All posts by cale

Pig Tales

from Have Crutch Will Travel

When Carol, my landlady, brought home her new Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, Louise was a cute little piglet, a football on spikes with a schnozzle. She made soft little oinks and kissed her owner when Carol balanced a piggy biscuit on her lips.

I didn’t think Louise was cute for long. Her character flaw lay in the combination of her intelligence, persistence, and relentless pursuit of the eternal food morsel from every last corner of her world: every last thread on the rug, crack in the floor, blade of grass on the lawn, piece of paper from the trash, and every nook and cranny in the blankets and couches. She was a munching, gnashing, snarfing, gobbling, and swilling machine.

To encourage Louise to do her personal business in the back yard, Carol put in a series of doggie doors. I didn’t have a dog door, so I used to leave my back door cracked for my canine companion, Comet, to access the yard.

On a regular basis, as a side trip to the back yard, Louise would nose her way into my apartment and noisily snarf up Comet’s food from his dish, making these gnashing “nerf-nerf” sounds that sent my blood pressure rocketing. I’d be in my waterbed, reading or grading papers or just relaxing, and in would come Louise. I’d hear that grunting “erf-erf” and scream, “Louise!! Get out of here!” and she wouldn’t even budge her nose from the bowl until she saw me through her peripheral vision come barreling around the corner. She was so fast, like the metaphorical greased lightening. I, on the other hand, rising from a waterbed, then needing to grab my crutches, was never fast enough to catch her.

I told Carol, “I don’t mind Popcorn (her little white dog) coming over here and eating, but Louise…  I don’t know, Carol, it really bothers me.”

“But I don’t understand why you mind Louise when you let Popcorn do it.” Because to Carol, these were equally adorable pets, she protested with a whine. I felt the need to disabuse her of this delusion.

“Because she’s a PIG!” I sputtered. “She’s … she’s … she’s invasive … she snorts while she eats. She eats like it’s her last meal on earth. Like she hasn’t eaten in weeks, for God’s sake!. It’s not even eating, it’s inhaling and snorting the food at the same time. I can’t explain it.” I was beside myself with hostility. This hurt Carol, so of course, I didn’t continue with my thought: “I don’t like her because she reminds me of everything I hate in myself and all humans when they act PIGGY!!”

The first angry episode happened in the back hall where I found Louise had gnawed her way through the huge, thick paper sack of dog food I kept stashed there. Gobbling as fast and as much as she could with every inhalation, nerf-nerfing like a jack-hammer vacuum cleaner at high speed, spit slobbering all around her snout, frantically finishing up before I could reach her, Louise triggered my rage at every element in my existence over which I had no control. Stealing from the dog’s dish was bad enough, but in this one pig-out she consumed twenty times as much food. I screamed at her twenty times my usual amplitude. LOUISE! WAIT ‘TIL I CATCH YOU!! I’M GONNA KILL YOU!

Part of my consternation was that I was always one step behind her. After that incident, I put the dog food on a high stool where I figured she couldn’t reach it. Imagine my astonishment when she knocked the stool over. I came home to Louise devouring my dog’s food once again at her high-gnashing velocity. She was so smart that she also figured out how to get into the rabbit food that Carol had stored in special bins in the hallway. Soon, every one of Carol’s storage bins had to be placed elsewhere. Louise was so clever she even figured out how to break into the rabbit’s cage and steal the rabbit’s food from its hutch in the back yard. (Night after night we had wondered who was letting the rabbit out when a thoughtful neighbor had found and returned him. Who would have thought?) After that, Carol had the rabbit door spring-loaded.

It was in the middle of the winter that Louise and I collided. Because our apartment building’s outer back door locks automatically, I propped the door open as I left in my shirtsleeves to take out the trash. Louise was outside for her afternoon slop of a feeding. Coming from nowhere, she bolted inside through the dog door, dislodging the prop and locking me outside in the process. I was livid!

Then I remembered. My apartment door was open! Louise could get in! I walked around the building freezing and fuming, no one home in the building. I finally decided to mount the rabbit house and climb through my unlocked bedroom window. Balancing on top of a four-foot high rabbit hut, throwing my crutches through the window, setting aside things that could break if they fell off the bureau, I hoisted myself in.

The first thing to greet me was the overturned trash bag under my window where Louise had routed around and found some orange peels and a pizza box to chomp on. I hurried into the living room where she’d eaten the tops of the fresh carnations and was now beyond in my work room with her head in the overturned trash can.

My heart began to beat wildly. I ran back to the kitchen and shut the door, closed the bedroom window, and then l lurched back to the living room where I locked the entry like a thief.  I had her cornered. I then proceeded to chase Louise from one end of my apartment to the other for at least ten manic minutes. Running as fast as I could on one leg, thrashing at her thick pigskin flanks with my crutches, one crutch to walk, one to whack, I could barely catch up to her.

Hauling her huge, fat, sausage body on four dainty legs, her pointy little hooves slipping and sliding and tapping across the hardwood floors faster than the scurry of a rat, she screeched indescribably, oinking out of this deep, hollow, protesting, bestial space inside her two-foot frame. When she reached one end of the apartment, she’d skid to a corner, and I’d get in a few good whacks for several seconds while she reversed direction, and then she’d run for it again with a swiftness denied by her body image but proved by her legs. Try as I might, I never once smacked her on her snout, which, I learned, is where pigs really do feel pain. Mostly I just scared the bejeebers out of her, satisfying my hunger for revenge by extracting those blood-curdling cries of protest.

Finally the thought that Carol might come home and hear me, and then the thought that I might be perceived as torturing someone’s poor innocent pet caused me to slacken my pace. My rabid response to Louise’s invasion of my apartment curtailed, I soon quite civilly invited her out the front door, thinking to myself: at least I won’t see her around here for a while. Imagine her trauma being stranded in the front hall!

It took only 15 minutes. I was in my waterbed, and she was back at the dog dish. She had found a route—apparently involving stairs, that I didn’t know existed between the front hall and the back. Soon after that I let Carol know I had reached my limits with Louise.

In response, Carol’s dad put up a divider between my apartment and the back hall so Comet could jump over it to exit, but Louise couldn’t come in. Carol put my dog food in a huge utility trashcan with a lid like a tamper-proof prescription bottle. Pig-proof, I was assured.

Louise worked at it every day, and finally when the dog food supply got down to 1/4 of its 50-lb size, Louise was able to overturn the barrel. With her industrial proboscis, she had literally nosed her way through the clamp on the lid, and when I came out to empty the trash, I found her with her head in the barrel grunting away with ecstasy.

“You filthy, stinking PIG!!”I screamed, repeating a phrase that the other owner of the building had put in my head. “I’M GONNA GET YOU!” I felt another encounter coming on. With primal urgency, however, she stepped through her dog door, briskly waddling her rear end wiggling it through the opening, while her long skinny tail in beat in happiness and victory.

Carol’s partner, Karen, who owned half the building and had no allegiance to the pig, caught me in this rage and, I suspect was the origin of the phone call to the both the Zoning Department and Department of Health.

First to arrive was the Zoning Board. “I’ve heard there’s a mean pig in the building.” Well, she did try to bite my cleaning lady’s toes when Donna tried to shoo her away from the trash, but I couldn’t bring myself to say she was mean. After all, it was her nature to protect her food, right?

The Health Department officer who came to see me pulled out a pad of paper and started to take notes. “Have you seen the pig chase people through the hallways and try to bite them?” From Karen I heard that something like this had happened, but it hadn’t happened to me. And then I thought about that day.

In earnest and with emphasis I replied, “I don’t know if she chased anyone,” I paused, and knowing I might be inviting further questioning, and went on anyway, “but I have chased that pig!”

Boston Firemen Funerals

So very inspirational to view the funerals of two Boston s Firemen who gave their lives for the safety of the city and gave so much more because of their love of service. I’ve been watching Michael Kennedy’s pastor and brothers tell stories endlessly this morning in appreciation for the style and fun of his life as they wrapped their love in gratitude around his mother, girlfriend, “little brother” he mentored for seven years. I was very touched and reminded of how we so often take these community supports for granted.
An award was given in his name and presented to his father stood, who turned to congregegation raised the wooden case and presented it in turn to the congregation and then put it on the coffin top with such pride. A moment to remember.
The Catholic bishop spoke of their new popes words with respect to be now reminded how community is made up of so many who are.gone like him, so young, in his twenties. “when we say farewell.”
Danny Boy gets me every time, the notes reach in and squeeze my heart. Those stoic firemen holding off tears through the verses, in the procession, while the casket was borne, and out in the open air the cries could be heard. Then the bagpipes, the helicopters and now the casket is lifted onto a cart, the flag (he was a marine) undraped and redrapped for some reason and smoothed into perfection before the camera turned for the color guard and such to be last emptied from church and left, right, left, filmed from above in procession, and there are streets filled with navy blue as far as cameras eye backing up can contain. They must be from more than Boston, the drum is beating and bagpipes singing.c
The fire ladders are raised one across the street from another with flag in middle.
They procession is moving now and you see how many civilians came to be on road winding along for miles, the TV turns to commercial. Out.

(originally published on Facebook April 3, 2014)

The Fountain (Film)

I had my mind blown today!! It was first my own thoughts, and events and then it was a movie I saw, 4 stars, good sign I’ll watch because I’m good for nothing else, and then because of cast, editing, production value is the other reasons: dreamy images with religion, culture, science, and cosmic, interpersonal idyllic and fairy tale for life through death as the main theme, but each nuance was met with great editing knitting layers together, embroidering the tree of life, visual of the quilted story of a man, husband, doctor, writer, healer, broken to life. His wife is a writer weaving a Mayan mythology which will save her husband. These type stories do not usually move me. Hugh.Jackman, Rachel Weist. Did I mention the Inquisition, The Queen of Spain-whichever one (realistically, haven’t checked yet) coincided with Mayan Culture, tai-chi, yogi levitation, I’m laughing now because it set me teeter totter into Bliss and then sombre reflection. Yes, I took the hook at the first chords and melody of narration by a lute or something I know nothing about and I followed it willingly all the way to when the Mayan character of first man (genesis before genesis) held his throat open, scarred with rusty metal Hinges( it was a an iron chastity belt broke open endlessly, blah, blah and blankety blah blah I now salute my fallen friend Ronny Lincoln who coined the term.

(originally published on Facebook April 1, 2014)

Dallas Buyer’s Club

I saw Dallas Buyers Club last night. It was interesting to think back on the early 80’s and where we stood as a society then on the subjects of homophobia, contamination, medication, and.traveling outside of the country and where you could legally get prescriptions for treatment of HIV/AIDS. As bad as it was for many gay people and others with the virus, it was a simpler time–no internet and terrorism a distant threat of what September 11th showed us was out there.

(originally posted on Facebook on March 6, 2014)

Dad’s Change of Genre

I didn’t see it right away. The first time I entered the second-hand and antiques store I felt overwhelmed by all there was to look at—the front window display featured quite a doll collection, an old-fashioned doll buggy and various articles of doll furniture. I needed people furniture, and I could see dressers inside. I spied an art deco bureau with the waterfall design of rounded front drawers cascading down nicely to of the sixth drawer at its foot. My sister pronounced its superiority and echoed the sign in the corner that said, “If you like it, buy it. It won’t be here tomorrow,” but I ignored all that.

There were other things in the store that caught my eye, several mirrors and paintings on the wall. I had just moved from Colorado and was used to seeing paintings of mountains, but here there were more prints of ships than buffaloes. One picture stood out, elegantly framed in gold, hung at the far corner of the high, left-hand wall. This was the kind of picture you find on the north Atlantic coast where those who have learned to love the sea in order to survive it celebrate its role in commerce, recording in oil paints on canvas their impressions of the majestic, square-rigged, multi-mast ships that sailed on its waters.

I returned the next week and sure enough, the dresser was gone. The owner of the store, a young man in his thirties, echoed my sister with his caveat of buying when you see it, but it was okay with me. The drawers had not glided smoothly enough. The owner Scott told me he sold online, too. I engaged him in conversation and learned this shop was new for him, and every week he traveled to estate sales so he had new things all the time. He shared that he was just getting into the antique business. He offered his personal number to call first, in case he might have some more furniture. I looked around again long enough to get a momentary feeling of déjà vu.

Later, driving home, I thought about the déjà vu feeling and surmised that the collection of items he hand gathered seemed familiar because many items were from my grandparent’s era. My grandmother had given me a real Shirley Temple doll, with the eyes that open and close, but that had been destroyed in a family fire, and I missed it sorely.

My grandfather had owned a home in the Adirondacks in from early 1900’s to 60’s. I was living with him at age 16 for my sophomore year of high school in 1967, and later that year when he developed prostate cancer and died, I became as familiar with his personal items as I could in the hours from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. After his death because my allergies didn’t allow for me to stay with my aunt who became my guardian after his death, so I lived alone in the house. To a 16-yr old, his house was filled with secrets and treasure.

Of great interest to me was his liquor closet. I had friends that siphoned off their parents’ alcohol replacing it with greater dilution of water, so it was a familiar scheme, but after I found dollar bills lining the inside of this adult cabinet, liquor lost its luster. I took quite a few dollars, one at a time usually to buy French fries, and tried to hide signs I’d been there. There were snuff bottles and other containers apparently kept for their allure because they were empty. In Grandpa’s kitchen, I loved the old fashioned art deco rounded radio unit that I associated with toast and bacon and orange juice in real glasses, not kid’s cups. I returned home that summer of 1968, but then next fall, when his house was sold and I was back in Massachusetts, I could picture the sale of his household belongings.

I imagined the non furniture items laid out on the table in the dining room where my grandmother cooled the pies on the table. My aunt Mickey had kept the coveted radio, which I had become quite fond of, but I would never make any claims on it. Our mother said it was a sin to fight over an inheritance. When you grow up in a family that doesn’t have a lot of nice things, the fight that might go on for the family jewels or the coveted parental treasures passed down through generations never occurs.

I called the shop owner next week, and he told me that he had some new dresser type units, and to come in any time. That particular week I was feeling weepy, as my move to New England from Colorado was not going the way I had pictured it. It seemed that the whole trip had been a mistake because each of my major goals and expectations had been thwarted. I was not able to get a hospitalization to break the downward spiral of pain and medications I was stuck in; as a matter of fact, after getting shingles from the stress of looking for handicap housing in Denver, I had contracted pneumonia and my health was deteriorating. I was not exercising because I found all the local pools so inferior to my deluxe health club in Denver, which I had fought to make handicap accessible, and who wanted to go through that again?

My family, who were helping me find a place to live, didn’t seem particularly thrilled to have me back given they were discovering how hard it is to find a handicap accessible place to live in at market prices in Mass. And then there was the special moving grief when my movers turned out to be scam artists, and I was canceling my family members from weekend to weekend to move me in, while the movers kept postponing their arrival. I finally went on line and find a pro-bono organization that would discover what the movers had done with my belongings and help with the legalities. The scam cost only $3000 instead of $6000 because the first $3000 had been a wire; however, Visa’s insurance covered the balance I had paid with my credit card account. Then I was blessed to have the help from a writer friend, a Christian minister who was also a philanthropist and had funds to help people in trouble, and she paid for both the old and the new movers to bring my belongings to Boston.

On top of that, I was really missing my friends in Colorado, and worse, I was losing my best friend. my little dog Comet’s health was failing. I knew that he would not live another season. I would find myself turning to God saying, “Show me a sign that this not a colossal mistake that can’t be undone or won’t ruin my life and career.”

Visiting the shop for the third time I had a better survey of the various items for sale. There were no other people in the store so when I spied a small stool; I perched on it for a panoramic view of the southern wall. Looking for a large mirror I ended up commenting on the large painting of a ship I had noticed before. I was already conversing with the owner, so I felt free to comment out loud that the painting of the ship had caught my eye several times, and I couldn’t imagine why except I was beginning to think it was the painter’s distinctive palette of blue for the sea that reminded me of my father’s style, his unique mixture of blues.

1972 My dad, Steve Kenney, painting of a postcard.

“It doesn’t have a price on it,” I observed, and he confided that he had become so comfortable with it he thought he might keep it for himself.

“My father was primarily a portrait painter,” I mused, “but he had a change of genres.” I was now making small talk, “but he ended up doing a lot of seascapes,” I told him, “He was also mentally ill and was eventually hospitalized in Tewksbury.”  The latter was a town not too far from Beverly. I realized at this point I was getting a little more personal than you should get, and another day I might not have confided, but we were alone in the store, so I began to tell him a story.

“While he was at the hospital, my father made pocket money for buying cigarettes by painting both land and seascapes for his recreational therapist. As a matter of fact, the day my Dad was discharged, he had finished one of the postcards or other scenes the therapist had assigned him and my father asked me to take it to the man’s home since the therapist had already paid for the canvas.”

He nodded to show he was following.

“Once we got there the man came out to help carry the canvas in. I said to the guy, ‘I don’t know who is “exploiting” who!’ and I asked him in a friendly way as we crossed the threshold into his home. ‘Or is yours a symbiotic relationship?’

I told Scott the shop owner.“I’ll never forget what the guy told me.”

‘I’ve got hundreds of your father’s paintings!’ he said. He motioned for me to follow him up some steep stairs to his attic. There they were. Not hundreds, but there were at least several dozen paintings, most seascapes with ships and shipwrecks and lighthouses. Scenes from all over the world!”

While I was telling this story, Scott looked up at the painting and then surprised me by climbing on top of furniture to get close to the painting– to read the artist’s name.

“It’s Kennedy,” he said, and although that is not my dad’s name, that’s when the goose bumps on my arms clued me in. While he brought it down from the wall, I knew it was my father’s signature even before he showed it to me; he had been a letter off. I read “S. E. Kenney, 1974” at the bottom left hand corner where Dad usually signed.

We looked at the back of the frame and found a name that could have been either the therapist’s or the name of whoever owned it and framed it, and then sold it at a garage sale to storeowner Scott. The name told me nothing except it had once been valued enough to be put in a nice frame. Most of the paintings that family members owned did not come with frames, just the canvas stretched on wood.

My Dad had been born in Maine; when he was young he had been drafted into the Navy and traveled to Korea. Dad’s father, the merchant marine, had left his ailing wife to succumb to her mental illness and left his children to care for themselves. My dad didn’t pass down the mental disease to us, but he did terrorize us as children and pass down to us the special struggle to survive when your home is a battleground from which you are scarred for life. The problem was complicated by my mother’s profound idealism; she couldn’t leave him because she made a vow. It wasn’t until I told her I would leave home if she did not leave him that she began to see the destructive force she was kept in by her  lack of awareness regarding the “drama” that schizophrenics will play out with anyone who will engage them. That’s the year I went to live with grandpa.

My Mom & Dad in front of one of his paintings

We were very poor—food, electricity, our mother’s patience were in short supply–when we were young, so it’s weird if not a sign that while innocently looking for a dresser in a second hand (and antique) store, I should find a family heirloom, the kind that only my family could claim. The shop owner then asked me if I would want to buy the painting, and knowing he had thought to keep it to himself, I told myself that I didn’t need to spend money on such an item. I already had several of my Dad’s paintings, but the truth is I don’t easily part with my money, and I wanted to think it over. Possibly I didn’t want to seem interested, for that might drive up the price and keep me from getting dresser drawers.

As I drove home this time I realized that this “find” could be a sign that I needed to be here with my sister at this time in our lives. I called my brother Bill’s wife and told her the story– the long version up to a certain point, and said “Can you guess where I’m going with this?” and she said no, so I had to tell her how the guy strode across the tops of bureaus and desks to get to the painting and how he read my dad’s name as Kennedy. My excitement began to grow when she expressed extreme surprise, so next I called my sister Joanne who lived in another town at the time.

“Did you buy it?” she asked me.

“No,” I said. “I don’t have the money. Plus, I’ve got a few of dad’s paintings, probably one too many.”

That must have felt like a slap to my sister because she reminded me then that except for myself and my married brother Bill and sis Chris, no one else in the family had any of Dad’s paintings because of the huge fire that consumed all our collective things stored in the cellar of the “family” house my three youngest siblings were all living in after my mother died.

“That’s right,” I said, and apologized for forgetting this fact of our lives.

“What’s the name of the shop?” she asked me. I told her, and she asked me to look in the local yellow pages for the number; I could have read it off the card Scott had given me, but I didn’t. I told her I’d get the name and number tomorrow, and call her. It was at that point I decided I’d call him back and buy it right away, and not call Joanne, but give it to her for Christmas. She tended to have too many things on her plate to focus on something not relevant to her spontaneous life.

That night I began thinking of the painting we lost. One of my first memories of Dad’s painting had come from a 4 foot by 6 foot painting of me he had painted from a studio shot of me sitting on a mushroom with a forest in the background. That had been hanging at one time but most of my life that was in the “cache” my mother somehow kept track of. Dad had done several paintings for Joanne, most notable request was one he did of Michael Jackson when MJ still had a ‘fro. I thought it looked like a clown but Joanne loved it.

I had a painting of Revere Beach by an artist named Norman Gatreau. Norman’s painting showed Revere from above, the same way I had written about the ocean being a mother, and the whole Revere Beach Boulevard and its concessions like a candy necklace at her neck. Being a writing teacher I educated students how not plagiarize and how to reference sources, I liked that my dad wrote Norman’s name on the canvas. Another painting of Dad’s I own is the one he did of my mother and that story is the one I might have been going to tell Scott after I told him of Dad’s change of genres, about how I’d seen the painting at his house and when he offered it to me, I told him I didn’t want it because it didn’t look like her, and dad growled, “It looks enough like her.” And how when my dad died I went to his house and there the painting was alongside Dad’s glasses (how did I not know he wore glasses?) and the picture of my mother, had tried to get out but it lived beneath a piece of glass so thick with oil and dust no wonder even her smile was lost.

 

I asked my Dad to paint a picture of my favorite post card of Revere Beach.

 

Thinking of it, most of Dad’s paintings were portraits of people, his mother, my mother, our cousins when they were kids.

I called Scott up and asked him how much he wanted for the painting. I was surprised when he told me he had to do a little research on the painting before he priced it.  I kept my voice steady and sure, but I was a little freaked out when I realized the fact my Dad’s painting belonged to him. I asked him if he would call me when he knew. He said he would. After a few days I called him and asked him if he’d finished his research.

“Well,” he said, and I braced myself for the news. “I spoke to my friend the appraiser about this, and he told me I shouldn’t let it out of my hands for less than $500.”

I felt guilty, as I was undervaluing my dad, thinking “How could it cost that much; it’s just one of Dad’s paintings!”, and as I worked through all the layers of feelings, judgment, and guilt that the memory my father invoked in me, I began to see it wasn’t going to be as easy as it might have been that day when we made the discovery together and the shop keeper asked me if I wanted it. I was being chastened for selling my father short.  However, I also saw that I should not get off the phone without buying it. I said to him, “I imagine there must be many variables, in which each painting you have to figure the price. Did your appraiser say what it is about that painting that makes it that price?” I asked.

“Yeah. They’re all different.’” he said. “For instance, this one is in a very nice frame, but also it uses materials that have a cost to them, and really, it takes a certain talent and skill to paint any painting that large, even if it is off a postcard,” Here he took a break, then finalized the mark-up, ‘and just painting it takes time, as well.’”

I made my move, boldly, saying, “Please tell me if I am wrong, Scott. It seemed to me the other day when we discovered my dad had painted it, you were willing to sell it to me right there and then. And you seemed to be willing to do that out of a certain “honoring” of my relationship to the artist. I am not a person with a lot of money, but it seemed you were going to ask for maybe $100. And if I can be so bold, I’d like to offer you $150 and call it a sale. I’ll come by today and write you a check or bring you cash, whichever you prefer, if you would set it aside for me.”

So that’s how I came to acquire a piece of art I have come to think of as “Dad’s change of genre” in the category of seascapes… I picked it up the next day, and after another week I began my gift wrapping and hid it lest Jo see it. Maybe she felt entitled to it, but on Christmas, Joanne did not do a nice jump for joy jig in the air as a kind of thank you I might have hoped for. However, when you give someone a gift you know is more valuable than any dollar figure, when you restore to them something they might feel is theirs in the first place, you are the one who gives the little dance of joy.

 

 

A Summer Detour by Robyn Vesce

A Summer Detour

By Robin Vesce

This morning, I decided to take the long way home and drove through my old neighborhood. Nearing the white clapboard house, I pulled over to the curb, switched off the engine, and let sweet, swirling memories engulf me.

I quickly recognized the changes time had wrought. Many of the houses had been renovated, with second-story additions and paved driveways. Concrete sidewalks had replaced the black tar of my youth and sadly, many of the shade trees had been cut down. Surprisingly, my old house had barely changed and the feeling of home still lingered in the air.

My room was on the top floor, under the eaves and looked down on the driveway where my friends used to gather. I can remember climbing up the two flights of stairs to bed after a day of adventures, wondering what the next day would bring, even as my eyelids drooped with fatigue. I would lie down and gaze out the window as I spun my dreams and let my imagination soar. It was where I fell in love with music, holding a small transistor radio against my ear as a breeze from the mighty oak wafted over me and lulled me to sleep.

Gazing out at the different houses now, I remembered the faces of my childhood friends. What a motley crew we were, bonding quickly as we threw off the confines of classrooms and the horrors of homework and celebrated our freedom. We were in charge now, laying claim to the sidewalks with colored chalk boundaries, daring even the bravest of adults to cross our lines.

Fueled by our morning bowl of Cheerios, we unlocked our bicycles, now no longer just modes of transportation, but magic carpets we would ride to far away neighborhoods where adventures awaited, too fantastic to imagine. We were the ultimate kings and queens of the road, daring one another to see who could peddle the fastest, coast the longest, soar the highest.

Endless games of hide ‘n seek sharpened our senses while hours of jump rope sparked our endurance. We learned the meaning of patience as we tried to capture fireflies, quickly closing the cover on grape jelly jars, lids punched with holes, trophies to be displayed on our bedside tables. We challenged ourselves with hula hoops and pogo sticks, games of Red Rover and the ultimate prize, swinging on the “Tarzan” rope, which swung across a deep crevice, about which, of course, our parents had no knowledge. Hour after hour we played in the hot sun, needing only the occasional box of Cracker Jacks and glass of Zarex for sustenance.

Lunchtime was an interruption of our freedom, and many a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was eaten on the run. We were quick-change artists, switching from Keds to roller skates, in a heartbeat. Then, with keys dangling from gimp necklaces hung around our neck, we raced each other up the hill, handily navigating around the tree roots, intent on being the winner, a queen for the day.

At night, our mothers scrubbed the dirt off. With Bactine at the ready, they uncovered our scrapes and scratches and applied Band- Aids, our badges of courage. Sometimes, we sat on the front stairs playing board games, anxiously listening for the tinkle of the ice cream truck’s bell, greedily clutching our quarters as dreams of hot fudge and whipped cream danced in our heads.

Then, there were those days when Summer’s magic began at sunset, when the Drive-in became our destination. Swinging or sliding in our pajamas, beneath the shadow of the screen, we watched the day’s light fade and felt the air cool. We were settled in the backseat of our parents’ car, clutching our favorite toy and pillow and watched in wonder as the gigantic images seemed to spread out across the sky. We were transported as if by a wand to the land of Disney as we wished upon the stars outside our window.

It was a glorious time, especially at the seashore, which was my favorite place, my paradise. Dancing waves under blue skies and white caps edged with foam transformed me into a mermaid. Light as a breeze, I swam underwater, trying to keep my eyes open in the stinging salt, looking for shells. I tried to race and jump the waves, my body becoming one with the surf as my skin turned pink, then brown in the sun. I smiled as I realized that even now, many years later, the water’s edge is my favorite place to be. Any time of year, it is still my paradise.

The beach was more than the water though a golden boulevard where games of skill dared us to part with our allowance of dimes and quarters, and amusements took us on the rides of our life. Tinny music echoed in our ears as we spun round and round, up and down, ponytails and braids flying behind us, fairy princesses of old travelling to our kingdom. The Tilt-a-Whirl spun us with delight while the Ferris Wheel sent shivers up our spines as we laughed and shook the tiny cars that held us close to the clouds.

My coffee has grown cold in my cup, as I sit gazing around my old neighborhood, my mind flooded with memories, a smile creasing my face. Many summers have passed since that little girl with the long braids spent hours frolicking at the beach or riding her bike. These days, if I play hide ‘n seek, I’m probably looking for a missing sock somehow lost between the washer and dryer. Now, earrings dangle from my ears, not keys from my neck. Still, every now and then, that little girl whispers in my ear and reminds me what summer really means.

Summer is not just the two weeks we block off the calendar or on our Blackberries for vacation in July or August, but rather the ice cream you buy on a hot night which drips all over your fingers. Its the grains of sand stuck between your toes as you sit beside a sea so blue it melts into the sky. Summer is watching kids clutching boogie boards race into the waves, or play a Little League baseall game. It’s a night spent rocking on a porch swing laughing with friends or around a campfire eating Smores and breathing in sweet, clean, mountain air.

Summer is slowing down and enjoying a hamburger cooked on the grill or savoring a home-grown tomato as you switch off the cell phone and enjoy the quiet. Its red geraniums in clay pots on the step and corn on the cob, smothered in butter. Summer is watching old horror movies on TV, letting the kids stay up late, and leaving the laundry while you go swimming. Most importantly, summer is a time to make memories, days of warmth to hold in our hearts to remember when the chill of January arrives.

As I turn the key in the ignition and prepare to leave, I take one last look at the house I grew up in, my gaze traveling upwards to that small window under the eaves, my room, and smile to remember all the summers I spent there. Then, as the car slips away from the curb, I am sure I hear my friends calling me, one more time, to come out and play.

-Robyn Butler Vesce, August 4, 2012

Copyright Robyn’s Nest Ink

The Rose of Centerville

Amidst the busy city of Beverly, my three-story apartment building for elders is held in the quiet embrace of rock walls etched with moss in the Woods of Centerville. There are a few who are not yet retired but very few. There are some people who have been here 20 years.

 

I first met Carmen Hatch when she was 89 and still quite spry. She told me she had lived in Florida, but moved to Beverly to be with her sister. I could relate, as I moved here for mine. She often told me how much she enjoyed seeing me out in the garden with my plants. Mine was a container garden for the most part but each year after the second I was motivated to buy a bush that I then planted near my window; the mop head hydrangea was the first, followed by a butterfly, another–a lace cap–hydrangea, a hibiscus, and this year a plumbago. And then in August, my last bush.

 

I called Carmen Our Little Lady of Hope. I hoped that if I lived that long, I’d look half as good as she. She liked to get dressed up and go out to lunch with her sister who still drove a car but was quite deaf. I found Carmen was a good listener, and for Esther, who lives down the hall and often vented her frustration with the loss of hearing and eyesight, Carmen was a godsent sounding board. Carmen was very curious about people but never a gossip. When John and Judy first moved in across the hall they began their own garden behind Carmen’s next door neighbor’s apartment. Not necessarily gardeners, but definitely designers with a love and knoweledge of plants, John and Judy saw the bare rock walls calling for a little landscaping and soon had planted hostas, rose bushes, hydrangeas, daisies, and installed a cupid painted black so it blended in with the surroundings. John wasn’t strong enough to work under the heat of daytime, so he and Judy would drive into the back area around dusk every day last August, and John dug while Judy said where. The intrigue of “what they’re up to” challenged anyone who didn’t know what they were planning. I got a kick seeing them through Carmen’s eyes.

When she first asked if I’d ever grown roses, I told Carmen I never wanted to get involved with them because I heard they were fussy; however, I couldn’t resist two years ago buying her a pink rose bush on sale, so she could look out on it from her window, and I cut a rose or two from time to time to present her. This last spring I planted daffodils and irises under her window to surprise her next spring. 

 

Last May when Carmen’s cough concerned doctors, she was admitted to the hospital, and when she learned how many from our building were going to visit, she called our neighbor Martha to bring her lipstick and eye pencil. She wasn’t up for visiting without her face on, and what little lady wouldn’t at least do that for the doctors. From pictures on her wall, she had been a looker and traveled all over the world with her military husband; who knows how tall she was in the day. She was short and very and very compact in her 90’s.

 

Many were surprised when Carmen came back this summer with full-time help, which most people said they’d hate to have.  “They’re letting Georgina stay over and they wait on both of us. This is great,” Carmen confided to me. “They already took me to buy this watch that I had wanted.” She pointed to the boxed watch and then she gestured toward it dismissively, “But I don’t like it, “she said, “so, they’re even going to bring me to return it,” she said raising her brow for emphasis. I could see the aides had taken over the kitchen; I saw that Carmen had a hose hooked up to a breathing tube from which she did her “treatments.”  

 

“I’ve got that COPD cardiopulmonary disease, and I’m going to die from it,” she said. “And Cale, if this is dying, well then this is all right,” she told me when I came over to visit soon as she came home.

 

She had always loved my red geraniums, so I hung one on her window and put another red beauty under the window, and loved when she came to the window to talk to me about what was going on.

 

One day I got the idea to plant a red rose bush. When I brought her the first rose, she didn’t like the glass they gave me to put the rose in. She stepped up off the couch to be the mistress of her kitchen and told them to bring a vase the right size.  And when she saw the opened cupboard she spotted her special two teacups that had been missing. “They’re they are!” She said like someone who has been restored two precious tea cups that  had gone missing, and I realized Carmen gracious generosity allowing her life to be taken over thus with the least fuss.

 

I read in her memorial card, “Miss me a little but not too long, and not with your head bowed low, Remember the love that once we shared Miss me but let me go For this is a journey that we all must take and each must go alone.”

 

I’m going to replant her red rosebush where the snowplow cannot possibly kill it this winter. I’m glad it blossomed, and I’m glad it was where she could at least see it.  I ‘ll put it out where this coming spring the daffodils and irises will bloom perennially, yellow as the sunshine, and as bright as Carmen’s spirit which made me first notice her in this little stone oasis in the woods.


Finally e-published Have Crutch Will Travel

News on the book front, re: Have Crutch Will Travel

I reached a milestone last night. Finally epublished my book on Amazon for the Kindle or the iPhone. Wow. I knew this information age was coming but I was snoozing while people were selling their work in a digital format. Now I have to download Have Crutch Will Travel and see what the pictures look like! Whoo-Hoo!!  More to come.

Phantom Pain

@1986, By Cale Kenney

Razors scrape dead, green flesh away, digging the gangrene out of my perineum like a hunting knife scrapes away the mold on a piece of animal meat.

My surgeon didn’t think I would feel it because he had given me a local anesthetic.  During my initial amputations I’d already had so much of the general anesthetic that I’d gone to hell and back in hallucinogenic hazes and was in danger of a psychotic breakdown if given more.

But a local anesthetic doesn’t numb the brain, only the nerves, and my mind oriented itself in the room,  saw that these doctors were “helping” and still went wild with felt implications. Body broken and besieged, I felt my only power lay in speech.

Sobbing: “What do you think I am? A piece of meat? These are my private parts, and you are digging a hole right through me. You have no right.  This is my body.”

I behaved as though I were a child. As a child I was accused of being dramatic. Now I think that they leveled me with that charge because whenever I had a feeling, I tried to give voice to it, and children are a mass of feeling. They haven’t learned the “rules” of the world yet, the general principles by which we adults can rationalize, philosophize and control our feelings. Children just react.

And so at 19, when I had my motorcycle accident, I was still a child. I did not know yet that my body was the vehicle my spirit inhabited for its time here on earth, and that that the purpose of this vehicle in its interaction with others was to leam lessons in order to evolve. And then help others.

I didn’t know pain was a perception, or that it is learned. I didn’t know pain has an emotional component which provided its intensity, and I didn’t know that my body has no imagination of its own, only my mind does, and that because of this, pain can be controlled. No. I didn’t even suspect these things. I just hurt.

But in 15 years I have learned those general principles, of personal responsibility, and these rules about pain’s perception. So now on those days when the memory of these attacks on my flesh come back to haunt me in the form of phantom pain, I lay in my bed and invoke God, deep breathing, autogenic exercises –“My hands are heavy. My hands are warm.”– and the lessons I have learned, and I chant to myself that nothing is harming me, this is just a bad dream and I probably overdid if or I might have an infection, or this will just be an inexplicable dark night of the soul when the  ghosts  of  neural  confusion overwhelm my mind.

The pains come in stabs, in dull thuds, in charley-horse type spasms where no rubbing of a muscle will relieve, and where trying to ignore/deny the pain will only use up energy that I need to concentrate on my breathing. I must feel the pain in all its intensity by first lying down, and letting go and relaxing my body and mind while I am stabbed, poked and burned with acid over the length of my limb. I know now it is useless to anguish over why this is happening — I save that for the neurologists who say that sometimes nerve endings are cut in such a way that the damaged nerves form neuromas that tangle out at the end of a severed nerve and send confused pain messages to the brain.

I think of the phantoms as psychic leeches which will not let me forget that however much I adapt to my “loss” I will never be without the consciousness that someday I will see my whole body deteriorate and eventually die, but by then I hope I’ll have learned my lessons fully and will take comfort in the greater knowledge that my body is just a vehicle…Breathe deeply, now…..deep…..for my soul to evolve.

What’s the best price for your first book?

What’s The Best Price For Your First Book?

I checked into my zine site today, www.howlings.com where I had incidentally put a link to my book’s ring on Amazon’s large beak. Have Crutch Will Travel it said was $20– or $.01 for the best price. This means there are enough copies out there that someone will sell the book for 1 cent and then presumably they will ask for $5 shipping and handling, not bad. Let’s see, it cost $2.51 cents to send it media rate, and if the sellor collected a few copies they probably were selling out of Denver, Colorado. The thing that’s kind of funny is that I just paid $1,545 or so to have the book sold in perpetuity, or at least like the popcorn in the microwave, until the majority of pops has slowed down to 1 copy/year. That brings up a question: What is the shelf life of a book that is sold off the ExLibris Author Self-Publishing Book store. I’m about to find out. I paid out the money so I could feel that I could take my mind off Have Crutch Will Travel, the Adventures of a Modern Day Calamity Jane and begin working on just writing. The goal is to finish the book I was working on when I lost the use of my arms for three years and had to find a new way to live now that I couldn’t use my arms for locomotion. That book was first called Miss American Pie back in 1996 when I wrote the short essay that introduced the reader to “the day the music died.”  That title has become a cliche by now so I’m going with an even older cliche, namely Shadow of My Former Self, which I like better now anyway as it introduces the penumbra, the umbrella I live under. (you will have to look it up)

I find that Shadow of My Former Self is almost already finished in at least six of the chapters, and I have drafted at least six more chapters, and then I wrote the description of each following chapter until I got to the end of my great idea of answer the question asked of me by no one.  What has your life been like? Only a writer would set themselves up with such trying to answer such a rude query. Every day you write changes your life based on what you have set down, and a changed person tries yet another day to answer it all over again. I call this Voice and Voice Over.

Well, that’s all for this week. I haven’t even cleared my mind enough to promise the new publishers I would get a manuscript to them. I just wanted to meet the half-price deadline that was already extended the day after I rushed to meet it. I rushed, let them wait. I’ll answers any questions I’m asked, so please comment or ask based on what you have read so far in the previous chapters of Shadow.