It’s been six months, as of today, since my mother died. I feel like I’m in a Greek myth-Freaky Friday mash-up: I’m Persephone waiting for Ceres to come back after her half-year in the Underworld. It ain’t gonna happen, but I still rather expect Mom to show up and want to know why we haven’t finished fixing up the house.
To mark the day, here’s one of my mother’s favourite poems, “One Perfect Rose,” by one of her favourite authors, Dorothy Parker:
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met. All tenderly his messenger he chose; Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet – One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret; ‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’ Love long has taken for his amulet One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose.
To all our veterans, wounded warriors, first responders, their families, and others who serve or have served: thank you for your sacrifices and dedication. I can’t pretend to understand what you have given or given up for our country, but you have my gratitude and respect. If any of you care to write about your service, I will read your accounts.
Many years ago, I sent my uncle and aunt a notebook and a pen each. I wanted to know about their lives, to learn the stories they hadn’t told. My uncle had been trained as a medic in World War II (he went on to become a fantastic optometrist), been captured by the Germans almost as soon as he arrived, and, like many of his generation, had refused to talk about his experiences. I hoped a notebook might elicit some more of his history.
I didn’t hear back from either my aunt or uncle about the package until I was visiting my parents and my dad called his brother. And here let me mention that my uncle was from New Jersey, and he exemplified almost every stereotype about denizens of the Garden State that is known to humanity. Generally speaking, anything that popped into his head, popped out of his mouth. Once, when he and my aunt were on vacation with my parents, a tour bus pulled up and let out a group of Japanese tourists. In a move that made my father want to sink into the earth, my uncle took one look at the new-comers, marched over to the nearest visitor, held out his camera, and demanded to know if it was a good one. Fortunately, none of the group seemed to understand English — or my uncle’s version of it anyway — or were polite enough to pretend they didn’t. And now you know why my father moved away from “Joisey.”
So that day at my parents’, I got on the phone with my uncle, who lit right in: “LISTEN! WHADDYOU SENT ME THAT NOTEBOOK FOR? Nobody wants to read about my life. Nobody wants to hear about that stuff. Nobody wants to hear about…” and he then spent about an hour telling all the “stuff” nobody would ever want to hear. I was completely unprepared, had no paper, no writing instrument, no way to record all the personal history he rattled off at warp speed.
The central story of my uncle’s war is that of his capture. It happened within a few days — maybe even the first day — after he was sent over. When he and the other POWs were brought to the prison camp, a British officer was helping process the new arrivals. When my uncle approached the table, the officer asked for his name, rank, serial number, and, as was usual then, his religion. My uncle said, “Jewish.”
“No, you’re not,” the officer told him. My uncle wasn’t stupid, but he was young, and didn’t understand at first. So he replied,
“Yes, I’m Jewish.” The officer looked at him hard and repeated,
“No, you’re not. Lose your dog-tags!” That officer saved my uncle, and I suspect a lot of other young men, from dying in a gas chamber.
I wish I knew that officer’s name. I wish I knew what happened to him. I hope he made it home and managed to live well and happily. My uncle did. (Despite his foibles, my uncle was a decent guy. He and my aunt lived a few blocks away from my grandparents, took care of them, raised a daughter, ran a business, and was gregarious and out-going.) He died a little less than a year ago at the age of ninety-six. I wish I had managed to write down his history that day on the phone.
Anyone wishing to support and honour those who serve or have served might consider writing a letter to one of these folks. An e-mail from Endless Pens reminded me about Operation Gratitude, an organization that collects letters for deployed troops, veterans, new recruits, wounded heroes, caregivers, and first responders. Read the instructions carefully — there are rules — and if you write, maybe you’ll get someone’s history in reply.
Oh my! I confess I never saw this coming. I was afraid your father would rage, become abusive, possibly even violent if you thwarted his demand. I hoped that in his upset, he would would let slip some clue about what is driving him.
But his swing into tears and despair never entered my mind. Oh Bridie, maybe I was wrong — indeed, I think I was. I think you ask Dr. Morgan to bring in a psychiatrist to examine your father. Though there be method, yet there may be madness in it. Tell me what you think, Bridget. I hardly know what to say, but am still
At such a time — oh, at such a time! — my lassitude suffuses my bones, turns my skin husky, weighs me down with terror so that I can’t even break the seal on your envelope. I’ll attend to your letter tomorrow. Forgive
I have never liked the wind. I don’t mean the breezes that cool the summer days or waft the turning leaves along rivulets of air. It’s the locomotive winds that start like an idea in the mind and build to a roaring whisper that irritate my soul and de-rail my mind.
But now, knowing what you told me, the wind troubles me even more, especially when it blows from the woods. I can’t help but fancy that I detect the reek of something noisome and malicious, almost a presence that seeks to distract me and slip my thoughts into another stream.
And my fears may not be unfounded. Dr. Morgan tells me she now suspects that my perpetual lethargy may be related to your father’s illness. Thinking back together over tea (and really, Bridie, when we get this all sorted, you MUST share your soup recipe with me. It would have been the perfect accompaniment to the sandwiches), we realized that my fatigue came upon me shortly after my coming to visit you and your papa when he first fell ill. She will be at yours before long to drain you of blood as she did me. She wants to compare our samples with your father’s.
Thank goodness your father hasn’t smoked your subterfuge of heading to the store instead of the woods. Yes, I do know the dangers of the ice cream counter, but that is a sacrifice you will have to make to ease the mind of
You know how I abhor a cliché, but I must tell you that your letter made my blood freeze. Truly, I felt it run cold in my veins.
Thank heavens Dr. Morgan was able to get rid of your brain fog. Funny how it took a doctor to see clearly that you needed a cup of strong tea!
While I understand your tale now, I would credit such a story from no one but you.I do not know if we’ll need to involve anyone else in this perilous conundrum, but if we do, it will be of tremendous value to have Dr. Morgan’s corroboration.
It must have been terribly unnerving to hear your usually patient papa speak to you in a voice so unlike his own in timbre, tone, and pitch. You’re right: I have never heard him raise his voice either, not even when he caught you packing to run away to prove, at eleven, that you could too take care of yourself.
If only his querulousness were due to his advancing age and poor health. It seems indeed that some thing has taken over your father’s mind, even if it manifests at intervals.
I know you are worried that Dr. Morgan’s tests may have a deleterious effect onyour father’s health, but I think that you have to trust her. Whatever is affecting him must be taking a toll on his body and his mind.
But no matter how upset he gets, do not let your father persuade you to return to the woods. Pretend, if you must, to accede; let him see you in your jacket and gloves; open and close the front day and walk to the corner store so you come back wreathed in scents of fresh autumn air.
I must think further about the venomous fog and your vague recollections about believing yourself to be bait. Have you remembered anything further?How you came by that idea? For what you might be the enticement? Or to what purpose?
Sit tight, Bridget. As you know, Dr. Morgan comes to me tomorrow and I shall keep her to tea after she finishes my examination. As soon as she pronounces me well enough to leave home, I shall come to see you (how plagued you must feel, caught between an ailing father and a foundering friend!).
I shall send you a note tomorrow by the good doctor; I hope together she and I will be able to hit upon a course of useful action. Watch out for yourself, and keep away from shadows. Give your father, when he is himself, my fondest regards, and hoard for yourself the best of my
You must calm down! You write in such a panic that I can hardly decipher your meaning. It has always been so: Remember when we were were small and you tore up your basement steps all in a state, so terrified you couldn’t form words? You tugged my sleeve until I crept down the stairs with you, only to find a “monster” made of a mop, some towels, a bucket, and the ambient moonlight?
Don’t be upset; I’m not implying that you’re inventing monsters now. But you tend to be less than articulate when you are frightened.
I shall tell you what I’ve extrapolated from your note, then you will tell me how well I understood your letter, and then we shall figure out what to do.
So: two days ago (is that right?), while caring for your father (that part is clear), he became, you wrote, “agitated.” What do you mean by that? Was in in pain, angry — disturbed in his mind, in his faculties? You say, “He insisted with a strange urgency that I go for a walk, out in the woods where we used to play>” What was strange about his desire for you to get some air? Could he be feeling ill at ease that you spend so much time in his chamber and might he merely wish for you to care for yourself by visiting the scene of so many of our innocent games? Has Dr. Morgan noticed a change in his demeanour?
Now, Bridget, I come to the part that most puzzles me. To calm your father, you agreed to the walk (good) and strolled down the path to the pond (how well I know that lane!). As you walked, you told me, “the trees became strange.” In what sense, Bridget dear? Odd? Your tone implied that the trees, the ones we climbed, that grew as we grew among them, were unfamiliar. But how could that be?
And then your story becomes strange indeed. You wrote that a fog, a “miasma, a mist full of venom,” filtered through the trees. No — wait; you write that it emanated from the trees. (How could that happen?) It was, you maintain, an unnatural fog, one that thickened behind you and, you seemed to say, breathed a venom that drove you, running, toward our pond. Please explain how a mere fog was “venomous.” Was it truly poisonous or, perhaps, was it infected by your fears for your papa, by the sometimes fetid air of the sick room? I do not doubt you as much as it might seem, but I want to be sure I understand what you’re telling me.
Bridie, you end so wildly!: “Bait! Bait! Nothing but bait! My skirt covering nose and mouth, I ran ran ran. Instinctive feet, somehow home. And a note to you.”
If you wrote me after such a shock, I can well understand why your earlier note carried such a pall with it, a pall that has only grown heavier after reading your letter today. Again, I urge you to write swiftly back to your
As happens so often, our letters must have crossed in the post. I was pleased to see it; I was expecting your recipe for pumpkin soup — goodness knows I’ve asked for it often enough!
Your missive started out well enough; I am pleased that your dear papa is improving. But, Bridget, as I read on, I confess a chill brushed through my soul and left a pattern of ice crystals there. I can hardly say why. There seemed to be a creeping, mindless aura to your words that has settled over my own brain like a living mist and has quite put me out of countenance.
Write back at once to either reassure or confide in
Autumn is good and finally here. For weeks, the flowers & trees have seemed still & quiet — waiting. But now they begin to ring out with glory and colour. It started with the drifting, spinning leaves of the locust, floating down like slow-motion largesse, looking like the tinkling of a wind-chime in a lazy breeze.
But now the reds & oranges ring out on the trees and bell out that ‘Fall has come!’ in deeper tones than even the aspen can manage. There is a mystery to the liminal seasons, a mystery of which I never tire.
You are laughing, I’m sure, at my florid prose, but I am even more sure you will forgive and indulge
And on a similar note, if #30inks30days interests you, then join in for Inktober: 31 Days, 31 Drawings. Inktober was started in 2009 by Jake Parker “as a challenge to improve my inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. It has since grown into a worldwide endeavor with thousands of artists taking on the challenge every year.” The rules are pretty simple:
1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).
2) Post it*
3) Hashtag it with #inktober and #inktober2019
Note: you can do it daily, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. Inktober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.
That’s it! Now go make something beautiful.
*Post it on any social media account you want or just post it on your refrigerator. The point is to share your art with someone. 🙂
The site has links to tutorials and advice on tools and how to “do Inktober.”
In addition, Goldspot pens (and I have no affiliation with either Inktober or Goldspot) is running an Inktober 2019 Giveaway with writing prompts for those who prefer sentences to drawings or who want to do both. Tom Oddo writes that “In the creative spirit of this challenge, we are broadening the scope of Inktober to include writers as well as artists. To inspire you, we have a list of daily prompts and a special giveaway raffle prize for those that complete the challenge.” Now, there are two inspiring excuses to develop whatever kind of journaling suits your style or to experiment with new approaches to keeping a diary.
I have great ambition to take on the Inktober challenge, both the “traditional” version and the one for writers. My hope is to turn the pieces into a story, but fiction has never been my forte, so we’ll have to see how far I get with that.
I did get through last year’s Inktober. Here are few of the less cringe-worthy pictures I drew: