Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Visitation at the Funeral Parlor

(Continued from last Tuesday . . . )

Dad, Mom, my little brother, and I attended Grandpa’s visitation at McGulley’s Funeral Parlor. A large crowd of milling women and men packed the main room and the hallway.
            Grandpa seemed to be taking a nap when I saw him in the casket. When I tried to nudge him, Mom whispered, “He won’t wake up, Dodo, your grandpa’s with God now.”
            “That’s Grandpa!” I insisted. “Look at him!”
            “This just looks like Grandpa. He’s in heaven.”
            Seeing my confusion, Mom reminded me of the black snake that lived in a hole behind our chicken coop. “Remember how we found his skin? How he’d shed it and left it behind for us to find?”
            I did remember. I remembered how the snake’s paper-thin skin had stirred in the breeze when I’d held it up to the light. I remembered that the skin had the snake’s shape but it wasn’t him any longer. He’d scooted out of it.

Empty skin of a Grass Snake.

            “This is just like that. Grandpa’s in heaven now. This is just the skin he left behind.”
            “It looks just like him,” I said, content.            
            We moved aside so the next mourners could view Grandpa’s body. For what seemed a long time, we stood in the receiving line. When I needed to go to the bathroom. Mom told me how to get there. I cautiously wove my way through the crush of people. I’d tug at a trousered leg or a dress skirt and look up and say, “Excuse me please.”
            Then the man or woman or the group of mourners would abruptly cease their talking, look down at me, and move aside so I could slip between them. Slowly I moved through a jungle of legs.
            Pushing open the restroom door, I saw a young woman with a baby. Her blouse was pushed aside and she was holding the baby against her chest.  I stood slack-jawed, enthralled.

Zanzibari woman breastfeeding.

            “Hello,” she said.
            “What are you doing?” I asked.
            “Feeding Howard.”
            “What are you feeding him?”
            “He’s drinking milk? From your chest?” The news astounded me.
            “Yes. My body makes it for him. He sucks it from my breast.”
            I stood silent. Awestruck.
            She smiled at me and asked if I’d like to touch the baby. I hesitantly stepped forward and gently touched his downy head. She and Howard reminded me of the picture in Mom’s missal of Mary and the Baby Jesus.

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi.

            I excused myself, used the toilet, and washed my hands. Then, remembering my manners, I said, “It’s been nice meeting you and Howard. He’s a good baby.”
            When she smiled again, I confided, “That’s not my grandpa in there. He’s with God.”
            “I’m glad to know that.”
            “That’s just his snake skin,” I assured her as I pushed open the door.
            Later I told Mom what had happened. “And that baby was sucking milk,” I said. “From her chest! Did you do that with me?”
            Mom said she hadn’t because I’d stayed in the hospital with asthma. “You were allergic to my milk,” she said. “But I did nurse your little brother for a few days. You just don’t remember.”
            Then she said words I’ve never forgotten. Words that have guided my response to the many changes and happenings in my life.
            “Anna Dolores, I want you to remember that woman and her baby . . . “
            “His name’s Howard.”
            “Well, I want you to remember them. Remember what you learned tonight.”
            “What’s that, Mama?”
            “That out of death comes life.”
            I didn't know what she meant.
            “You’re sad that Grandpa’s dead. But now you’re happy that you met Howard and his mama. Good can come out of everything, even death. Remember that.”
            A few days later, I needed to hold on to Mom’s words, but that’s the story for next Tuesday. I hope to see you then.
                                                                        (Continued next Tuesday . . . )

Both photographs from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Time Passes

(Continued from last Tuesday . . . )
Grandpa Ready was a Kansas City fireman, nearing retirement, when he died from smoke inhalation in March 1943. My brother was nearly four and I would soon be seven.
            My aunt Dorothy, Dad’s older sister, called to tell Mom what had happened. She told us the sad news only when Dad arrived home from work and had settled in the easy chair. He rose, opened the front door and went out onto the porch. The door slammed behind him as he stepped into the front yard and began to pace.
            Mom picked up my little brother and sat down in the vacated easy chair. “What does it mean, Mommy?” he asked. “Death? What does it mean?”
            “It means that Grandpa’s gone away. We’ll never see him again.”
            “Where’s he going, Momma?” he sobbed. “Can’t I go with him? Won’t he take me with him?”
            “No. He has to go alone.”
            “But I could help him hammer. I could hold the nails.”
            Mom began to explain why my brother couldn’t follow Grandpa on the trip he was now taking. She spoke softly to him as I got up on the straight back chair that stood wedged between the buffet and the corner of the living room.
            Earlier on that rainy day, Mom had done the laundry and a clothesline now stretched across the length of that narrow room. She and my little brother sat on one side of the dangling white panties, towels and washcloths, Dad’s brown work pants, my white anklets, Mom’s cotton blouse, and my pale blue school dress with the appliqu├ęd white doves, wings spread in flight, on the bodice.

            On the other side of this wall of clothes, I sat huddled on the corner chair, hidden from sight.  I’d pulled up my feet and sat on my folded legs. I could hear Mom singing to my brother. She’d sing, he’d ask questions, she’d answer, and then she’d sing some more. Their voices lulled me into reverie. I knew that Mom was comforting my brother; I understood that she’d forgotten me.
            After all, I hadn’t gone each day with Grandpa to his farm just down the road apiece to work on the one-story house he was building for himself and Grandma Ready. He wasn’t my best buddy. I hadn’t handed him tools and ate bologna sandwiches with him and drank sweet lemonade while sitting under the pear tree. My brother had.
            I knew, too, that Mom loved my brother best. After all she’d taken him with her to Parsons when she didn’t take me. They’d come back, but if she saw me crying, maybe they’d walk out of the house, leave me again, and this time not come back.
            So I didn’t cry that night and I didn’t say anything. I simply hid behind the clothesline and its load of wash. I tried to make myself very small in that cramped space, intent on becoming invisible. The loud ticking of the clock that hung above me on the corner wall entered my still point. I craned my neck back and looked up. The movement of its longer hand transfixed me.

            I did not know how to tell time. I knew about springtime and wintertime. About school time and vacation time. About bedtime and getting-up time. But I couldn’t tell time. I knew about something called hours and minutes. Each weekday, I’d heard Mom say, “Dad will be home in about fifteen minutes.”
            Each Sunday morning, I’d heard Dad say, “What’s the rush? Mass doesn’t start for half an hour.”
            I knew about waiting for something to happen and time having to pass before it did. But that night—the night after the day that Grandpa died—I learned to tell time. I can’t explain the phenomenon. I only know that I stared and stared at that ticking clock and suddenly I knew that its long hand was ticking away minutes. It moved regularly. Tick. Tick. Tick. After sixty ticks, it moved to another little line on the circle of the clock.
            And I suddenly realized—truly I do not know how—that the long hand moved five times to get to the number 1. Then it moved five times again to get to the number 2. And I knew, surely and with great certainty, that five minutes had passed and then ten.
            With growing awe I watched the hand move around one side of the circle. I knew that I’d discovered time at 6:05 and that it was 6:25 when Dad reentered the house.
            “Shh,” Mom said. “He’s asleep. He’s cried his heart out.” I could hear her get up out of the chair and carry my little brother into the bedroom.
            Then through the barrier of the drying laundry, I heard Dad pass me and go into the kitchen. Next, I saw one of Mom’s hands gently move aside a dishtowel. “Dodo,” she said, “it’s time to come out from there and have some supper.”
            “Mommy, I know what time is!”
            “What is it?”
            “What the clock tells. It’s 6:30 now.”
            Then I explained to her what had happened. She helped me down from the chair and hugged me against her so that my face pressed into her stomach. And she patted my back and said, “Oh, Dodo, you never cease to amaze me.”
            I looked up and saw tears in her eyes. “Mommy, don’t cry,” I said. Then I told her that my brother was okay. That she didn’t need to cry for him.
            “But are you okay?” she asked. “Do you understand?”
            “I do.”
                                                      (Continued next Tuesday . . . )

Clock photograph from Wikipedia.
Clothespin photograph by Carlos Porto from freephotos.com.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Finding a Farmhouse Home

In the summer of 1942, Mom, Dad, and my little brother returned to Kansas City and I was reunited with them. They immediately looked for a place to live. However, thousands of people had crowded into the city to find work associated with the war, and no affordable apartments would accept renters with children.
            Fortunately for them, an army ammunition plant—Lake City—had opened in northeastern Independence. The plant was hiring workers to manufacture small caliber ammunition. My dad’s parents had bought twenty acres of land in the countryside not far from Lake City. Soon we rented a farmhouse just two up from where Grandpa Ready was building their retirement home. Lake City was close enough that our wartime gas ration wasn’t exhausted by dad’s drive to work.

A worker loading canisters of ammunition at Lake City.

            A dirt driveway about eight hundred feet in length led to our one-story, white, clapboard farmhouse. The cattle gate at one end of the drive abutted on Kentucky Road. At the other end stood a white picket fence, the front yard, and a porch entryway to a small farmhouse. It provided us with a kitchen, one bedroom, and a narrow living room that was less than the width of the corridor at Courtney School, where my parents enrolled me as a first grader.  
            The bedroom had a bay-window alcove. The twin bed my brother and I slept in fitted snugly into it. Dad and Mom’s double bed and our clothing armoire filled the remaining space. Like most working-class people, we had little: one set of Sunday dress-up clothes for attending Mass, Dad’s work pants and shirt, my three school dresses, and a few articles of everyday clothing.
            The farmhouse kitchen was spacious. It offered no running water, but had a porcelain sink. Beneath it was a slop bucket that we took turns emptying. Mom and Dad’s oak dining room table with six chairs sat squarely on the planked wooden floor. A single light bulb dangled on a black, electrical cord from the ceiling. Fortunately, the sun shining through two windows helped banish the gloom.
            Mom’s oak buffet covered the west wall of the living room. A pot-bellied stove stood in the far corner of the opposite wall. Next to that was an easy chair where Dad sat when he came home from work. He’d take off his shoes, and I’d pull the end of his socks away from his toes. He’d wiggle them and sigh, “Oh, Dodo, it feels so good to be out of those shoes.” That ritual had begun when they returned from Parsons.
            Each weekday, Dad drove to Lake City in our car.
            I caught the bus to Courtney School, which stood on a hill overlooking the Missouri River bottoms.
            Mom spent her days cleaning, pumping and then lugging water to the washtubs, scrubbing our clothes clean on a washboard, hanging them out to dry, ironing, and preparing meals.
            My three-year-old brother helped Grandpa Ready—a Kansas City fireman—build   his retirement home. On his days off, he’d drive out to our farmhouse and start the day by having a cup of coffee with Mom, whose Irish humor he enjoyed. Then he and my brother would spend the day at the construction site. “He’s a fine helper,” Grandpa always told Mom. “Maybe he’ll end up a carpenter.”
            Within a few short months, Grandpa died and that brought with it three events that imprinted my mind with memories never to be forgotten.
                                                                          (Continued next Tuesday . . .)

Photograph from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bringing You Up to Speed!

During the next few weeks, I hope to post stories about growing up in the forties. These postings will begin with my family moving to Independence, Missouri, in 1942. If you are new to this blog, you may want to go to the archives to read a posting or two about my first six years of childhood in Kansas City.
            The fourteen stories linked below detail the first six years of my life. They also help explain the great need I’ve had much of my life to please people and to prove I’m worthy of love. Thus, they form the foundation for the stories of my life that will soon follow.
            Of course, a number of you have read these already. For those of you who haven’t, please consider at least reading “The World Turned Upside Down,” as it explains the seminal experience of my life.

The Idyllic First Five Years of My Life

Mom and Dad and me.

Seeming Abandonment My Kindergarten Year

Mom and me in Parsons on my sixth birthday.

My Parents Return

Here I am as a fearful child.

My Conclusions About All This

My Grandmother Ready.

Basically, the background given by the fourteen postings above is this: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in April 1936. My first five years with Mom and Dad and my younger brother were idyllic. I was a happy child, at times I could be quite naughty but I never doubted that my parents loved me. Their love was the air I breathed.
            Then in late summer of 1941, they moved to Parsons, Kansas, taking my brother with them, but leaving me behind with neighbors. Thus, my world turned upside down.  My mother may have explained the necessity of their move, but her words didn’t impinge on my five-year-old mind. I felt bereft. What had I done that made my parents abandon me?
            My father’s mother, Grandma Ready, told me that I’d been naughty and that my parents had deserted me. For a year I lived with the belief that they’d never come back.
A year later, when they did return, two incidents—one in front of a brownstone apartment building and one on a dark street in Kansas City—led me to believe that they planned on getting rid of my brother and me.
            These two incidents—plus the fact that I’d spent a year away from them, thinking that something I’d done had made them leave me—changed my childhood. I became shy, quiet, afraid that at any moment my parents would desert me again.
            I grew up to be a woman who constantly fought a battle between pleasing others so as to win their love and esteem and marching to the tune of her own drummer.
            In the past year, I’ve used this on-line memoir to explore my life. In doing this, I’m coming home to myself. I’ve come to understand, I think, the why and wherefore of that critical kindergarten year. I provide my conclusions about it in the final three postings of the fourteen links above.
            Next Tuesday, I’ll begin with where I left off last September—with my family and I moving to the country, and my becoming a first grader at Courtney Grade School. See you there!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July Housekeeping

Today’s posting is a catch-up on where I am with this on-line memoir.

First, thirteen months of postings:

The postings from August to mid-September of 2011 covered the first six years of my childhood, which were, for the most post, idyllic, until something happened that shattered my self-confidence for many years.
            The next postings—from mid-September through early December—covered my life in the convent novitiate. After that, came the story of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story.
            January 12, 2012, began a long series of postings about the way various social justices issues have affected my life. This series began with “Call Me Stubborn” and ended last Saturday—June 30—with “Saying Good-bye to Two Friends.”
            With that series of postings now complete, I need to decide what to write about next on this online memoir. The two topics I’m considering are 1) my grade and high-school years, which had their own drama or 2) the convent years after the novitiate in which I taught in a number of schools.

Second, book reviews:

On May 22, 2012, Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats & Their Humans became available on Amazon. Since then, five fellow bloggers have reviewed it. To read their reviews, please click below:


I want to thank all five of them for their reviews. Publishing this book concerned me because I feared it was just claptrap that would appeal to no one. However, their reviews have left me breathing more easily now.

Third, the remainder of the summer:

Once again, I’m going to change my normal blogging routine. And once again, that’s because I need more time for the writing that I want to do for publication.
            My energy level has declined dramatically as I’ve passed through my seventies. No longer can I accomplish what I used to nor can I sit at the computer as long.
            What this means is that for the rest of the summer, I am going to post only once a week—on Tuesday.
            Also, I’ll limit my time visiting blogs. That will mean, of course, that I might miss some of your best writing. I regret that, but I yearn to polish two more non-Dulcy cat books and to complete the memoir many of you have encouraged me to write for publication.

Fourth, my gratitude:

Last January, I had no idea that the postings on social justice would take up the first half of this year. Thank you for sticking with me throughout this long haul. I greatly admire your fortitude and generosity.

Lastly, a summary:

1.     Right now I’m trying to determine what to write about next on this on-line memoir. If you have a preference, please leave a comment or send an e-mail and let me know your druthers!
2.     Five fellow bloggers have reviewed Dulcy’s second book.
3.     For the remainder of the summer, I’ll post only once a week and spend less time reading and commenting on blogs. But I hope to visit your blogs weekly.
4.     I find all of you astoundingly wonderful. Peace.