Being Old

I have a bunch of Facebook friends who are kids with whom I went to high school. We’re all 71 (some of us 72) this year. Some of them are troubled by the “invisibility” of old age. Personally I hate the “OK Boomer” thing, but I also think anyone who comes out with that is probably an asshole and I don’t want to know them anyway. As for invisibility? When I had to walk with a cane (in my fifties) I was REALLY invisible. For true invisibility, try being crippled.

I told one of the young (40 year old) people in my life that every old person is incognito. Whoever we are, we are dressed in the anonymous apparel of age, and all old people look the same.

The challenge of being incognito is that our “self” has to cruise around in a body that doesn’t want to do all the things it once did, and we are forced into identifying with something more enduring than physical prowess. That’s a drag and a blessing. My dad was dead at 45, my brother at 56, so I’m all about being 71 years old.

I don’t feel invisible. If someone disrespects me, that’s on them, not me.

For my birthday I got a new, short-sleeved t-shirt. I’m happy about that because I won’t have to wear my Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” t-shirt to get my annual old person’s flu shot this coming October. It’s always a little weird for people there at the public health event when I show up in Sex Pistols t-shirt with the cover art from “Pretty Vacant.”



The way I see this is that I’m just fucking lucky to be alive, to be (mostly) healthy, to be ambulatory, to live where I do where the compromise between my trashed knees and my adventurous spirit is easy to work out. I get to see Northern Harriers hunt and elk move slowly across my “empty” world. I get to talk to people who share my interests — true, there aren’t a lot of them, but there never have been. I have dogs who think our life together is as good as it gets, I’ve started two new careers in the past few years. That cliche that you’re “as old as you feel” is not true, but this is true:

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die. 
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. 

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennisball “Ulysses”

SO, when a kid in a car passes me at the Refuge, looks out of the backseat window at me and Bear, and says, “You and your dog match!” I’m honored.

Rock

Bear, Teddy and I were out yesterday for a while. No snow to speak of except on the mountains which are sitting around the edges of the San Luis Valley like a come-on from a tourist brochure. Starlings in one red willow bush. Tracks the dogs could “see” but I could not. I gave Teddy my birthday because he was six months old when I got him one June day 4 years ago, so we were celebrating.

As they walked, sniffed and pulled their leashes to get to the next scent, I had the thought that if we didn’t “measure” time we wouldn’t “know” things like that. Funny how we make up stuff and then “know” it as if it were a discovery — that said, the movement of the earth around the sun is regular enough to say “clock” to any human. It’s a system that pre-exists any human “knowledge” and we are obliged to follow it if only because it’s really dark at night.

I’ve sat in on a lot of arguments/disputes/discussions about whether time exists. They tend to get extremely abstract and most of them end in “Oh my god, it’s late. I have to get home.” Some of these disputes started with the idea of a “time line.” “It’s not a line,” was often the opening…So there’s that. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a side in these discussions because 1) I don’t know, 2) I wear a watch. Right there is a conundrum. There’s the argument that there is no “time,” there is only duration. There’s the argument that since all time exists in the universe simultaneously (we can see the beginning of the universe if we look far enough into space) there is no time. I tend to think the problem is the word, “time,” there being a difference between the “space time continuum” and “what time is it?”

At this point in my life, even when I look at the solid form of Mt. Blanca I KNOW it was once a much bigger mountain in located near the equator. Interesting paper on the history of the Sangre de Cristo mountains here.

The Ancestral Rockies

The first Rocky Mountains, called the “Ancestral Rockies,” began to rise about 320 million years ago during Penn- sylvanian time. Like the present Rocky Mountains, deep fault-bounded basins separated individual ranges of the Ancestral Rockies but, unlike the present Rockies, these basins were filled with shallow seas. Geologists continue to speculate about how the Ancestral Rockies formed, whether by compression and thrusting of the crust or by strike-slip faulting, or some combination of these, perhaps when two large ancient continents, Laurentia (North America and Europe combined) and Gondwana (South America and Africa combined) collided. However they formed, the Ancestral Rockies were largely worn down by erosion by the end of Permian time, about 250 million years ago. 

Think about that…a whole mountain range gone. Not exactly “poof!” but still gone… And before that? A whole lot of stuff no one really knows much about. The paper says, “The first 30 billion years are largely unknown…”

Yesterday my cousin, Tom, called me. Tom and I were good friends in our childhood and teenage years. We’re the same age, well, he’s one month younger. But time (ha ha) marches on and people grow up, get married, move on and on and on and on and things happen to them. Last time I talked to Tom was in 2008. The first thing he said was, “Are you really 71 years old?” I cracked up.

“You’re not far behind, sonny.”

RDP Sunday: follow




Then and Now

January is named for this two-faced guy, Janus, the god of comings and goings, of doors, gateways, transitions. It’s why our New Year is January 1 and maybe why we have this thing about summing up and making resolutions. I don’t do the resolutions thing, but the summing up seems to have come to my mind unbidden. Between us, I haven’t enjoyed this year much. In fact, it’s one of two years in my life I am most happy to say good-bye to.


That says a lot… 🤣

I’m no longer naive enough to think that turning the page on 2022 will lead to big changes. I wasn’t that naive back in 1979, either. That New Year’s Eve some friends came over with champagne, we all got drunk and toasted to the end of the year. I didn’t know it until the next morning, but I had strep throat (so appropriate). I woke up with daggers in my throat. I also woke up to find a man in my apartment making breakfast.

It was benign enough. I knew this man (he was a young attorney where I worked). We’d gone out a few times, but I didn’t like him. He thought he was being romantic making me waffles and champagne on the first day of the New Year. I thought he was intruding. And I don’t like waffles. Still, I guess champagne in a flute with a strawberry at the bottom is supposed to be romantic, but that wasn’t — isn’t — my style. I don’t know how he got in. Probably he knocked on the door of the manager (lived downstairs) whom he had met, and the manager let him in.

It was the 70s and THAT guy (the manager) had been up all night with his friends doing lines of coke. I know this because he phoned me at one point during the evening asking if I wanted to come down and join them. I didn’t like cocaine, so I said no. Anyway, I’m sure that guy had never GONE to bed and probably liked EVERYONE at that point.

Any-hoo, I thanked the breakfast man for his sweet idea, told him I was sick, and threw him out. A year or so later, he married one of my friends from college. And, as I said to a young friend (40) recently, every old person is incognito.

As for 2022, I’ve been trying to look at the bright side of life in the past year, but it’s been a little challenging. The whole year has been one crisis after another, but I will spare us all my litany of woe — the worst, for me, has been long Covid.

All this means it’s time to count my blessings, in no particular order other than one and two are really the most important things to me. As of right now —

  1. I can walk and I can see.
  2. Survival should never be undervalued. So far so good.
  3. I live in a place of natural beauty with much within my reach.
  4. My dogs and I are mostly healthy and happy. We love and support each other in our fashion, according to our abilities and lights. Bi-species families are actually pretty cool.
  5. I’ve published three articles in a magazine that I respect, like, and to which I subscribe. My dream of being a journalist seems finally to have come true, which means it’s never too late to fulfill SOME of our dreams.
  6. I did two amazing paintings this year.
  7. I put together a book of poems and read from it. It was fun and the listeners enjoyed themselves.
  8. For the most part, I’m doing OK financially and have everything I need.
  9. In spite of the misery of long Covid, most of my mental abilities have mostly returned for the most part (ha ha), or I’ve forgotten about them. Either way, it’s all good.
  10. I have wonderful friends — many of whom I met in this neighborhood that spans the globe. Really, how amazing is that?

THE bright side of New Years Eve, 1979, was that 1979 could never come back, a fact to which my friends and I toasted at midnight. I was 27.

As 2022 passed into the history books, I didn’t stay up till midnight to toast anything. If I had I would have toasted the end of 2022, the impossibility of its return, and the hope for a better 2023.

Hope — all by itself — deserves a toast. That and snow is in the forecast. I haven’t told Bear. I don’t want to get her hopes up.

The wall calendar is already in the recycling bin in the kitchen. They can recycle the paper; not the year. I also thought of a conversation I had with my brother once. I said, “I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. I just patch things up and hold them together.”

He said, “You can do that? Wow!” He wasn’t joking.

In more interesting news, two mountain lions have been sighted out at the wildlife areas where I used to walk the dogs and where, last summer, I happened on some mountain lion scat on the path along the river. From a mountain lion perspective it’s like a cafeteria, a conduit from here to there with food. My guess is that the lions are a mom and a year-old cub as, otherwise, they tend to live solitary lives. I loved taking the dogs there, but in 2020 they became places where people would let their dogs run, meaning Bear, Teddy and I weren’t going there any more. To combat this, Colorado Fish and Wildlife made the wildlife areas permitted places. I immediately bought a fishing license, but I’d discovered the Refuge. When Bear and I were out at the wildlife area this past August, it was clearly much less traveled — and so, mountain lion scat. I was happy to see it, but, as it was fresh, I explained to Bear that we were having a short walk. We turned around.

Here’s Bear and the river that day — the scat is about 15 feet in front of Bear, near that patch of grass in the middle of the trail. I thought briefly of photographing it, but there are a lot smarter things to do than leaning over fresh mountain lion scat for a photo op…



Part of the wildlife area is open country, OK for walking the dogs even with lions. The featured photo is from that path, the Rio Grande in January. I like mountain lions very much, but along the river there are too many trees.

O Fortuna…

Last night I learned that a friend was in a terrible car accident a couple weeks ago — his car vs. a truck — on the highway that runs north and south through Colorado, but only a few blocks from me. The victim is the junk sculptor I interviewed last month. I’ve always liked him, but didn’t know him until I got the idea of interviewing him for Colorado Central Magazine. That led me to a two hour chat with him in his work shop last month. We had a blast. As I left — thanking him — he thanked me for the interesting conversation. 😮

I tried to keep the interview focused, but he and his workshop made that difficult. Neither of us is very linear and the interview was 2/3 interview and 1/3 random discussion and discovery. I sent him the draft of the article. He liked it and wrote back, “Thank you so much for feeling the spirit of my Art!” Anyway, I contacted the magazine last night and told them. They’re going to put the article up online with the GoFundMe link.

John’s going to make it, but his care and rehab will be incredibly expensive and slow. And, as he said, “I only have 3 circles.” He works on a potato and barley farm and that’s his portion. John is kind, authentic, friendly — a whole lot of good adjectives. A lot of things in his body were broken and repair was touch and go. Godnose how rehab will be. I hope he’ll be able to come back to his shop and put more things together as he loves to do.

I don’t really want to say the same old thing, “We never know,” because we all KNOW we never know.

OTHERWISE, to my immense surprise, Bear wanted to go with me and Teddy yesterday. It was balmy for late November and the light was beautiful. As we were on our return, I saw two people approaching — a very tall man and a very petite woman. These are the only two other walkers I ever see out there. They are very nice and the love the dogs and the dogs love them, so there was much petting of dogs and chatting and “I always love to see you out here!” Apparently last time Teddy scratched the woman’s arm and that led to an infection. We agreed it was Teddy’s nails, the dirt from the road, and his overweening enthusiasm. The critical moment for socializing Teddy was 2020. He never jumps on me, never, ever, ever, but he doesn’t generalize from “Martha” to “human beings” I think because I was more or less a unique entity during that important juncture in the development of his hyper-active Aussie brain. I felt really bad about the scratch and infection, but the woman felt bad about my feeling bad, so… I held Teddy down so she could pet him because she really wanted to.

Then we were on our way. It’s an interesting thing that they — and I — go out there for the quiet and solitude and are very happy to meet, and chat with, others who are out there for quiet and solitude.

There isn’t much snow left and, of course, what’s there isn’t real snow but what snow evolves into after a week of deep cold, heavy frost, and sun, but Bear was happy when it was her turn to smell and wander. My fitness app (grrrrrr) tells me that when it’s Teddy’s turn, we walk 3 mph (and he’s pulling). When it’s Bear’s turn, we walk 1.2 mph and, for some reason, Teddy isn’t pulling. I think he understands. Here’s the snow angel Bear made in what’s left. No, not the shadow. That’s me.

A Moment in Time

Fifty-odd years ago I would have been at Black Forest Baptist Assembly (BFBA) north of Colorado Springs with a group of kids. It was a “primitive camp” which meant we slept in tents (army barracks style tents), used an outhouse, and cooked breakfast over a campfire. I loved that job a lot and did it for two summers. My first summer I did this ONE camp. The next summer I took a full-time “job” as a CIT (Counselor in Training) and lived at BFBA for two months and counseled three junior high camps.

The job ended when my mom drove up one day from Colorado Springs and told me I had to come home. She was putting my dad in a nursing home, and I had to help. I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to everyone (thankfully, I wasn’t counseling a camp at that point, just doing dishes and stuff) and went “home.” Dad was duly installed exactly where he should have been long before, and I began the preparation to return to college in September.

Thinking back, I don’t think my mom expected me to say, “OK,” pack my stuff, and get into the car, but that’s what I did. One reason I had (in her words) “Moved out,” was because she and I fought all the time. I didn’t like it, she didn’t like it, but we couldn’t stop. I was struggling to live my life and she was struggling to live hers. I was completely unaware of the substance abuse backstory in her life — well, our lives since it affected me, too. I wouldn’t even KNOW that part of our story until some twenty years later when my mom was in the hospital and her doctor told me.

That was an enormous shock and lesson for me. Behind every face, even the most familiar to us, even our own, lies a mystery, a self and a struggle.

As for Black Forest Baptist Assembly, I imagine that the field and hill in the photo are now under somebody’s house.



Maundy Thursday

As a Panentheist who was raised with the Bible and writes novels centered on religion and is not anti-Christian (or any other faith) it’s impossible for me to ignore the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. For me the big day is the day Jesus told God he’d really rather stay on Earth than go through everything he knew was ahead of him. Except for the early-morning betrayal by Judas, it’s kind of a non-event. Guy goes to garden with his friends. Friends are soporific from a big dinner and wine and promptly go to sleep in spite of Jesus asking someone, for the love of God, to stay awake with him (for reasons he knew and we all found out later). OH well.

It’s not cool to know your fate. It’s a question that was debated a lot in my house because my dad KNEW his fate, roughly how long he had to live and what would kill him. Not cool. Better to be surprised especially if you KNOW there’s a crucifixion ahead of you. THAT makes this world all the more beautiful — even in my dad’s case one of the last things he wanted was to see Pikes Peak (we lived in Colorado Springs) one more time.

So every year I celebrate this day of the Earth’s beauty by walking my dogs. Out at the Refuge, I was happy to find that the wind has died down in general (though we are still under a Red Flag Warning). We were able to get out early enough to beat the wind entirely. It was absolutely quiet out there except for the songs and sounds of birds. I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt and, later on, an osprey flew over and in front of me. The songs of red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks serenaded us along our way. The cinnamon teals — beautiful red ducks with a teal band on their wings — were swimming peacefully. The geese were chill, literally, on some ice left over from the very cold night we had. No people. “The cranes have left. There’s nothing to see.” I’m honestly glad they think so.

Let’s Plant a Garden

After not being able to eat supper and not being able to sleep, I got up at 4:30 and finally heard what my eye doctor said. “I am 99.5% sure it’s nothing.” I didn’t hear that yesterday. I only heard, “It could be an emergency,” which led to cascading decisions that were not decisions and not thoughts. Panic. If it were a detached retina? An emergency. Several times in the sleepless night, I moved my eyeball everywhere and couldn’t get the flashes even to happen. Could my eye be dealing with the 99.5% (nothing wrong) not the .5% (holy shit you’re going blind)?

I got up at 3 and again just now and looked at the map of the two passes for me to choose from that are between me and Colorado Springs. Chain laws in effect on both passes. I don’t have chains or any other traction tools. When that law is in force even Bella wouldn’t be allowed on the mountains. To get there on time for my appointment I’d have to leave by 7 am. It’s -17 C out there. Nothing is melting soon.

A little voice inside of me said, “Pay attention to reality, Martha.” Reality? The roads are fucked. The chance of there having been serious damage to my eye is minimal. Is it worth risking EVERYTHING to save my eye? No. I can’t see that well out of that eye anyway.

Then I thought of hypochondria. My mom and brother were the worst. Am I? Yeah, I think so, since when? I thought about that, too, and I realized it began sometime in 2020 with Covid and the ambient and constantly escalating anxiety. I’ve probably been afraid, but have I this cowboy “thing” about putting a good face on stuff and getting through it to the other side. The other side is always better, in my mind, anyway. I’m an optimist. But I began to think last night in the insomnia that maybe all of this has affected me more than I know and I’m really fucking scared. Maybe the traumas of life build inside us and emerge as this later on in our lives? Fear bubbling below the surface of the good face we’ve put on it?

Last night, not sleeping, I realized I was also not breathing. “Panic, Martha. This is panic.” I’ve had friends who had panic attacks. My mom had panic attacks. It doesn’t take any eldritch phantom or Hieronymous Bosch vision to terrify us. Panic attack. I was having one. I took a few deep breaths, and relaxed a little. I took another deep breath and thought, “This is your decision. The risks here are yours to take, to choose.” I actually got up and googled whether people with one eye can still drive in Colorado, so if you’re concerned about that, yes, in all 50 states.

And I realized that part of this I really like my life as it is right now, and I’m afraid something will take it away. Change might be the only constant in the universe (as I so glibly and arrogantly wrote back when I was 25) but maybe there comes a time when a person wants to bring all that flux to a screeching halt and just enjoy life as it is.

I’ve rented a couple of AirBNBs in Ukraine. I will rent more. Both of the people have sent me heart-rending messages. Yesterday, after I “checked out” of an AirBNB, I got this review:

As I read that, I thought, “I’m not a very great person, but if that were my epitaph, I’d be honored. What more could a person do/be in life?” Then I cried. Then I thought that my night in her apartment cost me only $35. I “stayed” four nights in the other apartment I rented for $60. A young family in Ukraine’s heavily bombed city on the Black Sea. I can’t spell it, but it’s in the news. I’m so sad for all those people who didn’t do anything.

That and the idea of war in Europe is absolutely terrifying because, in a very real way, there is no “Europe” and no “America” any more. Maybe “being cool” and “putting a good face on it” is completely nuts. It hit me when I opened my email just now.

We have the news of the war and an advertisement for seeds. That’s pretty much life as we know it right now. Everything’s fucked; let’s plant a garden. Not a bad philosophy, really.

So, instead of a dangerous drive over a pass, I plan to take Bear out for a saunter in our first real snow of this winter, and, hopefully, my friends will still want to come down to see the cranes. By the time they were going to leave, the passes should be clear. Vita brevis.

Alles Geben…

I’ll be honest. I’ve been feeling pretty oorie about my upcoming birthday, but like many other kinds of dread, once it’s upon you it’s pretty OK. Also, remembering that I share my birthday with the happiest little dog on the planet helps, too.

It’s funny how we are, but I know that some of the dread is linked to the heightened awareness of how close we are to the end of the story. That leads us to wondering if we’ve done anything worth doing with our 3 score and 10. The pope coming out and saying people who opt for pets over children are “selfish” didn’t help. (Ha ha). How would he describe himself and all the other celibate priests and monks and nuns, etc.? Are they excused? How does that work?

I still don’t know and probably will never know if I did good or not. I’ve pretty much toddled along with the idea that not making things worse was the best I could do. I’m hopeful I’ve succeeded in that. Anyway, it’s a self-indulgent preoccupation, regardless how normal it is.

In book reading news, after reading a wonderful book, I picked up (ie. opened my laptop to) another eBook and found a morass of intellectual density, a textbook no kid would ever make it through, written by a retired professor of some stripe or other. My English teacher brain kept yelling at him, “Where’s your thesis statement!!!” I finished evaluating the book, losing an hour in my ever shortening life, and opened another — also by this author. Well, it turned out to be as inscrutable, dense and oblique BUT the subject interested me. I can’t judge a book on that, but I was inspired to look up a term the author had defined because I wanted to know more. Guess what? The definition offered in the textbook was word-for-word from Wikipedia. OK, the question is, “Did the author write the entry in Wikipedia or copy it?”

I breathed a deep sigh of relief because I don’t have to find the answer to that. I don’t have to do anything. The book wasn’t going to win any prizes anyway as readability and value to the audience are two important criteria.

What was the term? It doesn’t matter. My exploration led me to conclude that the word refers to something indefinable, so what’s the point? As I was thinking about it, I thought of how poor old God in Deuteronomy attempted to get the point across to Moses and couldn’t. “God, here’s the deal. Those Hebrews down there are a very skeptical lot and if you don’t give me a name for I’m not going to get anywhere with these stone tablets.”

It seems that in our need to communicate with each other we have invented language, and over time we confuse our terms for the realities toward which they inadequately gesture. OH well. It’s a poor worker who blames his/her tools. At least we have poetry.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, and then closes
Within a dream.
Ernest Dowson, ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’.

Photo: Smiling kid, my cousin, Linda. In the high chair, me, age 1. Behind Linda, Aunt Martha, Aunt Kelly (Linda’s mom) in the middle, my mom holding a gift. It was a puzzle, I mean the gift not the entire future. 😉

No Lead in My Studio (So far…)

Yesterday I went to the museum in Del Norte to collect some money and restock my notecard offerings. It was a good weekend for me financially, and I was able to buy surfaces to paint on. Not the BIG canvas, but some pretty good sized panels and a linen canvas. With all drugs, you can be happy with “cheap Mexi” until someone gives you something better. Last summer I painted on oil-primed linen and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same woman.

It’s a small painting — 8″ x 10″. It turned out that this oil-primed linen is a wonderful, wonderful surface. For the last little while I’ve been trying to figure out how I could organize this technology myself, stretching and priming my own canvas, and it turns out I don’t want to. A lot of the stuff that becomes paint and related substances is poisonous. Some of it is very poisonous. I had to draw a line. Sometime down the road? I don’t know but for now…

The woman who runs the museum is also my friend and as you might know if you read this blog regularly, she lost her husband this past summer. They were married for 58 years. I’ve been listening/talking to her about it all this time and, recently I’ve heard something different in her voice which is she is beginning to see what she CAN do now; she’s looking into the future.

I spent some time Thanksgiving chatting with a friend in Switzerland who lost her dog not long ago. Through a lovely concatenation of events, she has a puppy, but the emptiness of the loss is still eating her up. I can imagine — but don’t know — people saying “She was just a dog,” and the kinds of things people say when losing an animal is out of their experience. Obviously, I don’t feel that way, but I have lost 25 dogs so I have a lot of experience losing and recovering.

As I was talking with my friend at the museum I tried to support her recent decisions to paint her house and travel to Europe (yay!) with the salient point that we live here and forward. I remember the moment I realized that. It wasn’t all that long after my mom died. I was opening the garage door and suddenly had an epiphany that my eyes were in front of my face for a reason. The same with my Swiss friend. Nothing replaces what we’ve lost, but it seems to me that even in calm and ordinary times, we’re a slightly different person every day than we were the day before. A big loss hastens the transformation.

I think that’s part of the sorrow, strangely enough. We don’t just lose the person/dog we loved, we lose the part of ourself who was (in a way) an attenuation of that person/dog. I recognized quickly when I had to put my last Siberian Husky, Lily, to sleep that it marked the end of trail-running Martha even though I hadn’t been able to run for a while. The possibility of that person existing was completely gone with Lily’s passing. I didn’t just lose my beloved — and very old! — dog; I lost a big part of myself, or the way I saw myself.

These recent weeks — selling paintings and confronting the inner Wicked Witch of the West — I have realized I’ve held onto my mom without even knowing it. Part of my trauma with selling a painting to strangers was letting go of yet one more finger of that woman whom I loved in spite of everything.

Post Script: Contending with Fardles

I really appreciate all the kind comments to my glum post this morning. After I wrote it I got the idea that maybe I should tackle a doable project that’s been weighing on me emotionally and physically (to some extent) so I headed out to the garage.

I imagine we all have sadness and disappointment in our families. I have a niece I love very much but who has disappeared from my life completely. I worry about her, but I can’t find her. I know where her mother is, but her mother is mentally extremely fragile and her mother’s husband is a combination of carer and and and? I don’t know, but I can’t reach her through him. I guess they don’t really want to hear from me which is OK. BUT. My mom put together two beautiful photo albums — one for each side of my family; her family and my dad’s. They were for my niece.

This past week, a blogging pal wrote about finding a lot of random old photos in a Goodwill store. She wanted to know the stories. That made me think of a photo album my neighbor found long ago in a dump in a nearby city, an album from WW I with scenes of an army guy (the owner?) in Italy and various other places. The photos in that old album were wonderful, but I felt a little weird, a little like a voyeur. Anyway, I have had those photo albums on my mind for a while. Those and all the letters between my parents when they were young and in love, just starting their lives. With them I thought of my Aunt Jo who burned all the love letters between her and my uncle to protect their privacy. So, today I went through (and emptied!) 2 bins of family memorabilia and got rid of half of my Christmas decorations. I don’t put up a tree so????

I contacted my cousin’s daughter and asked her if she’d like the album from our mutual family. She was so happy to have it. I seriously feel like a huge burden has been lifted from my spirit. I’ve wrapped it up in brown paper and it’s on its way tomorrow. My cousin’s daughter also wanted a little nativity I bought in Mexico for my mom.

As I worked, my spirit felt progressively lighter. I have no problem tossing the contents of the other album after I take some photos to put on my Ancestry tree.

When I finished these labors I thought, “OK. Everything left is just my life,” and that’s, I think, how it should be and I’m a LOT less glum.

Another thing I found is a small silk mass-produced tapestry of a scene, I think in Hangzhou. In itself it might not be anything special, but its story is. When I was teaching international students in San Diego in the late 1980s I made friends with a Japanese student who had been a cook in a Chinese restaurant in a resort in Hokkaido. He rented a room from the Good X and me for a while which was great because he cooked. 😀 Anyway, his father and his father’s friend came to visit.

I was nervous. These men were both WW II Veterans from the OTHER side. Aki had warned me that his father was very old fashioned, very conservative and hated Aki being in the US with the “enemy.” I knew a lot more about the Chinese Anti-Japanese war than did most Americans and I wasn’t sure about having a Japanese soldier in my house. It was a little weird.

We picked them up at the airport. Aki’s dad was rigid but Japanese friendly/polite. His friend? Wow. Friendly, open, curious, outspoken. The first thing Aki’s dad did was walk through my (large) garden which was designed in a semi-Asian style (homesick). He came in the house and said, “I had no idea Americans garden!!!” The friend saw some of the Chinese hangings I had at the time (lines of calligraphy from friends in China). He said, in pretty good English. “You know China?”

I said I’d been there a year. Then he told me he’d been a guard at a POW camp. He was 18. He didn’t understand why the Chinese were enemies of Japan. Some of the guards were Chinese. The friend said a lot of things, including that Japan’s culture came from China (not totally true, but…) I can’t remember everything, but they made me think about the war — history in general — differently. I began to understand something about the intense worship many Japanese had of the Emperor and that while sides are enemies in general in particular? Maybe not. We all know that, I guess, but hearing it from this man was very special. “I had a Chinese friend at the camp. I like Chinese.” He had even been back to visit.

Their visit ended with the usual journey to “Glando Canyono” and “Ras Vegas.” Months later I got a package and thank you from Aki’s father’s friend. I opened it to find the small tapestry the Chinese man had given him. It’s a real treasure and I thought it was long gone.

Oh and yet another draft of the Pearl Buck Project… THAT’S hopeless.

Here’s a photo of the edge of the tapestry telling where it was made.