Tag Archives: Featured

Grief Purse

This spring and fall mark the 5th anniversary of the deaths of my parents.  Sometime between their deaths, I was in Sioux Falls and I bought a rather fancy Coach purse. It was a total splurge.

I am not the sort of person who has lots of shoes and purses. It don’t care if my purse matches anything else I am wearing.  I just use the same purse until it wears out, and then I get another one. I go more for utility than style.

I put the new purse in the closet back in 2014, in the fancy cotton storage bag that it came in, and didn’t think about it again until this spring when I needed a bigger purse to take on a trip in lieu of a brief case.  My current purse, a burgundy one, was a little too small, and I thought about the other purse in the closet. I have used it ever since, retiring the burgundy one in the closet.  My son saw the new purse when we visited him over Memorial Day. He said “Oh, that is your grief purse. You bought it when Grandma died. I wondered when you would use it.”

Well, I never thought about it like that, but I think he may have something there. I have been thinking a bit more about my parents than usual, and I suppose my not using this purse for 5 years  has some deeper meaning.  I am glad my son is so observant.

What do you have that is associated with the memory of another person or persons?

What’s New in the Neighborhood?

We have lived in the same house for 30 years. When we moved in, there were only a few young families, and the elderly couple across the street was so excited to have “nice, young family” move in. The elderly couple have both died, and until a year or so age, the neighborhood was mainly full of middle aged couples whose children had grown and moved away.

Many houses have changed hands lately, and this week I counted seven new families on our block, each having or about to have a new baby. There are many more older children as well. Now we are the older couple welcoming “nice, young families” to the neighborhood.  It is good to see and hear children again. We have to be hypervigilant backing out of the driveway so no one gets run over. It is the price we pay for progress, I guess.

The cultural  makeup has changed, too. When we moved in, most of our neighbors were Roman Catholics, and many were of Czech heritage.  Most were people whose families had lives in the area for several generations. Three families were even related to one another.  That is completely different now, and our neighbors are a mix of locals and new people, and they are far less public about their religious views.

How has your neighborhood changed since you moved in? If you have recently moved, how is your new neighborhood different than your old one?

Ritual

The neighbors across the street are a hard working, industrious couple who spends every weekend at a little, man made lake about 50 miles east of here. It is a murky hole in the ground that greens up quite soon after the temperature gets warm, but people from around here flock there, mainly for spots to park their campers and get away from the hectic bustle of city life. (Such as it is out here!)

Every Sunday afternoon they return home and we get to observe the ritual washing of the pickup. They have only been gone two nights, they travel mainly on paved roads, yet that pickup gets washed and vacuumed inside and out.  It never fails.It is as though they can’t settle down and relax until the pickup is spotless and back in the garage.

I suppose we all have rituals of some sort. Many rituals serve as declarations of the sacred, whether we are religious or not.  Other rituals serve to bring families together.  Many folks out here have a ritual of playing pinochle after extended family dinners, or rituals involving  sausage making during deer season. Some hunting families  out here have a communal shoot into the air before starting hunting to honor family members who have died. Morning coffee has become a ritual in our home, as the person who goes to work later makes the coffee for the person who goes to work earlier, and the quality of the coffee is always evaluated. The point is that we have coffee together before anyone goes to work.  We will attend the Twin Buttes Pow Wow this weekend, a celebration full of rituals.

What rituals do you observe and participate in? Did your family have rituals when you were growing up? Are you a creature of habit?  

Pohjala’s Daughter

About 15 years ago, we planted two rhododendrons named Pohjola’s Daughter. They were  Finnish cultivars said to be cold hardy. They were sort of root bound, and I remember thinking that I could have done a better job freeing the roots when I planted them.  Well, I was right, since they didn’t get appreciably bigger or bloom until this May, despite my constant fertilizing and fussing.  The flowers were so pretty.  It was a long wait, though, and I thought they were aptly named when I researched the story of Pohjola’s Daughter, and how she kept suitors away by giving them impossible tasks to complete before she would marry them. The story comes from the Finnish epic The Kalevala.  Sibelius used the story for a tone poem.  According to Wikipedia:

The tone poem depicts the “steadfast, old,” white-bearded Väinämöinen who spots the beautiful “daughter of the North (Pohjola)”, seated on a rainbow, weaving a cloth of gold while he is riding a sleigh through the dusky landscape. Väinämöinen asks her to join him, but she replies that she will only leave with a man who can perform a number of challenging tasks, such as tying an egg into invisible knots and, most notably, building a boat from fragments of her distaff. Väinämöinen attempts to fulfill these tasks through his own expertise in magic; in many of the tasks he succeeds but he is eventually thwarted by evil spirits when attempting to build the boat and injures himself with an axe. He gives up, abandons the tasks and continues on his journey alone.

I find  our translation of The Kalevala pretty tedious to read, and I think I need to find a new one, since the stories are so interesting. I also find it interesting when life imitates art the way our rhododendrons did.

What is your favorite epic poem or story to read?  When have you seen life imitate art?

Literary Bust

As I was reading this morning (Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith [aka JK Rowlings]), the narrator casually mentions watching a show about art and the camera pans the room, to include a bust of Beethoven.  There is a smidge of discussion about how the protagonist looks a bit like Beethoven and then the story moves on.

But as the story continued, I was distracted by the thought of the Beethoven bust. Hadn’t a bust of Beethoven just been a book I finished last week?  And wasn’t there a bust of Beethoven in a book I read a couple of months ago.  Time to backtrack in my reading history.

There was indeed a bust of Beethoven in Transcription by Kate Atkinson.  It was included in a description of a room and then later was used by a Nazi sympathizer to try to escape from the MI5 agents who had uncovered her treachery.

The previous literary bust turned out to be Baudelaire, not Beethoven, in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.  In that book, the Nazi (yeah, I know you ‘ve all heard me say I’m sick of WWII books, but apparently not that sick) uses a bust of Baudelaire to break the fingers of the young spy.  Gruesome.

I have no idea what this means to the larger world, that busts of Beethoven and Baudelaire have shown up repeatedly in my reading the last few months, but it’s fascinating to me.

Pick a bust for your living room… any composer, artist, writer or super hero. Living or dead.  Who is it?

The Family Escutcheon

Today’s Post comes from Occasional Caroline.

My nephew turned 40 over the weekend. He has had challenges throughout many of those years, including struggling with addictions. He has been sober for a number of years and is doing well now, but is ever vigilant not to slip back down that slippery slope. Forty is a milestone and he invited family and friends to a gathering to help him usher in the new decade. The invitation and his situation, brought to mind an episode and an item from the family canon that I thought would be meaningful to him and support both his sobriety and his interest in family history. My problem was that the story really started in the late 1800s and the chain of custody of the actual facts has more missing links than the other kind. Here is the story I was able to cobble together from the collective memories of my mother, brother, sister and me, and present to my nephew:

We thought that you were the perfect person to hand down this family heirloom and story to. Although the people who could give us the most accurate information are no longer available to confirm or refute these “facts”, here is what might have happened that we have pieced together from the memories of those of us were around for parts of this saga. Total historical accuracy is not what you’ll read here, this is the new truth from the 21st century onward…

Long, long ago, when your great grandma, was a young girl, a man in the family (quite possibly her father, but maybe not) regularly drank more than was prudent. Each day (or possibly more or, less often) he would send one of his 3 sons, (if indeed it was Grandma’s father) to a neighborhood bar to have this brown pitcher filled with beer, and returned to quench his thirst. Grandma developed a loathing for what excessive drink could do to a man.

At some point, when he was old enough to know better (in his 40s), her son, your dad’s, aunt’s,  and my father, did one of 2 things. Or, more probably, he did both and one was the straw that broke the camel’s (Grandma’s) back.

Scenario One: He drank too much at his favorite bar, headed home, driving drunk on back roads, and was pulled over by the police and given either a DUI ticket or a warning. Somehow Grandma found out about it (back then all legal infractions were published in the local newspapers, so she may have read it, if indeed he got the ticket). In any case Grandma knew and she was furious with him.

Scenario Two: He arrived at a family gathering in a state of intoxication, which his mother quickly recognized, and she was furious with him.

Whatever the infraction/(s) was/were, at some point, still furious, his mother presented the family symbol of excessive drink, the brown beer pitcher, to her son as a stern reminder of her fury and disapproval of his lack of sobriety. It was also, of course a loving reminder of her parental devotion, and concern for his welfare. We are all quite certain that his mother never, ever saw him drunk again (which is not to say that he was never drunk again, just not in her presence).

So, with pride and recognition of your years of sobriety, and to commemorate your fortieth birthday, we present you with that same little brown jug, which is now the family symbol of keeping the plug in the jug.

You have become the keeper of the story and the jug, and you may use, alter, enhance, embellish, retell, hide, proclaim, ignore, or do anything else with them you wish.

Author’s note: I have thoroughly examined the pitcher for any identifying marks and found nothing etched, stamped or printed anywhere on it to help identify where or when it began. It is fairly small, about 7 inches high. Notice that the handle appears to be a greyhound. What’s up with that? In any case, if the back story is at all accurate, we assume that the pitcher is at least as old as my grandmother would be; she was born in 1890, so nearly 130 years, but it could be older.

 

What’s in your family canon? How has  your family embellished family “history”? 

Cats Will Be Cats

Husband and I have had a cat or two (or three) for most of the 30 years we lived in our current house. Some of the cats were mainly indoor cats who went outside occasionally,  and the current two are strictly indoor cats.  They both have their claws, but we are too worried they would get hurt outside. Millie, the Tortie, would love to go outside. She scratches at the door like a dog  when she hears us outside.  She started out life as a hobby farm kitten, but she is so clumsy and impulsive she would make some pretty bad choices and get into some dangerous situations.  She has to be content with her life indoors.

I worry about cats that I see roaming. There aren’t too many in our neighborhood. The white supremacist across the street lets his small tabby roam at will.  I worry about her, too, but I must credit her predatory ways with an absence  of garden raiding bunnies. On the other hand, I wasn’t too happy with her when I saw her carrying a Swainson’s Thrush  she had poached in our back yard.  Outdoor cats and birds don’t mix well. Cat will be cats, I guess. I can’t expect them to all be like our Albert, who was an enormous tabby with a luxurious double coat who was terrified of birds and hid from them under the gooseberry bushes.

Where do you think cats belong?  Tell some cat stories.