The Two Sisters: A Tale of Perspectives

“Thank you so much, Carl.” Pearl took the box from her cousin’s arms and set it on the table in her hallway. “I feel so privileged to be entrusted with these heirlooms! You can be sure I’ll take good care of them.”

“Sure. Whatever.” Carl shrugged. “I still think we should just burn them. Why dredge up old bones? As I recall,  Mom had a lot of “old bones” she worked over.”

“Maybe.” Pearl smiled sympathetically. His mother, her Aunt Matilda, seemed too focused on bones of contention.

“But you’re young yet,” she said. “When I was your age the past was ancient history; I was out to remake the world. Since I’m retired I think more about our past and what we’ve inherited. I’ll try to be discreet, though, when I compile the Family History. If the Aunties wrote anything nasty about someone I certainly won’t record it. Maybe I should even tear those pages out of the journals?”

“Who cares? I’m sure most of the folks they wrote about are dead now. Anyway, suit yourself, I’d best be off.”

“Chip off the old block,” Pearl murmured after the door was shut. She looked at the stacks of books in the box and thought of the two sisters, Mabel and Matilda. Each of them had her own way of looking at life; each recorded her perspective in these journals.

The years had been good to Mabel and Matilda, both of them lived into their nineties before they passed away. Both women had kept journals most of their lives and after their deaths Pearl heard that all their journals were going to be destroyed. Hoping to write a family history book someday she begged permission to look through them before the grim sentence was carried out. Then her cousins decided since Pearl was the only one in the family with enough patience to pore through them, and prudent enough not to blab the contents, she could have the lot.

Pearl had breathed a sigh of relief; so much information would have been lost! Now the precious books were in her hands. She carried the box to the coffee table, set it down and started sorting the collection into years.

Skimming through Aunt Mabel’s slapdash version of the late 20’s, Pearl could picture her so clearly, a teenager eager for life. She smiled. Aunt Mabel would have been a flapper! It will be interesting to see how she coped during the Depression years, Pearl thought. Good thing she couldn’t see the future right then.

She set 1928 down and slowly leafed through the years to 1985. At this point Mabel was widowed and lonely at times, yet enjoyed outings with her children and grandchildren. Then Pearl picked up her journal from 2000 and noted that she still found interesting little news items to report every day. Perhaps a caller popped in or she took a walk. If Mabel couldn’t get out she wrote about the weather and other things she observed from her window.

Spring blossoms excited her; birds in nearby branches were noted in her books; she described in detail the trees turning color in fall. She mentioned the activities of her neighbors. She wrote with humor about the Y2K panic. Thinking back, Pearl could see again how Mabel’s eyes had twinkled when she talked about the disaster that was “going to put us all back in the stone age” and how it fizzled.

Yes, that was Aunt Mabel. Always interested in life and the people around her, always ready to visit and relate humorous little stories that gave everyone a chuckle. She stayed as active as she could for as long as possible and when she was too frail to get out family members stopped in to share her good cheer.

Then Pearl picked up one of Aunt Matilda’s 1990s diaries to read, but soon found herself fighting sleep. “Nothing much happened today” was the most frequent entry, coupled with complaints about the rheumatism which kept her from getting out or the fact that no one had called.

Pearl remembered Aunt Matilda telling her once, “I never phone anyone. They might be busy when the phone rings and I know how I hate that! I don’t want to be a bother. Anyway, if they want to talk to me, they know my number.”

Another time she complained, “Seems like whenever I do phone someone they’re quick to say they have something pressing and have to run. Folks these days are just too busy to talk.” Though Pearl was sympathetic and never contradicted, she got the feeling folks were eager to get away from Matilda’s rehash of all her woes.

As elderly widows these two sisters had lived together for over fifteen years, looked out the same windows at the same changing scenes, but one had seen beauty and one had seen monotony.

Pearl could remember Aunt Mabel grabbing her raincoat and umbrella, off for a walk in the rain while her sister sat by the fire with her sore joints and wouldn’t do handwork or read for fear she’d ruin her eyes. Mabel went out to search for life while Aunt Matilda expected life to come in and tickle her. Which seldom happened, sad to say.

Such a shame, she thought as she closed the bleak diary. She stood up and walked over to the window, savoring the bright morning. She watched a robin dashing in and out of the sprinkler spray.

“Now,” she said, “I know some people I should be calling.”

Book Review: Blue Hydrangeas

BLUE HYDRANGEAS: An Alzheimer’s Love Story

Novel written by Marianne Sciucco
Published by Bunky Press (April 2013)

It’s apparent to Jack that his wife has gone beyond “a little forgetful.” Their doctor is talking about Alzheimer’s and suggesting 24/7 care is needed, but Jack’s convinced he can care for her in their home. He has a negative image of nursing homes and dreads the idea of putting the love of his life in one of them.

This is an awesome tale of love, devotion — and stubbornness — as Jack grapples with the Alzheimer’s disease that is slowly stealing his wife’s mind. We can relate to his efforts to help her remember, his fear and panic when he turns his back for a moment and she’s gone. The story draws the reader into the thoughts, emotions, and desperation that many people feel who have loved ones affected by dementia.

All through the book I sensed the darker undercurrent of truth here: Alzheimer’s can hit anyone. In an informative, encouraging way, Blue Hydrangeas introduces the reader to the possibility of dealing with this disease, should it strike someone near and dear to us. And the take away point is powerful: a couple should enjoy each day they have together.

This isn’t the newest book on the shelf but well worth reading. I received an advanced reader copy of Blue Hydrangeas from the Story Cartel in exchange for an unbiased review. If you’d like to help an author and are willing to do book reviews, do check out the Story Cartel.

My Friends 

If you ever wonder what to say to someone who’s grieving, this post is a must-read. While it specifically addresses the death of a child, I think the wisdom here is useful for anyone who’s lost a loved one.

kathleenbduncan

I have friends who have had miscarriages.

I have friends who have had stillbirths.

I have friends who lost a baby to SIDS.

I have friends whose child drowned.

I have friends whose child died from cancer.

I have friends whose child died in a tornado.

I have friends whose child died from suicide.

I have friends whose child was murdered.

I have friends whose child died in a motorcycle wreck.

I have friends whose child died after a skateboard accident.

I have friends whose child died in a freak accident.

I have friends whose child died from heart disease or asthma or diabetes.

I have friends whose child died from drug overdose.

I have friends whose child died in a car wreck.

None of them like to take about the details of their child’s death.

They all love to speak of how their child lived.

When you meet a…

View original post 79 more words

Since Jessie Died

by Edgar A. Guest

We understand a lot of things we never did before
and it seems that to each other Ma and I are meaning more.
I don’t know how to say it, but since little Jessie died
we have learned that to be happy we must travel side by side.
You can share your joys and pleasures, but you never come to know
the depth there is in loving ‘til you’ve got a common woe.

We’re past the hurt of fretting — we can talk about it now:
she slipped away so gently and the fever left her brow
so softly that we didn’t know we’d lost her, but instead
we thought her only sleeping as we watched beside her bed.
Then the doctor, I remember, raised his head as if to say
what his eyes had told already, and Ma fainted dead away.

Up to then I thought that money was the thing I ought to get
and I fancied, once I had it, I should never have to fret.
But I saw that I had wasted precious hours in seeking wealth;
I had made a tidy fortune, but I couldn’t buy her health.
And I saw this truth much clearer than I’d ever seen before:
that the rich man and the poor man have to let death through the door.

We’re not half so keen for money as one time we used to be;
I am thinking more of mother and she’s thinking more of me.
Now we spend more time together and I know we’re meaning more
to each other on life’s journey than we ever meant before.
It was hard to understand it! Oh the dreary nights we’ve cried!
But we’ve found the depth of loving since the day that Jessie died.

From his book, Just Folks
©1917 by the Reilly & Britton Co.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m doing something unusual today: publishing two posts back to back. I read an excellent post by fellow blogger Kathleen Duncan about what to say to someone who has lost a child, be it through a miscarriage, stillbirth, accident, disease, suicide, or crime. She’s given me permission to Reblog her post so I’ll do that next. I think it goes together well with this poem. one of my favorites from Edgar Guest.

My Mom Was Simple

One day I was given a writing prompt: tell about a person you’ve known, someone you’d describe as simple. Well, the simplest person I ever knew was my birth mother, Mom Vance. She was about as simple as they come.

Mom’s stepmom Maggie told me Mom was born “simple,” as far as she knew. I suspect that circa 1923 a number of babies were damaged at birth by various factors not controllable in the days of home deliveries, without x-rays or antibiotics. A difficult labor, a baby deprived of oxygen at birth, or an infantile infection resulting in days of high fever. The brain was damaged and the child was classed as slow, simple, or addle-pated.

And part of the problem was that Mom got her head stuck inside a cream can when she was nine years old. The family says she was already blue when they got her unstuck, so that oxygen deprivation likely did yet more damage.

Mom was friendly enough to people she knew, but not the cheerful, everybody’s-friend like a Down’s syndrome child. More like someone half asleep. Sometimes we say of such a person: “The lights are on but nobody’s home.”

I nodded when I read in Oliver Twist that “Mr Bumble struck Oliver with his cane; once on the back to make him lively and once on the head to make him wise.” Yeah; that was the policy and it probably made some normal children “simple.” One woman talked of how her father would knock the kids’ heads together and she’d see stars. It wasn’t because all folks back then were so cruel, but in that society nobody seemed to know any other way to raise children.

So I feel Mom’s upbringing was a contributing factor to her mental state. When I was young the old folks held to the concept that if a child was slow, a good whack on the head would straighten things out “upstairs.” And being slow, Mom got more than her share of whacks on the head — with frying pans even, I’m told. In one instance Mom’s father blew up and beat her over the head repeatedly with a chunk of wood until his brother intervened.

My Dad F, incensed at me over some density on my part, would often say, “You don’t have the brains you were born with!” Well, Mom V literally didn’t have the brains she was born with — or the emotions, either — because they’d been beaten out of her. Today we’ve tumbled into the ditch on the other side, where parents hardly dare discipline their children, but these former excesses have been cited to support the current position.

Mom did have a kind heart and was generous — too much so at times. She’d let any pal call from her phone — and run up huge phone bills. Anyone could crash at her house. But if she got mad, you had to watch for flying objects. My sister Donna claims she’s dodged a few knives hurled by Mom.

Because of her damaged brain, she couldn’t keep any facts straight. When Donna was expecting her third baby, Mom V told me one day, “The doctor says Donna might be having twins. She wasn’t very happy about that.” Her next remark threw me for a loop. “They say I had twins once, but I can’t remember.”

“Who said you had twins once?”

“Maggie (her stepmother) and them,” Mom replied in her usual vague way. Everything she said was vague. I overheard her trying to explain to someone who I was and she simply couldn’t. I was “that girl.” So Mom wasn’t capable of tact, sense, or the deviousness the rest of us are. As one of my sisters said, “A couple of beer and she was drunk enough to do anything.”

Mom’s schooling ended at Grade Three. My sister and I guessed Mom to be at a nine-year-old’s level, but really, a nine-year-old would be much more capable and careful if made responsible for the care of young children. It was her irresponsibility when I was a three-month-old baby that led to me catching pneumonia and ending up being raised by my uncle & aunt. (I refer to them as Mom & Dad F and call them my “real parents.”)

I must give my Dad V some credit here. He didn’t have much education or smarts, never had a driver’s license, but he was a hard worker. I’m not sure if all my siblings would have survived if he hadn’t been around at least part of the time to keep an eye on things. He really did love his kids and never forgave my uncle for taking me away and keeping me.

It wasn’t till I was older, started meeting other relatives and learning the family story that I discovered what kind of upbringing Mom had and why she was the way she was. But simple she was.

Six Drops of Sinister Sauce

Those of you who were children, or had children, around 1973, may remember Count Kook chanting his tried-and-true Monster recipe:
“Five drops of the essence of terror
six drops of sinister sauce…”

For some reason that little snippet popped into my head this morning, probably because I was searching for words to describe the tsunami rolling through my emotions. Too bad “opaque” wasn’t today’s Word Press prompt, because it fits so well.

As I awoke this morning, this wave threatened to submerge me. I detected a tinge of terror, certainly some sinister sauce — it goes so well with cancer scares! I’m getting a whiff of foreboding dissolved in a cup of anticipation, a handful of hope, a chunk of resignation. All in this boggling batter of suspended animation.

So what brought this on? I had a blood test yesterday in preparation for my check-up at the Cancer Clinic tomorrow. Up until now I haven’t given this visit too much anxious thought but the blood test somehow brought it all to the forefront again. What will the results be? Will I still be stabilized, or will my leukemic white cells be multiplying with gay abandon? How bad, how fast? Will I need more chemo before long, or will I be okay for a few more years?

Another cancer survivor, Stacey LePage, wrote in her blog about these same feelings, wanting to avoid the checkup-visit, not wanting to hear a verdict. Not wanting bad news to flood her plans for a happy summer. Read her article here.

Even though I’m not really fearing the visit or anticipating bad news, the impending arrival does something to my body chemistry. I saw this funny, numbing emotional wave of blue coming at me and I felt like crawling under the covers until I’ve heard the score. Then to top it all off I have a bothersome tooth, starting yesterday, and woke up from a nightmare this morning.

Thankfully the sun has come out, the birds are filling our morning with their songs, I’ve painted the swallow houses a friend built for me. Spring is my favorite time of year, especially when my swallow friends return to greet me — something I’ll write about more in another post. I’m happy to get their homes ready for them.

I have some blanket squares to sew together today, too. While I’m eager to put tomorrow’s visit behind me, come what may, I do have lots of cheerful things with which I can dispel this opaque feeling. And Stacey tells us in her recent post that she’s writing a memoir about her experiences as she battles stage-four ovarian cancer. She’s giving it the neat and very apt title: Overcoming Stage Fright.

Yes, something good really can come from life’s hardest, most painful lessons. That faith is what keeps us plodding on.

Content With Who You Are

writing.girl

“Learn to limit yourself, to content yourself with some definite thing, and some definite work; dare to be what you are, learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not, and to believe in your own individuality.”
— Henri Frederic Amiel

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Be the Best of Whatever You Are

by Douglas Malloch

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley–but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

If you can’t be a bush be a bit of the grass,
And some highway some happier make;
If you can’t be a muskie then just be a bass–
But the liveliest bass in the lake!

We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew,
There’s something for all of us here.
There’s big work to do and there’s lesser to do,
And the task we must do is the near.

If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail–
Be the best of whatever you are!