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump.
Ah Democrats, show some class. You can continue your vicious behavior, your venomous attacks, but your time in the sun has ended. Sundown is coming.


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THEY MUST BE REPUBLICANS

An older retiree is flipping through the TV channels searching for something to watch.He stops on some talking heads and watches for a few seconds.

"Those guys must be Republicans," he says resuming his search. "They're talking and not making no sense."

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First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

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A Club Nobody Wants to Join

My goal, since having my chest cracked open in 2008 and veins harvested from my leg to replace arteries so clogged they could no longer feed blood to my heart, has been to work out at the hospital’s cardiac center.  Finally, because we recently moved ten minutes away the center, that goal has become reality.My first rehab began not long after my surgery in April 2008. I lived about an hour away at the time but the rehab was so critical, I drove the two hours a day three days a week to heal my heart and get my body up to speed. The rehab lasted several weeks and was hugely expensive but my insurance company picked up the tab, and when I finished, I was in tiptop shape, at a good weight, very healthy.Today, I am obese, out of shape and tire easily. Thankfully, because I am a survivor of open heart surgery, I can work out there for only $26/month. The benefits are immense. For starters, trained therapists checked me out today, taking my blood pressure then fitting me with a heart monitor that I wore while working out for 30 minutes on three machines of my choice. My blood pressure was taken again during the exercise and for a final time after I finished. The therapists showed me how to operate the machines and kept a close watch on me while I was working out.
Thankfully, I passed muster and enrolled in the program. I can work out in the large open room as often as I like within morning and afternoon time frames, using 20 machines of varying capabilities, and a
 common denominator: they all benefit my heart. As long as I am enrolled in the program, the center will repeat the free checkup every 6-8 weeks.

The center is located in the hospital’s cardiac center. If I have a heart attack, I could be wheeled into surgery within minutes. If I had fallen out during a walk where we used to live (38 miles from the hospital), it would have taken the ambulance 15 minutes or more to reach my home, and at least 45-50 minutes to make it to the hospital. I might not have survived.
  

Because I was scheduled to be at the center this morning at 7:15 a.m. I had a healthy breakfast at home: toasted English muffin topped with peanut butter and fresh strawberries (169 calories), black coffee and lots of water, drove ten minutes to the center, participated in all the tests and worked out for 30 minutes, and drove home. It is now 10:30 a.m. and I am still not hungry.

I felt an immediate kinship with everyone who was at the center today: as survivors of heart surgery, we are members of a club no-one else wants to join. We have been through hell, and I’m betting when I become acquainted with everyone, I will learn we have common goals: savor each moment, live life to the fullest, and do everything in our power to keep from entering that operating room ever again.
   

Happy Mother's Day

When I was a child, I liked nothing better than to creep into the dark recesses of my parents’ closet, pull out the picture album, and pore over pictures of my mother when she was young. She was foreign, nearly exotic, in those already aging photographs with her permed 30’s style hair and wide, bright eyes.

I crouched over the dusty album, trying in vain to connect the beautiful young girl in the photographs to a mother who at that very moment was laboring over a hot stove, preparing a meal for her farmer husband and crowd of unruly children. 

My favorite photograph, the one that held me captive with silent wonder, was of my mother in dark sweater and plaid skirt perched on a woodpile in an unknown and unfamiliar woods. How old was she? 17? 18? 20? What color was her sweater? Her skirt? What made her eyes flash so? 

I had only known her as a cleaning woman, wash woman, cook, 24-hour guardian determined to make wayward children behave. I had seen her shucking corn from the garden, plucking feathers from freshly slaughtered chickens, painting the walls of the house, fashioning slipcovers or clothing on a treadle sewing machine when the children were abed and the only sound was the click of the machine and the call of frogs through the open window. 

I had heard the creak of the floorboards as she went from bedroom to bedroom, tucking covers about children in fitful sleep; watched her figure and refigure the grocery list in a vain effort to stretch the money to buy all that was needed. I have felt her kiss me goodbye and hello and all the other times in between for no particular reason. 

But I have never seen her perched on a woodpile in a forest in an unlikely sweater and skirt, flashing smile lighting carefree expression. 

Other pictures in the album were just as impossible; my mother in in her 20s wearing winter coat and French beret; as a child spindly legged and thin, leaning into her mother’s aproned side; posing on the running board of a huge, ancient roadster beside the much loved sister who died young of appendicitis. 

She was a stranger in that album, one that I longed to meet. She has been a stranger at other times in my life: when she sat staring into the crackling fire after learning that the mother she had leaned against in that long forgotten picture had terminal cancer; as she conversed in animated sign language with a deaf uncle; when she sat silent, undecipherable, listening to taped songs written and performed by her musician sons, both claimed by the same force that took her mother; and in more recent years sitting on the iron bench beside my father's grave in the family cemetery, staring into the distance.


Today, my mother’s black hair has turned to white, her face marked with more than nine decades of living. She is no longer the young girl in the picture album and I am glad. I no more prefer that beautiful stranger than I prefer an empty canvas to a rich and colorful masterpiece; or smooth bland marble to a carefully hewn sculpture. 

I yearned toward the young girl when I was a child and knew no better. I yearn now toward the woman, the mother, the grandmother, the great grandmother and great-great grandmother she has become.

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The gate on my grandmother's farm . . .

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Down Yonder
My father begged to take piano lessons when he was a boy, but his mother refused. “Boys who play piano are sissies,” she said. Most everyone in rural Kentucky in the 1920s and ‘30s agreed. Piano-playing boys grew into men who cooked, helped with the housework and treated his wife with deference. They were henpecked, tied to their wife’s apron strings . . . sissies. 

Not long after marrying my mother in 1938, he purchased his first piano: a used upright, hauled it home and began to play. He played by ear, but as his right hand quickly tugged a melody from the ivory keys, his left hand moved enthusiastically across the lower notes, keeping time with the pedal-pumping work boot with little connection melodically to the tune being played. The result was unique, strangely appealing, like the compositions by modern composers I would hear at concert halls later in life.

The desire to play struck him at odd moments: when he returned from a day of plowing crops on his Farmall tractor, hoeing the garden; sawing and hammering  in his workshop. When the first notes echoed through the house, we children rushed to the piano and watched fascinated. He played Hank Williams mostly, some Glenn Miller, and always ended his impromptu recitals with “Down Yonder”. The song’s fast tempo excited the old upright:  it fairly bounced on the floor.   

My father never went to college, and making a living for a wife and ten children severely limited his options. He farmed, then worked at the uranium plant: quit when he realized it was a dangerous place to work. He started his own business hauling sand up a nearly perpendicular hill to the barn where he washed it in a machine he had invented. He delivered the sand to golf courses for sand traps and to contractors for building projects. Handicapped by the lack of demand for pristine silica sand in rural Kentucky, he closed the business, and worked in maintenance in the local hospital until he retired. He later served four years as county judge.

Projects flourished on the perimeter of his working life. The family farm straddled the New Madrid fault. He studied firsthand accounts of the devastating earthquakes of 1811-1812 that told of oil spewing skyward from cracks that opened in the churning landscape. He studied the farm's geology, deciding where lakes of oil might be found, organized a company, sold shares and (unsuccessfully) drilled a well. He was convinced that a correctly designed magnet motor could revolutionize the world, but died – from cancer triggered by his days in the uranium plant - before construction began on the Hadron Collider: a network of superconducting magnets that stretches 17 miles underground near Geneva, Switzerland and which scientists predict will reveal the secrets of the universe.

Down Yonder is a fine expression, a lyrical and very southern way to describe where someone or something can be found. It reminds me of the parade of unwieldy musical instruments my father hauled home and coaxed into song. They were a bother, too large to fit well in any room, a pain to keep clean, nearly impossible to move, but I now recognize their presence for what it was: magical, necessary, a gateway to a soul’s expression of itself. I’ve owned a piano for 46 years, but try as I might, have never been able to play “Down Yonder” quite as well as him.  

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"To me, every hour of every day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle."
Walt Whitman

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A Dark Street in Chicago

I came face-to-face with terror when I was a 20-year-old living on Chicago’s north side. I was young. I was happy. I was a party girl. I had been out to a neighborhood bar (famous for never checking IDs) with my boyfriend. We had a fight. At midnight, I took off walking toward my apartment a few blocks away. Buoyed – translation: made stupid – by several drinks, I decided to take a shortcut down a street lined with older brick apartment buildings instead of walking home along a busy and brightly lit thoroughfare.

It was summertime. The side street was dark. But I was so busy replaying a mental he said-she said I didn’t realize the purr of a car motor in the background was actually keeping pace with the lonesome click of my footsteps until I heard a guttural, “Get her!” -  and the groan of a car door - badly in need of oil – being shoved open.  

Terror comes loaded with a fight or flight reflex. I did not waste energy screaming. I did not waste energy looking over my shoulder.  I took off in a dead run toward the nearest apartment building. I jerked open the outer door, fell into the tiny vestibule and jerked frantically at the interior door. Locked. I could hear footsteps pounding across the grass behind me. I desperately slammed every apartment button with my open palm.

Suddenly, there was a loud buzz and the Heaven-sent click of the interior door's lock sliding open. I fell through the door into the apartment lobby and looked up to see a white haired lady calling from the second floor landing, “What is it dear?” 

From outside came the sound of a car door slamming, the roar of a motor, the screech of wheels. The older lady was belting her housecoat as I rushed up the steps, so breathless I could not speak. She shepherded me into her apartment.

Within a few minutes, two Chicago policemen were plying me with questions. Did I see any of the men? What about the car? Did I know the make and model? Did it follow me from the bar? I shook my head, shivering from head to toe. I did not know.

“You have had a very close call,” the burley older cop said. “Do you realize how dangerous it is for a young woman to walk alone on the streets of this city late at night? Do you realize what could have happened to you?”

After the policemen filled out the report and my little granny hugged me goodbye, the cops drove me to my apartment, plying me along the way with further admonishments. My boyfriend and I made up. I have never walked alone on any city street late at night again.

I’ve recognized for decades how very lucky I was that night. I realize how fortunate I am to be sitting on my back porch on this glorious spring day telling you about it. 




Resurrection

There’s a secret to hand quilting that only long-time quilters know: it’s the best therapy in the world. 

It may be the hypnotic rhythm of the needle moving across the colorful landscape, or the way your quilting fingers and eyes work in tandem with no conscious effort: whatever the process, when you take up your needle and sit down at the quilt, a door in your mind swings open and you step into a quiet place where time is of no consequence, worries fade away, and yesterday nips at the present trying to make itself understood.  

Quilting does not require immense skill, but the more you quilt, the tinier and more perfect your stitches, the more profound your thoughts, and the more of the dead you are able to resurrect.

My mother taught me how to quilt, on big old-fashioned frames that took up an entire wall of my spare bedroom. Thrilled at my interest, happy to be passing on a lost art, she reached high on a closet shelf and pulled out the last quilt top her mother had pieced before she died. She dug quilting frames owned by my father’s mother out of storage. She found her quilting needles and thread and two thimbles, and we began. 

I had made it to my 30s without owning a thimble, but quickly learned a painful truth: although a person might cook without a recipe or sew on a button with a thimble-less finger, there is no way to quilt without one. My mother taught. I learned. Together we brought my grandmother’s beautiful log cabin quilt to life.

We talked as we quilted, often about the years when my mother was growing up, the days leading up to the death of her five-year-old sister from appendicitis in 1927, the grief she still feels at losing her best friend; the Depression’s brutally hard times. How her father hunted for wild game, and planted crops that he could trade at the grocery for food; how her mother raised a garden, maintained a flock of chickens, sold eggs for the cash to purchase what she could not make or raise, sweated over a hot stove canning anything that sprouted from the ground or ran across it.    
By the mid-1980s when I learned how to quilt, the big quilting bees - long a standard with farm families - had been abandoned. The older quilters had died off, and the women coming of age preferred work outside the home and a regular paycheck to the life of a housewife and such mundane tasks as rising at dawn to prepare a covered dish, traveling to a neighbor’s house and lining up on either side of quilting frames to spend the day sewing. Why waste hundreds of hours piecing and quilting a quilt when a factory-made comforter could be purchased cheaply, required no special care and was not nearly as fragile?

It grieves me to admit that - in my youth - I failed to see the beauty in mothers, grandmothers, and neighbors uniting in a common goal while children skirmished in the dark cave beneath the quilt and, feeling protected by the fence of legs and sensible lace-up shoes, were eventually lulled to sleep by the soft voices drifting down from above. 
I have pieced and quilted many quilts in the years since. The big quilting frames have been replaced with portable oval frames that enable my mother and me to work on our quilts individually in our homes and carry them to one another’s house, and occasionally the houses of my sisters. We talk as we work, resurrecting those who have gone on: the things they said, the things they did, their goodness, their quirks, their sacrifice. Sometimes we work silently, lost in the analysis of our own lives: where we have been, where we are headed. I cannot speak for the others but in my mind I harbor an unspoken dream: that one day I too will be resurrected by a descendant who is doing as God intended – crafting something beautiful, as she analyzes her life and the lives of those gone before.

https://youtu.be/oIuCwnnDq8k