“That’s how it is sometimes when we plunge into the depths of our lives. No one can accompany us, not even those who would give up their hearts for our happiness.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Sister of My Heart

Emil Nolde, “Das Gehoft Seebüll” (c1940, watercoloron Japan Paper)*

“That is how always, you lost:
never as one who possesses, but like someone dying
who bending into the moist breeze of an evening in March,
loses the springtime, alas, in the throats of the birds.
Far too much you belong to grief.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Original Version of the Tenth Elegy” (Trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Thursday afternoon, overcast with drizzle, 43 degrees.

Hello. Very long time no write. I’ve missed you. Last night, in the wee hours, I tried to remember the last time that I had actually written a real post, you know, one with quotes, music, images. I couldn’t recall, couldn’t even remember the month.

Emil Nolde, “Williows in the Snow” (1908, watercolor)

I suppose that it all began with the computer problems, which proved to be such an impediment to the flow of writing, and then the huge passel of puppies that entered our lives before Christmas, and then the goat births, one after another. The next thing that I knew, it was 2020, and I was completely lost beneath a veritable mountain of what can only be termed as ca ca, to be polite. I mean, I woke up on my birthday with Corey holding my favorite puppy and the news that we might be facing Parvo or some other devastating illness. Since that morning, we have been aggressively nursing and isolating first one and then another puppy.

We lost two, two of my favorites actually. It was devastating, but I did not allow myself to break down at the time because, frankly, we did not have time for grief. There was just too much to face. Thankfully, it’s been over a week since the last one showed any signs of illness, but we must continue to care for all of them for at least another week until any rescue group will even consider taking them, mostly because of the possibility of Parvo. I suppose that if I were in their shoes that I would be just as reticent.

In between, Corey’s truck died completely, the transmission, and my car isn’t operable because the tires are bad, and it isn’t legal (registration and inspection), and wouldn’t you know, that state cop that harasses Corey stopped and cited him a few weeks ago. We had put off taking care of my vehicle until this year, but now………it’s this year.

“I guess that’s what people don’t understand, can’t understand, about grief. You can’t assign it. It’s just assigned.” ~ Dalton Day, from “Beware of Falling Deer”

You see, we had really hoped that 2020 would be a better year in many ways, but especially as regards the animals. In 2019, we lost my horse Petra, who Dallas took back, ostensibly to nurse, but then we never saw her again, and when he died, Petra was nowhere to be found; Annie, the colt that Sassy gave birth to on our anniversary, died after only a few days. We also lost our first two goats, Max and Ruby (who I had named after two of Olivia’s favorite book and television characters), as well as the death of a days-old kid born in December. Corey had named him Gizmo, and he was so precious. This time when the kids were born, Corey was unwilling to name them for the first week, not wanting to invest even that small, personal touch before we could be somewhat certain of their survival.

Emil Nolde, “Wet Day” (1918, oil on canvas)

I don’t know why we seem to have female goats and horses who lack any kind of mothering sensibilities, but Gizmo’s mother had birthed him, cleaned him, and then left him in the field. We were uncertain as to exactly how old he was when Corey found him. We think the lack of colostrum from nursing in those first hours doomed him before he could become strong.

Then in quick succession in mid January, Bobby, Blue, and Penny all gave birth, and none of them seemed interested in caring for their kids beyond cleaning them immediately after birth, and one failed to do even that; unfortunately, one of the female babies didn’t make it, so we were left with five males and one male, but we were on high alert for their births, which made a difference in their survival. If you’ve never had to clean a newborn animal, then you can’t even imagine how stressful that can be, trying to be careful but thorough simultaneously. Anyway, that’s six goats that we had to bottle feed on top of three litters of puppies, all in our very small house.

The night that we lost the first puppy, Patches, I held him in my arms as he whimpered in pain and then finally took his last breath. The following night, Corey held Brinn as he died. Yes, they were puppies, dogs, not human, but sentient beings nonetheless, ones that breathed and felt and suffered. If you are not an animal lover in the same vein that we are, perhaps you might not understand the pain that we have felt these last days and weeks. Let me just tell you that if your soul is already one that is tender as regards the foibles and failures of the universe, then personal losses can seem breathtakingly overwhelming. And all of these have; add to that the guilt over the lack of vehicle or funds to seek veterinary care.

My penchant for swimming in a sea of guilt even in the best of times has been increased exponentially of late.

“We inhale the moon,
suck in the clouds, try to satiate the desert
of our bodies that are always fumbling
at loss. Like Brother stars are such distant
luminous spheres.” ~ Casandra López, from “Midnight Memorial”

Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken with three different rescue groups in an attempt to get the puppies placed. The first group was a big disappointment; ultimately, they wanted $500. One group was out of Pennsylvania and one out of West Virginia. The most promising one is the one out of West Virginia, but now we are on hold because of the possibility of Parvo. If you didn’t already know, Parvo isn’t the automatic death sentence for dogs that it used to be, but it is still quite serious; it’s also very easy to transmit. The rescue people want to be certain that if the puppies were indeed infected with Parvo, that there isn’t a possibility that they can infect any other dogs in their care.

It’s understandable, but disappointing nevertheless. When I spoke to the coordinator today, she asked for my thoughts. I was honest: I told her that we are pretty much desperate to place these puppies. The house smells worse than a kennel; I told Corey that if I came to the door of a house that looked like ours in its current state, I wouldn’t go inside. I was not exaggerating.

Emil Nolde, “Rain over a Marsh” (c1938, watercolor on rice paper)

Fortunately, four of the goat babies are gone. Corey set up a trade with a guy that he knows who also breeds goats. In exchange for the kids, we’ll get a grown Kiko Boer nanny goat who has already been bred. We just can’t pick her up until we have some kind of transportation. At least with four of the goats gone, it’s a bit quieter in the house. We’ve kept the one female and the one male who has completely different coloring from any of the ones we currently have.

This same guy put Corey in touch with someone he knows who is selling a truck. It sounds like a good deal, not bad shape, but we have to wait until tomorrow to see if it’s still available as the seller had promised some other guy that he had dibs. Nothing is ever frigging easy.

You know how some people seem to move through life charmed? Everything seems to go their way, and things fall easily into their laps. Hardships are infrequent and/or minor. That’s not us. I’m always reminded of that old “Hee Haw” song, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me,” that has the applicable line—”If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

Yep. Totally.

“Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.” ~ Benjamin Alire Sáenz, from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

So is it any wonder that I have absented myself from here? I’m actually surprised that I’ve been able to string together this many words cogently. Each time in the last weeks that I’ve sat down to try to write something, I find myself instead listening to YouTube videos and playing Spider Solitaire because that requires nothing of my brain. Neither thing requires my engagement or my investment.

Emil Nolde, “Winter Landscape” (c1907, watercolor)

The impeachment and sham of a trial helped to keep me distracted for many weeks, and there was even a tiny kernel of hope that something, anything might happen to slow the ever-eroding state of our democracy. I will admit to being completely shocked that that small kernel came in the form of Mitt Romney, but it was far too little far too late, and so outside of this bubble in which I live, things continue to deteriorate, but I cannot even raise a modicum of my usual righteous indignation at that country’s state of affairs. I have to choose my battles at this point, and those battles are decidedly the ongoing ones on the personal home front.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that there are more days than not in which I truly wonder if we made the right decision in coming here with so little capital. But unless you are wealthy or lucky, when is it ever the right time to undertake a major life upheaval? We got all of this acreage for a song, but the available capital all went into the down payment. There was none leftover for repairs or renovations. And too, I miss Norfolk. I miss going to the movies. I miss going to our favorite sushi restaurant. I miss jumping in my car and going anywhere I wanted and knowing that I didn’t have to travel more than 15 or 20 minutes at the most to have access to . . . well, anything.

The city offers convenience. The country offers quiet. Does such a place exist in which both are relatively available? Who knows. Certainly not I.

“Time itself does not ‘console,’ as people say superficially; at best it assigns things to their proper place and creates an order.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from a letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy, January 6, 1923
Emil Nolde, “Inundation” (nd, watercolor on paper)

I do not kid myself that if I ever returned to Norfolk that my life would improve. My relationship with my children remains fractured, and I don’t know how or if I can ever fix that. I miss my granddaughter so much that it is an actual physical ache at times, but she is states away, living with her father and his family, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, this after being a daily part of her life since birth. I don’t even know what books she is reading, which I realized when I tried to find some books to send her for Christmas. All I know is that she is healthy and doing very well in school.

That’s not enough. Just as it’s not enough that I know that Alexis is working and has a new person in her life. I know nothing about either of my sons’ lives, only what my daughter tells me. How does this happen? My eldest son texted me for my birthday, but again, I heard nothing from my youngest. I used to think that the worst thing about my birthday was when my mother forgot. I was so wrong.

I’ve been more wrong than right about so many things in the last few years; it’s hard to discern when the shift actually began. I liked the woman that I used to be: powerful, strong, confident, so certain of so many things. This half person is a stranger to me, a stranger that I would prefer not to know at all.

I apologize for the length, but apparently I had much to say. More later, with any luck. Peace.

*I’m bringing back one of my favorite artists, the German Expressionist Emil Nolde; In the past I have posted many of his seascapes, so today I thought I’d do a few landscapes instead. Until recently, I really was unaware of his Nazi past. If you are interested in learning more, ARTnews has a really good article here.

Music by Alison Luff, “She Used to be Mine” (Sara Bareilles cover)


Clown in the Moon

My tears are like the quiet drift
Of petals from some magic rose;
And all my grief flows from the rift
Of unremembered skies and snows.

I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.

~ Dylan Thomas

“She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.” ~ Alex Tizon, from “My Family’s Slave”

Lola Pulido with the author and his siblings (all images are Tizon family photos)

“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from Before We Visit the Goddess

Thursday late afternoon, cloudy and cool, 51 degrees.

I’ve had this one tab open on my laptop for about two weeks, maybe more. I haven’t wanted to close it as I wanted it to be a constant reminder that it needed attention on my part. It’s one of three posts that I’ve been trying to write longer than I care to admit. This particular tab is for an article that was published in The Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave,” by the late Alex Tizon, and although I’ve wanted to write a response to it ever since I read it, I cannot seem to find the best way in, if that makes any sense.

Lola age 51

The article deals with a Filipino tradition (for lack of a better word) of the better-off taking in someone not so well-off and offering them the opportunity to live with and work for the family. Better-off is very subjective as it means anyone with more money than you. The only catch is that working for implies receiving a salary of some sort, and these women (mostly) never receive any money. Tizon explains:

Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection.

. . . Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.

“If ever I lose
my memory of you, walk beside me
like a stag; like a bird heard, unseen” ~ Anne Michaels, from Correspondences

Let me offer a bit of my own background here: For three summers, starting when I was just 14, I worked for my Aunt Remy, taking care of her five kids. I arrived at 7 in the morning and left at 6 in the evening, and for this I received $50 a week, and I felt lucky to be making such good money. In addition to taking care of the kids, my cousins (a term loosely used by Filipinos to identify anyone close to the family), my daily chores included cleaning the entire house, doing laundry, and attempting to cook. I never saw this as being too much work; after all, they had an in-ground pool and I could spend a few hours every day hanging out in the crystal blue water. I viewed the entire transaction was quite equitable.

Lola passport photo

These were my “rich relatives,” as I always referred to them. I loved my aunt and uncle like a second set of parents, for good reason. My uncle lived with my parents before he got married, and he was one of my frequent babysitters. My aunt lived with my parents when she came over from the Philippines before she married my uncle. They were always a big part of my life, and their deaths wounded my heart almost as much as those of my parents.

When my summers became too full with cheer leading practices for me to continue my full-time summer job with them, my aunt found a Filipino woman to live with the family. I never knew if she was paid, only that she lived with the family full-time. I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember her name. But this article immediately called her to mind.

“This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.” ~ Simon Van Booy, from “French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake”

Another memory: When relatives from Newark visited one summer, they brought with them their live-in woman. My aunt asked me not to mention that I was paid because she didn’t want their live-in to feel bad. I realize now that the woman probably wasn’t paid anything. That’s just how it was done.

Lola Pulido at age 18

We never had one of these women in our house, probably because it was just my mom, dad, and me, that and we weren’t well off. However, over the years we frequently had a relative of some sort living with us. Again, that’s just how it is, and it never seemed odd to me. I think that if my parents had wanted a live-in that there were certainly many relatives in the Philippines who would have jumped at the chance, life in the States being much preferred to a life of poverty in the islands.

That being said, I don’t think that my American mother would have ever been comfortable with such an arrangement, not because she was opposed to have help, but more because she was such a very jealous woman and having another woman living in our house would have stirred her monster, which was always seething just below the surface of her marriage to my dad.  Truthfully, though, my father gave her good reason to be suspicious. I can admit that now without feeling that I’m betraying either of them.

“Stare at the monster: remark
How difficult it is to define just what
Amounts to monstrosity in that
Very ordinary appearance.” ~ Ted Hughes, from “Famous Poet”

What has made it so hard for me to write about all of this is that my aunt and uncle were good, generous people, and I wouldn’t want it to seem that I’m criticizing them in any way, but if I am to be honest, then I have to admit that the tradition that they carried on was very much like the slavery the article’s author discusses. It is hard, painful even, to try to think of my relatives in these terms.

Slavery is a hard word—it is filled with negative connotations, rightfully so, and when most American heard the word, they think about that shameful period in our country’s history in which the color of one’s skin dictated how the individual lived, whether or not the person was paid or could vote or even if that individual could have the barest education. Tizon’s article recounts another form of slavery, one that most white Americans know nothing about, but one that most Filipino Americans know about but rarely acknowledge.

Lieutenant Tomhow

But back to the article: Tizon narrates how Lola (an all-encompassing Tagalog word for grandmother or nana), lived with his family after his mother died, and after Lola’s death how he took her ashes back to her family in the Philippines. It’s a bittersweet story, told in retrospect through a child’s eyes and then later through the wisdom that being an adult sometimes imparts, too late more often than not.

Tizon recounts the story of how his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Tom, a “cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion” brought an 18-year-old Filipina girl named Eudocia Tomas Pulido into the family in 1943 to take care of his mother whose own mother had died in childbirth. Pulida, or Lola—a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers—was a gift to Tizon’s mother, and Lola stayed with various members of Tizon’s family for almost 68 years, 56 or them as an utusan (people who take commands).

Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property in the Tarlac province of the Philippines. He had lots of land but little money, and he was shrewd. As Tizon explains how Lola came to be the family’s slave, “The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable . . . She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter . . . Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.”

“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited

Another memory: My parents and I spent several months in the Philippines after my dad retired from the Navy. The plan was for us to live there, but that didn’t work out as I became ill and found to be allergic to pretty  much everything. But while we were staying at my grandmother’s house in my dad’s village of Gapan, we would visit my great aunt Tiba’s house. I recall that she had an utusan, but that’s all I remember. Later, when we moved to Quezon City, two of my cousins moved with us. They helped out, but I honestly don’t know if they were there as utusans or as family, or even if there is a difference.

We were Americanized. We weren’t rich, but as compared to many in my father’s family, we were well off. We stayed in an air-conditioned apartment in Quezon City at a time in which air conditioning was a luxury. It may still be a luxury—I have no idea. So the opportunity to live in the city with us as opposed to a small village must have seemed appealing.

Lola age 82

My mother, born into a large family during the Great Depression, never had servants, so I don’t think that she would have been able to order people about naturally; at least, that is how I like to remember things. My father made it out of his small village by becoming a Guerilla during WWII and then later enlisting in the U.S. Navy; he was never entitled but he believed ardently in helping out family whenever he could.

If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself that for those few short months we did not have a family slave, I am, but I’m also trying to be realistic, reconciling the parents I knew with the parents I couldn’t have possibly known well as a child. What we know of our parents is what we choose to know, and few of us choose to know or to remember that side in which our parents were human beings, with their own likes and dislikes, wants and desires, shortfalls and foibles.

That’s just not how it works. Is it?

Utusan. Helper. Servitude. Long hours. No pay. No personal life beyond the family’s environs. Bottom line: slave. It’s ugly no matter how memory shapes it. If you get a chance, I do recommend reading the article that jump started this post. It is a lovely narrative, one to which few white Americans can actually relate but deserves a wide audience nevertheless.

More later. Peace.


Music by Billie Marten, “Bird”