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Posts Tagged ‘Family Memories’

On this Veteran’a Day, I’m posting a family story about my Dad, in the words of my sister, Sue Rogers Kreikemeier:

“My father, Russell G. Rogers, was a born storyteller. There was no end to his collection of yarns, but like many veterans, he seldom spoke of his war experiences. While most of his stories told of light-hearted adventures, his occasional comments, pieced together with his faded diary and letters home, fill in some of the gaps that he left us with.

Dad was an 18 year old farm boy when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. After basic training and a train ride across the United States, he was shipped out to the Philippines. While the majority of Japanese soldiers had retreated from their strongholds, ‘hold-outs’ existed for some time to come. Dad simply described his assignment there as ‘mop-up duty’. He recalled the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, noting that President Truman’s decision to do so probably saved his life, as his unit was being outfitted with wool uniforms which he suspected was preparation for a land invasion of Japan.

(In this picture, Dad is the short guy on the right, with his schoolmate Marty Zemek. This was not taken in Hawaii, but in my grandparents’ front yard. Dad served in the Seventh Army Air Force.)

After the surrender of the Japanese to the Allied Forces, Dad’s next stop on Oahu must have seemed like landing in paradise! During this time he was assigned the task of cleaning the officers’ quarters on the base. Photos later brought home to the States show the joyful faces of Dad with several of his hometown buddies, unexpectedly reunited thousands of miles and one war later, from home. Having attended a one room country school together, they knew how to make their own fun, and joined him in such antics as ‘borrowing’ officers’ uniforms and visiting the Officers’ Club.

When General Dwight Eisenhower was scheduled to arrive on base and inspect the troops, Dad was assigned to prepare the classiest suite on the base for the General. He, like many of his comrades, greatly admired Eisenhower. I’m sure he did his farm-boy best to make a bed you could bounce a dime off. To his great disappointment, after inspecting the troops, General Eisenhower left the base, opting for the comforts available in Honolulu. In spite of his initial chagrin, Dad was always proud to be known for having made the bed that General Eisenhower never slept in.

These tidbits have led me to explore more about what his war experiences might have included. I’m sure his story is reflective of many other stories, if they had been told, of young farm boys and girls thrown into circumstances beyond their imaginations. I am humbled by the resilience of our ‘Greatest  Generation’, who, in spite of a heavy veil of pain and suffering, were able to find joy and wonder in a hurting world.”

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Our sister Bonnie Rogers Grundel adds:

“So here is a picture of Dad’s military shadow box. Also, he got the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Per Wikipedia: “On 27 October 1943, the War Department formally established the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) and the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) awards in Section I, War Department Circular 269 (27 October 1943): The present war has demonstrated the importance of highly-proficient, tough, hard, and aggressive infantry, which can be obtained only by developing a high degree of individual all-around proficiency on the part of every infantryman. As a means of attaining the high standards desired and to foster esprit de corps in infantry units; the Expert Infantryman and the Combat Infantryman badges are established for infantry personnel.”

Supposedly Dad got an extra $10 a month for obtaining this badge!”

Dad with old Army buddy Frank Ross.

And here’s my contribution: When we were kids, we asked Dad if he ever got shot in the war. With a straight face, he lifted his shirt,  pointed to his belly button, and said, “Yes, here.”

 

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It was a dry year, until the rains came. I had to water my potted plants and raised beds just about every day. Miss a day and someone would die. In late May, the rains came. In June, we’ve had more rain than we had in the eight previous months—since September!

I had so looked forward to June. The weather in May is as perfect as can be, pleasant but not too hot. But not for yard and garden work because of the yellow flies. Their bites are painful. They come in swarms. Some years I can’t sprint from the front door to the car without getting a half dozen bites. They thumb their noses at insect repellent. I can’t work outdoors without wearing armor. June is hotter, but I don’t mind the heat. I had so looked forward to June.

Then the rains came—seven inches one day! With the rains, mosquitoes. I diligently went through my yard dumping anything that held water where mosquitoes could breed. Yet breed they did! I have no idea where, unless the wrigglers can live in humidity alone, and there’s plenty of that. The mosquitoes are so thick I can’t sprint from my front door to the car without getting a dozen bites. They thumb their noses at Skin so Soft. Insect repellent works for barely an hour.

Even if Mosquito Control came back in my woods, I wouldn’t want them to spray. Too many other things live here. Besides, they spray at night. I don’t garden at night but the mosquitoes that bother me are out in the daytime. I had such plans for my yard. I wanted to work on the blueberry patch that inspired me last month. I had so looked forward to June.

Here in the South, we have wondrous creatures called “skeeter hawks” that fly around and devour mosquitoes. Elsewhere they’re called dragonflies. Usually they’ll follow a plague of mosquitoes and make short work of them. So be patient, I told myself. Soon the dragonflies will come and I’ll be able to go outside again. But it’s the end of June and no dragonflies yet.

The Good

Why? I knew dragonflies breed in water, like mosquitoes. A creek runs through my property and there are several ponds in the neighborhood, but they can dry up during drought, so the dragonflies likely had nowhere to breed. Even with all the rain we’ve had this month, my creek is still dry. The land was very thirsty.

When the ponds fill up, the dragonflies should lay eggs, but how long before their babies grow up and eat mosquitoes? I turned to Google. I learned that, unlike mosquitoes, their larvae, called nymphs, live in the water for months or even years before they become adults. Mosquitoes take only a few days to grow up. The nymphs aren’t idle–they eat mosquito larvae in the water, but they’re not ready to take to the air for months or more.

This isn’t the worst plague of mosquitoes I’ve seen. When my family lived in Moore Haven, they were so thick even window screens didn’t protect us. Dad always claimed one mosquito pokes a leg through the screen, another pokes a head through, and so on, then all the parts get together and make a whole mosquito. Enough body parts and you have a swarm of them. Some nights they were so bad in the house I’d sleep with a blanket over my head. In summer. In the Everglades. And we had no air conditioning. But at least those mosquitoes came out mostly at night. During the day, we could safely go outside.

The Bad

Why didn’t dragonflies keep the mosquitoes under control in South Florida? We were surrounded by water—Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, and scads of drainage canals. We were also surrounded by sugarcane fields. Who knows what chemicals they poured into those canals? This was in the 1960’s, long before the EPA, and dragonflies are more susceptible to pollution than mosquitoes. Also, draining the Everglades for agriculture destroyed dragonfly habitat while mosquitoes could still breed in a teaspoon of water.

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, there are 307 species of dragonflies in the US and 15% of them are in danger of extinction. The ones most in danger are the stream dwellers, due to water pollution. Who’d have thought dragonflies could go extinct? Mosquitoes are in no danger of extinction. They outbreed dragonflies.

The most dangerous mosquitoes, that carry things like malaria and Zika, are active during the day when we humans want to be outdoors. Several years ago when I was a social worker, there was an outbreak of West Nile Virus. I drove out into the countryside one day looking for a family and found a little old lady who knew where they lived. She was trying to load some things into her car and I offered to help. I stood with an armload of dishes while she rummaged in her purse for her keys and her mosquitoes chewed my ears and elbows. I couldn’t swat them without dropping her stuff.

Finally, her goodies safely deposited in the car, I could freely swat while she gave me directions. Then she said, “Did you read in the newspaper about the man who caught West Nile Virus? That was my husband.”

Whoa! Did the same mosquitoes trying to devour me bite him first? Fortunately, I escaped that unpleasant fate and lived to be bitten again.

I’ve thought about getting my yard certified as a Wildlife Habitat. https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx I have everything required except a water feature. (In fact, I have so much of the required vegetation that I need to clear some out to make a human habitat.) Now I think I’ll raise my own home-grown skeeter hawks so I’ll have a head start on the next  mosquito plague. The NWF website has information on building a pond for dragonflies: https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2002/Attracting-Aerial-Acrobats-to-Your-Yard.aspx/.

The Ugly

Amazing how something like this can grow up to be a beautiful dragonfly! But how can I keep mosquitoes from breeding in my pond until the nymphs hatch and eat them? Fish would eat wrigglers and nymphs alike. There is a product called BTi, mosquito dunks, that kills mosquito larvae but won’t harm nymphs. I must get some. I wish I could provide a habitat for the stream dwellers, too, but my little creek dries up when there’s no rain.

 

 

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With the turning of the year, I was reminded of this story, which took place around the New Year, fifty three years ago.

Dad was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. Afterwards, he couldn’t tolerate cold weather. All through childhood, I heard him threaten to move to Florida to get out of those Upstate New York winters. When I was around twelve, he and a friend actually took a trip south to scope things out. There, his car broke down, so he bought a Chrysler New Yorker and brought it home. That car was destined to return to Florida. A few years later, my parents sold the house, paid off debts, and we moved.

This car is similar to the one we took to Florida,

Our car was similar to this one.

It may sound crazy to load up the family and take off on a 1000 mile move with no solid goal (as in job or place to live), but that’s what we did. Of course, there were preparations. Dad built a utility/camping trailer with a canvas top. Clothing and dishes were packed inside and our mattresses laid on top. The canvas lid could be propped up like a lean-to roof, and with a camp stove and ice chest, we had all the comforts of home, right? No need to buy ice—Dad yanked a couple of ice sickles off the eaves of the house. They were as big around as my arm and people in Florida were astounded.

Our other belongings were left with my grandparents or loaded on the back of Dad’s truck which he stored in a friend’s garage. The plan was to return for the truck in a few weeks. (Those few weeks became a few years.)

Dad's old truck years later. It used to be green.

Dad’s old truck years later. It used to be green.

So, one cold day in late December, 1963, we set out in the Chrysler. This was long before mini-vans, and even a station wagon wouldn’t hold all of us. Have you ever traveled with a half dozen or so kids crammed together in the back seat of a car?  It was the middle of winter, so we huddled together for warmth. We didn’t fight among ourselves. We couldn’t. There was no room.

Besides, we were off on an adventure, fulfilling a dream.

In the middle of the night, somewhere in Virginia, Mom was driving and hit a deer. I woke when the car stopped. Mom was in the front seat, but Dad wasn’t. There’d been no damage to the car, but the deer didn’t fare so well. Later, as Dad told the story, another vehicle stopped but they couldn’t find the deer. Suddenly, the injured animal leaped up out of the roadside brush and one of the men whipped out a gun and shot it. Dad thought this was a good time to leave. He said, “Well, boys, you got yourselves a deer!” Then he high-tailed it back to the car, jumped in, and off we went.

With eight kids and limited funds, you don’t stay at motels. We were geared up for camping, but it was too cold, so we kept going. The Interstate Highway System hadn’t been built yet, so travel took more time than it does for most folks nowadays.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with our first taste of Mountain Dew, which at the time was a “hillbilly” soda. I thought it was delicious. The formula has since been changed, and/or my tastes are now more refined.

When we crossed into South Carolina, two very disparate things greeted us: a palm tree and South of the Border, tourist trap extraordinaire. The palm was a sable (or cabbage) palmetto, symbol of the “Palmetto State,” also the state tree of Florida. At the time, South of the Border straddled 301 and sold artifacts from Mexico. Now days, it caters to I-95 traffic and sells cheap souvenirs.

Sabal Palm

Sabal Palm

In Savannah, I got my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. A high bridge took us over the river, and off to the left was a sparkling patch of blue. In much of Georgia, the highway ran through mile after mile of pine forests. My parents commented on the lack of guardrails along the deep, water-filled ditches. If someone went off the road, they’d never be found. We rolled into Florida on January 2nd.

We stopped in the Ocala National Forest, near Salt Springs, for a few days. Dad pulled up to a little country store and asked where we could camp. The proprietor gestured to a tree on the edge of his parking lot and said people sometimes camp there, so we did. The man was very nice, but instead of a Southern drawl, he talked so fast I couldn’t understand him. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I wonder if he got tired of us asking, “What?”

We were now in sunny Florida, so we put on shorts and went for a walk down a sandy road through a hammock of palm, oak, and cypress. It was sunny, all right, but it was COLD. An arctic blast had followed us south and we about froze to death. After a day or so, my parents decided to go farther south.

We settled in Moore Haven, on the south side of Lake Okeechobee. You couldn’t see the lake because of the levy around it, and you could get to it only by boating down a canal. We stayed in a campground near the lake until Dad got a job and we rented a house.

In reflection, it’s amazing how much has changed in the last half-century. In some ways, though certainly not all, this was a simpler, more innocent time. Not many children today are privileged to have the remarkable experiences we did.

You can read more about Moore Haven and our other early adventures in Florida in “Hurricane Dora”: https://marieqrogers.com/tag/hurricane-dora/

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Halloween isn’t what it used to be. But then, maybe it never was. When I was a child, we didn’t call it Trick-or-Treat. It was Halloweening. We didn’t dress up and go door to door anonymously collecting loot from strangers. In my neighborhood we had friendlier traditions.

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My family lived in a rural community of small farms and households whose occupants worked in town. The neighborhood encompassed about a square mile, a small school district once served by the one-room schoolhouse, Barnum Hill School. After I finished first grade, the school was closed and we were bussed into town. Since we all rode the same school bus, everyone was acquainted.

Halloweening was a ritual. When we knocked on a door, the family invited us in and tried to guess who we were. That was fun. The better the disguise, the more difficult it was to recognize us. Seldom were costumes store-bought. Usually we made our own. Old sheets became ghosts, scarecrows emerged from rags, and dress-up clothes and hand-me-downs outfitted princesses, witches, and anything else our imaginations could conjure. Some clever mothers sewed elaborate, almost professional, costumes for their offspring. Everyone wore masks or makeup to change their appearance. After the family guessed us right, we unmasked and they gave us our treats.

Walking two or three miles was a lot for one night, especially for small children, so we spread Halloweening over three nights. Two days before Halloween, as soon as we got off the school bus, we’d dress up and head out. One evening we’d walk up East Maine Road, down the road another night, and the third night we’d canvass Reynolds Road. The only time our parents drove us was over to Finch Hollow where Grandma and Grandpa Masters lived. Pretending to be neighborhood kids, instead of calling at the kitchen door as usual, we’d go to the front door and make them guess who we were.

Grandma always made popcorn balls for Halloween. In those days, we didn’t worry about razor blades or poison, because we only went to homes of people we knew. Years later, I was appalled when a friend told me she went through her children’s Halloween bags before they were allowed to eat anything, and she threw out all the homemade treats! But she was one of those who took their children to neighborhoods where they didn’t know anyone, prosperous areas where they could get lots of loot. Better than candy were the homemade goodies from our neighbors, and of course Grandma Masters’ popcorn balls.

Only once did anyone question our arrival before Halloween Night. A new family moved into the neighborhood. We went to their house because their kids rode the school bus and we knew them. “But it’s not Halloween yet,” the man said and refused to give us treats. I’m sure someone set him straight by the following year.

Parents sometimes accompanied their children. My mother went Halloweening with us when we were young. Once she dressed as a scarecrow with a straw hat pulled down over her face. “I bet this is Barbara,” a lady said, as she tugged the hat up, and both of them laughed. Another new neighbor brought her children around so she could get acquainted. When my brothers and I were older, we went by ourselves and took our younger siblings with us. It could turn dark before we got home, but no one worried because all children in the neighborhood were out Halloweening.

One year I made a papier-mache Frankenstein mask at school. Somehow, word got around and my mask became the talk of the neighborhood. I was quite proud of it, but come Halloween, I knew if I wore it, everyone would know who I was, so I dressed as something else. That proved to be a disappointment to neighbors who had been looking forward to seeing “Frank.”

There was always a little mischief in the neighborhood, but nothing serious. Although most homes were modern, a few outhouses remained. Grandad had a little rental cottage with no plumbing, only a well pump and an outhouse, which was routinely tipped over every Halloween.

Ancestral Ourhouse

Ancestral Ourhouse

The schoolhouse had two outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys. Apparently, the boys’ was adequately secured to its foundation, but when I was in first grade, someone tipped over the girls’ outhouse and we had to use the boys’ until it could be set right again. Today the culprits would be hunted down and charged with criminal mischief, but in those days, it was just part of Halloween.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls' outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls’ outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

When I was older, our school district elected a trustee who let his position go to his head. He began making decisions contrary to the wishes of the parents, who got up in arms. The teenagers, aware of their elders’ discontent but too young to vote, took matters into their own hands. On Halloween night, the trustee found out what is meant by “tricks.” No real damage, only toilet paper, eggs, and garbage thrown at his house. He called the police, but as I remember, nothing much came of it except that the next election saw him voted out.

After we moved away, I was disappointed that other people didn’t practice Halloweening. When we went to neighbor’s houses, they’d just shove candy at us and send us on our way, no guessing or socializing.

Today, Halloween has fallen into disrepute. Some people think it has something to do with devil worship. Actually, the old Celts of the British Isles celebrated Sondheim, a harvest festival. They dressed up in costumes to trick the evil spirits, so they could do no harm. The early Christians adopted the holiday and called it All Hallows Eve, meaning the evening before All Hallows or All Saints Day, November 1st. What’s ironic is that those who today substitute “Fall Festivals” for Halloween have returned the holiday to its ancient Celtic purpose—a Harvest Festival!

 

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I thought about Aunt Hazel a lot today. Like her, I crochet. I usually buy cheap yarn at Wal-Mart, but for a special project I bought a skein from Yarnworks, a little shop in Gainesville. This yarn came in a long loop that had to be wound into a ball before I could use it. I remember Aunt Hazel had a contraption, called a yarn swift. You’d stretch a skein on the swift and as you pulled the yarn to wind it into a ball, the swift would turn and let the yarn out in an orderly fashion without tangling. I wish I’d had one today. Having none, I hung the skein over a chair. It worked for a while, but little by little the strands twisted together and before long, I had a tangled mess. It took over an hour to unravel it.

When you grow up with a person you seldom appreciate her accomplishments. Aunt Hazel never married and lived with her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Brown, until they died, then with her sister and brother-in-law, Grandma and Grandpa Rogers, for the rest of her days. Not much to brag about, but looking back on her life, I realize now how much she exceeded expectations for a maiden lady of her time.

With Mutt, October 1964

Aunt Hazel with Mutt, October 1964

Aunt Hazel was born in 1904, the youngest child in her family. Grandma and Grandpa Brown had a daughter and a son who died before my grandmother and Aunt Hazel were born. Such was infant mortality in those days. Grandma must have been healthy—she lived to be 96. Aunt Hazel, however, was “sickly,” suffering from epilepsy as a child. Probably because they’d lost their first two children, her parents sheltered her. She was also near sighted and wore glasses. Boys called her “four-eyes.” No wonder she never married.

In rural America in those days, respectable unmarried women lived with family and seldom worked outside the home. Aunt Hazel went to school and did housework. When the family moved to a farm, she and Grandma helped with farm work.

When Grandpa Brown died, Aunt Hazel and her mother moved in with the Rogers. After Grandma Brown died, Aunt Hazel stayed. Where else was she to go?

She never lived independently, but Aunt Hazel became a career woman. At first, she crocheted. That’s where the yarn swift comes into the picture. I remember as a child watching TV in their living room. Aunt Hazel would take a skein of yarn, loop it around the swift, and keep her hands busy winding the yarn into balls. Then she’d crochet. She made baby sets to sell—matching bonnets, sweaters, and booties of soft pastel yarn. These she’d pack in paper-lined boxes and take to McCrory’s, a five and dime store in Johnson City, where they were sold. Aunt Hazel must have made hundreds of those beautiful baby outfits. Curiously, none of us got one, but she also made baby blankets, and I still have mine. It’s too fragile to use, but a treasure, none the less.

This is close to what I remember Aunt Hazel's looked like.

This is close to what I remember Aunt Hazel’s yarn swift looked like.

Later, she became an Avon Lady. She didn’t earn just pocket money. She was a powerhouse of a sales woman, taking each campaign by the horns, and winning prize after prize for sales. Her route covered Johnson City and Binghamton. When she visited a customer, if the woman wasn’t in the market to buy, they’d just have a friendly chat. Quite often, the lady would remember something she wanted for herself or as a gift, and Aunt Hazel would make a sale, after all.

Few women of her generation drove a car, but Aunt Hazel was different. Since Grandma didn’t drive, Aunt Hazel would take her to deliver butter every Thursday. She owned a series of cars, always a Plymouth. She patronized a certain gas station in town. In those days, filling stations were also auto shops and her mechanic kept her on the road. One time when I accompanied her, I was shocked to hear him call her “Hazel.” How rude! The only people who called her by her first name were my grandparents. People outside the family called her “Miss Brown.”

We lived with my grandparents until I was ten. Aunt Hazel was like a third grandmother in the home. She would rock us, read to us, sing to us. She taught us “Froggie Went A-Courtin’” and “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.”

Sometimes adults can be indiscreet. If he was upset with Aunt Hazel, Dad would call her an “old maid” behind her back. Once I won a prize at school and chose a deck of Old Maid Cards. In all innocence, I proudly showed them to Aunt Hazel and said, “Look, I’ve got Old Maid Cards, just like you.” I distinctly remember the silence that followed. I think Dad watched his tongue afterward.

As she aged, Aunt Hazel developed diabetes. She attributed this to indiscretion while working her Avon route. Instead of eating a proper lunch, she’d grab a pastry. She managed her blood sugar by close watch on her diet, but she slowly declined until she could no longer work. Then she developed dementia. The day she died, I cried all morning, not knowing why, until I got the news. She was only 75, young for our family.

It’s interesting how events shape our lives. In a generation where women were almost exclusively homemakers, Aunt Hazel was a saleswoman and Grandma ran a dairy farm. Had their brother survived, leaving the Browns a son to help work the farm, these ladies may have grown up to fill more traditional feminine roles. The necessity of doing men’s work gave them the gumption to become modern 20th Century women.

I thought about all these things while I untangled that almost impossible knot of yarn. By stubborn persistence, I succeeded and now am prepared to crochet.  I wonder what became of Aunt Haze’s yarn swift? I sure could have used it today.

For more on Grandma’s dairy business, read Binghamton Butter to Texas Kolaches.

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djibouti-map

Djibouti is a tiny country in the Horn of Africa, sandwiched between Eritrea and Somalia, where the Red Sea flows into the Gulf of Aden. If you look at a map, the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula points right to it. The capital city is also named Djibouti. My sister Lorraine and her family live there.

I visited them in 2004.  At the time, they lived in a two story house surrounded by a gated wall, a typical residence for well-to-do Djiboutians and middle-class expatriates. Next door, in a similar house, was the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Although Djibouti enjoys peace and good relations with the Western world and has not been a victim of the unrest that plagues the nations around it, I found it a little unsettling, at first, to stay next door to the Saudi Embassy. Not to worry, Lorraine and John assured me. They got along quite well with their neighbors. Indeed they did. When I wanted a sample of my name in Arabic, Lorraine sent their watchman next door and someone at the embassy wrote it on a piece of paper for me.

However, I hadn’t been there more than a few days, when one night I was jarred from sleep by explosions and lights flashing in the sky. I jumped out of bed and ran to my window, certain that we were under attack, that the wars raging throughout the Middle East had invaded peaceful little Djibouti, or the embassy next door was being bombed, but I couldn’t see anything except flashes of light. I knew it was no thunderstorm. So I ran to another window.

I’m not sure whether John’s sleep was disturbed by the explosions or by my running through the house. He accosted me on my way to a third window and said, “It’s all right! It’s all right. It’s only fireworks.” And so it was. We couldn’t get a clear view of them, only enough to know we weren’t about to die. Afterwards, we had a good laugh.

This is what it sounded like that night.

This is what it sounded like that night.

At home, I can hear the Fourth of July celebration eleven miles away in Lake Butler. My neighbors shoot off fireworks every July 4th, New Year’s Eve, or whenever they have a party. Those don’t alarm me. But we Americans can hardly wait until dark for the pyrotechnics to begin, and that night in Djibouti, not only was it well after dark, it was late enough that we were in bed asleep. There’d been no notice of a fireworks display and we never did learn what the occasion was. Someone in the city was celebrating something and fireworks was part of the entertainment. I wonder how many other people woke in alarm that night thinking the city was being bombed.

But it wasn’t. Did my expectations that this part of the world was dangerous cause my reaction? Or was my alarm reasonable? I’ll never forget the terror of the moment, yet I was safe. When I think about people who live in actual war zones, whose days and nights are disturbed, not by festive fireworks, but by actual bombs, my heart goes out to them. If the unexpected sounds of that night remain etched in my mind twelve years later, I can’t begin to imagine what effect it has on those who are exposed to violence on a continuous basis. Here in the USA, we have so much to be grateful for.

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The first time I watched the movie Labyrinth with David Bowie, I recognized those ugly little things disguised as Muppets. They had plagued me during my most dire illness.

I was in high school when I came down with strep throat. I’d never been so sick in my life. For an entire week, I went to school with a sore throat and low grade fever because I hated to miss school. Instead of shaking it off, which I might have done had I stayed home a few days to rest, I became too ill to go anywhere but to a doctor. I lost a week of school and a noticeable amount of weight. During the worst of my ailment, I suffered hallucinations.

It was winter and our house didn’t have central heat. My bedroom being the coldest, I was allowed to sleep on the living room couch, near the fireplace. Only I couldn’t sleep. Every time I dozed off, goblins would fly out from behind the couch, fill the room, and squawk loud enough to wake the dead. I didn’t know how anyone else in the family could sleep. I was too sick to be frightened by them, too sick even to wonder at their existence. (The goblins didn’t bring David Bowie with them, but even if they had, I was too sick to care.)

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Finally, I got up and went to my parents’ room to tell them I couldn’t sleep because, “Those things in there are making too much noise.” What things? I got no sympathy. The goblins’ racket apparently hadn’t disturbed their slumber, but I had. I was told to go back to bed. They didn’t even get up and shine a flashlight behind the couch to show me nothing was there. Maybe they thought I was old enough to figure it out for myself.

During the day, with sunlight to chase the goblins away, I was finally able to rest. Lying in the living room in my feverish malaise, I heard my little sisters whispering. An elderly friend of ours had recently died. My sisters thought I was asleep and couldn’t hear them. One of them (You know who you are!) said, “Is she going to die like Mrs. Brant?” I actually was miserable enough to die, but since I was more amused than offended by what they said, I didn’t wish for the Goblin King to carry them away.

The medication kicked in. The congestion in my throat began to break up and I started to cough up phlegm. With it came copious amounts of blood, too much for a few tissues to handle. I ended up in the bathroom. Too sick to stand at the sink, I sat on the floor by the tub, hacking and spitting. With all that blood, I thought I really was dying, but my parents didn’t act very concerned. As I hung over the bathtub, coughing up my guts, I saw something I’d never noticed before.

Our house was old and the bathtub probably older still. Our well water contained so much iron it stained everything. The tub, originally white, was almost entirely orange. Many months of diligent scrubbing had reduced the stain somewhat, and as I stared at it for what seemed hours, I saw that beneath the stains were pictures— black ink drawings of cowboys, as though someone had painted them on the bottom of the tub before the artwork was covered by iron deposits. I marveled how those pictures had survived years of staining and scrubbing. I wondered why no one had noticed them before.

When my throat took a breather from shedding bloody phlegm, I told my mother about the pictures. She must have thought I was crazy. As my fever receded, so did the drawings on the bottom of the tub. What had been so distinct was no longer apparent. After my recovery, I searched the floor of the bathtub for anything, even a rust stain, that could be mistaken for a cowboy, but I found nothing.

Fortunately I didn’t develop schizophrenia or any other delusional condition and haven’t hallucinated since. From time to time, like everyone, I see things that turn out to be something else at second glance, such as a stick mistaken as a snake. But I tell you, at the time, those goblins and cowboys were as real to my vision as the words on this page.

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