Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Mysterious Arc of Time . . . And Love

In the school year 1972-73, six years after leaving the convent, I taught high school juniors in Claremont, New Hampshire. Their syllabus included Look to the Mountain, a historical novel written by LeGrand Cannon, Jr. It is an engrossing story about Whit—a taciturn pioneer with great good sense, strength of mind and body, and a tenacity bred by a hardscrabble upbringing.

Entering the wilderness with him is Melissa. Together, they canoe far up river to claim land near Sandwich. The novel, which takes place between 1769 and 1777, captures the background in which these two—Whit and Melissa—settle and raise a family as a revolution begins to brew in far-off Boston.  

I enjoyed the book, which was new to me, as much as the students did. We were thunderstruck by the paucity of “things” on the frontier. We empathized with Melissa as she longed for the companionship of another woman; we were impressed by Whit’s know-how. A few students had seen that area of New Hampshire so they could describe the differences two hundred years had made on the landscape.

That summer, while visiting Dad here in Missouri, I told him about the book. “Your mom always enjoyed a good historical,” he said when I’d finished my long-winded summary.
He got up, left the room, and came back carrying two of Mom’s books: The Spider King, a historical novel about Louis XI and . . . you guessed it! . . . Look to the Mountain. I’d had no idea my mom had read it.

“Here, you take them,” Dad said. “You enjoy a good read just like your mother did.”

For thirty-eight years the two novels sat on a bookshelf in Stillwater, Minnesota. When I moved back to Missouri, I shelved them again. I’d read neither since the day Dad gave them to me. To be truthful, I didn’t even think about the fact that Mom had handled and read both of them.

Then this past Monday I wanted to read something about the Revolutionary War. All these years—forty-one—since I left Claremont, I’d remembered two scenes from Look to the Mountain: the mowing contest and Whit going off to war, carrying his prized rifle.

So I removed Mom’s copy from the bookshelf and began, once again, to read the words that so compellingly brought to life the inhabitants of Kettleford and Sandwich, New Hampshire. After all these years, they sprang forth from the pages to greet me as an old friend.

In the quiet after midnight, as I entered Whit and Melissa’s world, I idly looked at the copyright page to see when the book had been published. 1942. Then it was that realization unfolded within me: My mom must have bought the book brand new in Parsons, Kansas, where she lived in a refurbished chicken coop with my little brother while Dad worked at the nearby munitions factory. I was in Kansas City, attending kindergarten.

Last night I saw my mother—my brother and Dad asleep while she read late in the night, missing me, I believe, and hoping that my asthma wasn’t acting up.

She had turned the pages of that book just as I was turning them. Both of us—night owls—found solace and retreat in a historical novel. Both of us felt the heft both of the story and the hardbound book with the mountain on the cover. That mountain encouraged Whit to venture into the wilderness.

Seventy-two years ago my mother completed that book and sat within its story. She, too, had left her home and entrusted her life to another.  

Early this morning, seventy-two years later, I laid the book aside with a deep sigh of satisfaction. Partly from the story and partly because I knew that Mom had reached out across a vast space of time with its arc of love and had spoken to me of the ties that bind us together as One. She spoke; I listened.

There is much to be grateful for as we age. This is one of those things. Peace.

All photographs from Wikipedia except for book cover, which is from Amazon. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Letting Go and Going with the Flow

Hello on this overcast day here in Missouri. The meteorologists are predicting rain for the next seven days and from the leaden sky, I think they may be on target today.

There’s no new post-convent story today. The past few weeks have left me bone weary, and so after a busy weekend, I decided to make my weekdays obligation-free.

On Monday, however, I had to leave the house to pick up my new glasses at Costco. When a fellow customer saw me put them on, she said that I was “with it.” 

Shaking my head at the wonder of it all, I told her I’d always wanted to be “with it,” although mostly I was only being polite because I’ve never felt—except when I was an acne-faced, shy teenager—the need to be with it. I suspect that mostly I've "marched to the tune of a different drummer." And that's been both challenging and lonely.

Also on Monday I had to mail a birthday box to a young friend who’s turning six in a few days.

Tuesday I entertained a flu bug and stayed in bed. I’m lucky because flu seems to always be of the 24-hour variety with me. And sure enough by Wednesday I felt better. Still tired but not bleary.

Between Monday and today, I read a fine book: Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrook. Today I hope to get well into Reinventing American Health Care by Ezekiel J. Emanuel. The subtitle of this 2014 book is as follows:

How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System.

That seems to pretty well, at least for me, epitomize what’s wrong with health care here in the United States right now. I’m a big fan of the Affordable Care Act, but I now live in a state where the majority of the population isn’t.

According to the book’s table of content, I’m going to learn how we got in this mess, what the new health care bill is trying to do to get us out of it, and what the future prospects are for health care here in the United States. I do so hope that this aging mind can grasp all of that. I say that because health care seems to be such a complicated issue here. But maybe we've just made it that way.

Wednesday, at 7:00 AM, I took Hannah, the Geo Prism LSi that’s been a driving friend to me for seventeen years, to the shop because the air conditioning wasn’t working. After some checking, the mechanic concluded she needs a new compressor and Freon: $550.

I am one of the lucky ones because I have that money saved and won’t have to go into debt or use a credit card to get Hannah out of hock from the mechanics.

Today, Thursday, once again at 7:00, I took Hannah back in for the compressor installation. One of the helpers there drove me home and will return to take me back to the shop when the work is done. So right now I’m just sitting here writing this stream-of-consciousness summary of the last few days.

I’m going to rest again today and read and simply “Be.” My body seems to be telling me that I need to cherish it this week and just be gracious to myself, not demanding much, if anything, of it. And so that’s what I’ve been doing.

If all goes well, Hannah and I will stay home tomorrow—Friday. I won’t ask anything of her, not even a test of her new AC compressor. She’ll ask nothing of me. A perfect relationship. At least for me, right now. The three cats with whom I live will, of course, demand their food.

On Saturday I’ll go to Weight Watchers and then out to an early lunch with my great-niece who is getting married in June. I think we’ll probably discuss wedding plans and simply enjoy one another’s company. She’s an interesting human being, and I enjoy listening to her opinions because they often differ so from mine.

I hope all of you have the leisure I have to enjoy your lives and to be gracious to yourself when you need time out.
I’m ending with a song sung by a favorite singer of mine. The lyrics show just how I feel about all of you who follow this blog so faithfully and who graciously leave comments that enrich my days. Peace.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Good News about CTCL and My Mycosis Fungoides

Today we’re going to leave Dayton, Ohio, in the spring of 1967, and spend a posting in Independence, Missouri, in the spring of 2014. The reason? I want to share some good news with you.
         Earlier this spring, I wrote three postings about CTCL. In them I gave my acquaintanceship with it. I also provided information on the form of it I have.  
         Today I’ll briefly summarize.
         In February 2011, I was diagnosed with a type of CTCL—mycosis fungoides. The dermatologist suggested that we deal with the pale pink blotches—Stage #1—on my inner arms and thighs with “light treatments.” In those three earlier postings I explained that I’d gone into remission in January 2012 after going for treatment three times a week for nine months.
         Those postings also explained that the skin cancer had returned in late 2012 and treatments had again made it inactive. Then in February of this year—2014—the CTCL became active again. For the past twelve weeks I’ve gone for light treatments: 3x a week for six weeks and then 2x a week for a second six-week period.
         This past Tuesday I saw the dermatologist, for our six-week assessment, and . . . Good News! . . .all the cancer—on chest, inner arms, inner legs—is now inactive. I don’t even need to use the steroidal cream!
         She explained that the cancer will return but it will most likely stay in Stage 1 as long as we treat it promptly. So if any pale, pink blotch appears, I am to start using the cream again. Twice a day. Two weeks on. One week off.
         If the cream doesn’t begin to turn the blotches darker and still darker—a sign that they are becoming inactive—then I will need to go to the clinic for treatment. Or, if a number of blotches appear on several areas of my body, I would immediately start light treatments.
         I’m just delighted with this news because it means that I can return, “full bore,” to my writing of a novel about Bronze-Age Greece. I will now also have time to send out queries asking agents to represent my work.
         The thing is that although I did light treatments only two or three times a week, they left me so tired that I didn’t get anything done the day of the treatment or the next.
         I now see a splendid expanse of time in front of me and I’m almost giddy with what I can do with it! I’m setting sail. Peace.

Postscript: If you’d like to know more about mycosis fungoides/CTCL and my journey with it, the three postings I’ve done are as follows: March 6, March 27, April 3. 

Both photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

One Mighty Fine Woman

In an April posting, I related the conversation I’d had with Dad before moving to Dayton. He’d advised me to take circuitous routes to my first post-convent job, but I didn’t listen to him and took the same route each day.
         The men sitting on cardboard and huddled in doorways got used to seeing me each morning. One by one, they began to approach me or to speak to me from their hidey-holes.

         They didn’t “hit on” me, as Dad had feared. They simply asked for money. I always gave them whatever change or dollar bills I had. I’d been taught that we could come upon Jesus unawares and not recognize him. In my mind, these men were Jesus. I couldn’t say no.

            One day Bill, the vice-president who’d hired me, glanced over his shoulder as he pulled open the door to the dimly lit stairs leading up to the publishing firm. He saw me handing money to a man sitting on the sidewalk, his back against a wall.
         “Thank you, Ma’am,” the drifter said and smiled. A serene smile over the gaps of missing teeth. Surely Jesus.           
           I walked on to where Bill waited.
         “Dee, don’t give these guys money,” he said.
         “They might be Jesus.”
         I explained. He shook his head. “If you have to give them something, tell them you’ll buy breakfast for them. Ten to one they won’t take you up on it. They’re looking for booze money.”

           As he spoke, I looked through the plate-glass window of the cafe next door where customers, seated in the Naugahyde-clad booths lining the wall and at the counter, were wolfing down food. I could easily envision Jesus and I eating there. Bill’s suggestion made ultimate sense.
         And so in the year I worked at Pflaum, I ate breakfast with several of those men who inhabited the sidewalks, their heads drooping between tented knees. As we ate, they shared their life stories with me. Most were simply down on their luck.

            One had a different definition of woman from what I’d learned in the convent Scholasticate or as a Girl Scout.
         On the spring day he and I met, I wore a new dress. Short-sleeved. Bright yellow splotched with white daisies. A narrow belt.
           I was standing across from the office, waiting for the light to change. A man in soiled clothing lurched toward me. His face sported whiskers and dirt. His straggly blond hair hung lank against his hunched shoulders. This is Jesus I thought.
            I started to dig for coins.
            “Ma’am, you’re one mighty fine woman,” he mumbled.
            Startled, I dropped the coins, which clattered to the sidewalk, some rolling off the curb and into the gutter. I quickly stooped to pick them up, my thoughts scrambled. He’s talking about my figure. This dress is too clingy. My body’s not hidden in black serge. He can see the outline of my bosom. I covered it with my purse.
            “Did ya hear what I told ya? One damn fine woman,” he slurred.
            “Thank you.”
            “Real perky.”
            “Thank you.”
            The light changed. I started across. He followed.
            “One damn fine figure of a woman.”
            “Thank you.” I was walking faster.
            “I’m tellin’ ya the truth, Ma’am. One mighty fine figure.”
            “Thank you.”
            I wanted to run, but this was Jesus. He might smell like whiskey, but who says Jesus has to be a teetotaler? He was the most famous brewer of all time. Witness Cana. Who says he has to wear newly laundered clothes? This was Jesus.

            Turning toward him, I said, “How’d you like some breakfast?”
         Now he was the startled one. Then a grin spread across his grimy face.          
          We shared a meal, and I discovered that Jesus, called Hank on that day in Dayton, was a man of philosophical bent. He had just gotten lost in the cracks.
         And I?
         I was one mighty fine figure of a woman.
         Damn fine.

All photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pflaum Co-Workers and Office Space

In my last three postings, I shared with you how I got a post-convent job in Dayton, Ohio. Today, I want to introduce you to my three co-workers, who helped me find my bearings in this new world.
         As I explained last week, I met Bob, my future boss, on Sunday, January 25, 1967, when he and his three young children picked me up at the Dayton Airport and drove me to my new “digs” at the Loretto Guild. Bob was the managing editor of Our Little Messenger.

         Most first and second graders in Catholic schools throughout the United States read this weekly publication each Friday. It was a four-page, 8 ½ x 11-inch, full-color weekly that always contained stories and features about animals, inventions, Catholic feast days, fun activities, and other things that might enthrall young children.
         Many children in the public grade schools got The Weekly Reader, which those of you who grew up in the United States may remember. The Catholic schools got the “messengers.” The Pflaum Publishing staff produced three of these a week: Grades 1-2, Our Little Messenger; Grades 3 through 5, Young Catholic Messenger; Grade 6 through 8, Junior Catholic Messenger. Each messenger had its own staff. The staff of Our Little Messenger consisted of Bob, Brian, Alice, and me. Each of us was responsible for one messenger page each week.
         These three co-workers taught me how to write captivating children’s stories that contained an element of surprise. They also taught me how to edit and introduced me to a book I’d never before encountered—The Chicago Manual of Style—which I learned was the “bible” of the publishing industry.

         As a senior editor, Alice had been in publishing the longest of my co-workers. She was my first real teacher in the art of line and copyediting. Alice spoke with surety about how young children learned and deeply appreciated their sense of wonder. A gifted writer, she completed her work within hours and then set to researching topics for future use in the messenger.
         Brian, a black-haired Irishman who spoke with a lilt, liked to tell stories. Thus, he kept me from thinking about my own inner anxieties. Getting to the core of a page topic took Brian at least two days each week because he saw so many details and possibilities. His slow pace helped me become patient with my own learning during those first weeks in the job. The truth is that Brian helped me relax.
         Bob was new to publishing and came to it as a writer who’d already had a well-received book published for young people aged 10 to 14. He had an abiding interest in all aspects of nature, and at our weekly meetings to discuss the next issue, he’d come up with intriguing topics—the song of whales, the antennae of insects, the butterfly’s return to San Juan Capistrano, the wing feathers of raptors.

         The four of us worked in a long rectangle of a room. On one long side were windows, one per office. The other long side was an empty wall, which stood as the right-hand side of the aisle that passed each of our left-hand offices.  Jutting out from the window wall were three partitions that divided the space into our four offices, each of which contained a desk, chair and file cabinet. At each of the short ends of the rectangle were doors.
         Alice occupied the first office; I, the second; Brian the third; and Bob the fourth. His was the largest space as he needed a table on which we could lay out the weekly stories and illustrations and assess each issue before its printing. During these sessions, he taught me about layout and design.
         These three co-workers set me on a career path as an editor and curriculum developer. They truly changed my life.

Note: One of the summer messengers is now for sale on e-Bay. As of Thursday, May 1, you can see it by clicking here.

Photographs from Wikipedia.