Friday, July 31, 2009

Positives and Hidden Blessings

I was thinking lately about how my life has changed. I mean once you get past the obvious differences--health, transportation, finances--how it has been altered for the better. When you have days (occasionally weeks) where you can be basically non-funtional due to pain or exhaustion or both, you have plenty of time to think and be observant of change. And recently my "optimism" and "positive thinking" has been brought to my attention by several people--hehe! (Thank you all!)

Some of you may remember Karen--met her when I was at MSUM. Karen helped Leah and I with the Everything's Handmade craft business we tried a few years ago. Karen would bring our crafts to her work's annual craft fair they have before Christmas. Anyways, her boss was writing an article on chronic pain for their newsletter--it's a family health center--and Karen said she thought of me. She called and asked me if her boss could interview me--sure. We connected on the phone and chatted for quite a while. Was fun! People seem surprised at how happy I am, I guess. That I have such a "positive attitude".

Made me think about why--and how I feel now vs. when I had been so depressed about being forced to quit college, losing my apartment in Moorhead, and worried about where I was going to live. BUT--students and teachers back then still told me I was positive and always laughing. ?? (They should see me now! hehe!)

Granted, I am especially happy right now due to the fact that Dagan and Leah won't be tied for years to that dreadfully constructed house and I feel like a fountain of joy--but I have noticed that I have changed a lot these past few years from dealing with all the health issues. It was very hard at first to deal with losing my independence--to have my body take over and totally control my life--in major life's path ways and even in the smaller matters of daily living. I had to learn acceptance of this new, limited body--to see myself differently in the physical world, I guess. Wasn't quick or easy to change my self-image, but you can't fight it forever--hehe! Well, you can, but it makes life a pretty miserable trip.

I think a huge part of how I deal with life--good and bad--is that I really have always believed that everything happens for a reason--long before I had a broader view of what those reasons might be--hehe! When I was young I thought that I must have been a really bad and horrible person in past lives and I was just getting what I deserved--so I needed to learn how to go through all these things in my life as positively as I could. Basically, I still believe that is probably true--hehe! But I am not so hard on myself about the past lives. :)

I was much more black or white in my younger days. The older I get, the more I see grey, zebra stripes, and polka dots--hehe! I think I always thought there was positive and negative in everything--but I had to search harder for the positives and used to feel I was drowning in the negatives at times. The more I realized that happiness is a choice one makes, the easier traveling through life has become. I say traveling through because life itself never gets any easier--hehe! But it is not what happens to you in life--it is how you live through it, right?

As the years have gone by and the events have occured and the lessons were learned the hard and slow way--I have finally gained some perspective over time, I guess. Okay, I still believe that the good and bad--the black and white--the postive and negative--they are always there--all the time--in everything and everybody. The hardest thing for me to learn was that the "bad" (the negatives--the traumas--the pain--the sorrow--the failures--the horror) is also a gift--a blessing in disguise. Not just something to flee, to endure, to crawl away from, or try to rise above--but to embrace. In fact, most all the monumental, important lessons are learned because of those very negative things! Very likely couldn't be learned any other way. I feel like I have been learning this lesson my whole life. I have weak areas that I still panic over (like my "losing the roof over the head" fear), but I am sooo much better than I was. And (interesting to me) the less I have allowed that fear to control me, the longer I have stayed in one place and the quicker I find a new one when needed.

Funny--the more I am able to embrace my dark side, the lighter I become! :) The more I face my flaws, weaknesses, blame, participation, and responsibility in all aspects of my life--the more contented I become. It is all wrapped up in forgiveness--of myself and others. And the more I stop fighting against and judging the negatives in myself and others--the more I react with love and forgiveness--the freer I feel. This has been a long process--my own personal spiritual path. (I am 57 years old and I remember my first spiritual crisis was when I was five years old.) I have made more significant progress the past 15 years--especially these past few years as my health totally declined. So, probably the biggest spiritual gift I have been given recently has been all my physical limitations! (Before that--it was Dagan and all of his health issues. He has been a blessing in my life in so many ways I cannot count them all!) And it continues--into my next life--hehe!--till I get it right. :)

So--where was I going with all of this rambling? I was thinking how these past several days, when I have been in a basically non-functional stretch again, I have been feeling sooooo peaceful, contented, grateful, and blessed. This is a common occurance for me the past few years here in Fargo. :) Even tho I might not be able to "do" that much these days, I can just "be", you know? My life has taken on this kind of living meditation most of the time--like carrying a smile in my chest. True--it might be because I don't have to deal with the rest of humanity much--hehe! I only leave the apartment once or twice a month--can pick and choose my visitors--and the same with the people I chat with online or write letters to. :) I have always enjoyed my own company--luckily!! I can still enjoy my arts and crafts--reading--writing--well, here and there anyways--when my body allows it--hehe! :) I can still learn new things--connect with people--have people and a cat I love. I can slowly accomplish things--but even when I can't, I can always work on my soul. And what is more important than that? :)

Rape and Love

[Note: was reviewing the movie on my blog. :)]

The Brave One--interesting to see a woman turn vigilante. I could totally relate to her fear after she was attacked and her fiance was killed. I remember the paralyzing fear after I was grabbed off the street, beaten, and raped when I was 17 years old. (July 11, 1968--I am not good at dates, but I will never forget that one.) I remember the feeling of panic afterwards--of not being safe anywhere--but I couldn't relate to her hate and anger, to be honest. Not even back then. It was fear--and pity--overwhelming pity for their souls. An overwhelming mix of sorrow and fear--but there was a great joy mixed in there, too. But then, I am weird. I don't always react in "normal" ways to events--as people who know me will attest. You'd have to know the whole story.

I totally understand the anger--someone reacting as she did in the movie. As a human being, you can understand why, of course. The movie made me sad. It did show that reacting to violence with violence just left her feeling empty and unhappy with who she had become. Just added more violence to this unpredictable world. She became like them.

I didn't lose someone I love to violence, tho. I had no one to avenge. It was just me--my body--that was hurt. I discovered that no matter what someone does to your body, they can't touch your soul--not unless you allow it. Whatever they do--is on their souls. What I do--is on my own soul.

I have often wondered if I would ever resort to violence to save my own life? I would hope not. Having been in that kind of situation, I don't think so. I think I would be much more likely to become violent to protect the people I love and care about. But I would hope and pray that any situation could be resolved without violence--on my part, anyways. I have a tremendous faith in the power of God/goodness/positives/love--since I was young. It has faltered at times, but has always returned to me. :)

I guess I have to tell you the story--short version.

There were three men in that car. The leader snatched me off the street as I was walking home--drug me into the back seat of the car--two other men were in the front seat. He beat me till I passed out. Drove around in the country where there were no street lights. Played cat and mouse with me. As I was getting dressed--he took the driver's seat and sent the man who'd been at the wheel into the back seat with me--threatening to run me down and kill me if I tried to get out of the car. I couldn't see anything but black night and trees. Then the second man was instructed to take his turn--and the boss turned on the dome light to watch and drive and laugh. And he kept telling me all along that they were going to kill me when they were done with me. I had nothing to lose.

I had never been that close to such empty, lost souls--to such a level of anger and hate. I really had absolutely nothing to lose. I was going to die soon. Was overwhelmed with such sadness for their souls. There was no point in telling them I was afraid or I wanted to live--they could see me shaking and I believed what he told me. I was going to die. I had this overpowering feeling that I was supposed to say something before I left this world--so I started talking. It almost hurt to "feel" them--don't know how to explain it.

I wanted to help before I left--(the "soul comforter" in me runs deep). I talked about how I felt alone, too--about how you can't take love from someone (I was too naive to know that rape has not much to do with love and a lot to do with power and hate)...I don't remember eveything I said, but I know I talked about God and love...mostly about love and how precious it is when given freely...I remember feeling lifted up just talking about it--like I do.

They had all been silent and listening to me as we drove in the darkness. The boss suddenly screamed at me to shut up and turned the radio up really loud. I had done my best. I had opened my heart to them. I sat quietly in the back seat--shaking and trembling--waiting. The second man was huddled up against the door looking pointedly out the window. I had a good idea what was next.

The music pounded and I watched. The boss leaned over and shouted into the third man's ear. He shook his head no. The dark-haired boss struck him hard on the side of his head. I knew what that ring felt like. The sandy-haired man kept his head straight forward and wouldn't look at the dark-haired man--and kept shaking his head no as the dark-haired man struck him several times.

I am crying as I am writing this. Every time I think of the sandy-haired man I am overcome with joy--with love. I wish I could meet him one day to thank him--and to tell him how proud I am of him for saying no. For standing up to that angry, frightened dark-haired bully. For being a man he should be proud of--for taking a stand--for saying no.

If you believe in God or the positive power of love in the Universe--I felt it there in that car with me that night. The boss man's shoulders dropped a little. He didn't turn around again except to turn the dome light off. He couldn't look at me, either.
He let me go. They didn't kill me. He even drove me to within a few blocks of where they had kidnapped me--dumped me off with threats--to kill my family or anyone I told--don't turn around--keep walking.....

I am glad I have been reminded of the girl I was and the unwavering faith I had. I can still connect with that pure part of myself, but it is a little more protected over time and hidden by layers, I guess. But I am still here.

Now you see why I also have "joy" when I remember being raped 40 years ago. Over time the fear grows less and the joy grows more.
I still believe! :)

Six Unimportant Random Nothings about me

I was supposed to think of six very unimportant random nothings about myself to reveal. The hardest part about this task was to think of something most of the people who know me might not know already. You all have heard most of my stories--hehe!Well, here goes:

1. When I was a teenager I once had a job for three days constructing aluminum screen door frames with a screw gun. Worst job ever! Apparently I had been very good at it, though. When I informed the supervisor that I wouldn't be coming back, he told me I was better than any new employee he'd ever had--male or female--not one door frame rejected--and that I was "born to handle a screw gun". I disagreed. Same thing happened to me at a plastics factory where I sat and checked those pop-up liquid soap caps for defects--watched them shuffle past me, in mirror surround, for eight hours a day. I lasted two weeks--not one box rejected--they begged me to stay, too. I have always been very good at boring, mind-numbing tasks. But I vastly preferred jobs where I had to mulit-task!! :)

2. Speaking of....residuals from past jobs waitressing and working Natural Foods in a grocery store...all my condiment bottle caps can never get too dirty or I clean them, I tend to top off my salt and pepper mills, and I group and face my dry goods in my pantry. But--which came first? The jobs or the OCD tendencies? I have to be honest and admit that the tendencies were already deeply apparent. Probably why I enjoyed the jobs--hehe! I'm not like Monk, tho--I am able to ignore things for quite a while--but I can certainly relate to him--hehe!

3. I owned a skunk named Jorj (George) when I was a teenager. Couldn't take him with me when I left home. (Not one apartment would allow a skunk, imagine that!) Sold Jorj to a skunk-loving couple who already had five descented skunks, a cat door for them, all trained to go in a cat box, and had a fenced in yard where the fence went 6-8 feet below ground (they're diggers). They told me Jorj was the friendliest skunk they had ever met! Jorj went to skunk haven!3. I have some very old items I have been unable to part with--besides my year books, Dagan's baby shoes, more normal things like that. I have my cloth doll from my first birthday (from my uncle Ardell), my high school homecoming button collection, my pep club beanie (which I refused to wear at the time), the metal ankh necklace that Alan made for me senior year in shop class, and even the booklets they gave us for "the" movie in fifth grade--one is titled "Very Personally Yours"--hehe!

4. A few of the ladies from Lee Square (the senior building where I both worked and was live-in security for a couple of years before I came up to Fargo/Moorhead to go to college) still write and/or call me--nine years later. :) It was like a big extended family to me. Loved those ladies--and the few gentlement were pretty nice people, too--hehe!

5. I am afraid of creepy, crawly things that fly or have legs getting on me. Hate wood ticks and leeches!! Young boys who discovered that an almost fearless tomboy was afraid of having spiders, grasshoppers, cicadas (on vacation in Ohio) or crawfish, sand crabs (this was on vacation in Florida)--whatever!!!! *sigh*--thrown at her---well, they had a lot of fun and made my life hell! I made sure that this dangerous knowledge did not leak back into my life at home where I had a brave image to maintain. You are all sworn to secrecy!!

6a. I have an almost endless sense of humor. Under certain circumstances some people have considered it to be quite inappropriate. (I have been told as much--hehe!) I can usually find something funny, ironic, silly, joyful, absurd, or sadly humorous in almost any situation--even fender benders, flat tires, being locked out of the house, watching people totally lose their tempers over some inconsquential occurance, ruining my "good" arm from overuse..etc, etc. When I stop laughing--then you know I am in deep trouble. Or you are--if you have thrown a spider at me!

6b. I probably have passed this crazy sense of humor on to Dagan--hehe! More times than with any other human being on this earth--he and I have laughed until we cried with high pitched squeals--often in public places!! Ask Dagan about the penguin card at Hallmark---"I gotta be me!" Oh goodness! I guess you had to be there!

Fridley Fields

I love toads, salamanders, dragonflies, butterflies, turtles, fish...all the fluttering and crawly critters I spent so many hours with when I was a kid wandering the fields and lake by our house in Fridley. I didn't like the green frogs we had by the lake. But I do love tree frogs--saw them later elsewhere. We didn't have any tree frogs. :(

We also had mallards, an owl I could never get a good look at, flickers, red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, sparrows, killdeer, a couple of crows, and a bluish black bird--maybe starlings? Garter snakes, rabbits, skinks, thirteen striped ground squirrels--all the critters of the Midwestern plains, the grass fields. Probably a lot more I can't think of anymore off the top of my head.

Things I wasn't quite as fond of--loved to observe but didn't want them too near me--shudder! Little black and white jumping house spiders, daddy long-legs, various other spiders, wood ticks, bats, snapping turtles, shrews, moles, and something that may have been a woodchuck?

Don't know what got me to thinking about Moore Lake and the fields this morning? It is only 19 degrees--but it is sunny out.

I loved being outside when I was a kid. I spent entire summers wandering about by myself--laying in the tall grass fields and watching dragonflies gather on the tips of the wild grass above my head. Laying silently on my stomach next to a ground squirrel hole waiting for it to pop its head out--sometimes I fell asleep there in the sun. After a rain storm, collecting the yellow spotted salamanders from people's new window wells and carrying them in metal coffee cans back down to the lake. Sitting quietly for hours watching a mama mallard on her nest.

I climbed the rough oak tree. Balance walked around the top of the dusty ice rink fence in the heat of summer. Ran through the fields of wild flowers and spun with arms wide. I love wildflowers!!! Even if some of them smell bad--the stems--and the flowers are very small. People think of a lot of them as weeds. But I think of stickers and those thorny green clumps as weeds! Hard on the bare feet, I tell you.

Tumbleweeds! When we first moved there and all the houses were brand new--there were tumbleweeds and sand dunes!

I was so blessed to have lived where I did. Most all of these memories were when I was from 5-10 years old. We moved to Fridley when I was five. When I was ten they were digging up the higher field to build a senior high school--killing so many animals--most of the wildflowers grew there, too. Broke my heart.

After that--it was softball fields and more housing. Nothing is left of the Minnesota grass fields of my youth. The lake--they built a walkway along the "wild" side of the lake--so people can look from a dry wooden planked footpath. There must still be children who touch the earth--that walk barefoot through the mud...push aside the grasses to peer at mallards mumbling contentedly and smacking goodies from the slimy bottom...smell the damp water's edge covered in algae and dancing water bugs...hear the red-winged blackbirds call...frighten leaping frogs back into the hot shallow water...???

May dragonflies follow you and feel safe enough to perch upon your body. May you hear the meadowlarks song and allow a killdeer to fool you. May you notice whatever is outside your door.

Flower Child

Flower Child

I was cleaning cages in the garage. I had to clean half of the twenty-seven cages and aquariums every day to keep the smell down or my folks would start evicting my critters. Various rodents, lizards, and amphibians lined two walls in the garage and a corner of the basement. No animals were allowed in my room. Mine was next to theirs and Mom, especially, was personally affronted by pungent odors. It wasn’t easy to maintain control of the odor because I didn’t have store-bought bedding for my rodents and had to use hand-shredded newspapers. Selling babies to the local pet shop kept me in seed and pellets, but I couldn’t afford bedding. The manager preferred buying his rats, mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs from me because mine were all gentle, hand-tamed, and less likely to be returned for biting. He saved cracked aquariums and gave them to me for free. Neighbor kids brought me their folks’ newspapers and were on trash alert for great stuff like a bruised apple, wilting lettuce, or a pile of carrot tops and peelings from dinner. A couple of moms even wrapped their critter salvageable garbage in waxed paper for their kids to deliver for my “zoo.” Kids always popped in. All those little hands helped keep the babies tame and I taught them how to be gentle with animals.

As I softly poured a hamster family from the ice cream pail back into their clean cage, I heard a small troop of feet come up short by the open garage door. “I’m cleaning right now. Can’t play with ‘em till I’m done, okay?”

As I slid the cage cover on, they all started talking at once. “No. Rita, look! Look what we found.” My heart sank. I turned and saw two kids with hands cupped gingerly in front of them moving forward. One of the red-headed boys had something scooped up in his t-shirt and there were several observers anxiously circling.

“We saved ‘em, we did. From where they’re diggin’.” The foundation for the new Senior High School had begun about a block and a half away, just across the road from Moore Lake.

“You’re not supposed to go over there, ya know. Better not let anybody catch ya,” I warned. They knew I searched The Flower Field after the workmen went home. I was second to the oldest in the neighborhood. Besides, nobody would bother to tell my folks, anyways.

“We were watching from the backyard over there across the street.”

“They shut the machines off. They’re gone- eating their lunch.”

“Yeah! We snuck out. Only on the edge. Not by the big hole, ya know?”

“I didn’t go. I stayed in the yard,” said a little girl in back.

“Me, too. I stayed in the yard, too.”

“They chopped the Mom rabbit!”

“Yeah! They chopped her!”

“Well, most probley it was the Mom, ya know. She wasn’t way far from the babies.”

“It was the Mom,” pronounced the little girl with wet eyes.

“Yeah! Really icky! All blood and stuff.”

“This one’s leg is broke, though, Rita. Can ya fix it?” Hopeful hands raise the baby like an offering. A white bone stuck out of the rabbit’s back leg and the splintering of the wishbone at Thanksgiving jolted to mind.

“You didn’t see a cat or a dog by there, did ya?” I wondered about the facts.

“Lookit! You can see the bone right there.” One of the girls stuck her pointing finger too close.

“Get away. Don’t touch it.” The boy shouldered away from her.

“I wasn’t!”

“This one here’s got a bloody nose.” Another offering.

“Just a minute. Let me get a box for them.” I scrambled up the big ladder leaning against the back wall and found the smallest box I could in the rafters where all the forgotten junk was piled.

“Hey, Rita! Rita! He’s got three more of ‘em in his shirt.”

“Just a minute. I’m comin’.” Stealing an old hand towel from Dad’s rag-bag near the foot of the ladder, I headed back over to the group by the door. They hovered as I fixed up the box.

“Remember,” I warned, “I found those four baby rabbits last week that were way bigger. They had their eyes open and could hop and everything and didn’t look hurt or nothin’, but they all died.” I took the broken-leg bunny from the dirt-encrusted hands. Being ten, I could fit it pretty much in one hand. It never made a sound. I laid it carefully in one end of the box. It just laid there, flat on its side with its legs straight out and was barely breathing. It never tried to move. “Don’t think this one’s gunna make it. Sorry, can’t do nothin’ ‘bout the leg.”

“Here. Lookit this one.” The bloody-nose bunny was placed in my hand. I lifted my palm up and tried to see it from different angles. The blood was just kind of sitting in its nose making little blood bubbles. It was trying to sit up and I saw blood in its mouth, too.

“It musta got hurt inside.” When I set it down there was a little airy-squeak and it pushed its clotting nose up next to the broken-leg one, wobbled and fell over. “Don’t look good,” I sadly diagnosed.

The red-headed boy had inched forward and pulled his shirt out. A clump of bunnies swung in the bottom of his t-shirt hammock. These looked more normal, so I picked them right up, one by one, and looked them over and put them in the other end of the box. “These ones look good, but don’t know if I can save ‘em. Lookit. Their eyes aren’t even open yet. But, I’ll try, okay? But don’t be surprised if they all die like the last ones. Remember -these ones are even littler babies.”

I pulled a corner of the towel up over the three good ones who had curled up together in a ball. That done- I turned, put my hands on my hips and eyed them all good. “You could get hurt over there and I don’t want any of you kids gettin’ hurt, ya know? You hear me? What if you fell in that big hole and could never get out? What if you got chopped up like the Mom rabbit? Huh? What about that?” I stared them into silence. “If you see somethin’ just come and get me, okay? I will go out there, not you. Okay? Promise?”

Heads bobbed.

“You guys, The Flower Field is gone. You’ll have to play over in The Grass Field and The Sand Dunes, ya know. And, you guys stay away from The Big Sand Dune and The Dead End so those bigger boys don’t push you down. You know you can come get me if you need me, okay?”

Heads bobbed.

“Okay. I gotta try and get ‘em to drink something now, so you guys gotta get goin’. You should be eatin’ lunch, anyways. You can come and ask me every day how they’re doin’, ya know.”

With bright eyes and confident hearts, they scattered.

Carefully carrying the box steady, I opened the back screen door. Silence. I scooted through the backside of the house into my bedroom and quickly shut the door. Kicking everything over to one side of my closet floor, I scuttled the box into the corner, hauled the lamp in there, flicked the light on over them, and hunched cross-legged over the box. They had tiny ears lying flat to their heads and they reminded me of newborn kittens. At least I had learned not to use the heat lamp Dad used for his bad back. I, literally, cooked some Mallard eggs the kids brought me last year. My eyes still sting every time I picture the warm, wet feathers shining through the small hole I had delicately picked with shaking tweezers when I checked one of the eggs after it was cool enough to handle. Ignorance is no excuse for murder.

I wondered if the workmen thought about the animals they killed every day. It was spring, 1961, and there were babies everywhere up on The Flower Field where they were digging. Baby rabbits, thirteen-striped ground squirrels, gophers, mice, moles, killdeer, garter snakes, meadowlarks, and skinks were the ones I could think of right off. That’s not counting the salamanders, frogs and toads who wandered across the road from the lake. The best part of my own personal sanctuary was being plowed under. The prairie grass was shorter there and you could twirl and twirl about, arms raised to the sun, amidst the wildflowers. Tiny yellow, clumpy purple, small violet, yellow beady, and purple thistly flowers grew there. There were white flowers that grew in clusters like parachutes and orange daisies we made wishes on while we plucked them naked. I just could not believe that teeming, flowered meadowland was being replaced by a stupid old school. I hoped as many critters as possible had escaped either to The Lake on the one side or to The Grass Field and Sand Dunes on the other.

The bloody-nose bunny quit breathing. Not the one I thought would die first, but I was glad it wasn’t suffering anymore. I wished the broken-leg one would die soon, poor thing. It’s hard to tell how an animal feels when you can’t see its eyes.

I grabbed a couple of Kleenexes out of the box on my headboard, wrapped up the dead one and shut my bedroom door on my way out. I peeked in the living room and Dad was asleep in his chair. Saturday afternoon. I went out the back way to the garage, put the dead bunny in the ice cream pail and covered it. No time for burying. There’d be another soon, anyways, so I went back and stashed the bucket in my closet. Then I located the doll bottle in the basement, even though the last bunnies hated it and had kicked scratches all over my hands and forearms in protest. I needed to find something else. I searched the basement. I scrounged through the garage and quietly through the kitchen, so I wouldn’t wake Dad. In the bathroom medicine cabinet was a bottle of old eardrops with an eyedropper.
Down the drain. Hot water and soap.

“What on earth are you doing in there? That water’s been running for five minutes!”
Mom! I hadn’t seen her when I went through the house. She must have been in their bedroom with the door shut. Not good.

“Nothin’. Just washing my hands. Been cleanin’ cages. I’m almost done.”

“Well, good.” Oh, great! Dad was up. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, ya know. We pay for all that hot water.” He was backing her up. Not good.

I hid the bottle in my underpants. “Okay, okay. I’m done,” I said as I was already shutting my bedroom door.

The broken-leg one hadn’t died yet, so I covered it with some Kleenexes to keep it warm and, to be honest, so I wouldn’t have to look at that bone for a while. It puzzled me why it was hardly bleeding. I tried to give it some warm water where it laid, but it didn’t move. Arranging a t-shirt in my lap from my dirty clothes on the closet floor, I proceeded with the careful task of coaxing the three good bunnies into drinking some water from the eyedropper. I didn’t want to fetch milk for them until I knew whether Mom was working herself up to one of her filibusters or if this would rate as a minor skirmish. She sounded testy.

We moved to Fridley, Minnesota in 1956. We had been living in a duplex in South Minneapolis. My world had been; sidewalks, traffic, squirrels, tall trees, and a fenced-in back yard with patchy grass. I remember when we drove out one day after a rainstorm to see how the house was coming along. I thought the new housing development was an awful place to live. Flat. Sand. No roads- just rutted paths and mud puddles everywhere. Everything had been leveled and lots were paced off with stakes and string. Houses were in various stages of development. Basement holes were dug, cement floors poured, cement block walls were raised, and the dirt was filled back in around the basement walls and window wells when the blocks were dry. The timber foundations were braced for the main floor, the floor bases were laid, and then the outside walls would go up. Our house had gotten to the skeletal wall stage when we came creeping up the rutty road and Mom and Dad pointed out our new home.

Dad was going to park where it looked like the driveway was supposed to be. Mom said it looked like a lake there and he should park wherever he wanted. Always alert to authority, Dad was sure he would get in trouble if he didn’t park in the proper place. Mom said it was all just sand, anyway. There may have been no defining lines yet in the naked suburb, but there were always defining lines between my folks.

I don’t remember where we parked, but I do remember walking a wobbly plank over a mud puddle to get to the stacked basement blocks that formed the temporary front steps, climbing halfway up and Dad grabbing me by one arm and hauling me up onto a vast wooden platform. I stood on that plywood floor with the breeze blowing my jacket, looking through the wooden frame in all directions and thinking this was a terrible, empty, dead place as far as the eye could see. There was not one living thing. Not one tree. Not one blade of grass.

“I don’t want to move here,” I whined, tugging at Mom’s coat.

“Lots of kids will be moving here. You’ll like it.” She smiled.

She was all happy on the way home.

That night she cried. She was afraid the new neighbors wouldn’t accept her. She cried for three days.

We moved.

Mom was right. There were, quite literally, kids everywhere. Every single house had toddlers and babies. Witnessing the magical transformation of the neighborhood was an adventure that mesmerized our puerile minds and convinced us we had moved into a place of eminence and grandiosity. Awe-inspiring machines graded and paved the streets with smelly hot tar and giant roller machines. A procession of giant dump trucks visited the bare yards, leaving mountains of black dirt that the moms had to keep the little kids out of all day until the shirtless, sweaty dads could shovel it into wheel-barrels and scatter the dark, loamy lumps to the staked edges of their property lines. Next came the huge flatbed trucks filled with rolls of grass.

The city planted a slip of an elm tree in everybody’s front yard by the street. The sandy soil was an unforgiving host and most of them died. There were no curbs or sidewalks. Garages went up- mostly doubles. Driveways appeared- with the kind of tar that would burn your feet and sink your kickstand in the hot summer sun. Flowers, shrubs, and trees arrived. The whole neighborhood went from brown sand to green manicured lawns in what seemed the blink of an eye and another suburb of Minneapolis was born.

We lived about a block away from the untouched Minnesota prairie land that surrounded the end and side of our part of the Vern Donnay housing development. We lived on the tip of, what seemed to us, an endless stretch of blocks of houses and on the opposite side was Moore Lake. I lived for summer. My heart and soul thrived at The Dead End, The Creek, The Grass Field, The Sand Dunes, The Big Sand Dune, The Flower Field and The Lake.

Take The Dead End, for instance. The short tar road just stopped on the top of a small incline. The rain had gradually undermined the artificial tar horizon, cracked and crumbled the edges of the road and dropped it off into a miniature, swirling ravine that fed The Creek that advanced across The Grass Field and carved through the base of The Big Sand Dune. The Dead End was my favorite place to be during the thunder and lightning of a hard summer rain. Waiting in anticipation for the dark swirling water of The Drop Off to rise high enough to overflow, being peltingly caressed with warm water, staring into the darkness of the unknown depths, being privy to the rushing birth of The Creek, staying ahead of the creation all the way to the oak tree at the base of The Big Sand Dune, laughing at my footprints in the sand, appreciating the true beauty of wet rocks, floating leaves, wiping water out of my eyes, and opening my mouth to the rain with arms spread wide was definitely worth the random possibility of being electrocuted by lightning. The sun came out and the creek dried up. Left in memory were the imprints of the moving water against the sand and the flattened grasses. I learned about the power of God at The Dead End.

The third good bunny suddenly stiffened in my cupped hand against my chest. Silently the little legs stuck out and it trembled. I hadn’t even gotten the eyedropper out yet. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t see what was wrong. Its mouth had opened and the tip of its tiny gray tongue stuck out. I knew it was dying. I just held it, kept it company and waited.

I wrapped the bunny in Kleenex and put it in the ice cream pail. Mom’s voice was louder and higher. The broken-leg bunny was dead, too. I wrapped it and put it with the other two in the pail. The remaining two had damp faces and they felt cool, even with the lamp on them. The bulb was too far away, but after the Mallard eggs I wasn’t pressing my luck. I could still hear Mom in the kitchen. I dashed out and grabbed a hand towel and two baby pins from the hall closet. I put the two in the towel, folded it in half and pinned it to my shoulders with the big baby pins. Cradling the bundle with my left hand, I put the lamp back where it belonged, moved the box and pail to the other side of the closet, sat in the corner and slid the closet door not quite shut. Now I could relax. They wouldn’t know I was here and I had enough light to use the eyedropper. I could hear Mom crying and shouting in the living room. Three dead already. It got hard to breathe and a tear fell off my face onto the towel.

When I was trapped in the house and couldn’t get away to my wild sanctuary, I could always go there in my head. I leaned my head back, propped up my legs, wedged my hands beneath the bunny bundle and remembered saved animals. One of the older girls came over one evening last spring to tell me that there were some birds in a tree trunk beyond her back yard on the edge of The Grass Field. “My mom and dad say they haven’t seen them get fed since yesterday. My mom watches the woodpeckers from the kitchen window- now she’s all sad because they’ll die. I told her I would come and tell you…that maybe you could do something for them?”

There were a few abandoned basement cement blocks on the edge of The Grass Field. Sandy helped me haul one over to the tree and put it on end the tall way. By this time it was dusk. I wasn’t tall enough to see in, but was close enough to just tentatively reach inside the hole. Beaks lunged at my fingers. I snapped my hand back so fast that I teetered the block. They were awful strong and were obviously better off in the tree trunk. We caught some grasshoppers. The birds actually pecked them out of my hand when I held them in the hole. They hurt my fingers, so I knew I couldn’t get any of the kids to help me.

Sandy and I spread the word and the kids brought me all kinds of bugs. Their initial enthusiasm waned in a couple of days, but by that time there were only a couple of beaks in the hole. Those birds ate so violently that I couldn’t believe they were dying in there, but they were either dying or leaving. I wasn’t tall enough to see into the hole, but I could see their heads sometimes and they had feathers. It smelled bad enough that I thought maybe they were dying in there!
That last week I only felt one left, which was actually good because by the second week I was getting tired of catching bugs all by myself and my hands were raw from beak abuse. Coming to the tree with a jar of juicy grasshoppers, I was just about to stun breakfast by snapping the jar back and forth as hard as I could, when I was stopped dead in my tracks. There was a grown bird sitting in the hole - just watching me. It took me a moment to realize it was the last baby, because it was a regular-sized bird, just a little fluffy looking. Seeing the whole bird, not just the bobbing top of the head and the flash of an eye, was enlightening. I wasn’t sure it was even a woodpecker.

We just stared at each other. Then it leaned forward and took off like it had always known how to fly. It flew low along the waving blanket of tall prairie grass and then rose up and circled the tree three times and headed toward The Lake. I let the grasshoppers go. I waded through the grass until I found a level spot without too many rocks, laid flat on my back, stared up the tapping straw walls in the narrow hole my body made, and watched dragonflies and clouds until lunch. Despite my total lack of categorical or labeling interest, I must confess that I searched bird books at the library until I found a picture of that up-close meeting. 

We saved at least one baby flicker last year.

I smiled to myself in the corner of my closet. The two babies wiggled in the towel. They were warm now, so I reached for the eyedropper.

There was a physical pain in my chest when I thought about The Flower Field. Now, even The Dead End seemed pregnant with ominous intent, poised as it was over The Grass Field. I could not even imagine my life without startling a basking skink on a dune and watching it whip its stubby, snake-like body across the sand with its furious little legs pumping; or ignoring the male Killdeer’s pleading, broken-winged, pied-piper performance to walk softly in the opposite direction so as to glimpse the frozen female guarding her grass nest; or sitting on the crest of The Big Sand Dune and looking across the top of the oak leaves; or hearing the familiar rustling of the tall prairie grass that billowed in the breeze like a mom shaking out a clean sheet over a bed; or enduring the rough bark on the back of my thigh for the perfect, perching crook of the gnarly oak tree in The Flower Field; or twirling in the sun amidst the wildflowers.

I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
By some miracle, one bunny lived. The neighbors complained about Juniper for years, because she grazed in their gardens and bore babies under their bushes. She had to live with us… in the housing development. The remaining prairie land was transformed rapidly into more housing and Little League softball fields.

For the past forty years, when life cuts hard, I can still close my eyes and escape into my sanctuary fields…arms splayed, face to the sun, I twirl and twirl…where wildflowers brush my bare toes and baby bunnies are safe.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Baby Girl

Baby Girl

“Yes, ma’am. Cold outside to-day,”
He grins with large white teeth
Pulling his collar up against
His salt and pepper beard
And the frigid, gray morning.

“It’s the wind,” I reply,
Arriving at the bus stop
Flipping back my errant scarf.

“Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am.
It’s the wind cuts through ya,” he nods,
Cupping his white breath into his black hands.
He buries those hands pocket-deep
Braces his shoulders in his tattered navy pea coat.

I lean against frozen bark.
We settle into bus stop silence.
Shift in our boots with shrunken necks
Huffing white, crystal clouds.
Tree and corner lamppost our only cover
Beside the insurance company parking lot.
He checks his watch
Swivels a glance behind the post
And cries to the parking lot,
“Baby Girl! You come here now.
Bus be comin’ soon!”

She explodes from beside a parked car
Where he had tucked her safely from the wind,
Flailing the long arms of a
Bursting neon pink coat,
New, three sizes too big.
Under her hand-knit rainbow colored hat
Blooms an identical wide, white grin
Framed by deeply dented, caramel apple cheeks.

“Come on, Baby Girl. Don’t you be playin’ with me, now.”

Gingerly she hobbles across the slick, packed snow
But as he extends his hand
She chortles and hides behind the lamppost
Giggling and rocking foot to foot.

“Okay,” he smiles and slides his back down the pole
Curls up on his haunches and covers his eyes.
Laughing, she swings her vacant neon sleeves
Slaps at his huddled form
Until his baseball cap is whacked into the wind.

“Uh, oh,” I say in mock dismay.

She freezes, eyes wide.

“No, that’s okay,” he grunts with pride
As he hand-crawls his back up the pole.
“It’s Baby Girl.”
As if by right of birth and love
She was forever vindicated from sin.

The cap was luck-caught
On a snowbank ice shard
As he swoops it up he boasts
“I take Baby Girl with me everywhere I go,”
He places his hand on her back.
“She’s my only Baby Girl.”

He lifts a stiff pink sleeve and peers in.
“You got your gloves, Baby Girl? Where your gloves?”
She grins, scrunching her chin into her neck.
“They in your pocket, Baby Girl?”

Squealing brakes startle us
As the bus sighs to a stop.
He lifts her in.
I follow.
Rattling heater, coins clinking,
Murmuring conversation,
Deep-chest coughing,
And the winter fragrance of wet boots.

He blocks me in the aisle
Greeting a burly blonde man
With intricate handshakes.
I sideways past them
Settle in against a foggy, splattered window
As the bus driver sighs into his mirror,
“You gotta siddown back there.”

He turns and puts his hand on her small back
Her grin returns
Automatic to his touch.
He places her against the window
In the seat opposite mine
And the big blonde perches sideways
On my seat.
They whisper
Head-to-head and knee-to-knee
As the blurry buildings slide past.
I sway and vibrate with the road.
Baby Girl and I are like bookends
Silent and still.
I close my eyes.

At her age
I remember panic
In a department store downtown
Straining to keep sight of my mother’s blonde hair
And brightly flowered blouse.
Neck arched,
My heart in my throat,
A maze of counters and racks,
Weaving through the Amazon shoppers,
A sudden bottleneck of legs,
And I lost her.
That was my job.
To keep up with her.

I had failed.

A clerk finally noticed me
Huddled under a clothing rack.

As she led me behind the counter
She told me not to worry
And put her hand on my back.

They called my mother’s name.
From the ceiling.
Three times.

In the car on the way home,
With her eyes on the road,
My mother told me
That she didn’t bother to hurry,
Took her sweet time with her purchase.
She said,
“That’ll teach you.”