Here, have a little history with your Sweet Tarts . . .

Samhain_Autumn_Face

                   

“Men say that in this midnight hour,
The disembodied have power
To wander as it liketh them,
By wizard oak and fairy stream.” ~ William Motherwell, from “Moonlight and Moonshine”

How was your Nos Calan Gaeaf (or Halloween, or Hallow’s Eve)? Centuries ago Nos Calan (or Galan) Gaeaf was an Ysbrydnos, or spirit night.

Mine was slow, only a dozen or so kiddies out and about in my neighborhood, no evil spirits. Olivia was adorable in her ladybug costume. She seemed to want to keep her candy pumpkin empty, however. Alexis brought her by at the end of the evening, so they were both tired.

Wonder how many of those who were out realized their guising was an ancient tradition? Anyway . . .

A comment by Leah in NC referencing my 10/30 post led me to search for a bit more on the Black Sow and other Samhain traditions. Here is what I found:

In Wales, 1 November, the first day of winter, was called Calan Gaeaf. Much of the frightful aspect that we associate with Halloween arose from Galan Gaeaf traditions. The image of Y Hwch Ddu Gwta, a black sow without a tail, accompanied by a headless woman, that would together roam the countryside, terrified everyone on Galan Gaeaf when the best place to be was inside your house in front of a roaring fire. The tradition of Coelcerth involved building fires and placing name stones:

From Lunatic Outpost: “Home, home, let each try to be first. May the tail-less black sow take the hindmost” (Celtic chant for Samhain)

Before dawn, huge bonfires were lit on the hillsides, often two or three within sight of each other. It was a great honor to have your bonfire burn longest and great pains were taken to keep them alight. While apples and potatoes were thrown into the fires for roasting, the watchers would dance around or leap through the flames for good luck. Stones were thrown into the fire; then, when the flames died down, everyone would run for home to escape the clutches of the Hwch ddu gwta. The next morning, at daybreak, searchers would try to find their stones. Those who succeeded would be guaranteed good luck for the coming year. If you could not find your stone, then bad luck or even death would follow.

And here is more on hazelnuts: “Hazel nuts were also used in matrimonial divination. Two groups of “Sweetheart” hazel nuts were placed within the hearth fire; one group was marked with the names of the village’s eligible maidens, and the other with the eligible bachelors. As the nuts popped, the names of the pairs were romantically linked. On a more somber note, people sometimes placed a hazelnut with their initials on them in the hearth fire. If the nuts were missing the next morning, the unlucky person would not survive the year. Hazel is a sacred tree in Irish and Scottish mythology. In Ireland, nine hazel trees grew around the Well of Segais, where the sacred Salmon lived. This was the source of all wisdom. Using hazel nuts at Samhain availed seers of that sacred wisdom.”

                   

Now on to Friday leftovers . . .

I dare you not to smile . . .

Look what’s coming in November . . .

Remember when people used chalk?

Perspective in time: NASA engineers prepare a PowerPoint slide in 1961.

And finally, a wonderful smack down of Kanye of the West from French bakers (as posted on Today Entertainment):

Croissants
Croissants (Photo credit: Jutta @ flickr)

Regarding Croissants in “I am a God”

Association of French Bakers
900 Rue Vielle du Temple
Paris FRANCE

To Monsieur Kanye West:

Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, Nord! This is a truly auspicious time for you  —  and so it is with great sadness that we must lodge a formal complaint against the song “I am a God” from your new album “Yeezus.”

Our organization represents bakers across France, many of whom have taken great offense at this particular rhyming couplet:

In a French-ass restaurant
Hurry up with my damn croissants

Assuming you, as a man of means, dine exclusively at high-end restaurants and boulangeries during your voyages to Paris, it could not be possible that the delay of your “damn” croissants originated from slow service. And certainly, you are not a man to be satisfied with pre-made croissants from the baked goods case reheated and tossed out on a small platter. No  — you had demanded your croissants freshly baked, to be delivered to your table straight out of the oven piping hot.

And it was with great joy you ordered croissants  — not crêpes or brioches  — because only croissants can proudly claim that exquisite combination of flaky crust and a succulent center. The croissant is dignified  —  not vulgar like a piece of toast, simply popped into a mechanical device to be browned. No —  the croissant is born of tender care and craftsmanship. Bakers must carefully layer the dough, paint on perfect proportions of butter, and then roll and fold this trembling croissant embryo with the precision of a Japanese origami master.

This process, as you can understand, takes much time. And we implore the patience of all those who order croissants. You may be familiar with the famous French expression, “A great croissant is worth waiting a lifetime for.” We know you are a busy man, M. West, but we believe that your patience for croissants will always be rewarded.

We could easily let this water pass under the bridge, as they say, but we take your lyrics very seriously. From the other lines in the song, we have come to understand that you may in fact be a “God.” Yet if this were the case  —  and we, of course, take you at your word  —  we wonder why you do not more frequently employ your omnipotence to change time and space to better suit your own personal whims. For us mere mortals, we must wait the time required for the croissant to come to perfect fruition, but as a deity, you can surely alter the bread’s molecular structure faster than the speed of light, no? And with your omniscience, perhaps you have something to teach us about the perfect croissant. We await your guidance and insights.

We appreciate your continued patronage of French culture. (Your frequent references to menage perhaps speak an interest in the structure of the French household?) We hope from the deepest recesses of our hearts, however, that in the future you give croissants the time they need to fully mature before you partake. With that, we say, adieu. And our member Louis Malpass from Le Havre wants you to know that he loves “Black Skinhead.”

Salutations cordiales
Bernard Aydelotte
Association of French Bakers

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“A little light is filtering from the water flowers. | Their leaves do not wish us to hurry: | They are round and flat and full of dark advice.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Crossing the Water”

Otto Modersohn The Cloud 1890
“The Cloud or Die Wolke” (1890)
by Otto Modersohn

                   

“The lake, as usual,
Has taken its mood from the sky,
Its color also,
The blue that breaks hearts.” ~ Tom Hennen, from “June, with Loons”

Thursday afternoon, Halloween. Cloudy and warm, mid 70’s.

John Henry Twachtman Sailing in the Mist c1895 oil on canvas
“Sailing in the Mist” (c1895, oil on canvas)
by John Henry Twachtman

The fates have been reversed for about a week or so: I’ve been wanting to write, have had much to say, but have had no time to spare until just this moment. I’m hoping that I can finish this post before the neighborhood kids begin to roam, and the dogs begin to go crazy. We’ll just have to see.

Since I have so many different thoughts going in so many different directions, I thought I’d do a random thoughts post. Here goes:

  • I learned a new word the other day: deliquescent, becoming liquid or having a tendency to become liquid. Doesn’t that just sound as if it should be in a poem?
  • I continue to awaken each morning with a song in my head, and the song of the morning does not seem to have any relevance to anything that I can pinpoint. For example, the other morning it was The Courtship of Eddie’s father theme song.
  • There is a running theme that occurs in my dreams, regardless of what the main theme is: I have forgotten to feed the dogs that stay in the backyard. I only remember them after several days. I find them in various states of illness—listless, dehydrated, close to dying.
  • Last night I dreamt of my family in Great Bridge, all of my cousins; one of my cousins introduced me to his friend and said that I had gone off to sing. I was very confused because I didn’t remember having a singing career.
  • I bought Halloween candy that I’m not particularly fond of hoping that it would keep me from delving into the bag; this has not worked completely.
  • Does too much sugar affect your dreams?

“She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.” ~ Oscar Wilde, from “De Profundis”

Pierre Henri Valenciennes Rome colon Study of Clouds 1780s
“Rome: Study of Clouds” (1780s, oil on paper mounted on board)
by Pierre Henri Valenciennes

So here’s the latest news from around the home:

  • Corey will be in port on Saturday. He’s getting off the ship before they travel to Ascension; we have to fit in the trip to New Orleans before all of the holidays roll around.
  • I weigh four pounds less on my pain doctor’s scale. I like that scale.
  • Olivia is going to be a lady bug for Halloween; I bought her some black and white Mary Janes with red bows, too cute.
  • I wonder how many of you remember those hard leather shoes made by Stride-Rite for toddlers, how we were all forced to wear them and then in turn told to force our children to wear them .  .  . somewhere along the line, the doctors who decide said that tennis shoes were better for young feet.
  • I read where Kate Middleton’s sister Pippa bought the young prince silver casts of his hands and feet for a christening gift, and media voices were calling the gift creepy. How is that any creepier than bronzing baby shoes like everyone in my mother’s generation did?
  • My current fascination with all things make-up related continues. Don’t ask me why as I haven’t the faintest idea.
  • Lately, I’m fixated on just the right make-up brushes.

“And if all that is meaningless, I want to be cured
Of a craving for something I cannot find
And of the shame of never finding it.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from The Cocktail Party

Tom Thomson Grey Sky 1914 oil on wood
“Grey Sky” (1914, oil on wood)
by Tom Thomson

Funny, I thought that I had so much to say, but the last few hours have had so many interruptions that I cannot seem to find my train of thought.

  • It’s far too muggy to be October.
  • I just remembered that I had another dream about the real estate firm where I worked. In these dreams I’m always trying to please my boss, unsuccessfully.
  • I don’t want to think about how many jobs I have failed at; it’s just too depressing.
  • Neither Brett nor I went to any Literary Festival events this year.
  • I finally watched the movie Sylvia in which Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia Plath and Daniel Craig plays Ted Hughes. The movie wasn’t bad, but I think it soft-pedaled the depiction of Hughes.
  • At the moment I’m feeling very displaced, as if I’m on the verge of something without really knowing what or why.
  • The other day I realized that this year marks 25 years since Caitlin. It still feels so immediate, so close, yet not.
  • I wonder if anyone else can understand anything I am trying to say.

“But mountain weariness and mountain hunger — how few know what these are!” ~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

August Strindberg Packis i Traden 1892
“Packis i Stranden” (1892, oil on zinc)
by August Strindberg

She said, apropos of nothing . . .

  • My mother ordered me some strange gadget from QVC. I told her that I didn’t have room for it, and I didn’t really need it. She insisted that I had told her I wanted it. This would be hard as I have no idea as to what it is. Patience. Patience.
  • QVC preys on the shut-ins, the elderly, and the lonely.
  • I probably won’t see the mountains again this year.
  • Obviously, I’m not going to apply to the doctoral program at GW since I have made no further efforts in preparing.
  • I am my own worst enemy.
  • Now that Corey is coming home, we can finally finish the bathroom, all of the things we couldn’t do before he left, and all of the things I couldn’t do on my own—not a whole lot, actually. Still, unfinished is unfinished.
  • I have the strangest feeling that I have forgotten to do something really important, but I have no idea as to what it might be.

“While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.” ~ William Stafford, from “Love in the Country”

Maurice de Vlaminck The Seine at Chatou oil on canvas 1908
“The Seine at Chatou” (1908, oil on canvas)
by Maurice de Vlaminck

On a more serious note . . .

  • I think that my mother is deteriorating mentally faster. I have noticed more things in just the last few weeks.
  • I really need to investigate what kind (if any) of support there is for seniors, as far as keeping house, running errands, that kind of thing.
  • We are not a society that values the aged, not like the Asians do.
  • I constantly berate myself for not having enough patience with my mother, yet when I’m around her, I just cannot seem to summon the patience I need.
  • I feel like a horrible daughter.
  • I am praying to the gods that be that I can teach myself more of how to live in the moment, something I have never quite mastered.
  • Am I too old to learn such things?
  • When I am with Olivia, I am forcing my mind to rest, not to think about this bill or that problem, but to just enjoy this time because I know all too well that it passes quickly.
  • I would give anything to have another fall afternoon with all three of my children when they were still young.

I happened upon the most wonderful site: Lancaster Center for Classical Studies, which posted pictures of cloudy weather for today, just as I have here. I wonder if they do that every day . . .

Nicholas Roerich Karelian Landscape c1917
“Karelian Landscape” (c1917)
by Nicholas Roerich

More later. Peace.

Music by Rosi Golan and Johnny McDaid, “Give up the Ghost”

                   

Assurance

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or in the silence after lightning before it says
its names — and then the clouds’ wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles — you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head —
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

~ William Stafford

“It’s said that All Hallows’ Eve is one of the nights when the veil between the worlds is thin . . . Even the air feels different on Halloween, autumn-crisp and bright.” ~ Erin Morgenstern

Halloween

“I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween. Wouldn’t life be more interesting that way? And now that I think about it, why the heck don’t they? Who made the rule that everybody has to dress like sheep 364 days of the year? Think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to—like talking to dogs. ” ~ Douglas Coupland, from The Gum Thief

Some early Halloween silliness for you, including some monsters from Dr. Who, a clip from The Daily Show, and a nice bit of history:

Happy Halloween, Whovians

(reblogged from through the motions).

                   

For those who are interested in more of the history of Halloween, I came cross a really nice write-up on Intelliblog, which is hosted by Nicholas V. (reprinted here under a creative commons license):

Tomorrow is Halloween, which is the last night of the Celtic year and is the night associated with witchcraft, fairies, elves and wicked spirits.  In countries where the Celtic influence is strong, customs surrounding Halloween are still current and relate to pagan rituals celebrating the beginning of the Winter cycle.  Tales of witches and ghosts are told, bonfires are lit, fortune-telling and mumming are practiced.  Masquerading is the order of the night, making of jack-o-lanterns and the playing of games pass the hours pleasantly. Bobbing for apples in a tub of water is an age-old custom.  These pagan practices have been incorporated into the Christian tradition through association with All Saints’ Day on November the first.

The seasonal association of the apple with Halloween goes back even to Roman times.  November 1st was the time when the Romans celebrated Pomona’s festival.  She was the goddess of orchards and ripe maturity.  Her festival was the time to rejoice in the fruits of the season and also the time to open up the Summer stores for Winter use.  In Celtic tradition the apple was the fruit of the Silver Bough of the Otherworld and symbolised love, fertility, wisdom and divination. The hazel was a sacred Celtic tree and the hazelnut symbolised wisdom, peace and love. A hazel tree grew by the sacred pool of Avalon and was described as the Tree of Life.

As Halloween is the night when witches and evil spirits, the souls of the dead and wicked fairy folk roam the earth, numerous superstitions surround the night and have as a characteristic and apotropaic or protective function.  The fire on the household hearth should on no account be left to die on this night, else evil spirits will descend down the chimney.  Bonfires were lit on hilltops to drive off witches.  Purification by fire ordained that people jumped over the flames, in some parts even cattle driven through the embers.  In some parts many an unfortunate old woman was burnt in these fires because she was suspected to be a witch.  The fires of purification were called Samhnagan.  Often, food offerings were left out for the fairies on this night.  Travelling was to be avoided at all costs as one could be led astray by the spirits and fairies.  If one had to go out, pieces of iron or cold steel were carried on one’s person as a repellent against witchcraft.

Hey how for Hallow E’en
A’ the witches tae be seen
Some in black and some in green
Hey how for Hallow E’en.

Other traditions surrounding Samhain (i.e. November 1st and beginning of Winter), involved the reversal of order and normal values, the reign of chaos.  This involved deriding figures of authority, hurling abuse and cabbages at notable people, playing tricks and practical jokes on friends and relatives.  Parties of “guisers” went around from house to house collecting apples, nuts or money while riding a hobby horse or carrying a horse’s head.  The association of the horse with this festival may go back to the ancient Roman festival of the October Horse, the last of the harvest feasts.  Such customs are still very active in some countries, especially the USA, where Halloween has been revived with vigour, no doubt because of its appeal but also because of commercial potential.

It was customary at this time of dying vegetation and the fall of the year to decorate houses with evergreens such as holly, fir or mistletoe.  This harks back to druidic tradition, which ritualised Autumn’s passage into Winter, the evergreen being a reminder that all was not lost, and life went on, ever vigilant of the return of Spring.  Pliny records a Druidic ritual where the mistletoe was cut with a golden sickle, to fall onto a white cloak and not allowed to touch the ground.  Two white bulls were sacrificed and a feast held.  The ritual sacrifice and slaughter of animals at this time was also seen in Gaul and Teutonic lands.  It was as much a Winter feast and laying in of Winter stores as it was also a killing of animals to conserve the meagre fodder during the harsh Winter months.

In even older times, human sacrifice was practised and this was to appease the Winter gods and to ensure the return of Spring and bring fertility.  The Welsh festival of the Black Sow held at this time is a vestige of the human sacrifice rituals.  The whole village ran down a hillside as fast as each could, shouting all the while: “Black Sow take the hindermost!”. The last person down the hill was the victim to be claimed by the Black Sow, the spirit of evil, cold and death.

Samhain was also a time of peace and all forms of violence, warring and fighting being suspended.  No divorces were allowed, making it therefore a time for celebrating marriages.  This also made it a time of the year when all sorts of love oracles were performed. A form of love divination was practised in Scotland and Northern England with hazelnuts on this night.  A group of young unmarried women gathered around the fire and each took a hazelnut and threw it into the flames, saying:

If you love me, pop and fly,
If you don’t lie and die.

She then started to recite the names of possible suitors, her husband being indicated by the popping of the nut in the flames.  A variation on this practised in Wales was the throwing into the flames of apple pips by two lovers.  The same rhyme as above was recited and if the two pips popped simultaneously the lovers would marry happily.  If the two pips exploded at different times, the two lovers would part.

Another divination involved a young woman taking a candle and going alone into a dark room with an apple.  The candle was placed in front of the mirror and the apple was consumed while the woman combed her hair, looking into the mirror all the while.  The face of the woman’s future lover (or of the Devil!) would then appear over her shoulder.

                   

Music by Saul, “Little Prince”

“I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of—that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally I find that encouraging.” ~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Gargoyle, Holy Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon, UK, by lowfatbrains (FCC)

                   

“Only, there is a haunting sense of the imminent cessation of being; the year, in turning, turns in on itself. Introspective weather, a sickroom hush.” ~ Angela Carter, from “The Erl-King”

Sunday afternoon. Sunny and cool, low 50’s.

Gargoyle, Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Tring, UK, by Today is a good day (FCC)

Well only a few days ago, it was 80 degrees, and then the temperature dropped 30 degrees, and snow fell on parts of the east coast. It seems the weather reflects my state of mind.

I had joked to Ann that we could walk on Friday unless it snowed . . . right. So far, our attempts to start a daily walking routine have been thwarted, but we’re going to try again this week, and with luck, perhaps we’ll have some results.

Gargoyle, Cathédrale Saint-Etienne de Meaux, France (WC)

I awoke on Friday with one of the most painful migraines I’ve had in a while. It was blinding, and any bodily movement meant stabbing pain. I did not move from the bed all day except for necessities. Then this morning when the dogs woke me early to go outside, I stepped out of bed and couldn’t straighten my body because of my back. I have to tell you that this switch off between my back and my head is not in the least amusing, and I could really live without it.

Yesterday, I had planned to post. I gathered my quotes and images, and then ran out of steam, which is unfortunate as I had the whole house to myself, and it was nice and quiet. I think that I overcompensated for Friday’s inertia by doing too much yesterday—laundry, the kitchen, various other small chores, and I found by 7:30 or so that I was too tired to do anything requiring my brain, so no post.

So I’m trying today, and we’ll just have to see how far I get. Unfortunately, I’ve been taking muscle relaxers since early morning because of my back, and while they do not ordinarily affect me, the leftover fatigue from the migraine coupled with the meds is definitely leaving me sluggish.

“Artifacts
Are the accounts we leave behind.
We leave them buried beneath what is buried” ~ Michele Wolf, from “Archaeology”

So I’ve been thinking about gargoyles. Don’t ask me why, perhaps because of Halloween, which is tomorrow. I’ve always been fascinated by these carvings, which can look like anything from the famous pensive statue atop Notre Dame to really hideous statues resembling something out of a nightmare.

Gargoyle Atop Notre Dame, Paris, by Lisa Kline 1 (FCC)

According to one site that I visited, the word gargoyle shares a common root with the word gargle, which comes from the French word gargouille, which means throat. Many people confuse gargoyle with grotesques, the difference being that a gargoyle is a water spout or drain pipe, and a grotesque is not. In a gargoyle, a trough is cut into the back of the carving, and the rainwater flows from the mouth.

Writer Russell Sturgis says that in medieval architecture, “the gargoyles, which had to be very numerous because of the many gutters which were carried on the tops of flying buttresses, and higher and lower walls, were often very decorative, consisting, as they did, of stone images of grotesque animals, and the like, or, in smaller buildings of iron or lead.” Supposedly, gargoyles can be traced back to ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece, where such carvings depicted animals like eagles and lions, as well as mythological creatures.

While gargoyles and grotesques can appear to be quite ugly, something about them fascinates me. I love that these intricate carvings can be found all over the world, but the ones that I really like are the really old ones atop cathedrals. I like the juxtaposition of the grotesque with the holy. While the consensus is that the gargoyle was supposed to represent evil outside the church walls, I just cannot imagine the medieval sensibility, which believed in all sorts of evil spirits, not cringing each time it passed beneath one of these faces to enter a church.

“I will walk home alone with the deep alone, a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.” ~ Edward Hirsch

Gargoyles, St. Stephens, Vienna, by ccarlstead (FCC)

Anyway, Halloween around our house is usually just an excuse for me to eat more candy, but I’m really trying this year. I haven’t opened the bags of candy that I bought to pass out to the neighborhood kids. Of course, that’s the second batch of candy. The first batch of candy my mom brought over, and it included mini Almond Joy bars, which are a big weakness for me,and Reese’s peanut butter cups, which Corey loves. Love those, but they are so bad for me, between the chocolate and the coconut, bad for my head and bad for my cholesterol.

Not to worry, though. I polished those off weeks ago, which is why I had to buy more candy. I try to buy things that I’m not crazy about so that I don’t succumb to temptation, but it has to be stuff that someone in this house will eat in case we have leftovers, which we can never predict. Sometimes, we have lots and lots of kids and run out of candy, and sometimes we have fewer than ten, which means leftovers.

Gargoyle, Manchester Cathedral, UK, by Gordon Marino (FCC)

I do miss the days when the kids went trick or treating, helping them to pick out their costumes, doing their faces. Some years their costumes were extravagant, and some years, just a black cape and some fake blood.

I remember when I was a kid, and I would take a pillow case, and Cathy Weaver and I would have to come home at least once to empty our sacks before going out again for more. Of course those were different times. We went all over the neighborhood and to houses around the schools. We would hit at least ten different streets. Neighbors knew each other, and trick or treating went on for hours, or until you were exhausted. There were the stories about razor blades in apples, but really, who went to houses that gave out apples?

I remember after 9/11, the hospitals set up free x-rays of Halloween candy. Bizarre. We only took the kids to houses that we knew, so we never felt a need to have the treats undergo x-ray. Nothing has the innocence of years past. Nothing.

“It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness
we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.” ~ Simon J. Ortiz from “Culture and the Universe”

Gargoyle, Arundel Cathedral, Sussex, UK, by howzey (FCC)

So other than those tidbits, not a whole lot going on. Corey is working at least four shifts a week, which is always good. And more and more, I’m really glad that I didn’t submit that application packages as my health in the past month has been a real roller coaster, with far more downs than ups.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, and my other m-in-law is on my mind a lot. This year’s holidays will be the first without her, and it’s going to be so hard. Even if we didn’t eat dinner with her, we always spent some time at her house, even if it was just to visit and have dessert. She loved to cook for her family in the old days when she could still cook. She would set the table with her best china and her silver and make enormous quantities of food.

Gargoyle, Château de Chenonçeau, France, by bolt of blue (FCC)

It’s going to be very strange. This losing parents thing really sucks, I have to say.

I don’t know if we are going to try to  make a trip to Ohio around Christmas. That’s always iffy and dependent upon so many things, but it’s nice to be there at the holidays, especially if it snows.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m already thinking about the holidays; although, it’s probably because the stores have all of their Christmas stuff out already, and I’m seeing advertisements for holiday sales. So glad not to be in retail any more, even though there were parts that were definitely fun. I remember when I managed the home store, and we had a party for the associates to decorate the display trees one evening after work. Those are the good memories, admittedly, not that many.

Well, back is really hurting again, so time to go.

More later. Peace.

Music by Land of Talk, “Troubled”

                   

The Last Days of Summer Before the First Frost

Here at the wolf’s throat, at the egress of the howl,
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush—earth echo,
absence of the human voice—wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek,
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.
It is time to be grateful for the breath
of what you could crush without thought,
a moth, a child’s love, your own life.
There might never be another chance.
How did you find me, the astonished mother says
to her four-year-old boy who’d disappeared
in the crowds at the music festival.
I followed my heart, he shrugs,
so matter-of-fact you might not see
behind his words
(o hover and feed, but not too long)
the bee trails turning to ice as they’re flown.

~ Tim Bowling

Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

somewhere-over-the-rainbow1

Somewhere Over the Rainbow (nacedesign.com)

Part 4: When life was forever changed

Caitlin’s stay in the intensive care lasted almost four weeks. During that time, I learned how to read more machines, became close to several nurses and one of the PICU’s attending physicians. The hospital chaplain made frequent visits to see how we were doing.

Caitlin was placed in an isolation room because of her pneumonia and her susceptibility to infections. The isolation room allowed me to stay with her throughout the day, but I was no longer allowed to sleep with her at night. Instead, I slept on vinyl sofas in the parents’ waiting room. Sometimes I would go home in the morning to take a shower and change clothes; other times, I would find a shower and stay at the hospital. More often than not, I would go home for at least an hour and clean a house that no one was living in. While I would be vacuuming, I would weep. Then I would finish up, change clothes, and go back to the hospital.

One of the few times that I did go home to sleep, we were called by the hospital to come back because there was an emergency. I remember driving back to the hospital in silence. I was driving, and I had my emergency flashers on. I suppose that I had wanted to drive so that I could feel in control of something, no matter how insignificant. We went in the back door for staff and were stopped by a security guard who did not know us. He took one look at us and realized what was happening and moved aside. Caitlin had developed an infection around her heart. After that, I rarely left the hospital at night.

I remember arriving back at the PICU one morning, and the night nurse had made Caitlin a bow from paper and had put it in her hair. All of the nurses were very attentive, but usually, it was one of two nurses who cared for Caitlin during the day. They asked for her. The consistency they provided was one of the few things in our lives that was consistent.

I taught as many classes as I was able, but more often than not, I had to have someone fill in for me those last few weeks. I couldn’t bear not to be with Caitlin for more than a few hours, and when I was in the classroom, I was useless, and my students knew it. I had told them at the beginning of the semester that my daughter was very ill and that I would probably be missing some classes. I was admittedly surprised that every student was understanding, that they never complained when I wasn’t there. They were truly a wonderful group of students.

Our friends and family were frequent visitors to keep us company at night. People brought us dinner, played cards, anything to pass the long nights. A few times we spent the night in Paul’s office at the medical school, sleeping on air mattresses. Those times, I would take a shower in the room just off the cadaver room where the medical students practices on bodies that had been donated for research. It was unnerving, to say the least.

When we were left to our own devices, we would walk over to the main hospital and get food from the cafeteria. I mostly remember getting extra large cups of coffee. But each time we went to the cafeteria, I would stop in at the chapel. Paul would wait outside while I made my daily, twice daily, sometimes thrice daily pleas to god to spare my little girl. In all of the times that I was in that chapel, not another soul entered.

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Christmas Muppet Babies Fozzy and Kermit

Because she was hooked up to more monitors, I could no longer bathe and dress Caitlin in the mornings as I had once done. The only personal effects that I could fit in the room were a small cassette player on which I played Disney tapes like Pinocchio and Cinderella, and lullabies, and the nurses let me put a miniature Kermit the Frog on the end of her bed.

It was a special edition Christmas Kermit Muppet Baby. McDonald’s was selling them that season. Alexis saw Kermit and wanted one for herself. My dad took her and got her Kermit and then Fozzy Bear. Alexis recalls that when her Papa went through the drive through and ordered Fozzy, the woman taking the order could not understand his Filipino accent and kept asking what size french fries he wanted. Finally, Alexis yelled Fozzy Bear. It was a little bit of humor in an otherwise very unfunny situation.

The staff also found a way for me to hold my daughter in spite of the wires that spidered out and around. Depending upon her condition that day, I would hold her for as long as they would let me, rocking her in the blue vinyl rocker that they had put in the corner of the room for me. I would sing softly to her: “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Wishful songs more for my comfort than hers, I suppose.

But for me, the most painful reality of those days was that Caitlin had been put in a medical coma so that she wouldn’t fight the respirator. She never opened her eyes and looked at me again after that morning when she was rushed down from her former room. She had the most beautiful brown almond-shaped eyes with long lashes. Some days, it would appear that she was crying, but the nurses assured me that she wasn’t. I never believed them.

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Raggedy Ann

While Caitlin was in PICU, I became familiar with the other children who were there, just from catching snatches of conversations. One boy, Hobie, was very ill, and his parents were there as frequently as we were. Hobie was a teenager, and I don’t really remember what he was suffering from. I only remember the night that he died: Halloween.

Most of the nurses were dressed up for Halloween, and Hobie’s nurse was dressed as Raggedy Ann. I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I went home in the late afternoon to get Alexis ready for Trick or Treat. That year, she was going as a princess. She had a crown and a magic womp (her pronunciation) and a beautiful pink and lace dress that her grandmother had made for her. Her father took her around for candy as I handed out candy to other people’s children. Once Alexis went to bed, I went back to the hospital. Hobie died that night.

Hobie’s death really affected me for a number of reasons, but mostly because he and Caitlin seemed to be on parallel paths. He would get a chest tube, and then she would get a chest tube. You see, one of the more heinous aspects of being on a respirator for a long time is that the lungs rebel. Caitlin’s oxygen levels would start to drop; alarms would go off, and the doctors would come in and listen.

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X-ray Showing Pneumothorax

The portable x-ray machine would be rolled in, and then after looking at the x-rays, someone would tell me Caitlin had developed a pneumothorax—a collapsed lung that occurs when air leaks from inside the lung to the space between the lung and the chest wall. This meant the insertion of a chest tube to help reinflate the lung. Her oxygen saturation would get better, and everyone would calm down.

They put in chest tubes and then removed them when she seemed to be getting better. The same thing was going on with Hobie. But then, it seemed that they both took a bad turn, and chest tubes kept being inserted. At the most, she had 12 in at once. I joked feebly that she would never want to wear a bikini because of all of the little scars that they were putting on her.

By then, the chances of her getting old enough to wear a bikini were diminishing quickly.

After Hobie died, I began to lose the little hope that I had been clinging to so frenetically. Although I never wanted to admit it, I had to face that Caitlin might not make it out of the PICU. I asked for the minister from my mother-in-law’s church to come to the hospital to baptize Caitlin. It wasn’t that I believed that she could not enter heaven if she weren’t baptized, but it was comforting nonetheless.

On the Sunday after Halloween, she had a very bad day. We all had a bad day. Paul and I decided to go home around dawn to get a few hour’s sleep. Caitlin’s nurse called us at 9 o’clock Monday morning to see when we would be coming back. It was November 7. That had never happened before, a call from the hospital when they knew that we were coming back soon. I knew that it was not good news. When we arrived at the unit, the doctor on call that day took us into his office and told us that the time had come to make a decision. Paul looked at me as if he were completely surprised. I was not.

We asked for a little bit of time. I remember that we walked out of the hospital and walked around the medical complex. It was a beautiful day. Paul asked me what I wanted to do. Wanted. What I wanted was anything but what needed to be done. I told him that I believed that it was time to let her go. As I said the words, I literally felt my heart break. I had never felt so much despair as I did at that moment. Ultimately, he made the decision mine. I hated him for that but never told him.

We went back inside and back into the doctor’s office. We told him what we had decided, but we said that we needed a few hours to call all of the family. We called everyone and told them what was happening. My parents and Paul’s parents and sister arrived at the hospital at around 1 in the afternoon. Everyone filed into the room to say their goodbyes. It had to be done in shifts because of the size of the room.

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Caitlin’s Bear

Then when it was time, they placed Caitlin in my arms, and turned off the respirator. I sang to her. We watched as her breathing slowed and then stopped. It was 2:42 in the afternoon. The monitors had been turned off so that the alarms would not sound. Everyone came into the room one more time, and then we were asked to go out for a few minutes.

When they called us back in, my baby girl was no longer hooked up to any machines. She was lying in the middle of the big hospital bed, and she looked peaceful, or at least, that is how it seemed to me because the machines that were supposed to sustain her were no longer invading her body. I took off the hospital gown and dressed Caitlin for the last time. I put her in a pair of pajamas with little flowers on them. I put on a pair of booties.

Then we took her few belongings and left the hospital for the last time.

End of Part 4.