Tag Archive | Long Reads

The Exit…

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The Exit

by
Marilyn McLeod

 
 
Life is full of stops and starts so to speak. The most emotional of these is birth and death—-the ultimate beginning and ending. Every family goes through them and each member seems to have their own perspective on the event.

My mother in law Harriett has been failing for months. At the age of 94 we all knew her exit from this world was near. Surprising us all, she met each threat to her health with a fierce rally and appeared to be on course to complete another year with us. She’s a sturdy soul; full of spit and fire. That personality at the retirement home has presented some big challenges to the staff. The necessity of having a roommate emerged when she moved into the nursing section of the facility. Finding the perfect “roomy” was quite a trick. It seemed the TV was one of the main sources of contention. Being head strong and sure she should rule the television, she warred with several roommates over what they were going to watch. She preferred sports and loved football and golf. One roommate loved only Shirley Temple movies and could watch them all day long! This would never do and Harriett would take control of the remote whenever the opportunity arose. The home tried to please them all by moving several ladies in and then eventually out of Harriett’s domain. They finally settled on a sweet little lady who was comatose. This was the perfect choice. Harriett could now watch whatever she chose!

In late October as the weather turned cooler Harriett came down with what she labeled “a flu”. We called to check on her and she did sound like she had “a flu”. She sounded very sick indeed. The family remained on watch with members who lived close by checking on her several times a day. We live in Texas and she was in California so our contact was by phone at that point. Sensing the end may be near, our daughter Michelle wanted to say goodbye to her grandma in person so she got on a plane to take that four-hour flight into LAX. Because his mama was going, my grandson Atticus was sure he should go as well to bid adieu to the great-grandmother he knew as “Mimi”. Now, he’s seven and we felt death had no clear definition in his mind. He had been told it was final but does a child understand that concept?

With her health declining, Harriett was put on oxygen to keep her comfortable and Hospice was called in. As the reality of her up-coming demise set in, Harriett made plans to get her hair done. At 94 and on her death-bed a woman still has her vanity!

When Michelle and Atticus arrived at the nursing home Harriett had been sedated. They sat by her side and waited for her to wake up. Five minutes of sitting is about all Atticus was good for and he asked if he could play a video game. He quickly engrossed himself in his DS tuning out everything around him. Harriett’s daughter Jeanne arrived on the scene and joined Michelle in a vigil that soon turned to a talkative visit. They were deep in conversation when a nurse from the home came in to check on Harriett. Much to their surprise, they were informed that Harriett had passed. Looking up from his DS, Atticus confirmed the diagnosis and said, “Yep, she’s dead”. He quickly turned his attention back to his game.

So in the eyes of a seven year old death was very matter of fact that day. “Yep, she’s dead” pretty well covered it. Since that experience Atticus has been rather preoccupied with questions about death. He asked if his dog Huckle would die some day. His mother told him yes and that they would bury him in the back yard. Attie’s reply was, “Can you dig him up once in a while so I can play with him. I know I’m really gonna miss him!” Everyone smiled at that one.

A death in the family brings on a lot of nostalgia and we got out old pictures to reminisce over. There was Harriett as a cute six year old with a huge bow tipping slightly to the right, bobby pinned into her short hair. Then there was Harriett the young bride appearing to weigh a slight 100 pounds at best. (Why is it we get rounder and fluffier as we age?) More pictures revealed me in my 20’s with Harriett and the family. Atticus took a look at that picture and said, “It’s Granny with a fresh face!” Out of the mouths of babes—so cute! It was Granny with a fresh face and I’m glad he recognized me!

They’re planning a celebration of life ceremony next month for Harriett. Well, really I should say Harriett has planned that ceremony. She wrote out every word of this event in her last years of life with details such as, “Deanne will sing Amazing Grace and then everyone will stand in a circle and say The Lord’s Prayer.” etc. This lady left nothing to chance regarding her exit plan and how she should be mourned.

She had also planned her burial which was attended only by family and very close friends. It had a few glitches she would not have approved of. For one, she arrived in the wrong coffin. She had specifically wanted a coffin just like her departed husband’s. When she arrived in what appeared to be a white Styrofoam box we all knew we were in trouble. Well, it turned out not to be Styrofoam but a metal coffin covered in white fabric. This was absolutely not what her husband had been buried in. After some tense moments and more investigation by the funeral home we were told this had been her first choice until she found the one that her husband had been buried in and then her “first choice” changed to that one which was steel grey and very sturdy—-much like her I must say! The trail of paperwork had taken them back to her other “first choice” which we left as it was in hopes she’ll rest just as well in the white one. The other glitch involved her choice of preachers for the funeral. The man she preferred and who had done her husband’s ceremony had recently left their church and signed a “non-compete” contract stating he would not do any weddings, funerals or events for his past church members for the next six months. So, her planning had to be altered to accommodate this new legal glitch and the man who performed the funeral had no first hand knowledge of Harriett.

I wonder if planning and control are really ours in the end. It appears to be a time to let go and let God. As a family we did our best to give her a good send off all in all. Hopefully that will suffice.

As the youngest member of our clan, Atticus has given us some wonderful quotes to lighten the days of his great grandmother’s illness and departure. “Yep, she’s dead” bypasses the sugar-coating we often affix to death and puts it squarely where it should be—a reality of finality—-the ultimate exit as seen through the eyes of a child.

A Legume By Any Other Name…OR…Poe’s Adventures With Beans…

Thoughtful Readers… 
 
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As if someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
(…..”Tis some memory” I muttered “tapping fully at mind’s door;
Only this and nothing more.”…..)

(…..Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak November,
As I tried that eve to tender, words to paper, sow the seed,
Here I sit now almost sleeping, softly silently composing,
Intent upon the task before me lest my eyes should fail to heed,
The silent nature of the passage, here for all to see and read;
Only this and nothing more…..) 
 
While in the midst of this most stately of Edgar Allan’s works my mind wandered off to the kitchen and to a subject close to my heart—food. Having a small get-together to attend in a few days, I was trapped in a plethora of ideas about what food dish I would throw together for everyone’s pleasure. Examining my pantry produced little in the way of answers….largely because there was little in the way of contents. Picking up a lonely can of green beans, which happened to be on a shelf right next to a lonely can of chick peas, I started down memory lane intent on arriving at a perfectly acceptable solution. But like so many ventures of this kind, I quickly lost focus on the task at hand, turning instead to random thoughts of Poe and blogging. (How those two thoughts intertwine, I have NO idea!!…).

In any event, my stroll through memories almost forgotten led me to thinking about legumes and how many varieties were in stock at my local grocery. After about five minutes of intense introspection I had arrived at a list that I was fairly certain could be documented easily.

Here’s your challenge…..While sitting in front of your computer (like me..!), make a list of all the different varieties of legumes (okay, lets make it just beans..) you can think of that are in stock at YOUR local grocery…Remember, beans only..(that means no garden peas, or snow peas, or sugar snaps, or lentils..). Please don’t force me to try to describe the differences between beans and peas. It has something to do with hollow stems vs. solid stems and tendrils on leaves, etc., etc. I can’t begin to recite the taxonomy involved and never will…because I just don’t care.!!! For this exercise….fresh beans, canned beans, dry beans, frozen beans….doesn’t matter. Oh, one other thing. I said varieties of beans. That means BBQ Beans, or Pork and Beans, or Baked Beans, or Chili Beans don’t count…..

Okay then, Ready, Set, Go…………..You still here.?? Come on get busy.!! Shouldn’t take more than two or three minutes to write them down. No peeking at my list either.!!

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List finished.?? I would guess that you should have no problem coming up with seven or eight different beans, maybe more. Vegans or Vegetarians could probably come up with at least twice that many.

This is my list the way I wrote them down along with my thoughts as I was working:

Green Beans (various cuts and styles)
Wax Beans (variation on green bean..??)
Kidney Beans (at least two variations–dark red, light..)
Pinto Beans
Black Beans
Cannellini Beans
Garbanzo Beans (Chick Peas) (These could be peas, not beans..??)
Navy Beans
Great Northern Beans
Lima Beans
Butter Beans (Related to Lima Beans, but different..??)
Fava Beans
Soy Beans (Edamame) (pea vs. bean..?)
Mung Beans
Cranberry Beans
Black Eyed Peas (really a bean..?? not like a garden pea)
Field Peas (really a bean, like black eyes..??)
Crowder Peas (bean..??) (I think Crowder Peas and Field Peas are essentially the same bean..)

How did you do?? I feel certain that some of you have varieties in your market that I don’t have…and some of you have a lot more varieties than I do. That’s okay. This isn’t about winning or losing..!! And it isn’t about right or wrong, or how good your memory is….or whether you wrote down a pea instead of a bean for that matter. It is about thinking outside of the bean box. There are a tremendous number of bean varieties available to us….and most of us have not tried a lot of them. I was surprised at how many different varieties I found in my local area and how many more I did not find. My list is not an exhaustive one by any means. Looking around the Internet there are dozens of varieties out there that are not available to me where I live.

I can see the questions coming now. “What were you thinking??” Me?? I was thinking that if I did this, maybe you should too.. “Why was this exercise important??” Ah, that IS the question!! And the subject of my next post…..

Be well,

Howard

Diamond Lil

Diamond Lil

by

Marilyn McLeod

Photo courtesy of http://stockfreeimages.com © Barndog | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

 
 
My father always called his sister Lillian, “Diamond Lil”. When I heard that as a child I pictured a queen dripping in diamonds from head to toe. My imagination played all sorts of sparkly scenarios through my head. Dad said she was coming for a visit and I really couldn’t wait to meet her!

When he pulled into the driveway after picking up “Diamond Lil” at the airport, my sister and I peered out the big picture window in the living room with great expectation. Slowly a large lady emerged from our 1950 Willys Jeep which, by the way, was hardly the vehicle you’d expect someone with the name of “Diamond Lil” to arrive in. I have to say we were sorely disappointed in what we saw! She looked very ordinary and not at all like we thought a “Diamond Lil” should look. She was rather round in the middle with pink cheeks and short grey hair. During her visit with us I found out those pink cheeks actually turned bright red when she laughed and we ended up laughing a lot with Aunt Lil. Of all the aunts we had met to date, she was without a doubt the most fun. We spent numerous hours with her thoroughly enjoying her company.

I noticed she had an impressive collection of rings. She carefully chose different ones to wear each day. Most of these were covered in large clear stones that sparkled when the light hit them. She revealed to us that this was why our dad called her “Diamond Lil”. Weighing the evidence, we felt it quite appropriate. Sometimes she would even let me wear one of her rings for a while and I felt very special knowing that she trusted me with such a treasure. Years later she told us they were all costume jewelry but that still doesn’t dampen my memory of those awesome jewels.

When company came to visit it was traditional for Mom to fix big meals using her best china dishes with the pink flowers around the edge. This occasion was no exception. She’d been cooking all afternoon and the table was beautifully set with great care and attention. She called us to help place the food on the table and we grudgingly stopped playing and went to work. I remember I was eyeing the mashed potatoes and gravy I had just set down when I heard a fluttering of wings. I turned to see Pretty Boy the parakeet coming in for a landing. He made a direct hit in the scoop neck of the china gravy boat! The bird was squawking and fluttering and mom was yelling and the rest of us were hysterical with laughter—-especially Aunt Lil. Pretty Boy flew off splattering gravy around the room as he went. Mother was totally mortified. She reached for the gravy boat to throw out its contents but Aunt Lil quickly interceded. Being a lover of food and no perfectionist, Lil saved the day telling mom, “There’s nothing in the world wrong with that gravy. Let’s sit down and eat.” Mom protested but Lil insisted and she and my dad exchanged a wink.

That was one of our favorite stories to reminisce about when we got together years later, and it still brings a smile to my face. Aunt Lil has long since passed from this life but she left a sweet legacy of fun and laughter I treasure to this day.

An open letter to a friend..

Dear D.C.

It was early in 1984 and my mind was occupied with thoughts of Germany, my next assignment. Having completed flight school, the Army was going to extract its payment…..my service was required in Germany. I was to fly attack helicopters, gunships, in support of the deterrent mission.

The airliner was at thirty thousand feet winging its way across the Atlantic headed for England….Gatwick I suppose. I was trying to relax a little; there were a lot of hours in front of me. I reclined my seat a little trying to get comfortable but it wasn’t really possible. Standing up, I turned and bumped into someone who was returning to their seat behind me. I apologized for my clumsiness and stood there enthralled. You were young, and pretty, and so very polite. Introductions complete, we settled into our seats and immediately drifted into a comfortable conversation. I discovered a lot about you. You were English, returning home from the United States. You lived in Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees. You were busy thinking about your future, and worrying, I guess, about things that all young women contemplate at that age. You spoke quite elegantly I thought and were not afraid to talk about things that were important to you. More importantly, you were a good listener. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the company on that long flight.

Arriving back in the United States later, I was impressed to receive a letter from you. I had sent you a postcard or two from Germany but hadn’t really expected an answer. You were as busy as ever but just as willing to talk. You told me about your life and how you had settled back into a routine at home. I think you were anxious to get on with your life. I wrote back to you and told you some of my experiences. You were always polite, and interested in what I had to say.

Christmas, 1984. Another letter….and a Christmas card. You were seeing a young British serviceman. You seemed happy and life was good. Trials and tribulations though….there were always things to think about and problems to overcome. I never doubted that you would find what you were looking for……happiness, I suppose.

Letters were infrequent, but neither of us had forgotten. Things were always in the way…..some pressing matter to attend to. 1987 now….midyear I guess. Another letter from you has tracked me down. I am at Ft. Bragg when your latest missive arrives. Same cheerful attitude and another wonderful long story to read. You always seemed to be doing the things I wanted to do. This time it was a tentative trip to New Zealand. You had your reasons, and your plans. I knew only that I wanted to do those things too. I never found out how that trip turned out. Was it fun? Did you find a job there or just visit? I still want to know…..

The truth is, I have missed your letters. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was time for both of us to get on with our lives. Time to make a clean break with the past and forge a new future. I suppose that is what has happened. Time…..

My wish for you is fulfillment and understanding. I hope that you have a caring, loving person as a partner in this life. I hope you have experienced the joy of children. I hope that you have found joy in your life wherever you are. And I hope you are well…..There isn’t much else worth talking about.

Your friend,

Howard  
 
 

So, why now? Why after twenty-five years? That’s an easy one. I was cleaning out a safe drawer yesterday and found this bundle of letters. I knew they were there of course, but hadn’t looked at them in many years. Why did I keep them? I am not sure. I guess because these moments, hidden in old letters and pictures are important. They are important because they help define who we were, and who we have become. In any event, I will re-read them and look at the pictures. Then back they go into the safe–just moments captured in time.

 
 
 
Comments welcome…

Poetry—Under-appreciated Works…

Thoughtful Readers…

I have said several times on these pages that I do not write much poetry. That does not mean that I do not like poetry. Nor does it mean that I can not appreciate poetic works for the value they add to society. The fact is, I read a lot of poetry. On occasion, while reading some sort of literature, I stumble upon a work that I have never before seen or heard. I try to look it up, and find precious little about it or a lot of supposition that creates only additional questions. It is essentially a “lost” work. Usually (and in fact always in this blog…), these works are unknown. That is to say the author is unknown. Usually the date of the work is unknown as well. These works have existed for some time and because someone, somewhere wrote them down, they still exist.

One other thing to note. Please understand, that these works are not mine. I did not control the author’s writing, or their use of words and terminology. That is a nice way to say that I am not responsible for the political correctness (or lack thereof…) of the words or thoughts as expressed in these works. It is not my intent to cause any consternation among the readers here, or to imply any form of prejudice or bias based on nationality, politics, creed, race, religion or anything else you would care to assign to it. This is the way the authors wrote them….and hence the way they appear here.

If you read these works and recognize them, good for you. You are ahead of me. I did not. My only purpose here is to keep some of these obscure works from fading into the great abyss.

This first work is one I found some years back and wrote it down. There seems to be some disagreement about when and where it came from, and there are several versions of it. Once again, author unknown.  
 

HELL IN TEXAS  
 
The Devil, we’re told, in hell was chained,  
And a thousand years he there remained,  
And he never complained, nor did he groan,  
But determined to start a hell of his own  
Where he could torment the souls of men  
Without being chained to a prison pen.  
 
So he asked the Lord if He had on hand  
Anything left when He made the land.  
The Lord said, “Yes, I had plenty on hand,  
But I left it down on the Rio Grande.  
The fact is, old boy, the stuff is so poor,  
I don’t think you could use it in hell any more.”  
 
But the devil went down to look at the truck,  
And said if it came as a gift, he was stuck;  
For after examining it careful and well  
He concluded the place was too dry for hell.  
So in order to get it off His hands  
God promised the devil to water the lands.  
 
For He had some water, or rather some dregs,  
A regular cathartic that smelled like bad eggs.  
Hence the deal was closed and the deed was given,  
And the Lord went back to His place in Heaven.  
And the devil said, “I have all that is needed  
To make a good hell,” and thus he succeeded.  
 
He began to thorns on all the trees,  
And he mixed the sand with millions of fleas.  
He scattered tarantulas along all the roads,  
Put thorns on the cacti and horns on the toads;  
He lengthened the horns of the Texas steers  
And put an addition on jack rabbits’ ears.  
 
He put little devils in the broncho steed  
And poisoned the feet of the centipede.  
The rattlesnake bites you, the scorpion stings,  
The mosquito delights you by buzzing his wings.  
The sand burrs prevail, so do the ants,  
And those that sit down need half soles on their pants.  
 
The devil then said that throughout the land  
He’d manage to keep up the devil’s own brand,  
And all would be mavericks unless they bore  
The marks of scratches and bites by the score.  
The heat in the summer is a hundred and ten,  
Too hot for the devil and too hot for men.  
 
The wild boar roams through the black chaparral,  
It’s a hell of a place he has for a hell;  
The red pepper grows by the bank of the brook,  
The Mexicans use it in all that they cook.  
Just dine with one once and then you will shout,  
“I’ve a hell on the inside as well as without.”  
 
 

Unknown…

 
 
As always, comments welcome.
 
Be well,
Howard