Riding Life!

Riding Life!
Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")

Monday, May 31, 2010

C: Everything Old is New Again.

The old way I am reading a fascinating book called The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.  Thomas recounts her teenage years in the 1950’s spent with her parents in the Kalahari desert of Africa among the “San,” the  Ju/Wasi bushmen people.  It apparently reprises an earlier work by her, The Harmless People, written in 1959, and which I shall surely read soon.  I have no credentials with which to critique Thomas’ observations and conclusions but I will say that I am enjoying her writing immensely and am riveted by the subject matter.  And it makes me think, which is my number one criteria for a “good read.”

The premise is that these people lived as the Neolithic people did: purely as hunter/gatherers without permanent houbushmensing or agriculture.  Thomas and her parents spent several years among them during the 1950’s, recording their lifestyle.  Thomas has visited these people off and on since.  Her report is that they no longer live in the “Old Way,” but have become more modernized.  She postulates that there are no more people who now live in the Old Way.

I am about half-way through this page turner, and have reached her chapter on “Life Cycles.”  In the Ju/Wasi culture, the elderly succumb, as do we all, to the physical weaknesses of age.  As they age, naturally they become unable to hunt or even to gather the roots and nuts and berries which provided sustenance for the tribe.  It would be easy to say that they are no longer productive in the very physical life the Ju Wasi live.  Not so.

Far from being “kicked to the curb” or isolated, the elderly among the Ju/Wasi of the 1950’s were revered.  They were seen as repositories of valuable information, the holders of memories which could benefit the tribe.  They were nurtured and cared for, others taking their place in the gathering of food, providing the gathered nuts, roots and berries to these elders without begrudging it.  They still participated in sharing the meat of the hunts even though they were no longer hunters.  Thomas describes them as being at the “pinnold bushmanacle of society,” and recounts that they were the focus of any discussion of an important tribal decision.

It proved true for the Ju/Wasi that the old folks held memories which benefited the tribe.  When the elephant visited the Ju/Wasi waterhole—a rarity—the elderly among them could recall when that had occurred before and advise the tribe on what to expect from the elephants’ behavior and how the tribe might act so as to avoid dangerous encroachment on these animals and live peacefully side by side with them.

This chapter has made me consider the status of the elderly in our society today.  We are blessed, in America, with long life as compared to most.  What this means is that we have a large population of elderly and, as one who approaches this status, don’t think I’m not thinking about it!

Do our elderly, like those of the Ju/Wasi, hold keys to life’s conundrums?  I think so, but I don’t think this is recognized in our society as it was by the Ju/Wasi

It seems to me, as a lay observer (no scientist!), that our culture’s “knowledge” is traveling at lightning speed.  My mother-in-law just yesterday said to me, “I could never have predicted or imagined that just about everyone would carry a telephone with them.  It is amazing that we can be so connected all the time!”   She has also celebrated the connection of the internet, creating her own blog for the pleasure of her far-flung children and for her own sheer pleasure of recalling her family’s history.

My mother, also an octogenarian, has ventured onto the internet, amazed at it, somewhat intimidated by it.  She will call me or e mail me with a question about some problem she is having with her internet use and, I am sorry to say, often I must consult the next generation down to get t he answer for her or—in fact—to get my DVD player to do what I want!new-technology-protesting

Because of this speed of technological advancement, I believe that it appears that older folks don’t have so much to contribute anymore.  The Ju/Wasi were still using the bows and arrows that their ancestors always had.  They had little in the way of technological advancement to boast about over the lifestyles of their previous generations. 

I have to say that the perception of ineptitude of the elderly, which may diminish their value by younger folks today, is way off mark in my opinion.  My last few years have been rocked with turmoil, and my mother, who has been this road herself, has given me guidance above and beyond what I know for myself as a divorce attorney.  Likewise, my mother-in-law, though herself having been widowed from a long and happy marriage, nevertheless has been able to give me advice from her years of just living among others.

I am blessed to have both these women near me.  My mother-in-law lives next door to me; my mother has lived with me and we have discussed her doing so again.  Having them near me has meant close emotional connections, and wise counsel in the matters of relationship, if nottechnology technology.

Could it be that we are losing a grip on the really important questions of society?  Of how we should act toward one another, of how we should cherish our families’ memories not only as a matter of interest, but as a matter of importance in charting our future? 

Could it be that our true societal “infrastructures” are not high-tech issues but are actually timeless questions, the solutions to which can be found only in our collective memories, the deposits of which are communicated generation-to-generation?  Are we missing out on some of this information by failing to ask?

Could it be that there are weightier questions in life than how to use the $%&**%# I-Phone!? 

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths, ‘Which one is the good way?’ Take it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

Friday, May 28, 2010

Paying it Forward, With Big Returns

I had an uplifting encounter today that made me think about episodes in our lives that prove to be formative.  I had an appointment with a man who is a witness in a case.  We were preparing him for the questions I will be asking him next month when he takes the stand.witness stand

Now let me say first that outside of close relatives, most folks hate the thought of being a witness in a lawsuit.  They really don’t want to be involved in things that are “other people’s business.”  I hear this all the time, and usually make do with a telephone conversation to determine what the witness might say on the stand, often followed by a subpoena which is, in essence, enforced attendance at trial.

subpoena I understand that appearing in court is nerve-wracking for all except us lawyers who do the grilling, and I suppose that is part of the reluctance. 

But what concerns me many times is the apathy shown by third parties who could contribute much to the Court’s understanding and to a good decision by the Judge.  Most people just don’t want to be bothered by someone else’s troubles.  So, I have to resort to costly depositions or subpoenas.  Sigh.

This guy is different.  He came at an appointed time and offered good information that will help my client and will educate the Judge as to the truth of the matters presented. 

Without going into detail that might violate confidence, he also had done an extremely altruistic act—gone out of his way to do a kindness that he did not have to do for someone who was “no one” to him.  And landed himself in court as a witness for it!

I was grateful on behalf of my client and told him so, saying, “You have been so helpful and giving of your time in this matter, and I am so amazed at the kindness your actions have shown.”

He responded, saying that many decades ago someone had done a kindness to him, and he had made up his mind at an early age that his life would be governed by the principle he learned as a result.  Here is the story this distinguished African-American man told:

caddy It was 1954, a more difficult time for African-Americans.  I was nine years old, and my daddy dropped me off at a golf course for the first time so that I could work as a caddy. 

I am going to make reference to “Caucasian,” not because I need to for identification—there were no African-Americans playing that course.  I refer to race because at the time it was an important factor in my perception of this event.

Now, I knew a little about golf  but did not really know what was expected of me.  I was nervous as a cat, standing there, not knowing what on earth to do and being afraid to ask anybody anything.  A Caucasian man chose me as his caddy and plopped down his golf bag beside me.

Another Caucasian man who was playing with him said “You can’t expect that child to carry that bag!  Why it’s almost as tall as he is, and probably outweighs him!  I’m not going to watch that happen!”

caddy pull cart The second man walked away and paid another man money from his own pocket to hire a wheeled pull-cart in which the bag would fit.  I had no idea such a thing existed.

I wasn’t much help to my employer, I’m sure, but I pulled that cart all around the golf course that day, at the end of which my golfer paid me $2.  The other man was standing there, smiling.  I expected him to ask for his money back, but he never did.  He just gave me a friendly “goodbye” and went on his way.

I never saw my benefactor again, but I sure thought a lot about him.  I realized that he had recognized a confused, scared kid with no parents on hand to guide or speak up for him.  This stranger had stood in the gap for my parents in their absence, helping me as they would have done had they been there.  I was so grateful.

As I aged, I would often think about that day and what it had meant to me to have a stranger care enough to do that for me.  I told myself that I needed to be on the lookout for other people for whom I could, in turn, stand in the gap.  It’s just common decency.

And, so, that long-ago (56 years!) act of random kindness by a man who never crossed this kid’s path again played a crucial hand in my client’s case.  I believe it must have had a part in forming the life of this distinguished, kind man.  It is an amazing thought at what a “little” act can do, especially in the life of a child.

In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody. 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

C: When Opportunity Knocks

CYNICISM DISCLOSURE:  The following post is, admittedly, tinged by my twin cynicisms of professional and personal experience.  Still, I think you’ll find some truths here—just so you know…

cheerios As I enjoyed my Cheerios last Saturday morning, Son and I watched The Science Channel.  The series was “The Brain,” a topic which I find fascinating.  Is there a universal reality?  Or is your perception everything?  Inquiring Minds want to know. 

The show presented some amazing stories of people who live with a reality much, much different than most of us perceive.  One man, because he went mostly blind, had to deal with the hallucinations that his brain created to replace the loss of visual stimuli.  How would it feel to actually “see” floating human heads, like this guy did.  The doctors were quick to point floating heads out that this, in no way, had anything to do with mental health.  This was strictly a neurological phenomenon.

Then there was the guy who could not recognize any living thing.  If he is asked about what a giraffe is, he will say something like “A tall animal which lives in Africa.”  If taken to a zoo, however, he cannot distinguish which animal is the giraffe.  He recognizes his loving and much-loved family by voice.  When his daughter unexpectedly came up and sat beside him in a public place, he paid her no mind.  When she spoke to him, he was surprised: “Charlotte!”  he exclaimed. “Is that you?!  I had no idea!”

But then the presentation moved into obsession, and as I watched I began to think about something of a real practical nature for people everywhere, women in particular.

“Heather” suffered a major brain hemorrhage  while gardening one day.  When she recovered, she was obsessed with sex.  This woman cannot get enough.  She will have sex at every opportunity with whomever is  available at the time.  She craves the act; she is filled with shame and remorse afterward when it is with someone other than her husband, which is often the case.  She has been married 15 years to a man whom she loves, and he can well recall the devoted wife he had before her illness.  Because of this, he has stuck by her, but you can imagine that the strain on their marriagobsessione is great.

The documentary film crew and reporters had been following this couple for a while.  The estimate was that Heather had  sex with 50 different men over the past year.

Fifty different men!??!!  Here’s my deal:  Where do you find 50 different men in a year’s time with whom to have random sex?  I was astonished.  I must disclose that this is in Britain, not the US, but surely things aren’t that different over there!  Am I wholly naive?

Where do you find them?  According to Heather, everywhere and hookeranywhere.  Apparently, Heather is rarely turned down.  Really!?  I realize  that prostitution is not only the oldest profession, it is still alive and well.  But Heather did not pose as a prostitute, where she might be in contact with a man who was on the prowl for sex—no, she picked men up on her way to the store, for example.  

If a strange woman randomly approaches a man to proposition him, would you not think the man might be reluctant just from the sheer worry that he was dealing with a nut, ala axe murderer?  Or, maybe, that she has a disease?

Nope.  Heather has had sex with strange men in cars, in alleys, in motels…you name it.  Finding random male partner is no problemo.

In my dual capacity as family attorney and scorned woman, I have done quite a bit of research on adultery.  I have come to understand that men and women are different in a whole lotta ways and some of them just are not talked about enough. 

The research shows that men are more opportunistic about sex than are women.  If it is simply offered (say, out of the blue), it is accepted by them far and away more often than would be by women—women tend to be a bit more, er, cautious in developing sexual relationships.  All the scientific literature explains this evolutionarily: men are wired to have as many offspring as possible; women are wired to seek security for themselves and  their offspring.  tilldeath

Research shows that men break their vows much more often than do women.   (Okay, I know there is always the exception that proves the rule, but this has also been my experience).  It has been found by studies that married men generally don’t cheat because of something wrong in their relationship—they initially cheat because they were given the opportunity.  About 75% of them, according to surveys,  have said they were satisfied in their marriage at the time they cheated.  They did it, in the words of former President Bill Clinton, “Because I could.”  It can turn into something else, and it will be usually justified by them later on, but the reason for the cheating is not usually something wrong with their wife or relationship.  It’s opportunity, pure and simple.

I am reminded of a line I heard recently in the 1962 movie, “That Touch of Mink, where the Audrey Meadows character says to Doris Day something like: “One look at you and a man realizes his wife does not  understand doris dayhim.” 

Now, look, I have some backing on this:  The May/June 2010 Scientific American Mind (on the stands as I write this post) confirms the old adage: “Men value sex, women value love.”   There’s lots of discussion as to “Why?” but little to no on “Whether?”  It is just known. Women, on the other hand, (studies show) tend to cheat for “reasons.”  Lack of relationship, neglect, etc.  Women are looking for relationship; men are looking for opportunity.

I recently got an off-price book catalog in the mail that proved to be a surprising confirmation of this dichotomy.  It has conveniently grouped books by topic.  There’s “History,” and “Military History.”  There’s “Nature” and “Literature.”  And then there’s “Romance and Women’s Literature.”

Romance = Women’s Literature.  Never “Romance = Men’s Literature.”  Or, even, “Romance = Literature.”  No, we all know—certainly the marketers know, that it is women who like the “romance” stories.  Why?  Relationship.

The wise Billy Crystal once said:

Women need relationship to have sex;

Men just need a place.

So, back to Heather.  I think she serves a warning for all women…you cannot hedge against opportunistic cheating.  If you are advising your daughter, tell her…

Saturday, May 22, 2010

C: Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy (NOT!)

grass The grass is high.  Tractor tire is flat.  Still.  Two out of three lawn tractors are down.  I have not been able to get the repairman out because all of them have the unmitigated gall to want to work “regular” hours—you know, the ones when I’m trying cases? 

MIL has offered (repeatedly) to be the point person on this repair gig, but I hate to put that on her.  I might just yet, but am going to give the next week a chance to be reasonable with its demands on me.  We’ll see.

I was so looking forward to Saturday so that I could mow myself silly.  Believe me, there is enough grass to make me silly!  Instead of a good, early start, I opened my eyes to a ringing phone at 8:04 this morning.  It was MIL wondering if I’m okay because she hadn’t heard from me.  For me to sleep this late is unheard of.  I must have been exhausted.

I dragged myself to the coffeepot and just as I sat down for a cup, Son called.  He was on his way to the airport for his return trip home.  He’s spent a week in New Jersey at the Tom Brown, Jr. Tracking School, his second stint there.  I’m sure he will be worthy of a James 141 Fenimore Cooper  Leatherstocking label soon.  This is my favorite picture of him in his “debris hut,” built in our woods.  I’m tellin’ ya, if you’re stuck in the wilderness, this is the guy you want to be with!

He was full of stories and news and worries about the massive oil slick.  I’m worried about it, too.  I don’t think we’ve seen any clue of the ramifications of this spewing.  He talked and talked, and I let him, so much have I missed his voice after a week!

Anyway, it was 10:30 before I got out there with my trusty can of Fix-A-Flat to cure the flat tire on our one working machine.  MIL and I confidently went forward with the operation, and I could not—for the life of me—get the stuff to go into the tire rather than spilling out to the sides.  I was just about to despair when that can and I finally “clicked.”  I learned you must listen for the can to “hiss” before it’s properly connected. 

Long-and-smowinghort: The tire inflated, and stayed inflated for the two hours I mowed.  I quit for the day, saving plenty for tomorrow, so that I can work a bit in the house.

My Belgian Malinois has been at it again.  I had left a medicine bottle with a few prescription pills in it on the breakfast room table.  When I came in to make coffee this morning, the empty bottle, capless, was in the floor.  Some of you may recall that this is not Chili’s first foray into drug abuse.  I told you about in this post

Since this had to have happened yesterday and he seemed fine, I stifled my panicked impulse to call the vet.  And, yes, after most of today has gone by, he still seems fine.  Oh, well.

This seems like such a mundane post.  But, it’s just what I’m feeling like writing for now…will visit many of you to see how your Saturday went! 

I will mention a new blog I am excited about.  It is the Southeastern Council on Family Relations blog—yes, I know', it is a professional blog, a bit different than those we are accustomed to.  I belong to this organization because I love the information they give folks like me who are interested in trends and the “whys” of family relationships.  I loved the initial post to which the link above will take you to on expectations in marriage.  As one who deals in the break-up of marriages, I think it is spot-on: when it comes down to it, marriage is about commitment, period. 

Besides, you might want to check out  the blog because yours truly has the third post—one previously posted here. 

Have a great weekend!  C

Thursday, May 20, 2010

V: Five Questions

The main reason that I enjoy blogging is because it is about connecting with other people. You discover that your neighborhood reaches all across the world to places that you might never have the opportunity to visit in person. It interests me to "meet" other people and hear the stories they have to tell. Yes, I know I keep saying that everyone has a story!

So in blogdom, it's not just about "us" and our stories, but about all our friends out there, most of whom we'll never meet in person. Our friend, Kathleen, from Four Miles North of Nowhere, and Kate, from Chronicles of a Country Girl, have posed questions as a means of sparking interesting dialogue on their blogs. Don't know if it'll work here, but I thought it would be fun to try it! I'll be first and I'll even use photographs to illustrate my answers! Feel free to answer briefly, or if you have an interesting related story, please share!

So here are the 5 questions:

1. Where were you born and how far from there do you live now?

2. What is your favorite view outside your window?

3. What is your favorite candy or sweet?

4. What is your most special, treasured piece of jewelry?

5. What is your favorite scent? Perfume, flower, and/or food.

Stick Horse Cowgirl V:

1. Where were you born?

I was born in Ft.Smith, AR at Sparks Memorial Hospital. It was two days before Christmas and my mother said that she remembers the carolers singing at the hospital. I currently live approximately 167 miles from where I was born. Ft. Smith is the 2nd largest city in Arkansas, located on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. An infamous "border town", it was a hotbed of outlaw activity in the 1870-1890's!

Many outlaws met their end on the gallows outside the courtroom of the famed "Hangin' Judge" Isaac Parker. His jail was known as "Hell on the Border". "C" and I visited Ft. Smith recently and toured Judge Parker's courtroom, the gallows and the jail. That jail had to be a miserable place! In his 21 years on the bench, Judge Parker sentenced 161 men to death. 79 executions took place on the gallows. "People have said to me, "You are the judge who has hung so many men, and I always answer: "It is not I who has hung them. I never hung a man. It is the law," Parker said.

2. What is your favorite view outside your window?

It is my backyard patio and the woods beyond. Also, my neighbor's horse next across the field.

3. What is your favorite candy?

I DO love chocolate, but my favorite hard candy is without a doubt Napoleon Sour Bon Bons! This luscious candy is imported from Belgium and comes in assorted fruit flavors: Lemon, Cherry, Tangerine, Lime, and Pineapple. It is unique in that the hard candy shell encases a tart powder center which will make your mouth pucker!!! Apparently many chemotherapy patients find the lemon Napoleons helpful with the symptoms of dry mouth and metallic taste that often results from treatment.

4. What is your favorite piece of jewelry?

An especially sentimental piece is an ivory carved rose pendant that my Great- Aunt Velma purchased on a trip abroad many years ago. Of course genuine ivory is no longer harvested because of the endangered status of the elephant. She was a wealthy widow who traveled all over the world and treated my sister and I as surrogate grandchildren. This photo shows a necklace like the one she brought back from her travels. I think it is in my youngest daughter's jewelry box now! Both of my daughters love it --this might be a problem! lol

5. What is your favorite scent? This can be a perfume, flower or even food!

I sometimes try new scents, but I always return to my favorite fragrance, Fifth Avenue by Elizabeth Arden.

I love the delicate scent of the rose, and the heavier lush fragrance of the gardenia. As I child, there was a mimosa tree outside my window with the most delicious scent.

Nothing smells better than fresh brewing coffee on a cold, frosty morning!--V

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

C: Putting My Best Foot Forward

Let me tell you about my yesterday morning:  I was ginning Never-check-e-mail-in-the-morningaround, getting ready, leisurely, for work.  I made the grave mistake of checking e  mail and found one from my soon-to-be-ex that discombobulated me.  I see some enterprising author has written a whole book on this subject; must check it out.

I’m always telling my clients, “Don’t let him get to you…just shake it off.”  Well, let me tell you: easier said than done.

Anyway, the morning kept creeping by as I stewed and carefully crafted a reply, and suddenly I realized that I HAD to get out the door.  A trial awaited. 

shoes Being a Southern girl, I always put my shoes on last thing, preferring to pad around barefoot til the last moment.  I ran to the closet and, not bothering to turn on the light, grabbed a pair of shoes, shoved them on and headed out the door.

Now, recall that I live about 15 miles out of town.  As I drove down the road, I made my morning wake-up call to MIL, thought about the plans for the busy, busy day, and something shoved itself to the forefront of my brain.

Little Voice said to me, “By the way, just which cubby-hole did you snatch those shoes from?” [Insert “Gong” sound here].  I looked down at gong my feet (no small task in my little Rav4).  Yes, it was true.  I had on chocolate brown shoes.  Do you have any idea how “bright” chocolate brown leather can look against the somber of black business trousers?

I had recently purchased two pairs of shoes—identical except one was black and one brown.  They were comfortable and affordable, so I bought two! (Very unlike me—I do not have a shoe fetish).  I had grabbed the brown instead of the black.  shoes mismatched

I flashed back to another shoe story years ago when I had arrived at church with one blue and one green shoe.  My husband had offered, “No one will notice; and if they do, they’ll think they’re supposed to be like that…” (Stupid).  It was not a good memory.  This just would not work.

I called my legal-assistant-sister, explaining what I had done, “I’m driving back home,” I said, “I’ll call when I’m nearly at the office.  You stand out on the corner and throw the file at me as I drive by on the way to the courthouse.”  (Wouldn’t my clients love to know this…Not!).

No, way,” she intoned after ascertaining my location.  “You will never make it—you will be in contempt of court.”  Hmmmmmm.  The balance: Fashion-correct shoes vs. Contempt of Court?  It was weighing heavily toward fashion faux pas for me.  What to do???

My ever-resourceful sister came up with the solution (her wisdom-in-a-walmart pinch probably born of having 4 kids), “Run in Walmart. It’s on the way!”

Bingo!  That’s just what I did.  And I purchased a pair of black shoes for a little-of-nothing.  They won’t put me on the “best-dressed” list  (nothing can), but at least they did not “stand out.”  And they allowed me to stroll into the Courtroom supremely confident.

So, thanks to our 24-7 shopping world, which I often decry as symbolic of our fast-paced life, hypocrite that I am.  I guess it just depends on the moment and the need, doesn’t it?  Right now I’m very grateful for 24/7—and the shoes felt great!  C

Saturday, May 15, 2010

C: Cutting Apron Strings

Son is going on vacation for a week. His plane was scheduled to take off at 6:00 a.m. This meant early rising for us both, as I took him to the airport. In so doing I amazed myself (is "amazed" the right word?). I was able to step back and watch myself doing what I am about to describe. I'm not an idiot...but sometimes I cannot help myself. Here's how our ride to the airport through the early-morning darkness went:

Me: "Do you have your driver's license? You know, you'll need that to get on the plane."

Son: "Yes, Mom, it's in my wallet in my back pocket--where it usually is..."

Me: "Now, when you get to the airport, you can just go to the little self-help kiosk and do your e-ticket thing, BUT, if you have trouble--any trouble at all--just ask one of the uniformed attendants to help you."

Son (patiently): "Yes, Mom--remember, I've flown before, okay?"

Me: "Sure. Now, when you go to pick up your rental car, if you let them know your destination, they'll give you a map."

Son - no response.

Okay, you get the point. My son is 29 years old, gainfully employed, college-degreed and well-traveled. Why do I have this need to control? Am I co-dependent? Those of you who have grown children, please tell me that this continuation of "mothering" is normal...please.

I knew I was doing it when I was doing it. But, as I say, I can't help it. Son knows this, and just listens, probably stifles sighs, and responds as necessary. It's not Son who has the problem with cutting apron strings, it's me.

I dropped him off at the curb, giving him a hug and kiss and letting him know that my cell phone was on--just in case he needs anything else. He graciously thanked me.

I had been gone all of six or seven minutes when "his" ringtone sounded. OMG! He needs something! As I reached for the phone to answer it, I was already planning how to cross over the freeway and head back to the airport.

Alas, all he wanted was to remind me of a bill payment he had asked me to handle in his absence.

Maybe, just maybe, he can handle himself... C

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

C: Fields of Rejection

They were, by all accounts a successful couple—not rich success, but happy, church-going and well-employed.  They had all they needed and some to save for old age.  Except for one thing.  They had no children.coupleholdinghands

BB was the leader of a home fellowship group for his church.  He and SS opened their home each week to worship, pray and counsel with fellow church members.  BB was an elder, in leadership and close communion with others in his church’s leadership.  Everyone around them was praying for a child for this wonderful couple.

Then BB was hit with a revelation from God:  He had no children because there were so many of God’s children without homes!  He went to SS and told her.  Reluctantly she agreed to take the several-month program of instruction and counseling in order to become eligible to adopt from child protective services.   As they went through the program, SS still had her doubts, but she wanted a child and BB said “Think of all we can offer a child from this situation.  He or she would have a stable home, and we could show the love of God to children who otherwise have no love at all.”  She capitulated and they moved from discussions of “whether or not” to “boy or girl?”

The social worker knew of their discussions and hit them with a new idea: one of the hardest placements was for siblings in one home.  Why not adopt a brother and sister?  That way, they could have one of each.  They viewed profile after profile and finally agreed on a group of three siblings, two boys and a girl, ranging in age from 2 years to 6.  These children had only recently been taken from their mother and were the subjects of terrible neglect and abuse.  The new parents’ hearts broke thinking of all these children had been through and of the relief and lovchildrens' roome they could offer.  They formally adopted all three children and moved them into their  newly-decorated bedrooms.

A year went by, and it became very apparent that these children were damaged beyond all prior estimation.  Even the youngest, who was assumed to have little memory of her former life, had all kinds of issues and seemed to take up the bizarre behaviors of her elder siblings.  BB traveled with his work, so often it was SS who had to deal alone with school expulsions, teacher conferences over playground fights, children who had very abnormal toilet habits both at home and at school and bizarre nighttime behaviors marked by hysterical outbursts and middle-of-the-night threats.

pregnant In their second year of adoption, a miracle occurred. SS was pregnant!  Even the stress of dealing with her damaged brood did not dampen her enthusiasm, and the baby arrived healthy and to great fanfare.   To everyone except the older siblings who worried and threatened and pouted.  The stress began to compound.

As time went on, the problems with the children only increased.  They each had psychiatric treatment regularly.  It was nip-and-tuck that all children could stay in school.  There was constant danger that one or all of them would be permanently expelled, creating a crisis of where to put them next.  Worst of all, resentment against the youngest member of the household grew.  The elder children began turning their self-destructive behaviors outward, toward their mother and her youngest child. 

Learning the system, the older children began to report abuse by their mother.  Time after time SS had to meet with child protective services to fend off charges against her that she was cruel to these children.  There were dozens of reports.  Not a single one of them was substantiated.  All understood that these children were not truthful but were acting out of their hurt and wounds.  Still, having child protective services knock at your door repeatedly and being on the defensive all the time takes its toll.  SS soon found herself basically held hostage, afraid to discipline these children in any meaningful way for fear that it would be turned into an abuse charge.

This family toiled through the mayhem, taking each day and challenge one at a time.  Although BB’s job required him to travel, it also allowed for some flexibility and off days put together so he could be involved in his children’s lives.  He could spell his wife, so she could get her breath before he had to be gone again, and he willingly did so.  They were making it.

But, then, the unthinkable happened.

BB came home from four days on the road.  He strode through the house wordlessly and grabbed another suitcase to augment the one he had left in the car.  He began to pack it with more clothing and a few personal items.   Upon her demand, he turned and spoke the first words to his wife since he had entered their home:

I’m leaving.  I am not happy here.  I have not been happy for a long, long time, and my life is marching by me.  This life is doing me no good and in the long run it won’t do you any good either.  I’m leaving so that we both can get on with our lives.”

SS was stunned beyond belief.  She had no idea this was coming.  Dealing with her life with a loving husband at her back was one thing, but broken heartdoing it alone and through a veil of tears of hurt and loss was another.  Fear gripped her.  She begged her husband not to do this to her, to their children.  He went on out the door.  He did not answer her calls to his cell phone; he did not return her desperate voice messages.

It took her over a week to come to see me because of shock.  Over a week without any word from the father of their household.

I told her there was another woman involved.  Fact of Life: Men rarely abandon one nest without having another one prepared.  She disputed.  “He says there is no one else,” she still defended him.  “He says it’s just that he’s ‘unhappy.’  Besides, infidelity flies in the face of all that BB believes.  It’s the stress with the kids causing this, I know.”

Right.  Whatever you need to think to get you through…

Because BB traveled, getting him served with papers was a super challenge.  It took us weeks.  We tried everything.  We called his employer, who was no help.  BB”s mother either did not know where he was or would not tell.  Finally, my resourceful client located him in a motel by sheer motel perseverance.  We got him served.  A month had gone by with no support from the major breadwinner in the home.  Another month would go by before our court date.

And the stress in the household ratcheted up; it was reaching crescendo levels.

Even the most well-adjusted children feel the strain when one of their parents depart.  Having Dad absent, having Mom heartbroken, having shoe-string budget with nothing extra for diversion was more than these little ones could take.  The acting-out grew out of control.   The eldest child was permanently expelled from school.  The next two were on their way.  Two of the children began talking about what they could do to Mom and her youngest in the middle of the night.  Mom’s life turned into siege mode.  I thought she would break.  She had only her own devoted parents to help her.  Who else would want to take these children off her hands, even for an afternoon?

And, don’t forget, Mom had to work each and every day.  After all, she was now the sole breadwinner for her family.  BB did not care even so much as to call and inquire or answer her calls, let alone send money their way.

Then SS did what would have been unimaginable to her in the past.  She phoned the state agency and told them that she must return her adopted children.  She did this without counsel from me because she had already spent her last nickel to hire me for her divorce.  I stepped into the mix to find that she had made up her mind: she was going into survival mode, and she felt that the only one she could save was her youngest.

The three adopted children were returned to foster care.   Accorcustody fightding to their therapists, they suffered unbelievable pain over this; really, I cannot begin to imagine.  In most divorce cases, the children are damaged by fights over who gets to keep them.  These children were tossed to the side: by one parent who felt she had no choice, by another to whom they mattered no longer.  I am at a loss for words at this.

SS had to face the judge in this case alone—BB was nowhere to be found in theseangryjudge legal proceedings.  He let her take the anger of the Court and the shame alone.  The judge railed at her that you cannot reject children “just because there are problems—families struggle through…”  He  was furious with her.  She agreed with all he said--she just could not do it.

Later we found that BB was, indeed, involved with another woman.  We found them holed up together in a motel room—with the other woman’s two children. 

I cannot believe the devastation that this man’s lustful selfishness has caused.  These poor children: abused and rejected by their birth mother; now rejected again by their adoptive family.  What, on earth, will happen to them?

For what?  So that BB can be “happy?”  To the extreme unhappiness of every single person for whom he is responsible? What gives???

SS gave me permission to print this, although I have disguised her somewhat.  The facts are true, sad to say.  The drama is not yet over.

SS wanted me to use this story.  She wanted at least one slim silver lining to the cloud her life has become.  She wants others to hear and, perhaps, learn. 

Learn what?  Maybe this, in the wise words of none other than Jon Bon Jovi:

Map out your life;

but do it in pencil.


Friday, May 7, 2010

C: “Ain’t Donnie”

I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but some things just are what they are. Truth is truth, and if it’s part of the story, then so be it.

My people are country folk.  My grandmother, Gertrude, (I’ve written about her before here) had two sisters, Anis (yes, that’s right, “Anis,” and she’s another story…) and Dona (pronounced with a long “o,”) but always called “Donnie.”  Gertie was the eldest girl; Donnie was the youngest.  And you could tell.

Gertie was a “take charge” type of girl, being big sister and without a mother by age 12.  Donnie, on the other hand was, as we used to say, “nervous” and “high-strung.”

Gertie was upright and moral—to a “t.”  Donnie, on the other hand, took up with Fred, a previously-married man with children—remember, we’re talking the early 1920-s, here.  Donnie and Fred eloped, eschewing the traditional church wedding, probably because they knew that folks were looking askance at them.  Not the least of all, Gertie.  It is said that when Donnie and Fred showed up at her door one night after marriage certificate their  honeymoon, Gertie would not let them enter without first showing their marriage license.

All my life, Aunt Donnie (pronounced here in the Country South as “Ain’t Donnie”) and Uncle Fred were within the obligatory “family visiting rounds” that we made when I was a child.  They lived near the family stomping grounds “out on the creek,” which is a rural area west of our town. 

milking As  children, we city-slickers wondered at their lifestyle.  They had chickens and cows and such and maintained some of the old ways.  It was Ain’t Donnie, for instance, who let me milk a cow and taste raw milk.

Recently RedHeadRiter talked about covering one’s furniture and floors with vinyl, and I thought back to Ain’t Dovinylnnie.  She had clear vinyl  runners across her living room and down the hallway.  This was the only space where we were allowed to step.  Her  couches and upholstered chairs were also covered with clear vinyl.  Not very comfortable, and the message to us kids was clear: “Don’t dare mess this up!”  We obeyed unfailingly.

Ain’t Donnie’s house was clean and neat as a pin.  Nothing—I mean NOTHING—was out of place.  But, then, she had so much less to deal with than do I.  She had absolutely no clutter—no magazines to stack.  Heck, she had no time to read because she wfurniture coveras scrubbing.  Never any clothes to fold left piled anywhere.  Her Knick-Knacks were artfully arranged on Knick-Knack shelves, and no dust was to be found on them.  Nary a speck.  Dust wouldn’t dare.

Uncle Fred was a bit more laid back.  He always gave us each fifty-cents when  we came to visit.  We could fish around and get it ourselves (at his invitation, of course) from the plastic change purse he carried in his pocket.  You know, the kind you squsqueezechangeeeze to open it up?  Like this picture, although the one I remember was red and had some kind of advertising on it.

I liked Uncle Fred, too, because I loved horses always.  He had a mule named “Diamond” who I would sometimes ride— next best thing to a horse!

Going to visit Ain’t Donnie and Uncle Fred was like stepping back in time for us—gathering eggs and drinking well water.  Who knew that I’d be drinking well water today, it was such a novelty to me then!

But Ain’t Donnie’s nervousness spilled over into more than just her housekeeping.  She could be H—l on Wheels (this would be the “high-strung” part).  I just would not call her “warm and fuzzy,” unlike my grandmother.  Ain’t Donnie never had children of her own and, although she was good to my mother and to us as children, she did not have the rounded edges that mothering creates.  She was sharp-tongued, opinionated and spoiled.  She’d give you a piece of her mind at the drop of a hat.

Ain’t Donnie’s nervousness had her wringing her hands (probably at the thought of dirt tracked in), repetitively clearing her throat as she talked, and fidgeting as you talked to her.  This woman was wound up tight as a drum, and it caused her to walk around with pretty much a perpetual frown.  Really, she wasn’t pleasant to be around.  One found oneself on  guard at all times.

Here’s a picture of Ain’t Donnie—in the middle.  Look at those tense hands.  Gertie is on the left, Annis on the right.


My mother, although acknowledging Ain’t Donnie’s prickliness, would never say a word against her because she could remember kindnesses during her childhood and she was, after all, my grandmother’s sister.

As she aged, Ain’t Donnie had to go to a nursing home.  She had no children to look after her so my mother and her sister dutifully took up that task.  She and my aunt took all her clothes home and washed them so that they would smell and feel better than if the nursing home laundry did them. 

And, like with all of us, as her mind began to fail, her “traits” magnified.  Her aging process heightened the unpleasantness of her personality.  Ain’t Donnie was not gracious about any of the care her nieces gave her.   She spent much of the time during their visits b--ching to high heaven.  My mother would worry over her laments at staying in the nursing home, so she would take her home a couple days, during which Ain’t Donnie paced the floor, complaining that she needed to get right back to her room at the nursing home.  You just could not win for losing with her.  I know it was her dementia, but it also harkened back to the way Ain’t Donnie had always been.

I remember when my sister (who is twelve years younger than me) accompanied Mom one time to visit Ain’t Donnie, only to be chewed out royally and unmercifully the whole time she was there for not coming before.  It was so bad that my sister never wanted to go again.  The whole scene time had one on edge of seat, wondering if something would be thrown in a fit.

Ain’t Donnie was never one for church, so when she finally passefunerald away, there was no preacher who actually had any connection with her.  Our family traditionally is buried in a small country cemetery out in the area where Ain’t Donnie lived, and where my mother’s family all grew up.  A preacher local to that area was procured for the funeral service, and he did  a commendable job under the circumstances, exhorting us on the promises of God and the prospect of a better existence “on the other side.”

But then he came to the part where he felt compelled to say (and I loosely paraphrase, but this is close), “I know that those of you left here on earth will miss Dona.  You will miss the way she lit up the room when she walked in; the sunshine she brought in to each of your lives.” 

I could not look my cousin or my siblings in the face but sensed each of them containing the giggles rising up at this thought—just as I was.  Obviously, this pastor did not know Ain’t Donnie.

So, my thanks to RedHeadRiter for calling forth these memories of vinyl protections for our home and of my Ain’t Donnie who, despite some surliness, was loved by her family and treasured as a “quirky” part of our family lore.  C

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

C: Bein’ Suthren and On Bein’ Raised Right

usa You know, I’ve traveled a good bet.  I’ve been to all “corners” of our great country and a whole lot in between.  (and, yes, overseas, too, but I’m talkin’ America here) 

I have loved every blessed minute of my American travels.  I revel in our country.  I think there is just something “American” about Americans, whatever section of the country you look at.  There is a spirit that defines us and even  transcends national origin.  And “spirit’ is just national anthemthe only word I can think of.  It embodies pioneering and innovation and, yes, brashness that others may find off-putting, but which we know that it is just that old American Spirit.  It is necessary for our accomplishments and endearing to those of us who live here.

I hope all people feel the same way about their nations, and I assume this feeling of loyalty and exuberant love of home are natural.

Sorry, I’m spinning out of control. I tend toward old-fashioned  patriotism.  Tears well at the National Anthem, and I love documentaries like “America’s Heart and Soul,” which I heartily recommend that you all order right now (through our site!) from Amazon for Independence Day celebrations.  Look at this trailer for just a taste of the great-American offering this documentary is:

Anyway, back to my title.  Much as I love New England; much as I love the Pacific Northwest; much as I love the great American Southwest, what I really am is a Southern American Girl.  I have had the bestest time traveling this country, but home and roots are in the South for me, and it is just the bomb.tick

I love watching you Northerners, recoil at the thought of a tick—we just yank ‘em off and flush ‘em.  Yeah, we know all about Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick  fever.  We jes’ don’t get bent out of shape ‘cuz of it…we just yank ‘em off and go on.  Most of us who have grown up among them fear the misery of chiggers more—shudder!

Experiences that “feel” Southern to me include:

  • Humidity: popping out in a sweat the very second you step outside in the summer air.
  • Lightning bugs and crickets/frogs chirping at night;
  • As a child: sweat beads around your neck and itching from wrestling down in the grass when your mama calls you in at night for a bath;
  • Iced tea (real sweet with lemon or, if you’re high falutin’ like V’s mama, a slice of lime or a sprig of mint);
  • biscuits (“cat heads” my grandmother used to call ‘em) and gravbiscuitsandgravyy. 
  • Skeeters keeping you up at night   (“hummmmmmmmmmmad infinitum)  and ending up with a blood-splattered bedroom wall from killing them. Believe me, you will go to great lengths to get them so you can get a night’s sleep.
  • Calling that piece of furniture that holds your clothes a “chester drawers;” “renching” out a glass in the sink.
  • Do you know what the phrase “Dillards’ is runnin’ their sheets,” or “Dillards’ is got their sheets on” means?  They both mean that the Department Store, Dillards, has sheets on sale. okra
  • Ice-cold watermelon, fried chicken (hot or cold), ‘tater salad, fried okra, grits, pecan pie, ribs, fresh cucumbers in vinegar and pepper,  cobbler with blackberries you have picked (at great risk of chiggers—see above).
  • Funeral home paper fans.

barefeet Growing up V and I just waited on the day when our mothers would allow us to go barefoot as the summer began.  We rarely put our shoes on after that until school started (except, of course, for company or going out), and by end of summer we could run across gravel, no problem, because our feet were so tough.  “Summer feet,” we called them.

Part of the American experience comes from the old “melting pot” theory, our invitation to the world, as inscribed on our Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We’re a comingling of traditions and influences from around the world.  It makes for an interesting stew, and I believe that our country has, over the centuries, attracted those who already tend toward those pioneering traits that signify the spirit I mentioned above. We have welcomed the infusion of that spirit from fresh sources, from those yearning to breath free.

And part of being Southern is hospitality.  We’re taught to give it and love giving it.  We’re taught to accept it graciously.

And, right now I am P’d Off that someone would become an American citizen, fleeing the repression of Pakistan for the wide-open-spaces freedom of America, and then—just a year later—participate in a terroristic attack on Times Square.  Yes, “innocent until proven guilty,” for sure—it’s the American way—we’ll see.  If the charges are true, then he’s guilty of more than terrorism.  He’s guilty of returning our welcome and our hospitality with rudeness and treachery.  It’s plain bad manners—this guy was not raised right.

  Being an American is exciting, wonderful, and a privilege.  A terrorist attack would be a hard return for being allowed in on it.  C

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