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December 31, 2005

Sign of the Times

peacemarch2.jpgThe following poem, written for the New Year 2004, was a featured "Poem of the Day" at Poets Against the War online that year and also appeared in The New River Valley Free Press. I think it still applies.

Sign of the Times

Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign
over the forest
Hang an “Out of Order” sign
on the White House door
Proceed with caution
Yield to your conscience
Handle the whole world
with care

Peace March, Washington DC, trying to stop the invasion into Iraq, taken from the top of a school bus.

December 30, 2005

Like Mother Like Daughter

marakyla2.jpgMara came over to break in the new Deluxe Lazy Susan Scrabble game that I got for Christmas from my son Dylan. She brought me a gift. It was something of Elliot’s (our mutual friend that passed away in November) that she had set aside for me when she and some other friends were closing down Elliot’s house.

“I knew this was for you and that you would love it,” she said as she handed me…another kaleidoscope! And she was right. I squealed with excitement when I looked through the scope, but my mood soon turned serious when I remembered the time Elliot and I were playing Scrabble and he showed me the very same kaleidoscope. marakyla.jpg

Kyla, Mara’s young daughter, was with her, carrying a new video game station that I forget the name of and that we could not figure out how to hook up to my TV. The big outside trampoline didn’t work out either because it was covered with ice and snow. She finally settled down with paper and crayons, although what she really wanted to do was to play Scrabble with us.

Mara used the crayons too, to draw colorful doodles into her new artist’s sketch pad whenever it was my turn. I was losing, and so I didn’t have the luxury to doodle or jot down notes in my notebook, like I usually do. With all vowels and one consonant (all 1 pointers) for most of the game, I barely had time to sip the green tea getting cold in my cup. Mara had a huge jug of coffee (white container with red rim in the first photo above) A player’s advantage, I wondered?

By the end of the game, I was asking Kyla, who was sporting the same haircut as her mom, for some help. But I still lost.

Post Note:
My recent blog entry about my son Josh's clay excavation was linked to on the front page of the online Roanoke Times this week. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to view it.

December 29, 2005

Thirteen Thursday #10

cafe13.jpg1. Number 36 in my “100 Things About Me” says, “I read all the Hobbit books, The Narnia Chronicles, The Borrowers series, and most of The Mossflower books out loud to my sons when they were young.” Last Christmas holiday, we all went to see the final installment in "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy." This year, we saw "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" of The Narnia Chronicles. It’s been fun to see the stories my sons loved as children come to life on the screen with them.

2. Years ago, when I read “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” to my young sons, I didn’t realize that it was a Christian allegory about the crucifixion of Christ. I knew that sacrifice and heroism generated grace and believed it to be a natural law, not exclusive to Christianity.

3. Josh, my eldest son, likes to tell the story of when he was a teenager and he once called me “man,” in the same way a person might call another person “dude.” “I’m not a man, I’m your mother,” I replied at the time. More recently, he jokingly called me “dawg,” and I told him that was as bad as calling me man.

4. It’s warmed up a little. I no longer have to slide to the mailbox on a thick sheet of ice. It’s melted enough that now I only have to walk like a Geisha girl in small metered steps to keep my balance.

5. While, I don’t usually have to shovel snow in my yard or driveway because the snowfall we get in Virginia is usually light enough that it melts away in a couple of days, I do shovel my large outside trampoline. When it snows, the trampoline gets weighted down, and I worry that it will rip or cause the springs to snap. I think I must look pretty funny shoveling my trampoline in winter.

6. Last year my husband and I saw the “Night’s of Lights” in St. Augustine Florida at Christmastime. We rode a horse and buggy all through the lit up old city. This year we're staying put.

7. My dad once made a snowman in our yard and put boobs on it. I guess it was a snowwoman. It was funny, but we were also embarrassed for our friends to see it. (I can’t believe the spell check just accepted the word “snowwoman.” It just doesn't look right.)

8. We had another Spoken Word Open Mic Night on December 17th at The Café Del Sol. I read a tribute to my father who passed away in November. I got the best response when I read this line: My dad had the best definition of alcoholism that I’ve ever heard… You’re either thinking about drinking, thinking about not drinking, or you’re drinking. It’s actually serious, but the crowd recognized that my dad had nailed the definition in an original way. They liked it and laughed.

9. I love the tip jar at the Café Del Sol counter. It says “Don’t like change. Leave it here.”

10. We also had a December Memorial Contra Dance for Elliot, our poet friend and fellow contra dancer who died this past November. It took place at the Winter Sun, and the theme of the dance was “Dance one for Elliot.” Elliot had a collection of buttons that all the dancers pinned to their clothing, and bubbles were blown in his honor.

11. My husband’s birthday was in early December. Sadly, we buried my father on his birthday. It was odd to see Christmas cards mixed in with Birthday and Sympathy cards on our kitchen table.

12. My mother told me over the phone recently that she is getting a cat. She wants to have something living in the house since my father passed away and she’s alone.

13. My regular computer’s dial-up sounds like The Mexican Hat Dance. It’s back in the shop, and I’m using my lap top now. The dial-up on it sounds like the theme song from Mash with the helicopters coming in from behind.

Post Notes:
The next Spoken Word Open Mic at Floyd's Café Del Sol, front door pictured in the above photo, is January 21st at 7:00 PM. To learn more about Thirteen Thursday go visit the Thirteen Thursday Master of Ceremonies, Leanne at Artist by Nature.

December 28, 2005

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Lifetime Supply

joshwithclay.jpgWhen my Asheville potter son, Josh, comes to visit and we’re catching up, I take notes. That’s how I know that he and two other potters recently excavated 430,000 pounds of blue clay from Turkey Creek in Leicester, North Carolina. It took 3 days, 11 dump trucks and a trac-hoe, and cost $3,500 to do it. A $3,000 research grant to explore the use of local clay and a friend of Josh’s who reported seeing big chunks of it on the side of the road when a drainage ditch was being dug, all played into the discovery and acquisition of the once-in-a-lifetime lifetime supply.

potsonrug.jpg"You know, ya gonna hafta pay those boys to pull that stuff out of there… You don’t pay me nothing… If you leave my field in better shape than how you find it, we’ll be alright,” the farmer who agreed to the excavation on his land said to Josh. And when they gifted him with the end result, a collection of finished ceramic pots, he understood the signifigance. His eyes widened and his face lit up with appreciation. “It don’t grow much good of nothing down that end of the field. I never would have thought it would make something as beautiful as this,” he said.

Before Photo: Josh with the excavated clay from Turkey Creek.
After Photo: Finished pots. Christmas morning. Gifts for everyone.
Post Note: A website is in the works to feature Josh's pottery, which is available at his studio "Clay Space" in Asheville, North Carolina. One can also google his name "Josh Copus" for more pottery viewing or reach him directly at copiousplus@hotmail.com or 1-828-242-2368.

December 27, 2005

A Poet's Tool of Perception

kaleidoscope.jpgAKA: Colleen overheard while looking through her new kaleidoscope.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies…Somebody calls you...You answer quite slowly…A girl with kaleidoscope eyes. ~ Lucy in the Sky by Lennon and McCartney

I feel like a bee buzzing in a honeycomb.
This would be great to bring for waiting in a doctor’s office.
You can focus on the larger patterns or the smaller ones, and there are larger patterns in the smaller ones.
It appeals to my sense of wanting to see the world new every day and every minute.
One image is as beautiful as the next, and the new image builds on the last one.
But you can’t get attached to it.
I don’t think I’ve seen the same pattern twice, but the pieces are the same.
Are the possibilities really endless?
My eyes are going to get tired of looking, but my mind will never get tired.
You can’t look and not feel better.
It’s like going on vacation.
I feel like I’m in church.
It’s better than psychedelics
It’s like seeing the secrets of the universe.
Cells are splitting.
What’s that word? Fractals.
There’s nothing boring about it.
I wish everyone had one of these.

December 26, 2005

Red Line to the Moon

My brother Jim died in July 2001, and my brother Dan died a month later, in August. In the six months after they died, I wrote “The Jim and Dan Stories,” a chronicle of the grieving process that weaves together stories of growing up as one of nine siblings with the details of my brothers’ last weeks. By Christmas that year, I was nearing the end of the book and felt the need to bring the stories full circle, back to my hometown, the peninsula of Hull, Massachusetts, where the stories began and where my parents still lived. I don’t usually visit my family in winter, but that year was different. I was homesick for my childhood and confused as to why I had been living in Virginia for the past 20 years when the rest of my family was in Massachusetts. I wanted to see that my parents and my remaining siblings were alright. I didn’t know how the book would end, but I knew I had to go home and find out. Below is an excerpt from the book about that Christmas trip home and a family excursion into Boston.

On the Red Line to Park Street from the subway train window, I saw the December full moon. I was sitting next to two year old Patrick who was on the look-out for Christmas lights. “I see something!” he would periodically exclaim. I followed the moon while walking with my family to the Boston Commons and then to Fanueil Hall. Under this full moon we found The Enchanted Village, a magical world of moving mannequin children who, dressed in late 20’s clothing, were placed in Christmas settings. I had seen the Enchanted Village in the downtown department store windows of Jordan Marsh when I was five years old. It was a vague memory that I questioned the reality of. What a wonderful surprise to find out it was true, to find the Enchanted Village (now in a pre-fab heated building) again. And how well it fit the theme of my trip, a re-visitation of my childhood roots.

We had almost walked passed it when I broke off from the group to take a closer look. “I think it’s a wax museum,” I had said, by then everyone was curious. The man at the door who was collecting our dollars wouldn’t let us pass until we told him something we had gotten for Christmas.

“A journal,” I told him trying to think fast. “Will that get me in?”

“It depends on what you write in it,” he answered with a grin.

I don’t remember seeing the moon again until the day I was riding in Sherry’s car to catch the ferry that would bring me to the water shuttle and then to Logan airport on the day I headed home. It was up in the sky in the middle of the day looking like a ghostly visitation. It was a ¾ moon by then. I pointed it out. “See what I mean about the mysterious moon. I can never predict when it’s going to show up,” I said to Sherry, who was driving.

I looked for the moon from the ferry boat window, from the airport terminal, and from my window seat in the back of the plane, but I never found it again that day. That was alright, though, because there was so much else to look at.

The ocean sculpts the land into hooks that look like Cape Cod. One of those hooks is Hull. The plane I was on, departing from Boston, flew right over Hull, low enough so that I got treated to a tour of places that I loved. I saw 10 ½ Spring Street where our house used to be, the tower at the forts, the windmill at Pemberton, the outline of Allerton and Strawberry Hill. I recognized the landscapes, parts of Hingham and Quincy, the mural painted gas tanks in Neponset. The city of Boston looked like a floating island of skyscrapers from my window seat in the sky.

I had no such recognition when we flew over Roanoke. It was just after dusk but even if it wasn’t, I don’t know the landscape of Roanoke and its surrounding areas the way I know the South Shore of Boston. Everyone below had their porch lights on, but I still couldn’t find the mountains.

I was leaving the north where they had no snow and arriving in the south where they had several inches of it. Things were still mixed up. I was still sad that I had a whole other life that my friends in Virginia weren’t a part of and that my family wasn’t a part of my life here with them. But I was happy to be back and as the days went on, in the paradise of my own yard, I remembered why I live in the country where my closest neighbor’s house isn’t part of my view, where the pace of life is slower, and the drinking water is better.

After a few days of transition, I called all my friends to tell them I was home and to tell them I was thinking of them. After doing that, I took a deep breath and felt ready to begin the New Year.

December 24, 2005

Santa's Mid-life Crisis

santa2.jpgI stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph. ~ Shirley Temple Black

When you stop believing in Santa Claus is when you start getting clothes. ~ Unknown

Santa Claus wears a Red Suit...he must be a communist. And a beard and long hair...must be a pacifist. And what's in that pipe that he's smoking? ~ Arlo Guthrie

Santa is our culture's only mythic figure truly believed in by a large percentage of the population. It's a fact that most of the true believers are under eight years old, and that's a pity. ~ Chris Van Allsburg

For everything you wanted to know about Santa, click this link: Ho Ho Ho.

December 23, 2005

The Google Oracle

presents3.jpg AKA: What’s Under Your Tree?

Just in time for Christmas? An alternative to sitting on Santa’s lap? This is a new take on “The Google Oracle” I posted in October. Type your name in a search engine like this: “Colleen needs” and see what Google divines for you.

Colleen needs a new computer.
Colleen needs to provide details.
Colleen needs a Job.
Colleen needs the final contact information by Tuesday.
Colleen needs to work on her computer skills and speed.
Colleen needs to know what your priorities are.
Colleen needs a head count for meals by Dec 27th.
Colleen needs a toe ring to go with those cute new sandals.
Colleen needs a race car "with shiny chrome for trim" that could just take her home forever.
Colleen needs to study her lingo during her free period.
Colleen needs a lime green frog.
Colleen needs help too!!!!
Colleen needs to move on!!!
Colleen needs a storyline.
Colleen needs more than a bucket of ice water.
Colleen needs a disco Ball around her neck and she'd look just like Dazzler.
Colleen needs a certain amount of money to make sure her programs are successful.

December 22, 2005

Thirteen Thursday #9

santa13.jpg1. I can never write, type, or say “number 9” without thinking of the Beatle song of the same name.

2. I remember when there were no malls.

3. When my son, Josh, was 5 years old, a few days after Christmas, he said, “Santa’s still watching us, right?”

4. Growing up, I knew from the start that Department Store Santas were not the real Santa. My older sister and brother figured it out by noticing that the boots were not real (a piece of black plastic that ties over shoes). We called those kinds of Santas “Santa’s helpers.”

5. “I Wish I had a River I could Skate Away on…” by Joni Mitchell was my favorite Christmas song when I lived near Houston, Texas, and was missing winter and my New England home state of Massachusetts.

6. Neil Young was on Saturday Night Live last week, which reminded me of the time I was at the Pine Tavern Restaurant in Floyd and somebody pointed out Neil Young’s younger brother who was eating there.

7. When I was a girl I had a sled that I named Betsy. One summer I got nostalgic for it, and so I took it out of the cellar as though I was freeing it from a dungeon prison.

8. We do a Yankee Swap at our yearly neighborhood open house Christmas Eve party. When we started the tradition, we asked guests to bring recycled gifts, but now they bring joke gifts and one or two special or more expensive gifts to stir things up. Some people call the “Yankee Swap” a “Dirty Santa” or a “White Elephant.”

9. My husband hunts for most of our meat. Right now there are two deer hanging by our woodshed. I wanted to post a photo of my husband and the young man he is mentoring next to the deer on my blog, but I was afraid it would gross some people out.

10. Venison in our freezer and wood in our woodshed feels like money in the bank to me. I prefer wild venison over factory farmed meat and meat that’s been injected with growth hormones and antibiotics.

11. Yesterday I visited my good friend from Blacksburg who is moving to a retirement community the first of the year. Her new place is pretty small, and so she’s getting rid of lots of stuff. While making plans over the phone in the morning with me, she said, “And don’t give me any Christmas presents. You’re only allowed to take gifts from my house this year.”

12. On the way to Blacksburg I noticed about 6 homemade signs that had been posted up and down Route 8. They said, “ANNIE, YOU AND THE CHILDREN COME TO OUR HOUSE. LOVE, ALBERT.”

13. We heat our home entirely with wood. Occasionally, about 3 times a year, our bedroom is so cold that I sleep with a hat on. When I do, I always think of the line from the poem “The Night Before Christmas,” “…And Mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled down for a long winter’s nap…” As a girl, I thought it was weird that adults would be taking a nap, and even weirder that they slept in a kerchief or a cap, but now I understand.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night… Go wish Leanne a Merry Christmas, the hostess of Thursday Thirteen. She explains more about the 13 phenomena and keeps a list of participants at her site. My other 13 Thursdays can be seen here.

December 21, 2005

Winter Solstice

From a scoop of luscious moon... at the Milky Way counter...the stars have spilled over...in an icy cold night.

My brothers, Jim and Dan, died a month apart in the summer of 2001. The first Christmas after their deaths, I was still mourning and deeply involved in writing what would become my first book, “The Jim and Dan Stories.” The book, a chronicle of the first 6 months of the grieving process, weaves together stories of growing up as one of nine siblings with the stories of my brothers’ last weeks. Below is an excerpt from the book, written on the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. It was my hope at the time that my burden of grief would grow lighter as the light returned and days grew longer, and the excerpt marked a turning point in that direction.

It’s one mile to our neighbor’s farm where the Winter Solstice Celebration is held. There’s a spiral labyrinth there made of evergreen boughs that we walk with a lighted candle each year. Bundled up to protect us from the cold, one by one each person arrives at the center where they say a few prayerful words before walking back the same way they came, leaving their candle somewhere along the spiraled path. What starts out in the dark, ends up brightly lit, a hopeful reminder of the days growing longer, of the in and out breath of the year.

I stayed home this Winter Solstice. I was still reluctant to be with large groups of people. My husband, Joe went, and when he came home, I told him, excitedly, “Something new has happened.”

“What?” he asked.

“I’ve written a four line poem that’s not about Jim or Dan.”

“What’s it about?” Joe asked. “Is the fact that it’s four lines significant?” He added.

“No, that’s only significant in that it’s a small step. The significance is that I wrote a poem for the first time in months, and it’s not about Jim or Dan. It’s light and just for fun,” I said, encouraged.

While Joe was walking the Solstice spiral, a stray cat was crying at our front door. I knew that my son's dog, Jasmine, would be home soon and would chase it away or something worse. I thought about a Bible story I remembered from my childhood. Jesus said it, I think. 'If you turn away the beggar at your door, you also turn away me.’ Then I thought about Danny’s cat, Winslow. What would Danny do with a crying cat on a cold night? I brought the cat, which was white and butterscotch colored, a bowl of ground venison and a drink of water. After devouring the food, the cat continued to cry, until Jasmine did come home and chased it away. Nature taking its course, I thought.

Still, I peered through my window looking for that cat and that’s when the moon’s delightful richness struck me…From a scoop of luscious moon, at the Milky Way counter, the stars have spilled over, in an icy cold night, I wrote. The poem got me thinking about Lime Rickey’s and Frappes and the L Street soda fountain we grew up with. But I’m not going to write about that. ~ From Nature Taking its Course

December 20, 2005

A Christmas Conversation

joshandEsanta.jpgThe following is a conversation I had with my son, Josh, when he was 5 years old:

Josh: Does Santa die? Why doesn’t he die?
Me: Maybe he’s magical. What do you think?
Josh: I don't know. I just want to see if you know. I guess I don’t believe in Santa cause how can it be if he doesn’t die.
Me: What about the Santa in the Mall?
Josh: I don’t think he’s real, Mum. I think he’s just trying to make kids happy.
Me: Well, maybe that’s the magic. Whether Santa is alive or in spirit, he still makes kids happy.
Josh: Nobody’s magical, Mum. Not even you and me.
Me: Oh yes! Everyone’s magical.
Josh: Then why can’t I make a puddle disappear?

I told Josh it was magical that we even got born and that everyone is magical in different ways and to different degrees. I gave him some examples of people having healing powers, Yogis levitating, and the miracles that Jesus was said to perform. He lit up and listened intently before saying, “Tell me another one, Mum."

Photo: Josh, who is 26 years old now, and his cousin on Santa’s lap.

December 19, 2005

Bless This Mess

dadsvideoroom2.jpgAKA: I am My Father’s Daughter

My husband was home from work because of the snow. It was 11:30 and I was just getting breakfast, after having put in a load of laundry, fed the dog, wrapped a Christmas package for mailing, gotten the upstairs bedroom ready for the respite foster care I was scheduled to do that weekend, put things back where things were supposed to be, and posted my blog entry for the day. I let out a big SIGH.

“What’s that sigh for?” he asked.

He was doing case notes at the kitchen table because his upstairs office had become uninhabitable since he recently finished graduate school and then went right into a full-time job. His paperwork had spread out to cover ¾ the length of the kitchen table, with a few stacks resting in piles on the floor.

“If you ever wonder what I do all day, besides blogging and writing, you can ask yourself how we keep our whole house from looking just like your office. It only happens because I work here,” I answered.

He laughed. But the truth is, while I try to keep some semblance of order in our main living spaces, my office is only a few degrees neater than his. But it’s okay.

When I was in Massachusetts recently for my dad’s funeral, I wrote about how his favorite chair sat empty like a monument to his life. Besides his chair, the other place family members went to feel my dad’s spirit was his video room, where, for the past 20 years, he made copies of movies for family members to watch and designed homemade jacket covers using video store movie flyers. His video collection starts in the garage, fills up the cellar, and is stacked onto bookcases of every shape and size on all 3 floors of his house. He used several work stations in other parts of the house to copy videos, but his video room was where the art of making jacket covers took place, his favorite part of the process. It was a room we weren’t allowed to hang out in, and we all knew to leave him alone when he was in there.

…These days my dad spends his time playing the lottery, whistling down grocery store aisles, or patronizing the local video store… He loves to copy the latest movies to give to his kids when they come to visit, guaranteeing his popularity, as if he had to try to do that. ~ Excerpt from Let Me Clue You in About My Father, May ‘04 WVTF Radio Essay(the long version).

I was disheartened when I returned home from the funeral, and facing the clutter in my office was hard. But when I did, I got a revelation. It dawned on me that when it comes to cleaning and organization, I’ll never live up to my mother’s standard because I’m my father’s daughter. For people like me and my dad, if something is in a drawer, it might as well not exist. We like the tools of our trade to be at our fingertips, and we know exactly where something is in our own creative chaos…unless, of course, something gets buried and then we just start over with a new set of supplies.

I wasn’t the only one who spent time in my father’s video room and appreciated the lived-in clutter there, with several pairs of scissors and rolls of tapes spread out on the table, and scraps of paper from the movie flyers he cut up still on the floor. My Asheville potter son, Josh, who has 3 desks in his living space that hold all variety of art supplies for his ongoing collage journaling project, particularly appreciated my father’s creative sanctuary because he understands the creative process.

He is his mother’s son. And his grandfather’s grandson.

My dad's video room.

December 18, 2005

Small Town at Christmastime

farmersupplyatchristmas2.jpgWhen my first husband and our two young children moved from Texas to Virginia to homestead nearly 20 years ago, we drove through Riner, the next town over from Floyd, took one deep whiff of the cow manure that was wafting down the road, rolled up our car windows and began to question our plans.

But how could we resist living in a town that still sells Radio Flyer red wagons and real wooden sleds in the General Store at Christmastime, a town with a real barber shop and only one traffic light in the whole county, where people wave to each other when they pass on the road, whether or not they know each other?

Downtown Floyd at Christmastime. For the flip side of the above post, go to "Life in the Rural Fast Lane.

December 17, 2005

Ice Ice Baby

jazzyicesideview2.jpgAKA: Not all that glitters is gold ~ JRR Tolkein

Having 4 legs to balance her, our dog, Jazzy, didn’t have to slide her way down to the mailbox like I did. What we have here is a white Christmas with a little extra sparkle. There is no snow to shovel. Only ice and frozen snow over another layer of ice. It’s as though Virginia can’t decide if it’s a southern state or a northern one, and so what we often get is ice. I can’t help wondering if the ice storm could have been responsible for my blog server being down all day yesterday. Apologies to all readers who tried to log on but couldn’t. Hopefully our tails will be wagging again soon.

December 15, 2005

13 Thursday #8

13dad2.jpg AKA: 13 Things about My Father...

1. My father was a cross between Santa Claus and Jackie Gleason.

2. The last time I saw him, he was in the hospital after a car accident. I told my mom and sister to go for lunch and that I would meet up with them later because I wanted to be alone with my dad. He wasn’t coherent at the time. He held my hand for 20 minutes, fidgeting with it. At times, he would toss it aside as if it didn’t work correctly and then find it again and continue fidgeting. I'm convinced he thought my hand was a TV remote control.

3. Writing runs in my family. I have a poem my father wrote when he was in army boot camp at the age of 19, a poem his mother had published in a newspaper, and a published song about Ireland that his father wrote. I also have a long letter his mother from County Cork, Ireland, wrote to him when he was overseas during WWII where she used the word “YE” instead of “YOU.” Not long ago, I read it out loud to my dad, using an Irish accent. It brought tears to his eyes.

4. My dad wore an Irish claddagh ring. He was buried with it.

5. I once wrapped him an amethyst crystal and told him that amethyst was said to guard against drunkenness. He wore it on a cord around his neck until it fell apart.

6. My dad had the best definition of alcoholism that I’ve ever heard: You’re either thinking about drinking, thinking about not drinking, or you’re drinking.

7. He was born in “Southie,” the Irish section of Boston, and was raised in North Quincy. He had an “Irish Only” sign in his drive-way and a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” magnet on his fridge, but had never been to Ireland.

8. His hobby was copying video movies and making his own jacket covers for them. He had 4 stories of rooms full of videos, including the cellar and garage. I once made a home movie documentary of his collection. “Dad, you have so many videos. You should be in the Guinness Book of World Records,” I said while filming him. “I just want the pain, not the fame!” he answered in his tough-guy Boston accent.

9. Growing up as one of nine, it was hard to get one-on-one time with our parents. My mother was over-worked, and I only remember being read to out loud a couple of times, by my dad. It was the “Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson.

10. This past summer when I was visiting him, he told me the story of when his older brother Bernard took him on a train to New York as a kid. “It was the best day of my life,” he said.

11. He collected all the reject photographs that people didn’t want. During the same summer visit, he pulled out a batch of them from a drawer next to his favorite kitchen chair, and we had a good laugh. Ironically, they seemed like a collection of best pictures, rather than the worst.

12. When I was a little girl, I told my dad I loved him, and he asked, “How much?” I answered, “60” because it was the biggest number I could think of at the time. From then on, I always said, “I love you 60, Dad.”

13. When “Eulogizing My Father” and “Somebody Upstairs Has Claimed Him” went off the front page of my blog, the sadness I feel about losing my father was magnified.

Post Note: To find out more about Thursday 13 and to see a list of participants visit Leanne’s Artist by Nature. She is the master of ceremonies.

December 14, 2005

A New Mourning

footsteps in snow.jpgDeath is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you. ~ George Hermes

Is every grieving the death of a loved one different? Or are we different each time a loss visits us?

When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died 4 years ago, I felt like part of my heart had been ripped out. The grief I experienced recently when my father died was felt mostly in my gut, as though I had been punched in the stomach and left with a sick sinking hole. Several of my siblings expressed at the funeral that they felt like they had a stomach flu.

Some of my recent symptoms of grief feel familiar, but some are different. With both, I felt identity confusion. After losing Jim and Dan, I wondered why I lived in Virginia, when they were buried in the Massachusetts town we all grew up in, in the very cemetery we played in as kids. I mourned the loss of my childhood as much as I missed my brothers.

The identity crisis I'm experiencing with the loss of my dad is less about where I live and more about who I am. Who am I without a father? Who is my mother without my father? Who am I to my mother now? Can I let go of the burden my dad carried that all his kids shared the weight of, the burden of seeing the Holocaust first hand, WWII combat trauma, and his battle with alcoholism?

There is a sense of calmness (or is it numbness) along with my sadness that I wasn’t able to feel when Jim and Dan died. Is it because my dad lived for 81 years and had been drifting away from us before the accident that led to his death? Since the deaths of his sons, and especially during this last year, he sometimes seemed to be going through the motions of life more than living them. “He did everything he wanted to,” my mother recently said to me on the phone.

The loss of a parent can shake our sense of security, identity, and foundation. But unlike losing a sibling, child, spouse, or a parent prematurely; losing an older parent is something we’re conditioned to expect. We know life ends, just as we know the day will end when the sun goes down. As hard as losing a parent is, we don’t have to feel alone in it. It’s something we all have in common or will someday.

I’ve only begun to absorb the impact of not having my dad in this world, but I’m grateful that I feel more in control of my grief this time around. At least today, I do.

Photo: Icy path to the driveway illuminated by the setting sun.

December 13, 2005

What I’d Like to Say to Joan Didion

shadowyellowbrickroad.jpg How does a part of the world leave the world? How does wetness leave water? ~ Rumi

I’m reading Joan Didion’s book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which is about the sudden death of her husband while their only child was hospitalized and gravely ill. When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died 4 years ago everything I thought I believed about life and death came into question. My understanding of death was reduced to that of a child’s, but I wanted to understand and to penetrate the mystery of it. My desire for understanding manifested in the reading of many books about death and the grieving process.

After my father’s accident this past October and while he was in the hospital, I picked up Didion’s book as though I had signed up for a refresher course on my study of death. While reading, I braced myself for the worst, losing my dad, which ultimately did happen.

As I understand it, Didion’s book is a personal exploration into the pathological symptoms of grief. The underlying premise of the book is that while she logically understands death, there is an irrational part of her that does not. She re-tells how she analyzed every detail of the night her husband slumped over with a heart attack at the dinner table, hoping to discover a different ending. Months after his death, she couldn’t bring herself to give his shoes away, thinking what? That he might come home and need them.

My study of death began because I wanted to find proof that I would see my brothers again. And so, I understand firsthand Didion’s magical thinking, and to it I add a further question: Is it any stranger to think that a loved one can return from death than it is to accept that they died in the first place? Isn’t the vanishing as fantastic as the idea that they might return from it?

December 12, 2005

Word Play

marawithdictionary2.jpg AKA: Things overheard while playing Scrabble...

Is topsy a word without turvey?

Is hob a word without nob?

Can the word oodles be singular?

Is pest an alternative plural for pet when you have too many of them?

Coyote is coy. His name tells us so.

I know listen and silent are the same word with the letters switched around, but semen and menses?

It makes sense that the word “evil” is “live” backwards.

My favorite letter is V. If a word has a V in it, you can be sure it’s infused with action and vitality.

It’s no mistake that “VERB” begins with the letter V.

Have you noticed that the word “astonished” has “stoned” right in it, and “embarrassed” seems to say “I’m bare assed?”

And lust and slut are so closely related that they’re the same word.

Photo: My Scrabble partner, Mara, using one of her life lines.

December 10, 2005

Scrabble is Sanity

maraQ2.jpg My friend Mara and I have a lot in common. We both experienced a traumatic loss of a loved one 4 years ago (and in my case 2 losses), we’re both writers, we’re both from Floyd and have lived alter-native lifestyles,* we both worked at “Seeds of Light” bead shop for many years, we used to make jewelry, and we both love Scrabble.

Mara was very close to Elliot, a friend and member of our Writers’ Circle, of which both Mara and I belong, who died a few weeks ago. And I just lost my dad.

“Could you handle a game of Scrabble?” she asked me over the phone, after telling me how down she’s been feeling lately.

“Yes, it could be the perfect diversion. I think it would help us to stop, but also keep us busy,” I answered, knowing she full-well understood my logic.

“Scrabble is sanity!” she said when we met later at the Café Del Sol for a therapeutic game. She slapped her notebook down on the table, and we laughed when we noticed that it was exactly like mine, also on the table.

Judging by the papers sticking out of Mara’s notebook, I remarked that she looked to be busier than me. “But the truth is, this is only one of about 5 notebooks that I have going at the same time,” I said to her. She nodded knowingly.

It was my first day out-and-about in town since my father died. “I love the way Scrabble gives me a context to be social, and yet, I don’t have to be sociable in a direct way,” I told her.

“Yes,” she agreed, “and if someone comes over to talk to us, it’s okay to ignore them if it’s your turn to play.”

I played the first word REFUTE. “Wouldn’t Elliot have liked that word?” I said. “He hated when I played words that were too common, while I have only ever cared about what they can score,” I added.

Friends and acquaintances drifted over to talk to us. Most asked ‘Who’s winning?’

“Why can’t you ask something like who’s having the most fun?” Mara, who was losing at this point, said to one of our visitors.

We didn’t ignore anyone. We enjoyed interacting with each person who came by our table, joking and taking turns talking to them. At one point, I had a SCRABBLE (which Mara always argues should be called BINGO) on my rack, but couldn’t find a place to play it.

“Why don’t you go outside and smoke a cigarette,” I said to her, while studying the board. “I need some time to think.”

After she went outside to smoke, I elicited some help from our friends, Bernie and Chris, by announcing, “Look!” And then, “I’m having anxiety. I have a SCRABBLE (using all 7 letters for a bonus 50 points), and I’ve never had one before. But I can’t find a place to play it.”

Mara came back. I never got the SCRABBLE. I settled for the word ZERO.

“ZERO. 35 points,” I announced to Mara, who was keeping score.

“No, that’s zero. I’m giving you a zero,” she joked.

While Mara was taking her turn, I went to the computer at the table behind ours to check my blog and found a comment from my blogger friend Leanne, who was aware that I recently lost my father, which said, “I wish for you a nice cup of tea and game of scrabble, to bring you peace, challenge your mind, and ease the pain in your heart.”

I don’t believe it! I am playing Scrabble and drinking tea,” I blurted out and then read the message out loud to Mara.

“I QUIT!” she said.

You can’t quit! Why would you quit?” I asked as I got up from the computer to see what was wrong.

“No, I just played the word QUIT,” she answered with an impish grin.

It was probably the first time that we didn’t finish our game. I was shocked when I looked at the clock and realized that we had been in the Café playing for 3 hours. Mara had a school paper she wanted to read to me before we parted ways. She had to pick up her daughter, and I had a list of errands to do. We hugged goodbye and bolted out the café door, hoping to get home before the predicted bad weather.

*Post Note: Mara (shown in the photo playing her Q) and I have home schooling in common. She was a product of it, and I provided it for my sons when they were young. "Alter-natives," a play on words first coined by my Floydian friend and fellow poet, Will, refers to a community of people living a back-to-the land sort of lifestyles that may include homebirth, homebuilt, homegrown, and living off the grid.

December 9, 2005

The Comedy of Scrabble

maraandbruce.jpgLunchtime at the Café Del Sol…

Bruce to Mara: What are you doing?!
Mara: It’s the Scrabble box, Bruce. See if you can balance it on your head.
Bruce: You guys have way too much time on your hands.
Mara: What?! I’m a full-time student and single parent.
Bruce: Well, too much imagination then.
Colleen: Scrabble is just a premise for our real work. Hold still for a minute, Bruce, while I get this shot. We’re going to blog you!

As Mara and I begin our game at the next table, we hear Bruce lean over to his friend John and say, “Scrabble? Isn’t that the game where you come up with words?”

December 8, 2005

Thirteen Thursday

gorilla13.jpg 1. Because of a comment I left on a blogger site while playing Michele Agnew’s Weekend Meet & Greet, a graduate student taking a class on blogging at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, found Loose Leaf. He brought it to the attention of his classmates and teacher, and my blog ended being part of their classroom discussion.

2. Apparently, having a blog was one of the class requirements. The student who found my site left me a comment, and an email conversation ensued. He recently sent me his final paper for the class, "The Effect on the Blogger by His Readership," in which he critiqued several blogs, including mine. I regularly visit his blog now, and I’m hoping he’ll lift the non-blogger.com comment ban soon.

3. While driving home with my husband for my father’s recent funeral, we went through Hartford and passed the Trinity College exit on the same night the class was taking place.

4. The subject of my friend Fred’s recent Floyd Press newspaper column, “A Road Less Traveled,” was on blogging. In it, he pointed out that becoming a columnist was an opportunity that came about as a result of him being a blogger.

5. My Asheville Potter Son Who Loves the Red Sox is a mad artist. He also has a theatrical background, which is how wearing a gorilla costume to his alumni soccer game while home for Thanksgiving came about.

6. When I pulled up the gorilla picture for this post, it made me remember the dream I had last night. I dreamt a huge grizzly bear was coming after me. I locked myself in a my childhood cellar and prepared to break out a window to escape, if it got in, which it did. I woke up with an adrenaline rush just as I was wondering if I could fit through the window and the bear was about to get me. I understand the dream to be about the full degree of grief that I am not wanting to feel about my father being gone.

7. I got my computer back from the shop. Now the dial-up sounds like The Mexican Hat Dance. Unfortunately, it isn’t completely fixed, and at one point, I was using both it and my laptop at the same time. Two keyboards, two mouses (or is it mice) was pure chaos for someone like me with dycalculia and no tech-no-logic sense.

8. My father, who recently passed away, was the youngest of 11. I keep thinking of the movie “The Five Sullivans,” which was about 5 brothers who fought and died in WWII. In the last scene of the movie, the youngest brother, the last to die, took his place and joined arms with his 4 brothers in heaven. When I think of the movie, it makes me feel that my dad has re-joined with his own brothers and sisters. As kids, we watched this movie with my dad, and everyone was bawling, especially him.

9. When I was home for the funeral, I slept in his bed. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t. Sleeping in his bed was like being up in his lap, and I felt like I was getting a part of my dad that he couldn’t even give me in life.

10. Just a week before my father’s car accident that led to his death 6 weeks later, he was dancing the jitterbug with my mother at a family wedding.

11. A couple of days before my father died, I attended a Dance Free in Floyd. I love to dance, and as someone who has struggled with Chronic Fatigue for many years, I’m always amazed at how it can energize me. I can dance for nearly 2 hours without stopping.

12. This is the time of year when I like to listen to John Lennon’s Christmas song…And so this is Christmas and what have you done...Another year over…A new one just begun.

13. War is over, if you want it. War is over now.

Post Note:
Now go on over and visit Leanne, the host of Thirteen Thursday. She keeps a list of all bloggers who participate and explains what it's all about.

December 7, 2005

Eulogizing My Father

gravesite2.jpg May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand. ~ Old Irish Blessing

My brother John, the black sheep of the family, sober since our brothers, Jim and Dan, died 4 years ago, flew in from Minnesota to bury our father, feeling heartbroken and thinking that he wouldn't have a role to play in the funeral services. As it turned out, he, the eldest existing and unmarried son, had a very important role. He was my mother’s escort throughout the two days of services.

My sister, Sherry, a nurse, had taken a prominent role in overseeing my dad’s hospital care, and her husband, Nelson, read a moving tribute to my dad at the wake, as did Jamie and Rachael, two of my father’s grandchildren. Jamie remarked how his grandfather was like everybody’s Santa Claus, and he reminded us of one of my father’s trademark saying: “I love you more than you’ll know,” the last words he spoke to Jamie. We all laughed when Rachael remembered my father looking around at a family cook-out and saying, “Look at this population I created!”

At St. Ann's church, the next morning, granddaughters, Beth and Molly, shared readings from the Bible, my youngest sister, Tricia, read the funeral mass intercession prayers she had written, while my older sister, Kathy, opened the eulogy part of the services. Taking her place at the church pulpit, alongside my brother Joey and me, Kathy spoke of the circumstances of my father’s death before turning the microphone over to me. I read my essay, “Let Me Clue You in about My Father,” that was originally inspired by a “father’s day essay contest” I was a judge for. I read it on WVTF public radio this past Memorial Day and felt grateful to have honored my father with it before he passed away. While reading to the church full of people who loved my dad, I was remembering this past summer when I visited him and my mother, and he read the essay for the first time. Judging from the tears in his eyes and the number of times I saw him re-read it, I think he approved. I was happy that my description of my father evoked some laughter from the crowd because one of the last things I remember him saying to me was, “I like to make people laugh.”

My sister’s and my words were well received, but it was my brother Joey who stole the show. Joey has a severe case of dyslexia. During his school years, the school system was on the cusp of ignorance and awareness of learning disabilities. At one point, they wanted to put him in with the kids who had mental retardation, but my parents, knowing how bright he was, took him into Boston and got him tested, which led to special services and inclusion in regular classes. Although Joey couldn’t read, or even talk in elementary school with anything other than his made-up language that our brother John (Joey’s sidekick) had to decipher for us, we all knew he was smart as whip.

Through sobbing tears, hunched over the podium and with Kathy, me, and his niece, Heather (who was his designated support person), at his side, Joey spoke of how much it meant to him that my father praised the D’s he got in school, and how it was our father who encouraged him to build his first house…and the next and the next. Joey, who got his driver’s license by taking the drivers test orally and is now the president of his own company, had to work hard for days to write his eulogy and then read it out loud in public. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Later, at the restaurant where the reception was held, it was my youngest brother Bobby who got the crowd’s attention with a piercing whistle so that his wife, Jeanne, could read the above Irish blessing. Jeanne also read a poem she had written and reminded us all that my dad was not only our Most Valuable Player (MVP), but that he chose to leave us while he was still at the top of his game (after beating pneumonia and getting off a breathing tube).

The population my dad created came out in droves to honor his good run. The stories were told, and laughter mixed with tears as we remembered how much we all loved him.

More than he’ll ever know.

December 6, 2005

Gently Down a Stream…Life is but a Dream

Dreams are real as long as they last. Can we say anymore about life? ~ Henry Havelock Ellis

If, as Carl Jung proposed, the psyche has a foreshadowing of death before it comes, how do the physical circumstances of death line-up with it? And if the psyche does indeed experience a foreshadowing of death through dreams and intuition, where does it come from? Does the foreshadowing imply a design?

I believe the life force was draining out of my father long before the car accident that led to his death, in the same way that a bright leaf hangs from a tree in October, and when you see it you know it’s only a matter of time before it will fall. A hard frost or gust of wind is like the equivalent of the physical circumstances (illness, accident, etc.) that precipitate death. And the leaf dropping from the tree is like the body, something we slip out of when it’s old.

“The tree doesn’t die when the leaves on it do. But are we like the tree, or just a leaf growing on it?” I posed the question to my husband on the ride home from my father’s funeral in an effort to convince myself of the continuity of life. As one who struggles with religiously framed tenets, understanding life and death by looking at nature appeals to my sense of logic.

But I don’t understand! Not really.

“The tree does die! Eventually,” I blurted out an hour later, as if I had the discovered the answer to a riddle, or a hole in the theory.

“The earth doesn’t die when the tree does. Are we like the earth, or just the tree growing on it?” I quipped, knowing my line of questioning could go one endlessly. “Do we go on endlessly?” I seemed to be asking.

Hospice caregivers and others who work with death report that many dying patients who start out fearfully resisting death often come to accept it. Acceptance is facilitated through dreams, contact with unseen forces, or an internal process, and is often accompanied with a burst of energy and marked lucidity. Is that what was happening to my father when, after being frustrated, impatient and confused for weeks, on the last two days of his life, he was (in my sister Sherry’s words) “almost ecstatic.” On the last day of his life, he announced excitedly “Today’s the day! Everything is coming off (tubes, neck brace, etc.),” and he looked at the calendar repeatedly as if he knew (in my sister Kathy’s words) “his contract was up.”

Some people believe that the soul makes a decision to be born. Maybe we don’t die either, unless some sort of agreement is made, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.

December 4, 2005

Somebody Upstairs Has Claimed Him

dadscollage.jpg He was, in his own words, “an operator,” which I understood as a reference to his street smarts. And he had the lingo to prove it. For my dad a beautiful woman was always “a hot tomato,” people who didn’t know what they were talking about were “blowing smoke,” “hatchi katchi” meant “fooling around,” and so did “hot to trot.” He wasn’t bigoted, except maybe against homely girls in favor of the pretty ones. And he never tried to hide the fact that the reason he tuned in to TV football was to watch the cheerleaders at half-time. ~ From “Let Me Clue You In About My Father.”

My father was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1924 on the first day of spring. When he died, on a recent rainy November evening, the wind was howling all the way from Boston to Virginia, where I live. The rain continued into the next morning, so much so that the creeks flooded over onto the roads, reminding me of the tears that were being shed by everyone that loved him.

For some reason my father had convinced me that he was indestructible. I might have gotten that impression from the wild stories he told of his past that usually ended with him shaking his head and saying, “I don’t know why I’m still here. I guess someone upstairs must like me.”

“There’s going to be some mad Irish wake stories going on for this man,” I said to my son over the phone after I broke the news to him that his grandfather had died. He was holding a page he had ripped out from his collage journal with a photo of his grandfather in Germany during WWII on it, he told me. “There will never be another “operator” quite like Grandpa,” he said.

“He was operating till the end,” I answered. No one could get into his hospital room without bringing a scratch ticket for him to play. He was winking at the nurses up until the end and holding the TV remote in his hand..."

But he had started to drift away long before the car accident that brought him to the hospital. I noticed a change when I visited him and my mother this past summer. At times he seemed withdrawn. Other times confused. On some days, it seemed that he was going through the motions of life and covering up his failings with his humor. But when the mood was just right, he still had a good story to tell:

“You’ve never heard this one before,” he said to me. “It will explain everything. Even why I drank so much.”

“Does Ma know?” I asked. My interest was piqued.

“Only me and the devil…and God know,” he answered.

It was a story of combat, one that I vaguely remember he might have told me before, one that would make a great movie but is too personal to re-tell here. I felt that he was purging himself and setting the record straight that day, and I got the sense that the process of leaving this world was beginning for my father.

I just didn’t think the end result of it would come this soon.

Post Notes: The photo is of one of the photo collage boards made by family members and displayed at the funeral home for my father. My son’s collage journal page, dedicated to his grandfather, is posted on the bottom of the board. The song that was played at the end of the funeral services was one that the Andrew Sisters sang in 1943, “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time,” a wonderful send off for our spring-born daddy who so loved the music of his era. My sister, Kathy, has also been writing about the experience of losing our dad at her blog. And here's a link to one of my dad's obituary. Click on "Robert Redman."

December 1, 2005

My Dad's Chair

dadschair2.jpgDream from Howard Johnson’s in Pennsylvania on the way to my father’s funeral: I dreamt that I was staying in a big house next to my mother’s house, but I didn’t go over to see her. Eventually, she came to visit me. She seemed frail sitting at the kitchen table. I don’t know if I thought it or said it out loud, but I realized the reason I hadn’t gone to see her was because I couldn’t face seeing my father’s things, especially his chair that sat in front of the TV with the footstool next to it where the TV remote control sat. Next to the remote were all the other things my dad used to “operate” (a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, scissors and etc.) that no one else was allowed to touch.

The day before I dreamt this, while riding 81 north towards Boston, my husband reminded me that my dad would be buried at the gravesite with my brothers, Jim and Dan. “Oh! I hadn’t thought of that,” I answered and then pondered the image it conjured. “All I can think about is his chair with him not sitting in it. For me, his chair will be his place-keeper shrine and the place I will go to, to hopefully feel his spirit"