Friday, July 17, 2015

Michael



A week ago, only  last Friday, I spent the day at his home in Kettering, Ohio. Two weeks before that, he had been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung cancer. He had been told that with chemo he could live for at least a year; without chemo he had about 6 months. As a doctor, he'd knew a lot about what chemo could be like. At the time he told me that he was having a hard time processing the whole idea of being told he had a fatal disease.
A week later, having chosen chemo, the morning he was to start, he changed his mind., and asked his wife Marian to call hospice. When I arrived Friday morning, the first thing he said to me was, "This is surreal." The second thing he said was, "I'm disappointed. It's not supposed to be like this." He wanted it to be over. He remembered how it had been with our father. Two weeks after he had been diagnosed with lymphoma, he passed quietly away. Michael had told me that he hoped he could do the same. However, Michael's mind was ready to go, but his body was not.
When I got the message this past Tuesday that his struggle was over, I was relieved for him, but surprised that it had happened so quickly.  It is said that the mind is a powerful engine of the human spirit. I think his will was stronger than the disease.
Michael was eight years younger than I. I told him during that last visit that I forgave him for displacing my role as the baby of the family, a role I had enjoyed all those eight years. He was this little red, scrawny baby and not at all interesting those first few months. Soon enough he turned into this pink cheeked , blue- eyed cherub with soft blond curls.  (Less than two years later his role as the baby of the family was ended with the arrival of Edward, who still has that position.)
We were living in Atlanta during this time. Somewhere there is an adorable picture of Michael sitting  in a little rocking chair, with a very serious look on his face. I remember him as a fairly quiet child, rather sober, and always sensitive. Mother's Southern lady friends made a fuss over him and pronounced his name  "Mike-e-all."
When he was four and a half and Edward was just three, our father got a new job in Ohio. They saw their first snow. They still had their little southern accents. I spent a lot of time with these two little boys, since I had not met any friends the first year, because the school I went to was far away from the neighborhood we lived in. They were very good company, those two little blond  boys.
Moving to the present, Michael,  the former baby brother, grew into one of the kindest,  gentlest of men. He never lost the boy in him, which made for an interesting and loving father and grandfather. He never stopped learning and exploring the complexities of life. He still found wonder in nature, science, history art and music. He told me once that he regretted spending his time at Notre Dame in pre-med. H e said that only taught him how to get into med school. He wished he had studied the humanities. He made up for that, though. He read constantly, fiction, non- fiction, loved  good movies - especially Turner Classic Movies on TV, loved toys, and basketball. Although he had retired from his medical practice, he kept up with current information in other  fields  besides orthopedics.
His passing leaves an empty space in the family, but with many loving, pleasant memories of this fine husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, healer, little blond boy and great  human being called Michael.

Since I wrote this post, I have received the picture of little Michael below, thanks to one of his grandsons.



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Freedom, O Freedom!



There is a phrase I keep reading and hearing, relating to the presence of our military in the Middle East, that they are "fighting for our freedom." This sort of thing began during the Vietnam years., to justify our intrusion in what was basically a civil war after the departure of the French.
Well, let's see. Our war history, if you exclude the French and Indian war, in which the native  people of this land were fighting for THEIR  freedom,  began with the Revolutionary War. That Was actually a fight for our freedom from England, and our freedom to form a new government for people without the oppression of British rule,  like taxation without representation and all.
The War of 1812 is rather vague and involved press gangs and the Battle of nearby Lake Erie and piracy and all, but I think "fighting for our freedom" fits there.I could Google it to sound more historically learned, but let's say The freedom thing works.I had an ancestor who jumped ship and became an American, and a traitor to his native land. He told everyone he did it for freedom...probably.
Another vague war was the Mexican American battle, in which my great-grandfather participated, but I think that saved Texas for the U.S.A., which was probably a mistake, but there was a kind of freedom involved there, at least for Texans, who did most of the fighting. I think.
Next came the Civil War, or the War Between the States, which is apparently not quite over yet for some flag lovers. Each side was fighting for its freedom, and one side was wrong. I have to say that the Northern side was the true champion of freedom, fighting for the preservation of the United States, and for the freedom of those Americans who were enslaved. I  had ancestors on both sides.
WWI was not about our freedom, but about assisting the European continent in quashing tyranny, at least for a while. Our participation lasted a little over a year, from April 1917 to November 1918. One of my uncles was in that war and suffered from what was then called shell-shock. He was a gentle, small town boy and it took time for him to recover. We are now observing the centenary of this terrible war, with TV documentaries and dramas about the period in Europe. My mother remembered Liberty cabbage as the name for sauerkraut, to avoid using any words reminiscent of German. I don't know if "our freedom" was bandied about, but history has been candid and harsh about the causes and effects of this dreadful conflict. Try to see "Paths of Glory," one of Kubrick's early films.
The next war for us is WWII, the one known as the righteous war. Going in, I don't think most of us knew  about the horrors of the Holocaust. What was evident was Hitler's determination to conquer as much of Europe as he could, and probably come after the U.S. after that. Then Japan bombed the American base at Pearl Harbor.  It seemed possible that we could be bombed or invaded and truly succumb to attacks from either direction. So we were at war for good reason, but we didn't hear that phrase about fighting for our freedom. Toward the end of the war, when everything became known about the extent of the Nazi's evil, it was a war worth fighting, and a war for the freedom of many. It also delivered us into the age of the nuclear bomb, at the expense of thousands of innocent civilians in Japan, still a topic of  serious debate. Another uncle, the younger brother pf the WWI uncle,  served in the South Pacific. He was in his 30s. My late husband served four years stateside  in the army as a clerk and an MP. My brother enlisted from college and was sent to Yale and then to medical school, but the war was over.
The war in Korea was another civil war in a country far away and our participation was fear driven, played out during the "Red Scare," when the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy had  the country's leadership convinced that the Communists were going to take over this country from within, aided by writers and movie actors and singers like Pete Seeger. Abetted by J. Edgar Hoover, this belief made for a surreal oppression of free speech ( Ohio State had a gag rule on speakers at public functions at the university.) if the term " fighting for our freedom" had been used about the Korean conflict the irony would have killed us.
The Vietnam war was more of the same, only deadlier and more cynical. It lasted longer than any other war, it introduced weapons of horror and long lasting damage to humans and other living things, and it was based on lies. That's when the "They're fighting for out freedom"  shibboleth became the justification for destroying people and damaging the lives of thousands of young Americans in a war based on fear and lies. It divided  the country and accomplished nothing, and our freedom had nothing to do with it.
Nothing was gained on learned  from that terrible time. And once again that "freedom" thing is constantly being used about the mess in the Middle East, which has been going on,
as an active war, for 12 years now and seems to have no end in sight and may well come down to a genuine fight for our freedom because of the awful chaos we've created.
When that time comes, I'll accept that phrase, but right now it means nothing but bluster in an attempt to glide over the inexcusable blunders made by so-called leaders.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Another Book Appears



Emily decided that a book I did about my Atlanta childhood in the 1930s  needed to be published. I had sent it out a number of times back  when almost  every publisher would accept unsolicited mss., and although a couple of them liked it, they didn't like it enough to publish it. In those days I would send a black and white dummy, which didn't do much for the illustrations. These days publishers do no want manuscripts or any over the transom submissions. One needs an agent, and getting an agent if you haven't been published is difficult.
At any rate, I quit sending things out years ago. I had the  book about my mother published at my own expense, mainly for my family. I was very pleased with how it turned out and it was well received by May's many descendants, an inter-family best seller.
Several people I know have had books published through Blurb, another for hire publisher. It's an easy to use system, if you have normal eyesight, which I do not. When Emily was here last year, she had a lot of my illustrations scanned and was determined to have "The Last Summer" published. It's a different system from the way my other book was done. The  book costs more, for one thing. They have the same "publish as ordered" production method, but do not offer an author's discount.
They did a very nice job with the printing, and Emily did a superb job with the layout and overall design. She chose the font and color of the text, both of which reflect the time period of the book. Speaking of the time period, one publisher had said that children looking at this book would wonder why there was no Tv set pictured. Apparently he figured that people still dress the same way today as the adults pictured in the illustrations.

You can find out more about it here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Transitioning


At the risk of being offensive, in  light of Caitlyn Jenner's recent transition, I do wonder why she found it necessary to spend so much money and pain on her appearance as a glamorous woman. She looks nothing like her former self. She haS been "sculpted" into a facsimile of feminine "beauty," as defined By current cultural standards, as exemplified by her former step- family, for instance.
I  don't know that much about transgender identity, only that it seems to be a very complex and internal sense  of gender confusion and selfhood. It can create much pain, anxiety and uncertainty in someone who experiences  it throughout childhood and adolescence. With more knowledge, more people being open and courageous about accepting their gender identity, perhaps that kind of suffering will be lessened.
What I am wondering about Is not the authenticity of this issue, but of the need to transition not as an ordinary woman, but as some kind of artificial movie star version of a woman, an ideal of the male imagination of how a woman should look, as in the case of Caitlyn Jenner. Many years ago, the early transgendered women like Christine Jorgenson and Renee Richrads were attractiveness but didn't look as if they had been manufactured into facsimiles of Vogue models  by teams of plastic surgeons. Even now, I am sure there are ordinary looking women who were once males without looking like Jenner. The thing is, they are not famous, they are not wealthy enough, or maybe they just want to be themselves as women without the need to look like something else, now that they are comfortable in their own skin.
Just sayin.'

Monday, June 8, 2015

Missing Friends


In the last several months, two old friends have died, friends who go back fifty years. I met one through the other. One I have not seen for many years, since she and her family left Kent many years ago. The other I have seen for at least two years, since I had to quit driving. Phone calls and letters have substituted for face to face tome.
France's diet his past winter, and I learned of her death through the local paper. Even though she had not lived in Kent for over forty years, she had grown up here, and I assume her family knew that there were still people here who would want to know. I had last talked with her about a year  ago, but had been out of touch since then.
Frances was the daughter of one of my favorite English professors, although I did not meet her until I moved back to Kent in the late 50s. She had married young, right out of college and had six children before she was thirty, which I found unusual in someone who was not Catholic. Her children were all bright and attractive, but older than mine. France's was a writer and editor after her family got older, intelligent and interesting. She would come back to Kent while her parents were still alive, and we would get together and talk and talk. She and her husband went through s divorce - not her choice- and she had some hilarious stories about getting back into the dating game. She finally remarried, a man she met while working on as an  editor, and it was a good marriage. Our communication was  sporadic, but always it was as if we had just met a couple of weeks ago. Our last conversation came after the death of her oldest daughter, Sarah, a beautiful, brilliant woman. I think that loss broke  her heart, and I had not heard from her since. My other friend, Pat, said that Frances told her she had given up after that loss, and I have no contact with the family and have no details of Frances's death.
Pat, the other lost friend, died two weeks ago of ultiple myeloma. She'd  been fighting it for four years. I had not seen her for most of that time, but kept in touch. I met her and Frances  at about the same time. We all were at the stage of having small children, and spent a lot of time together. Pat had three sons, roughly about the ages of mine. They lived in what was then "the country " although now you can see the university from their balcony. Pat was a remarkable woman, as is her husband, who is an artist. They decided to bring their boys up to know how to do things. With their father it was using tools and  learning how to make things. ( he was building their house when they were little.) With Pat, it was learning how to cook and sew and manage a household, not because she was a woman, but because they needed to know how to be competent human beings. When they were all in school, she began teaching kindergarten in their local school, which she did for over 30 some years. In the meantime, she began to devote her spare time to creating the most magical miniature houses. You can see her museum quality results  by clicking on "Pat's Amzing Miniatures on the list of friend's blogs on the right.
Both of these women were asignicant part of my young adults oh. They enriched that time for me and I am so glad  I knew them and will never forget them. One thing about getting to be my age is that you find yourself knowing more people who are gone than living people. Many others of my old friends are no more. That's the way it is., but they live in my memory.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Missing May


Good grief! I have completely skipped over the month of May. I'm not sure why that happened. I wasn't binge watching anything on my IPad. I had no out of town company, at least not until the end of the month. I wasn't sick. My online art class  ended somewhere around the middle of the month. Perhaps I had nothing to write about. That's never stopped me before, of course. Perhaps I am just lazy. Yeah, that's it.
The online drawing class did require a lot of physical and mental energy. I must say that I really enjoyed it. I was tempted to go for a third session, but the room where my drawing table is located is not comfortable in the summer, so I shall wait until Fall to do it again. There were, in this second session, some really terrific students, whose work was inspiring and exciting. There were two women from the U.K., one from England and one from Ireland, both of whom did some interesting drawings. It's always fun to work with Susan Shie, too.
My friend Susan B. came  up for a short visit. She had spent the month of January in Florence, and had done some  very fine photos of that beautiful area of Italy. On my first trip abroad she and I had spent a week in Florence. It was December, so the tourist traffic was minimal, and it was such a terrific place to be, a whole city as one big museum, the seat of the Renaissace. You can walk where the Medicis  and Dante walked, to say nothing of Giotto and Michelangelo. I envy her that month. She and a friend rented an apartment overlooking the Duomo. She said they had plenty of room, but my traveling days are over. I just can't do that kind of walking any more. I"m glad I have been able to go to all those magical places in Europe in the past, so I can't complain.
I am definitely not looking forward to the looming presidential brouhaha. The Republicans are desperately seeking ways to deny that President Obama has succeeded in improving things in the country. There was a fine op-Ed piece by Eugene Robinson the other day.  He covered all if the potential Republican candidates on their ideas of how to solve the ISIS crisis ( there's a catchy couplet for ya) and what each one has come up with is what Mr. Obama is already doing. The TV interviewers never do any follow-up questions after they ask for specifics  from people like Cruz or Santorum or others who make brash statements about how they would deal with some of the difficult challenges facing a president. They are never challenged. Those so-called " debates" are unsubstantive farces, not worth the time and money wasted on them. And, my God, I think they're starting this summer.
Well, since I missed May, I offer my last project for the drawing class, a picture of my parents' November, 1922 wedding. One of them is named May, and she is wearing a midnight blue velvet wedding gown.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring Awakening


Yeah, I know that's the name of a musical about young  people confused about sex, but I'm talking about the woods across the street. I've been doing a series of drawings for almost a year of the changes the seasons bring to that neighborhood patch of land where local children have played, made forts, sledded, ice skated through the trees at the bottom of the hill, and discovered varieties of bugs, plants, rocks and fungi for over fifty years. For many years the peepers have announced the arrival of spring. Sadly, because of the constant mosquito spraying for the swampy area at the foot of the sledding hill, I haven't heard those singing froglets for a while, so I have to look for other signs.
Things seem to happen suddenly: one day, everything is brown  and gray; the next there is a thin veil of green skimming over the tops of the trees, and the darker, thicker green cloak covers the bushes below. It's just beginning now,  and in a few more days, the woods will look like summer and stay that way until the middle of October.
It's today's beginning touches of tentative green over gray that I like more than the fullness of summer. That's spring to me.