Tag Archives: Memories

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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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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June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

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.

June 3 – A Close Look at Guilt

by Sara Etgen-Baker

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©CanStockPhoto/racorn

Guilt and worry are perhaps the most common forms of my personal distress. With guilt I focus on a past event, feeling dejected, hurt, or angry about something that I did or said, and use up my present moments being occupied with feelings over past behavior. With worry, I use up my valuable nows, obsessing over a future event. Whether looking back or looking forward, the result is the same: I’m throwing away the present. Why would I do such a thing, and where does my need for guilt and worry come from?

Like most of you, I’ve been subjected to a conspiracy of guilt in my lifetime, an uncalculated plot to turn me into a veritable guilt machine. The machine works something like this: Someone sends me a message designed to remind me that I’ve somehow been a bad person because of something I said or didn’t say, felt or didn’t feel, did or didn’t do. I respond by feeling bad in the present moment, becoming the guilt machine; a walking, talking, breathing invisible contraption that responds with guilt whenever the appropriate fuel is poured into me. And, I am a well-oiled guilt machine, for I’ve been totally immersed in our guilt-producing culture.

Why have I bought into the worry and guilt messages that have been laid upon me over the years? Largely because I’ve bought into my inculturation that says I’m “bad” if I don’t feel guilty, and “inhuman” if I don’t worry. It all has to with caring and what caring looks like to other people. The subtle message seems to be, “If I really care about anyone or anything, then I must show this concern by feeling guilty about the terrible thing(s) I’ve done, or by giving some visible evidence that I’m concerned their future by worrying and fretting about them.

For me, guilt is not merely a concern with the past; it’s a vicious cycle producing present-moment immobilization about a past event. The degree of immobilization can run from being mildly upset to being depressed. Let me be clear. Learning from my past and vowing to avoid repeating some specific behavior is not guilt. Guilt occurs when I prevent myself from taking action now as a result of having behaved a certain way in the past.

Learning from my mistakes is healthy and a necessary part of my growth and personal responsibility. Guilt, on the other hand, is unhealthy because I’m using up my energy in the present feeling hurt, upset, and even depressed about a historical happening. In that sense, guilt seems like such a useless emotion. It’s futile and unhealthy. I must remember, therefore, that no amount of guilt on my part can ever undo anything, and no amount of worrying can change the future.

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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May 13 – That “Baby Stuff”

by Kalí Rourke

The day had arrived that every Mom inevitably faces.

All summer long, we had been swimming in the neighborhood pool nearly every day and I just dumped both of my little girls in the shower with me to get the chlorine out of their hair and mine.

Inevitably, my older daughter (about 7 at the time) noticed the differences in our bodies and asked about them.

I was prepared. I didn’t whip out an anatomically correct flip chart or flash cards, or anything like that, (after all, we were in the shower) but I answered her questions in medical terms with no cutesy nicknames for any body parts.  She took this in and finally cocked her curly blonde head to the side and said, “Where do babies come from?”

Wham! Drop the mic because there it was.

Now, was delivering a “birds and bees” monologue in my birthday suit my dream situation? Not so much. But, I had made a point of being direct and truthful with our daughters whenever they asked the hard questions and saw no reason to change that strategy, so we dove into that “baby stuff.”

As I dried them off and sent my younger daughter to get dressed, my older daughter and I sat in matching towels on the edge of the tub and I explained reproduction to her in fairly clinical terms. She listened in attentive silence, her big blue eyes widening every once in a while.

Finally, she asked, “Do you have to?”

“Do you have to have a baby? No, of course not! That is a big commitment that people who love each other very much decide together and you never HAVE to have babies,” I said, assuming that her concern was similar to the concerns I had even in adulthood.

Nope. That wasn’t it at all.

“No, Mom!” She shook her head emphatically. “I mean, do you have to do that sex stuff. It sounds gross and I would just rather have them put me to sleep and wake up with a baby!”

Ahh…I couldn’t help it. I giggled helplessly and finally gasped out, “Well, sweetie, you may change your mind about that someday, but it isn’t anything to worry about right now.”

She tossed her curls and danced off to her room to get dressed and spent the rest of her blissful summer day playing with her beloved plastic horses. I sat there alone with so much love in my heart for the funny, smart and sassy woman she was becoming.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all, whether you are celebrating being a Mom or having a Mom!

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

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April 29 – Inner Landscapes

by Ariela Zucker

“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” Charles Lindbergh

On the road to my daughter’s home, this morning, I drive by the river. I look at its shimmering blue, now that it got freed from the winter ice hold. I never lived by a river, I never woke up to look at its slow up and down movement, how the changes of the seasons are reflected in the water’s color and flow. I never lived next to the ocean in proximity that enabled me to listen to the waves break on the shore and watch the white foam unfurl on the sand, then backwash. But I did live in the desert and was captured by its palate of colors and desolate beauty, and for a short time, I lived at the foothills of the Rocky mountains and savored the infinite sea of green.

I easily connect to symbols and metaphors that originate in the world of natural scenes and concrete landscapes. A mountain, a stream, the ocean, the vast unending desert, they go right into me and stir up the words. The external landscapes evoke an intense resonance inside me. Often, they revive images long forgotten, and with that, they bring in their wake a sense of ambivalence that never leaves me and going back and force between two homelands just makes it stronger.

The air in one feels so soft around me, the sounds, the smells, and the colors familiar and with the people who knew me from the day I was born I share a common history, going back thousands of years. But most of all it is the language; that wraps around me caressing, accepting, signaling “here you are never foreign.”

Then I think about the soft snow cascade of white, and the spring eruption of colors. The luscious green of the warm summer days and the blazing reds of fall.

Which of these landscapes is mine, which one reflects on my life? Where is my vantage point of distance? The one that will enable me to see my life with clarity and precision? Or perhaps I am the lucky one. For a few months each year I get to change my distance and with this change alter my vantage point of view. As a writer, I get to describe that point of view in words.

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.

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

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.