August 12 – I Forgot

by Christine Ristaino

I forgot. I forgot you weren’t a service dog. You were what they called a “Career Change Dog” because you sat and refused to budge when you were near busy streets. You see, a service dog can’t just do that, you know. But my son needed a dog who could help him sleep, a dog who he could pet, a dog who could relieve the stress that built up before he’d drop to the floor and seize. They were called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. And you didn’t care. You seemed happy enough in your new career. You were like a sensory blanket, keeping my son warm at night. You were the one he went to when stress was brimming from his bones, through his skin, and outward, before his brain began to seize, you were the one he went to.

Yesterday I took you with me to drop him off at school. He ruffled your fur before he left. Then I wrapped your leash around a chair at the coffee shop to get a warm tea. Who could have predicted the chair would close on your toes, pulling out two toenails and spooking you so you ran, terrified, in all directions, pulling that damn chair through traffic and finally striking a moving car?

I ran after you, but the young store owner sailed past me, gasping as the car hit. I couldn’t have foreseen you would rise from the dead and continue to run, pulling the chair with you toward more cars. It was like a slow-motion movie, where the dog does some crazy, funny, thing, but turns out okay. Only this was real life. I couldn’t watch, couldn’t look, couldn’t see you die. But unexplainably, you weren’t struck again. The store owner dove onto the chair and stopped you, breaking her finger.

I took you to the vet; no broken bones, no internal bleeding, just two toenails. Now, as I type, you are curled by my feet, my son in school. I forgot you weren’t a service dog. I totally forgot!

Christine Ristaino is the author of All the Silent Spaces, a memoir about overcoming violence. She is also a professor of Italian language and culture at Emory University, where she leads workshops on the topics of overcoming violence, leadership, diversity, privilege, writing and talking about difficult topics and creating a public voice.

 

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August 5 – Turning Pointe

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Point your feet! Rotate! Don’t stick your butts out! Stay out of your heels.” I looked up from where I was sitting.  There was no music; only the thump-thud sound of the dancers en pointe and the ballet master shouting. “Dance to the tips of your fingers and toes! Plié! Spot!”

Ann obeyed, sweat running down her face. “Tours chaînés déboulés,” the master barked. She struggled, her sleek muscles quivering with exhaustion. I’d never seen my aunt rehearsing. So, the contrast between seeing her stage performance where she glided effortlessly on the tips of her pointe shoes and seeing her studio rehearsal baffled me.

“Rond de Jambe en l’air and Frappé.” The master paused; the dancers gathered at the barre. “Fifth position, preparation sur le cou de pied. Single frappe en croix each position getting two counts.”  He strolled around the dance studio.

“Close Fifth position front.” Ann panted for breath. “Single rond de jambe en l’air en dehors twice at 45°.” Her corded tendons stood out like insulated cable. …“Now close to sous-sus front.

But when the curtain rose later that winter evening, there stood my aunt; her feathery light body rose en pointe.

Ann lifted her arms, breathed in the music sending it through her torso, arms, and legs. She surrendered to the music and spun like the wind across Swan Lake; her tutu fluttering like the wings of a bird at dawn. Dancing became her body’s song, and Ann sang it beautifully, her body telling the story of Odette, the Swan Queen, and her love for Prince Siegfried.

Backstage afterward, I cringed when Ann removed her pointe shoes revealing calluses, misshapen toes, black nails, and reddish-purple flesh. The contrast between her beautiful pointe shoes and her battered, ugly feet startled me.

“I didn’t know how ballet dancing was so painful!” I searched her eyes. “How can you endure so much pain?”

Ann silently walked over to her dressing table, wrapped her pointe shoes in soft tissue paper, and placed them in a pink satin drawstring bag. She scribbled a note, tucking it inside the bag. “I’m not quite sure how to explain it to you, but take these. I want you to have them. One day, you’ll understand.”

I left the performance hall and opened the drawstring bag, running my fingers over the pointe shoes’ pink satiny smooth surface and read her note.  “Each time you see these, remember life, like dance, is a beautiful art form. It’s hard work. It’s painful. It’s ugly. You sweat. You fail. You succeed. You try again. You push. You fight. But always remain graceful.”

At the time I didn’t understand the wisdom in my aunt’s message. Now, though, I recognize my aunt’s gift was not her pointe shoes; rather it was her enduring words that served as a turning point in my young life when I learned that life, like ballet, is a battle between beauty and pain.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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July 29 – Embracing the Gift of Imperfection

by Karen Price

Three hens live at our house — Cinnamon, Clove, and Pepper. The first two are friendly Buff Orpingtons and for the latter is a Black Maran. The buff lay the lighter brown eggs and the Maran lays what is know as chocolate eggs. Who wouldn’t want a chicken that lays chocolate eggs? Now if I just had a goose that laid golden eggs, I’d be all set. Disclaimer: the shell is chocolate-colored, no actual chocolate was used in the making of this egg.

That sad little smaller than a ping pong ball egg was Pepper’s best effort. She hasn’t given me another egg since then. I’m hopeful that she’ll lay many more and perhaps more in line of the size that the other to girls offer.

When my husband handed me that wee egg, I immediately felt for Pepper. I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve given everything I had but all I’d had to show for my work was something tiny and feeble. I walked over to where Pepper was nesting and patted her back. “Thank you,” I told her with sincere empathy. “I appreciate your egg today.” I was very careful not to make fun of her or tell her there was anything wrong with her egg.

I was tender with her as I would want someone to be tender with my efforts at creativity. Often, I will refrain from creating anything, because I am afraid that my results will be less than stellar, that my efforts will be puny and even comical.

Well, sometimes my creations are puny and comical. I’ve made, cooked, and written things that went right into the trash. I once spent days weaving and crocheting a blanket that turned out to be extremely out of shape and just squeehawed. But I kept it. I have it neatly folded and stored away because I learned so much in making it. “It could have been beautiful,” I thought; if I’d known more. But now I see the potential behind the puny effort.

It’s taken me a long time to boldly go and make terrible things. It’s part of making excellent creations. Of course, I’ve had to come to terms with the concept that when I’m learning, I have to plan on making something twice. Make, tear out, repeat. Or sometimes — make, laugh, toss and recreate.

I’m going to go off and making some things today. I will remind myself that I embrace the gift of imperfection. Perhaps I’ll make something really grand, maybe not. And as I allow myself that adventure, I want to pass it on to those I encounter as well.

Karen blogs regularly at thebestoftimesfarm blog and this post originally appeared there and is published here with permission of the author.
Karen says, “I am at a point in my life where I have everything I wanted and am doing just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of. We have our own little hobby farm with a little herd of goats. Life is to be celebrated and I’m celebrating!”

 

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July 22 – For My Grandparents in the Train Station

by Linda C. Wisniewski

Once a week, a white flatbed truck pulls up on our street, delivering riding mowers, short Hispanic men and one white guy, the obvious “boss.” They spill from the truck like bees, everyone in a hurry, armed at different seasons with leaf blowers, jugs of liquid fertilizer, or shovels and rakes.

I wonder what they are spraying. But mostly I have a bigger worry. I wonder if they are undocumented; if they have families here or in another country.

A local activist gave me two lists in Spanish: What to Do In an Emergency (when you have to leave home in a hurry) and Know Your Rights (when ICE comes to your door) with a phone number for free legal advice. I make copies and take them home.

One day I see a lone guy spreading mulch.

“Hola!”

“Habla?” He looks up, smiling.

“No,” I say with a shake of my head. He looks puzzled. What does he see? A gringo lady making fun of him?

Almost all my neighbors are white. Some of us have talked about the ICE raids, the deportations, the family separation. The kids in cages, sleeping on the floor in silver blankets.

My country was unprepared for these refugees and I fear we have lost our heart. We have tax breaks for the wealthy but not enough room for the willing to work. My busy landscapers look at me with wary eyes. Was it always like this?

My grandfather’s family traveled overland from Poland to Germany, crossed the ocean, then boarded a train in New York City to Amsterdam, New York. They came because they heard about jobs in the rug, broom and glove factories. They left loved ones they would never see again.

They sat all day in the train station, hot and tired, with no idea what to do next. They spoke no English.  In the evening, men who spoke Polish came down to the station and led them, on foot, to flats for rent. They took them to the factories and introduced them to bosses who taught them jobs. They were needed, if not necessarily welcomed.

We don’t need migrants in 21st century America. Our factories are closed. I understand the fears of the underemployed. I remember the layoffs when my parents worried about paying the mortgage when they lost our car because they couldn’t make the payments and we had to walk everywhere. I understand the fear that there is not enough to go around. But I don’t believe these refugees from crime and poverty are here to rip me off.

I research what I want to say, and memorize a sentence:

“No hablo Espanol, pero quiero darte esta.”

I don’t know Spanish but I want to give you this.

My heart pounds when I go outside and hand two slips of paper to the man in the yard. He looks at them and nods.

“Gracias,” he says, shoves them in his pocket and goes on working.

Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years and a longer version of this blog appears on her personal website. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.

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July 15 – Collecting and Connecting

by Kalí Rourke
I recently mentioned to my husband that in light of our multiple downsizings, we were fortunate that neither of us is a collector.

My husband smiled and said, “I think you do have a collection. You have collected the people and ancestry in your family!”

“And yours,” I responded with a grin.

People ask, “How did you get into genealogy? Did your family talk about its history?”

“Not really.” My maternal grandmother (Nana) claimed that we were descendants of Myles Standish of the Mayflower through her father William Herbert Standish. He died young in a carriage accident and was the great love of her three-times married mother, Nellie Holley Standish Kidder Smalley. When Nellie died, her wish was to be buried with William.

Actually, we all just smiled and humored her when Nana claimed the Standish connection. No one took it seriously.

December of 2006 I was goofing around on the Internet. I stumbled on Ancestry.com and it gave access to the Name Bulletin Boards. This is a hit and miss way to research because the conversations are in threads and can meander, but I was fascinated! I tried my maternal grandfather’s name, Baskett. I plowed through with an investigator’s zeal and finally, there it was.

Dorene Standish from Oregon had posted that she was looking for the family of Lorena May Standish Baskett. I shrieked with glee! That was us! I commented that I was a granddaughter of Lorena through her daughter Marie and I would love to correspond. Dorene was incredibly generous with her knowledge and time and she encouraged me to dig into my family tree. She had accomplished the heavy lifting, getting her husband George (Nana’s nephew!) approved for General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) membership. All I had to do was document the generations between Nellie Holley/William Herbert Standish through me. I could do that!

I started gathering hard copy documentation. Birth, marriage, death certificates, divorces, multiple states, and it occurred to me that I was seeing many headstones online but I didn’t see any for my family.

Dorene solved the mystery for me. Our family had not been wealthy and nice markers were not possible. Concrete with basic information on it was what we found.

She checked the local monument makers and we decided to share costs while she and George would coordinate the replacements. We decided on granite with more engraved detail and soon, it was done.

In 2013 my husband and I traveled to Washington and drove to the Woodlawn Cemetery where so many of my family rest. As we searched through the headstones of all sizes, and some markers so old they had sunken under the soil, I felt blessed that we had been able to help make this lasting improvement. Future genealogists will have an easier time tracing the trail and I was able to say goodbye one more time to Nana (Who was right all along!).

I love owning this particular “collection.”

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and the Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund. She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. A longer version of this post appears on Kalí’s Musings.

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July 2 – One Woman Remembering Another

by Debra Dolan

I am writing this on Canada Day delighted in knowing that my darling Michael’s mother’s remarkable life is honoured in our national newspaper.  There is a wonderful regular feature titled “Lives Lived” which “celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed”.  Margaret was a proud American-Canadian who was many things to many people.  I submitted an essay for consideration; therefore, my day, today is finding joy in remembering her loving presence in my life during the past 17 years.  

Margaret Leonebel (Chiefy) Jackson Frizell

Margaret spent her youth in the lush interior mountains of China, where her father worked. The Second World War forced her American family to return to Santa Barbara, Calif. It was here that she graduated from Mills College. Later she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and travelled through Europe. While working as a French teacher at a children’s camp on Vancouver Island, she met Charles George (Chip) Frizell, the lodge’s dishwasher. Chip was a young, war-shattered man from the United Kingdom who had fought in the Battle of Britain and recited poetry from memory. They were a remarkable pair of beguiling individuals.

For more than 65 years they were a formidable team, building homes on Mayne Island, B.C., and in Point Roberts, Wash. They raised three sons, Michael, Paul, and Mark. Margaret was an untraditional homemaker, wife, and mother. She wore pants, smoked cigars, ignored housework and shared coffee with the mailman in broad daylight. And she created a home full of love and acceptance, providing a place for neighbourhood children to play and enjoy fresh baking. Later, it was bacon and eggs in the middle of the night for young men returning from parties drunk or stoned.

As her nickname suggests, Chiefy was indeed the boss. She never sweated the small stuff and picked her battles in a household of boys and men carefully; however, once she made a decision about what was important, she was a force to be reckoned with. Chiefy was a fierce defender of her sons, who she loved with every fibre of her being.

Chiefy had a wild and fascinating mind. She had an iron will and was connected to the strong values of her Catholic faith. In her presence, you felt special: She would tilt that head covered in cotton-candy-textured white hair and listen respectfully and intently. In the 1960s she wrote radio plays for the CBC and was a talented iconographer.

Margaret had a great fondness for cookbooks, which she read with the tenacity of novels, and amassed a large collection. Chiefy could be whimsical and silly; joyful and optimistic. She also demonstrated a tremendous fondness for martinis, butter, Hawaii and all things Parisian.

Her end was sudden. After a full day, attending mass, lunch with Michael and enjoying a drive along the beach, Chiefy suffered a stroke and died a few days later. She is buried next to Chip, who died in 2014, in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and these details are worthy to be recorded.” – Natalie Goldberg

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

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June 24 – My Kingdom for a Lawnmower

by Ariela Zucker

 

Mowing our extensive lawn is my acknowledged job. While we rotate other chores, no one will ever try to take that one away from me. I spend endless hours on the riding mower and wonder time and time again how I was pulled into doing it almost from the moment we became the owners of this piece of land our motel occupies.

This is a complicated question seeing that I am so technically challenged. Every machine from the car I drive, out of pure necessity, to the printer in the office, even a simple stapler dares me to a mind duel, one I usually miserably lose.

Yet the lawn-mower is my private escape, my mode of deliverance, and in some odd way, my direct touch with nature from a safe and respected distance.

From the top of the mower, roaring along, there is no question that I am in control. I dictate the pace, the course, and the depth of the cut into the grassy lawn. I get to decide which part of the yard will be cut and which left to grow. Flowers nod their head with respect (or perhaps fear) when I zoom next to them, and most of the small insects and other assorted living things, hiding in the tall grass, make sure to stay out of my way.

But it is also about bonding.

As I travel along, sideways, and around my kingdom, I can inspect and marvel at every small detail. Far but not really out of sight, I can see every blade of grass, every tiny flower, every new rock that emerged out of the earth to threaten my smooth sail atop the lawn.

The newly planted flowering Weeping Willow trees I placed in the ground last fall after careful consideration of their growth rate and flowering ability; I ride by them to check their progress. I look with pride at the wild lilies I planted along the border, so small when I uprooted them from someone else’s garden, they are now thriving in the wet environment next to the front conduit. The Nine Cattail that sways slowly in the breeze; my modest contribution to the assortment of flora in its muddy bottom.

Back and forth, riding from one side of the lawn to another, I watch with satisfaction how the tiny blades of freshly cut grass are flying out of the mower’s side chute. Every few minutes, I look back over my shoulder at the clear lines I have created in the overgrown grass. It’s the sense of fulfillment derived from a task well done but also the pride of an artist inspecting his creation.

It is like an allegory I did not fully uncover, but that one day will reveal itself to me. Until then the lawn-mower (green and yellow John Deere) and I will keep on cruising along, from one side of the lawn to the other, keeping an eye on its inhabitants.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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