No Love in Things

So this is a ghost story about how we are haunted by things.

In the mid-1980’s, my mother was a cross-stitch artisan. She made some absolutely flawless work. We had even tested out several design software packages to create our own patterns for images. I also created some pieces, but nothing as intricate or challenging as the pieces she made.  For my grandmother’s birthday, she had a brilliant idea of making an entire cross-stitch quilt.

quilt3

The quilt design was 25 squares, each with a different rose picture. My grandmother LOVED roses. I was to make 12 and my mother would make 13.  Once they were completed, we would have it sashed with green ivy fabric and quilted by the ladies at The Neighborhood House for a donation.

quilt1

Whatever else was going on, we made that happen. It was a beautiful quilt.

And this was a big deal to us.  My grandmother, the quilt’s recipient, had made a masterpiece of her own that had hung in a couple different fabric/quilt shows and museums.  She had make a double-embroidered quilt of all the birds and flowers from all 50 states in alphabetical order.  It was enormous! Five years of work, countless episodes of All My Children, holding her mouth just right while threading the needle.  She had a bent fingernail because of the constant pressure against the fabric to get the stitch just right.

My grandmother loved our gift. And being from the generation who lived through the Great Depression, she wrapped it up and put it away for safe keeping. I would not see it again for 30 years.

quilt 2

When my grandmother died, my mother moved into her house. She quietly gave the quilt to a childhood friend of hers. The quilt was still new – wrapped up and folded neatly in plastic. And in exchange, he gave her a lamp.

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It was no ordinary lamp. He had lovingly made a Tiffany-style pink and white lampshade just for her and attached it to an ornate metal base. It was a table-lamp and it suited my mother and all her pastel belongings to a tee.

Now these were two specific, unique and priceless things.  A great deal of feeling and sentiment were attached.  A great deal of creative work (including my own) transpired to bring them into being. The trade between my mother and her friend was one of equality and mutual admiration. And yet, they were THINGS.  Not people. Not loved ones.  Things.

When my mother passed in 2010, it was a chaotic time.  I am an only child and there was no will. I did my absolute best to put the nuts and bolts of her life in order and try to honor her in a way that would suit her. I did not allow myself to grieve in public or at all for at least another two months. I had help.  My mother’s friend Shirley and her close neighbors, Sonya and Emilio helped me immensely.  We sold as much as we could to take care of funeral expenses and set up a memorial service.

I held my breath for two months. I dealt with releasing her house to the bank and sending out death certificates to creditors. I felt loved and supported by people who just showed up and pitched in. Because we all loved her.

 

I held my breath and when I exhaled, I was alone. One night at 2 a.m. I just sat up in bed.  Her dog Doc, who became my dog, laying on the end of my bed staring at the closet.  Her ashes were on my top shelf. They had handed me her remains in a green velvet bag. I awoke and began to really feel the empty space in my life where she had been. We had talked daily often more than once. She made me laugh. She was the best grandma to my son. She was gone.

And there was not a THING that I wished to hold on to. None of it contained her heart, her soul, her spirit, her light. I didn’t need any of it because I carried the best of her with me. Always.

I had neither the quilt nor the lamp. And I was grieving and healing.

And it slowly got better. I miss her now, today, this moment. So does everyone else. And we live on connected by that.

So this is the haunting part, the life lesson:

A few months ago, my mother’s childhood friend showed up and found me.  He had the quilt. Honestly, I didn’t know it still existed.  But there it was, still folded immaculately in pristine plastic. He wanted to give it back to me. And, just for kicks, he wanted to know if I had the lamp. Because in his eyes, I had not been a good steward of my mother’s THINGS.  Because at some time while I was holding my breath and THINGS were being sold, I let the lamp get sold too.  Because when I was dealing with the tidal wave, I did not happen to grab his lamp and anchor it to myself while I withstood the storm.

aladdin

I was polite. I understood his point of view. I told him honestly that I did not know here it was or whom had it.  He talked on in a very heavy-handed way about disrespect.

“I’m giving this back to you because I know where things go.”

He was trying passively to shame me for not possessing HIS lamp. A lamp that was his then my mom’s, but never mine in the first place. A lamp that was so important to him still, that six years after my mother’s death, he found me just to emphasize its loss.

I remained polite. I much prefer people who speak plainly if they have an issue with me. But it was apparently that HIS lamp and HIS loss were not MY lamp nor MY loss.

I never wanted the lamp.  I never wanted the quilt back. It was given as a gift.  And my understanding of a gift is that once it is given, you do not take it back.

His attempt to hang six years of guilt on me for a lost THING didn’t work. In fact, it made me very sure that I will never charge another person with curating or keeping my THINGS.

marley
Jacob Marley wearing his chains of THINGS

I have the quilt, but I am donating it. The quilting is still crisp.  The stitches still look fresh.  In its 30 year existence, this quilt has never warmed anyone. It has never been loved. Its beauty has been made bitter by those who buried it away, suffocated it in plastic in the back of a closet. I am hoping that donating it allows the magic to finally grow. So much care and love went into it.

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My real hope is that whomever ended up with the lamp truly finds joy in it. Maybe it’s a beacon for a little girl reading stories. Maybe it’s the perfect source of light and comfort for someone who is alone. It could not be any of those things for me.

It was never my lamp.

Poetry: In the Midnight Garden – The Power of Dreams

One August night three years ago, I woke up blind sobbing.  I could not snap myself awake because this dream held on to me.
I dreamed of the man I love being called by Death.
Death is not a stranger to me.  My grandparents, parents – all no longer in this life. It is an honor to be truly present when someone passes.  I was there for my maternal grandparents and my mother. I held my grandfather’s small, blue hand and felt all of his memories pass through him; his life in rural Kentucky as a child, his mother’s face, his dogs, his children when they were small, his continued strength and determination and I knew firsthand the blessing it left on me.
mort
T-shirt design by Daz L’asrtist
Aside from my wonderful son, I have no immediate family. I have built one with friends and specifically with this man. This man who is fearless and kind and creative and magic and steady and real.
So when she came to collect, in this dream, in her guise – I made a deal.
Please enjoy the poem below:
In The Midnight Garden
She stole in through indigo bough under the weight and glory of
a full, gold moon
A ghost of a girl moving like breeze through gaudy forsythia
Her limbs birch white and eye pale grey blue like the pulsing
vein of a wild dove
Her ebon hair whipping savage and smile curving down
She sang her rain crow song, weaving through phantom
wisteria
She called to me with a lover’s voice by my secret name and
brought me out under the darkling stars
“I know you by your eye and your song.” She croaked softly
and offered me her cold hand as if gifting me a lily.
Her cool breath stole across my shoulders and slowed my blood. The
Death crow had coming to steal away my love.
Steal him from his life and waken in him another. A birth into
fretless abyss and humming oblivion.
To waken in me endless
empty hours and stillness without peace,
To tear him from his life and so from mine.
“How will you keep him with flesh that alters and weakens?
How will he love the finite and imperfect? When art and beauty
are timeless?
How can he stay with you? When I am Evolution and Omega.”
“I know you by your cold and illusion.” I sang softly and placed
my warming hand on her icy brow as if feeling a child’s face
for fever.
She wavered a bit but stood frozen, defiant. The Death crow demanded her treasure.
“I know you will take him. Into the desert darkness
where life is only a covetous idea.
I know he will love the journey and waken from the dream of
this life.And you may have him when my heart stops and me
too for the bargain.
But first listen…”
She smiled a curving downward crescent and let her head fall to
one side.
Her raven mane falling over the shifting planes of her
silver face altering into pain.
She heard
Loud and hard and hot and fierce the insistent beating of my heart.
The Death crow’s eyes grew wide as the moon. “I’ll be back.”
I smiled. “Take your time. We will be a while yet.”

The 3 Sisters of the Sky – How Not to Be Afraid of the Dark

Words of a Dandelion

I finished the manuscript today for the children’s book.  Daz is hard at work on the illustrations.

If you were a child and you feared the night, would this comfort you?

Would it ease your fears to see the balance of night and day?  For centuries, we have assigned fear and danger to the night. I wanted to create a story about balance, about sisters who must share and perform their tasks.  They are all friendly and positive in their own way. They care for people, animals and each other. They benefit everyone in completing their specific tasks and taking their turns.

Selene

If my perception of night – rife with its histrionic terrors  – could be altered into the character of a young, helpful girl with a magic silver bow, then it would be my favorite bedtime story.  Please enjoy:

The Three Sisters of the Sky.

Celeste, Soleil and Selene…

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The 3 Sisters of the Sky – How Not to Be Afraid of the Dark

I finished the manuscript today for the children’s book.  Daz is hard at work on the illustrations.

If you were a child and you feared the night, would this comfort you?

Would it ease your fears to see the balance of night and day?  For centuries, we have assigned fear and danger to the night. I wanted to create a story about balance, about sisters who must share and perform their tasks.  They are all friendly and positive in their own way. They care for people, animals and each other. They benefit everyone in completing their specific tasks and taking their turns.

Selene

If my perception of night – rife with its histrionic terrors  – could be altered into the character of a young, helpful girl with a magic silver bow, then it would be my favorite bedtime story.  Please enjoy:

The Three Sisters of the Sky.

Celeste, Soleil and Selene, the Three Sisters of the Sky,

The merry daughters of Mother Earth and Father Time

Each sister takes her turn to play day or night

Each sister must do her part and share the sky

Celeste, the eldest sister, is the peace keeper in the balance night and day.  Father Time tells her that it is dawn. Her jackrabbits nibble their grassy breakfast.  Deer gather in the misty forests to watch the morning glories open their deep blue eyes.  It is time to awaken her sister, Soleil. She wakes her sunny little sister, pulling back her pretty cloak of all color stars.  “Up, up, little sister! Dawn is coming. Today will be glorious!”

Soleil, the middle sister, yawns and stretches out her golden rays. She puts on her glorious gown of red, yellow and blazing orange. Soleil calls out to the roosters that it is time to sing. She shines on the farmers who work with Mother Earth.  She strides across bright fields, warming the animals that graze and bask in her shimmering rays. Soleil opens wildflowers so honeybees can drink nectar and make honey. Sunflowers joyfully follow her journey. Songbirds tweet their happy melodies.   “Let’s play!’ she calls to the monkeys who follow her from tree to tree.

Soleil has traveled far today.  Celeste knows her little sister is growing sleepy. The crickets begin singing a sweet lullaby.  Celeste tucks her sunny little sister in under veils of lavender and gold. “To sleep, Soleil. Goodnight, my golden sister. Sweet dreams.”

And now it is Selene’s turn. “Up, up, little sister! Night is coming. All will be well.” Celeste helps her youngest sister dress in indigo and brush her silver-blue hair. Helpful fireflies will keep Selene on her path through the dark. “Don’t forget the dreams.” Says Celeste. Selene picks up her magic silver bowl of dreams. Tonight the dream bowl is full, bright with hope and memory and wildness. Little Selene giggles. Dreams are her favorite part of the night.

Selene strolls quietly through shadowed lands.  Moonflowers and jasmine open their blooms to greet her.  “Come help, my friends.” She whispers to the little bats that fly about eating mosquitos. “Come run and play.” She calls to her foxes who love the night.

Selene sprinkles dreams from her silver bowl over sleeping children.  She lights up the little stars for weary travelers to brighten the path until they are safe at home. She cools and comforts with her soft hands. The owls and wolves sing her wild songs.

The peaceful night is ending. Selene must rest and fill her magic silver bowl with dreams for everyone.  Celeste wraps her glowing little sister in a soft blanket of pinks and blues. The dawn has come again.

Celeste, Soleil and Selene, the Three Sisters of the Sky,

The merry daughters of Mother Earth and Father Time

Each sister takes her turn to play day or night

Each sister must do her part and share the sky.

Practical Magic for Ugly Children

I was raised by my maternal grandparents from ages 2 to 7, and then from 11 to adulthood.  My grandmother’s mother, Gertrude, did not like children. She had had six of them. And now had to put up with her offspring’s offspring’s offspring. It was more of a have-to with me. My grandparents lived close to them and took them to doctor appointments. Gertrude got to visit with me more than she would have liked.

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Chet and Gertrude

When I was six, I lost my top right front tooth as normal kids do. However, the tooth that took its place, came in twisted like a corkscrew. Gertrude bestowed the pet name of “Snagglepuss” on me.

Snagglepuss

She was the only one who called me that, but she did it as often as possible. I had the tooth pulled and actually had an extra tooth bud that came in straight. I smiled at her broadly every chance I got, hoping for release from the vile nickname.

Alas, Gertrude was 4’6”.  I was already nearly as tall as she was. And in retrospect, it must have seemed threatening to have a child your own size constantly grin at you like a homicidal monkey.

monkey

As I got a little older, I began to talk more with my great-grandpa, Chet. He was quiet. Never said more than was necessary. I know more of what was said about him that I knew him.  From my grandmother’s stories (his daughter), I knew he had a bad temper. I knew he kicked the shins of people who were rude at dinner with hobnailed boots. I knew he was part “Indun”, or Native American and knew some magic. I knew he was a cutthroat Pinochle player.

Lump

Grandpa Green and me (in my lump state).

It was a beautiful thought for an ugly kid. I came from magical people. Somewhere under this pasty nearsighted, greasy-haired lump, there was a continuation of a magical bloodline. Not a passing on of a cheap card trick or sleight of hand, not some $8 Bill Bixby linked rings nonsense, but real magic. Something that I could like about myself that no one could really see.

bixbybill50magictricks

The summer I was 11, sent back from my feral days in Ohio, I went barefoot every chance I got. My grandparents were supremely overprotective and forced me to wear shoes. With the damp and the heat and the wet socks and closed shoes, I ended up with plantar warts all over my right foot. I hid it at first, embarrassed and scared. But it spread and the toes began to look webbed. The pain of taking a step and desperate willingness to cut my toes off just to stop the infernal itching made me stay in my room.

They found out. My grandfather caught me without my socks. They took me to the doctor. Then to a dermatologist.  Dr. Dickinson prescribed a smelly, burning lotion that smelled bad and burned worse. Then Dr. Dickinson spoke about burning them off or freezing them off.  I’m sure he was a respected doctor, but to me he was a bald barbarian heaping fear and discomfort on an itchy foot wart volcano.

doc evil

And he never spoke to me or looked at me. In fact he was examining my foot and reached up with his gloved hand and separated my hair. He looked at my grandmother and said “I can give you some topical lotion for this oily dandruff.”  He then scheduled an appointment with them for a month later to either have my foot burnt or frozen.

I spent the next week crying. The idea that the oily, dandruffy, lumpy girl was now also going to be the limping, half-footed, clumsy girl too was crushing me. The burning and itching had not subsided. My foot seemed alien. Did I even care about it being burnt or frozen? Was it part of me still?

Enter magic. During a Pinochle game, the situation of my foot had come up in conversation. And my great-grandfather, supreme car shark and “Indun” had a trick up his sleeve.

He told me to take off my shoes and walk to the back of the yard with him. He told me to follow directions.  And he told everyone else that it was none of their business.  So I did.

When we got to the lot line, we sat down on the grass.  He took my foot and held it and looked at it. He took a large, dry navy bean out of his shirt pocket.  He considered it. I didn’t know that old people carried dry beans in their pockets. So I also considered it.

bean

He looked up and the sky and then at my foot. He rubbed the dry navy bean over the warts, humming a bit. I watched him, thinking that I was never going to eat navy beans again. Thinking that this was too simple to be magic and too weird to be anything else.

When he was done, we stood up.  He handed me the bean.

“Throw this over your shoulder and don’t look back to see where it falls.”

So I did.

The pain was gone.

Within three days, my foot was clear.  And magic was real to me.

I have never had a wart since. I have never eaten a navy bean in my life.

My great-grandfather, the magic “Indun” died at 93. In the years between, I was his friend and lucky Pinochle partner. He came to Thanksgiving a couple times. Gertrude passed before him and he married a lady 30 years younger than him about 6 months before he died. They traveled a lot. She took him to see the world beyond the Midwest. I was happy for him.

Chet and Ruby.JPG

Chet dancing at 93 with his new wife Ruby.

A tiny bit of belief, the smallest bit of magic can heal anyone. Everyone has a spark of divine within them, even old people, even ugly children. Don’t let it be lost to the mediocrity of every day. Allow it to be part of you, fight to keep it. Use it to do good.