Waiting outside the vet’s while Ernest the Cat has blood drawn for a fructosamine check and playing with the Chromebook, always a pleasure since Chrome so rarely lets me log in on the first, second, or third try. Today it was fourth.
Why do browsers tell you to use your old password when the reason you changed your password in the first place was that you couldn’t remember the old one? Today I did remember the old one but Google didn’t believe me. It took a while to convince it I was me.
But no matter. I’m in.
Instead of complaining further, I’ll say that last week I posted at Ink-Stained Wretches. You might like to click over and see what was what. (About the same as what’s what now.)
You’ve possibly read bits of the post here before, but most of it is new, concerning 1) a brief update on my progress at reading all forty-seven of Anthony Trollope’s novels this year, and 2) the connection between coconut oil and cat bites.
It’s nine degrees in Austin. We’ve had half a foot of snow in the area, says the KXAN webpage. I haven’t looked out, so I don’t know if we’re in the area. I do know the electricity is out, so it must be our turn for the rolling blackout. And I woke before six a.m., couldn’t go back to sleep, and so got up so I could be bored here instead of in bed.
I’m not used to this. Few who’ve lived in Central Texas any length of time are.
In extra-cold weather, my mother used to say there was nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence. Somebody took the fence down.
When I was a child and the electricity failed, we used kerosene lamps. But we don’t have those, and our lease probably prohibits them, although not specifically. It prohibits candles, but I doubt anyone thinks about kerosene lamps anymore. I don’t know if you can still buy kerosene. I guess you can. I haven’t had a use for it lately.
David left a while ago ago for Home Depot (we pronounce it Dehpot), pushing a dolly (we pronounce it doily) for firewood. (Someday I’ll say those words in company where I’d rather not say them and be thought strange, but what else is new.) HD is in walking distance, if you like that kind of thing. I couldn’t dissuade him. He said firewood will be in demand so he’d better go as soon as they open (six a.m.). He didn’t mention that he never gets cold, or that’s the way it appears to me, but he’s from Illinois so this isn’t a big deal to him. I guess.
It’s a big deal to me. I worry about hypothermia and slipping on ice and breaking something and not being able to get up and a myriad of other possibilities. I suppose worrying keeps me from being bored. Writing a blog post keeps me from worrying.
After he’d been gone several minutes, he called to tell me to call HD and ask if they were open, weather conditions being what they are. I had to google for the number, and I can’t see the keyboard, so that took a while. Then I found his phone wasn’t on. He called a few minutes ago to say he might have to cut some firewood and so he’d be gone longer than planned.
I had visions of him having to buy a saw and find a tree, but the cutting would be done at HD. I still have a country mentality, for which I do not apologize. Sometimes it comes in handy. Country folk aren’t as dumb as is sometimes depicted. We just have a different concept of firewood.
David built a fire last night, our first in this apartment. Practicing, I guess, since we already all toasty. It’s working fine, if you’re sitting in the fireplace.
My father didn’t like fireplaces. He said when he was young and fireplaces were the main source of heat, there was always a dog lying right in front of the fire and everyone else froze. I can imagine my grandfather thinking that’s where the dog should sleep.
So far the cats are ignoring this one. Last night there was a fire in the courtyard outside our living room. I was about to sound an alarm when I realized David had just built one in the fireplace behind me and it was reflecting in the window. Ernest the Cat, sitting in my lap, was just as concerned as I was, about both. He backed away from the real one and ran to the bedroom. William seems unconcerned, but that’s his usual attitude.
We had a similar situation at our previous apartment. David got the fire going, the living room filled with smoke, our fire alarm went off, and Chloe the cat marched up the stairs. I met her when I was coming down. She was the only cat I’ve ever seen who could purse her lips in disgust.
We have nine hours of logs after this one burns down, plus embers. I like to think we’ll be in line for electricity by then. I thought David was crazy to go out in the cold but smart to stock up on firewood. In Texas, you never know. As they say, if you don’t like the weather here, just wait a few minutes.
This time it’ll be more than a few minutes. According to the forecast, this will last for a while.
David and the wood have just returned. Scrap pine. Looks like boards to me. It doesn’t look like it’ll last that long, but it also doesn’t catch fire quickly. It does pop, as pine should. He read the thermostat and said the fireplace is working well–it was sixty-nine degrees in here. Not where I’m sitting, I thought. He reread and said it’s really fifty-nine. I think it’s thirty-nine. He also wonders if we’re part of the rolling black-out because it’s gone on so long (he gets up early). I’ve never been in a rolling black-out, so I wouldn’t know.
He also raised the blinds. Yes, we did get snow. A significant amount. No dead grass is sticking up through it. The local news website says six inches in “the area,” but we might not be in the area. I’m not going outside to see how much we got, and heaven forbid I should build a snowman. It’s pretty. It’s also time for it to go away.
When we were in Alaska, I bought a sweatshirt at Denali. It was summer–and amazingly comfortable to this Texan–and I thought the purchase an extravagance. When I went through my closet, tossing unnecessary clothes before last year’s move, I considered getting rid of it. How glad I am that I didn’t. I wish I had kept the huge, baggy turtleneck I gave away. The one I’m wearing is okay, but I could use more coverage. I wish I had some wool slacks. I wish my sweats weren’t in the wash. I’m wondering if I could get some flannel pajamas over the slacks I’m wearing. I wonder if I can fit into that heavy wool coat I bought in 1992. It’s sitting in the pile that needs to go to the dry cleaner after Covid lets up, but I’m willing to make allowances.
I wonder why I don’t wrap up in several of the throws David has given me, plus a couple of blankets. I wonder why I don’t get on my stationary bike and generate some heat. I wonder why I don’t retrieve the blanket that’s covering it to keep Ernest from chewing the foam rubber off the handlebars.
I wonder why I don’t take my Kindle and go back to bed. I could pull the covers over my head and read.
It’s fifty-nine in here.
It’s nine outside. I’m lucky. I hope everyone has shelter and warmth and everything else they need to make it safely through the cold.
Join me at Ink-Stained Wretches today, where I go on and on about habits and sinking ships and why I don’t make annual resolutions any more and why in 2021 I’m going to read all the novels of Anthony Trollope and a couple of others plus complete the novel I’ve been writing forever.
Under the heading of Kids Say the Darndest Things and Sometimes You Have to Tell People
My great-niece and her husband have a five-year-blonde son I’ll call John. They recently adopted a five-year-old son who is black. I’ll call him Bob. The boys are best buddies and call each other by name: “Brother.”
When other children told them they couldn’t be brothers because their skin is different, they displayed proof they’re siblings: their matching sneakers.
The Darndest Thing:
A couple of weeks ago, the family took a road trip. They were making the very long drive home when John announced from the back seat, “My butt hurts.”
Bob remarked, “My butt doesn’t hurt. That’s because black people have big, squishy butts and white people don’t.”
I told their mother that when Bob meets the rest of her family, at least some of us a couple of generations back, he’ll change his mind about white people’s butts.
I have permission to share this story. I changed the names so as not to embarrass the principals in case future girlfriends run across the post.
I wrote this immediately after reading mydangblog’s “Prone to Being Prone,” and expected to post the same day. But I had to stop to do something else and didn’t get back, and then forgot, and so here I am, over a month later, finally getting it out there. Not that it’s time-sensitive or anything.
Warning: Blog posts are supposed to be 300-500 words long, and this is a lot longer than that, so if you’re not in the mood for that, I recommending reading “Prone to Being Prone” and leaving this one alone.
Before moving on, I’d like to thank everyone who reads any of my posts. That really is going beyond the call of duty.
I intended to work on my slowly budding novel today, but I don’t feel well and the brain isn’t working. Once I start, writing fiction can be fun (relatively speaking), but when the brain sulls, the process is misery.
It’s easier to slap down a blog post. Readers are more forgiving than editors and critique partners, and since I frequently write about my most embarrassing moments, I have plenty of material: for example, there’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner a day late and vowing to never again bring raw poultry into my kitchen, and buying and not assembling my new recumbent exercise bike, and getting through eight (then nine; now ten) months of strict isolation, and my default topic—the cats.
But after reading mydangblog. I decided to write about chairs.
There’s nothing embarrassing about chairs, but I have enough to say about them for several posts. However, I’m going to stuff it all into this one.
Once upon a time, I had a recliner. It had been my mom’s, and it was a good one, and comfortable, but as it aged, it began to deteriorate. Hyperfocusing elsewhere, I was oblivious until I noticed the fabric on the footrest had separated and was about to fall off. In addition, the chair’s chassis had become rickety.
For a long time, I’d coveted a chair I’d seen at IKEA. I’d never sat in it, but I knew it was comfortable because the design displayed excellent lumbar support. My back cried out for lumbar support. I declined to drive David’s new car because the seats lacked lumbar support; the seats in my older Chevy Cavalier allowed my lower back to drive in comfort.
So we went to IKEA and I sat in the chair and wanted to stay there forever but stood and took it and its hassock home. And I just enjoyed the heck out of that chair.
The cats were wider than the armrests, so we put a stool on one side and a piano bench on the other. One armrest made a perfect mousepad.
It wasn’t beautiful or fancy, but my back loved it. Problem solved.
Until the chair started to list to the right. That’s because I listed to the right. I’ve never been into sitting up straight. In fact, until a certain age, I wasn’t into chairs at all. My preferred positions were either lying down—which is how I got the idea for this topic from mydangblog—or sitting in sort of a yoga position, except with my legs folded up more compactly, and the rest of me slumped over. My family used to marvel at my ability to fold up like that, and my ability to think at the same time: most of my algebra homework was done while I was sitting in that position on the floor in front of the television. Unfortunately, the best I can do now is slump.
Anyway, I didn’t fold up in the IKEA chair, but I curled up a bit. To be accurate, I sat crooked. When my right shoulder went wonky, and I knew it wasn’t another torn rotator cuff because I hadn’t been to water aerobics for years (water aerobics is where I get two rotator cuff injuries, same shoulder), David said it must be the chair. After I wailed long and loudly enough about my poor arm, he said I must have a new chair. He wanted to buy a recliner at Walmart.
I said a Walmart chair would fall apart pronto, and I needed something sturdier. He said he would go to Walmart and buy a chair. I said I would need to try the chair before buying it, but I didn’t feel like shopping around. I’d recently begun chemo and didn’t have much energy. I repeated that a Walmart chair would fall apart. He said he would go to Walmart and buy a chair. I said it would fall apart. He said I needed a new chair NOW: He would buy a cheap chair and I could buy an expensive one when the cheap one fell apart.
But I insisted on approving the purchase, so I summoned the gumption to accompany him to Walmart, where I sat in a recliner. It was too big. I swamped around in it, and there was a handle on the side that lowered the footrest. My sore shoulder didn’t like the handle. I sat in another. It was a bit smaller, and it didn’t have a handle. It took leg power to lower the footrest. My legs didn’t always want to push that hard. It also had armrests that raised to show convenient storage compartments where I could stash things, such as my Kindle, and forget where I’d put them.
Those were the only recliners available.
Full disclosure: I didn’t play nice during the shopping trip. When I muttered “fall apart” for the fourth time, David remarked the chair had the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, which meant quality. I muttered something I hope was unintelligible. David puts up with a lot.
The store ordered the chair and had it delivered to us. David opened the box. It was the wrong chair, the big one with the handle. Again, I wasn’t in the mood to play nice. I pouted. I think I cried.
David said we would get the correct chair, but he wasn’t going to box up the wrong one and send it back, so he would go to Walmart, buy the other chair, have it delivered, and sit in the wrong one himself.
Up to that point, he’d been sitting on his old futon, the first embarrassing element, which I’d been lobbying to replace since he’d brought it to our marriage twelve years before. It had no lumbar support, but he can sit anywhere. He’s tall and lanky and can fold himself up more compactly than I ever dreamed of doing.
My new chair arrived, along with its Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. I sat. It worked.
So we sat along and sat along, until, a couple of years later, my arms began to itch. A lot. When the oncologist sent me to a dermatologist for another matter, she glanced at my arm and said, “How long have you had eczema?” I didn’t know I had eczema. She said no more about it, so I guess I still have eczema, and that’s the reason my arms itch now and then. I should have asked for a prescription for the drug they advertise on TV.
The point is, my chair’s fabric had begun to irritate my arms. David suggested we exchange chairs. Wrong chair’s upholstery was smooth. It wasn’t leather, of course; it wasn’t even Naugahyde. But it didn’t make me itch.
So the sitting in the wrong chair solved that problem. David extended the handle with a piece of PVC pipe so I could use it without pain (and complaint). Since the chair was larger, there was room for two, almost. Ernest sat on the right armrest-mousepad, pulled on my sleeve, oozed over, draped himself across the keyboard, and sent emails prematurely. To type, I scooted the computer to the left armrest.
Suddenly another problem arose, and this time I mean problem. (I just counted, and that was the fourth time I used the word problem. Now I’ve used it five times. Sorry, but it’s the only word that applies.)
One morning in a senior citizen (old people) memoir class, my hip went out. And I mean out. David had to help me from the classroom to the car, and from the car to the apartment, and everyone within a quarter of a mile heard me yelping with every step. I didn’t care.
At home I collapsed into wrong chair and called my massage therapist, who is part genius, part angel. The next day, she ran her thumbs down my spine and said, “When you work on your laptop, what’s right in front of you? The laptop?” I said the cat. She said, “I thought so.”
She fixed my back, which fixed my hip. I stopped sitting crooked and kept the laptop in front of me. I taught Ernest not to sit on my lap while I typed. If you’ve ever convinced a cat to do something he doesn’t want to do, you know that wasn’t fun for either of us. But he finally got the message. He continues to sit on the armrest, almost, and lay his head on the keypad, and sometimes he hits the Enter key and sends an unfinished email, or scrolls down down down, but the laptop stays directly in front of me, and so far my hip has stayed in place.
David uses the other recliner, just as he did my wrong one, and as he did the late unlamented futon, sitting upright with his feet flat on the floor. I don’t know why anyone would do that than when he could practically lie down. When Ernest sits on the floor or the window sill and gazes at him, David sets the laptop aside and gives the cat his full attention. David’s hip and back are fine. Ernest is happy.
We’ve had these Walmart chairs for nearly five years, and neither has collapsed. But my original reservations are proving at least partially justified.
I think I just reached the totally embarrassing part.
Several weeks ago, I found a brown speck of something on my neck. The next day some brown specks fell from my hair onto my shoulders. By the end of the week, I’d decided the shower of specks might be something worth identifying.
Then I looked at the pictures of the tiara (see “Pearls and Teeth and Abject Mortification,” 11/5/2020) and saw the source of said specks. My upholstery is shedding. As I suspected, the fabric is not Naugahyde. The hyde of the Nauga does not decompose.
Decomposition is not a deal-breaker. I could put a slip cover over it, if I cared enough. So far, I don’t. David and I are the only ones who see it. If predictions of medical experts are correct, and I believe they are, we’re the only ones who’ll see it until at least January 2022. So unless the brown faux-Nauga-dandruff becomes intolerable, I’ll leave things alone.
Then another complication arose. My knees. A couple of months ago, almost overnight, they stopped wanting to bend overmuch. As in when I stand up. I attributed the change to having fallen on the left one in 1990 and again in 1991 (and again in 2020, although I count that as being knocked down by a box I was trying to open); plus, I have loose joints; plus, let’s face it, they’re getting on up there. In fact, I think they’re older than the rest of me. Maybe I folded them up too often.
But last week the doctor—bless his heart, and I mean that sincerely—said one of my meds might be making them stiff. I’ll keep the injury excuse for one knee, but I now blame the rest on pills instead of on age.
Where this impacts the chair thing: I have to push myself up. Wrong recliner is soft and squashy, and so am I, and when I sit, it depresses. It’s difficult to rise from a dining room chair at a 90-degree angle, mainly after I’ve sat too long, but from the recliner there are several more degrees to negotiate.
David wants to help, but he can’t pull me up. It just doesn’t work that way. I have to push. He can only make sure that once I’m up, I don’t go back down again.
So I’ve developed a method: rocking. I rock back and forth, building up speed and force, and when the time is right, or seems like it, I push myself onto my feet, stand jackknifed for a few seconds to make sure I’m stable, and then slowly progress to full upright stance. I’ve become so good at it that David doesn’t [always] hold his breath, watching, ready to jump to my aid.
There’s a toll, however. Last night I was rocking fiercely back and forth, gaining momentum, almost ready to attempt an ascent, when I glanced to my right and saw Ernest, eyes wide, ears back, clinging for dear life to the armrest. I usually warn him of what’s coming, but he’d been so still and quiet that I’d forgotten he was there.
I felt just terrible. Terrible for scaring him, and terrible for laughing at his distress. And terrible that I had to stop and start all over. Standing up really isn’t the jolliest part of my day. I like to get it over asap.
And David has another suggestion pending: a chair lift. More specifically, since wrong recliner is desquamating at an increasingly rapid pace, he suggests a chair that stands up and dumps me out.
I didn’t want one. I’m only fifteen years old. I want to stand up by myself. I’m not ready to give up. I’ll ride that stationary bike to El Paso and back and get myself in shape. If I’m going to stand up, I’ll stand up under my own steam, thank you very much.
Then I thought about my uncle’s mother-in-law, Mrs. C. She was a lot older than fifteen, a lot older than my birth certificate says I am, and her knees were in worse shape than mine are. She hobbled around the house, but that was the extent of her mobility. She was essentially housebound. My aunt proposed the obvious solution:
“Mother, we should get you a wheelchair.”
—”NO. They say, once you start using a wheelchair, you never stop.”
“But with a wheelchair, you could get out of the house.”
—”NO. They say, once you sit down in one of those things, you never get up.”
“But, Mother, you wouldn’t use it every day. Just when we go out. We could go shopping. We could go to the grocery store. We could go to the fabric store. We could go to restaurants. We could stay out all day if we wanted.”
—”NO. I’m not riding around in any chair. I’d never walk again.”
I didn’t want a wheelchair either, but attending a film festival in a mostly empty mall in which we had to walk practically to Florida to get to the theater, I was ready for the change. If fact, David was so ready that he found the office and borrowed a wheelchair. At home, we rented, then bought, one.
Then the doctor asked if I wanted a prescription for a rolling walker. David said, “Yes!” It works better than a cane, since you have to learn to use a cane–to establish a rhythm–and I stagger around instead. I am making peace with having to use the rolling walker. I don’t usually use it the house.
I used it when we got our first COVID vaccination last Thursday. I shouldn’t have. I walked fine, and sat once or twice, which was helpful, but I’d been told not to take ibuprofin beforehand, and by the time I got home, my knees were a wreck. Along with the rest of me. Walking for exercise is not an option. David didn’t tell me I could take ibuprofin after the shot, so I waited about forty-eight hours. A wreck.
Yesterday David purchased a lightweight wheelchair. Walmart. I said nothing about falling apart. He said nothing about the Good Housekeeping seal. It’s lighter than the plain one and easier to get into the car–I didn’t know he had trouble with the other one. I can’t use wheels to maneuver it myself, but the one time I tried that with the other chair, in Home Depot, I ended up where I hadn’t planned, so I don’t care. If I have a problem, I’ll stand up and walk. Ibuprofin helps.
That is my story about chairs.
It’s too long, and it’s boring, and it needs to be edited, but that’s a lot of trouble. So there.
Re: the chair that dumps you out. We agreed the kind that fits in the recliner looks uncomfortable, and I might need the kind that stands up and dumps you out. After hearing from a former student who had a rising-up chair, however, that a recent power failure left her chair immobile, and her stuck lying down, I’m wondering. Lying down until the electricity returns might be more difficult that standing up. I doubt I could roll out.
THE END, FINALLY
Image of IKEA-type chair by Kari Shea from Pixabay
Image of giraffe by blende 12 from Pixabay
Image of leather chair OpenClipArt-Vectors from Pixabay
Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay
Image of ginger cat by Films42 from Pixabay
I woke late this morning (really one morning a couple of weeks ago) and looked out to see a dog dancing around on some white stuff. It took a moment to realize the white stuff was snow. I dressed, took my camera, and headed out to document the event.
The first time I saw snow I was five years old. Dr. Luckett was at the house to see my mother, who’d come down with the flu. My father asked if he could wrap me up and take me outside, but the doctor said no, it wouldn’t be a good idea. I spent most of October through April with a chronic sinus infection, tonsillitis, and a raging fever, and going out into the cold might start things up again.
I haven’t seen much snow since. In 1985, I believe it was, fifty miles south of Austin, we ended up with about twelve inches of snow packed and iced over. I felt so sorry for the cardinals swooping down and finding nothing to eat that I threw an entire box of Bran Buds across the ice. Tramp, my terrier, walked around licking up the cereal while I called to him to stop that. His Sweet Babboo, the neighbors’ pit bull, Becky, stood beside me on the porch, wishing she could lick the yard, too. When you told Becky not to do something, she obeyed, mostly. Tramp did pretty much as he pleased.
Cardinals’ beaks might not be designed to eat Bran Buds, but I didn’t think about that. My beak isn’t designed to eat them either.
In 2000, David and I spent Christmas in Maryland, and I learned what it felt like to walk through the woods, kicking my way through white powder. It was beautiful.
It was still snowing when I got outside that morning but the white stuff was quickly turning to slush, and before I could get back inside, what had started as flakes sifting onto my hair turned into wet plops.
But here is one little event of Austin in January 2021.
A good ice storm is prettier than snow, much more impressive, but I don’t think I’ve seen one of those since the ’70s when I had four impacted wisdom teeth removed, and I could have done without it then.
My author-friend V.P. Chandler wrote today about putting a sticker on a little calendar when she accomplishes something.
That reminded me I used to do the same thing to designate when I worked on my writing. The system lasted a few days before breaking down, mostly because of color coding.
There’s a book, Organizing for the Creative Person, that says creative people should never try to color code. I read the book not because I considered myself creative but because at the time I read every self-help book I could find, especially those about organizing. The book was excellent.
It said that creative people file on the floor behind their desks, and that’s when I knew I was definitely creative, because my office floor was always covered with little piles of paper. I had to take great care not to roll my chair over them when I left my desk.
Anyway, the book advised not to color code but since I rarely take advice from self-help books, there went my system of recording my writing accomplishments. And the less I record, there less there is to record.
It was a shame, because I just loved the little Kliban Kat calendar bought especially for the purpose.
Anyway, when V.P. mentioned calendars, I thought about planners. I love planners and have spent several hours this week wandering through Amazon, looking at planners. But I decided I couldn’t justify spending so much–because it would have to be a really special planner–on something I wouldn’t use more than a week or two. (My best planner is David’s Google calendar, and it works because he uses it and reminds me of what he knows good and well that I won’t remember.)
Anyway, if I can’t justify a planner, how can justify buying a calendar?
Then I remembered the calendars my friend Mariana gave me for Christmas–one is just the size for stickers. But it has cats on it, real ones, and I hate to think of messing it up with extraneous matter. It should remain pristine.
So I went back to Amazon . . .
But then I came to my senses. I will not just hang that little cat calendar on the wall. I will use that little cat calendar. I will put a sticker on it for every time I write. That is the best use I can put it to.
As a symbol of my intent–because I have no stickers–I inked a little circle on January 6, when I wrote a scene and sent it to my critique group. I had to look back in my email to find the date; sent mail makes a wonderful archive.
The cat calendar will be just for writing. The large kitten calendar Mariana gave me might become a record of general accomplishments. Like getting my first COVID-19 vaccine dose yesterday. Cooking. Putting on makeup. Getting out of bed before noon. Not playing Candy Crush. Brushing my hair.
The calendar issue having been solved, I now move on to the next project: buying stickers. One color only.
I shall not, will not, color code.
Maybe I’ll use gold stars for working on my novel and red stars for other writing. Surely a little color coding couldn’t hurt.
In January, it’s traditional to summarize the events of the previous year, but there weren’t any, or to announce resolutions for the next year, but I know better than to make those.
Well, I do have a couple of goals: to keep the COVID-19 virus out of the Davis household (and everywhere else I can) and to be vaccinated (which, every time I check online, looks like it’ll happen before 2022, maybe).
Anyway, I’ll begin 2021 with another story told by Aunt Bettie Pittman Waller. She was known for telling the truth, never embroidering, and she was an eye-witness. She was sixteen years old. She lived down the street from the Barber family, and Miss Annie Barber was a special friend. I think they later taught school together for several years. The Normal she mentioned was a teachers’ college in San Marcos, Texas, which is now Texas State University.
I’ve used most of the real names because I don’t think their families will object. But a young man remains anonymous. Aunt Bettie also mentioned one particular detail about him but then said, “You don’t need to put that in,” so I didn’t. It’s nothing derogatory, just funny, but it doesn’t change the story.
The story is taken from the tape of an interview I did with Aunt Bettie.
This really happened at Mr. Barber’s house when Callie and Maud were little. I know, because I was there, too, and some other children—Jessie Daugherty was one—and we were all interested in Mattie’s beau. Annie was in San Marcos then, at the Normal, in 1902.
Mattie was going with a boy—Louis S____. Annie boarded with Mr. S____’s family. He was a grocery salesman who came to Fentress once a week. He was very religious and would time his trips so he could come to day services when we were having a meeting; we had them about ten o’clock.
Well, Mattie had a date with Louis S____—he was just a youngster like Mattie—and he was to come at about five o’clock. He had a horse and buggy.
Mr. Barber’s house set fronting south, like the house does now, but it was closer to the road, because when the highway went through they set it way over. Mr. Barber had a well or a cistern, either word would do, by the door of the dining room, and people could see the well from the road.
They had a pet pig that had grown to a hog, but they still just called it “the pig.” They fed it out by the well in front of the house, away from the other pigs. And they let it in the house. They couldn’t keep it out, because it had learned to push around the buttons on the porch and open the door.
But they sure weren’t going to let it in when Louis came to see Mattie, and all the children were working to see that it stayed out. They tried hard.
But the pig got in the back door and ran through the house with all the children following and ran out the front, squealing, just as Louis drove up.
As the pig ran out of the dining room door, Mag looked up at Mattie and said, “Mat, he won’t be back!” And Louis didn’t ever come back. I don’t think they ever invited him.
I just think, if the pig had been kept out, life might have been different for Mattie.
Two stories about the first months of Aunt Bettie and Uncle Maurice’s marriage appear at Ink-Stained Wretches.’
I got lots of cats. Faux cats: cat calendars from an old and dear friend; cat socks and a “book throw” dotted with cats, from David. I also received Jeopardy socks and sloth socks and a backdrop.
Last year David gave me a tote bag with a sloth on it, the source of many compliments from oncology nurses. The sloth socks make me think there might be a subtext brewing, though; if there is, it’s justified.
The backdrop is designed to make Zoom friends think I live a more picturesque life. The apartment walls are pink, a pleasant pink, the same pink of the living room and dining room in the house I grew up in, but as background on Zoom they look sick. My computer doesn’t have the oomph to support a “virtual background.” Dear husband has taken care of that. All we have to do now is stick the backdrop on the wall where the camera can find it.
William and Ernest received catnip mice. Ernest said his was okay but no big deal—he doesn’t do drugs—and headed for the litter box. William was delighted with his mouse, started batting it around, but was distracted by the sound of Ernest scrabbling around in the litter box and abandoned the mouse to listen. Returning, Ernest swatted the mouse once but by then William was in the litter box, and Ernest had to pay attention. They are social animals. So much for the mice.
About that first sentence: I never imagined writing it. In my youth, presents were a morning thing. The adults were so excited that they dragged us out of bed about four o’clock in the morning—no exaggeration—because Santa Claus had come and they couldn’t wait. No breakfast—we had to see what Santa had brought!
No one argued with them.
Correction: most of the adults. My father wasn’t quite so eager. He woke daily without an alarm before six a.m.—farm hours, even though he hadn’t farmed full-time since before World War II—but he didn’t wake up until he’d had two strips of bacon, fried; two eggs, basted; two pieces of buttered toast; and two cups of coffee, black with sugar. Then he achieved consciousness. Christmas morning for him was modified torment. He participated in the Santa part—I think Mother provided him with coffee—but waiting for breakfast was probably like being a kid and having to wait to open presents.
I was thinking the other day about Christmas presents I’ve received. Off the top of my head:
Doll beds with blue-and-white blankets my mother made. She backed them with white flannel.
A little stove with a real oven and tiny cake pans and a tiny box of cake mix.
A pogo stick.
Dolls. My mother loved dolls, so I got one every Christmas. The one when I was eight came wearing a white lace bride’s dress. She also owned a white blouse and some black velvet slacks.
But more than the presents are the memories that accompany them.
The doll blankets lasted for years after I’d put away the dolls. A lot of kittens and puppies were bundled up in them.
My cousin Lynn, about twelve when I got the oven, spent Christmas vacation with us and helped make that little bitty cake.
I tried out the pogo stick in the street in front of our house on Christmas Day but couldn’t make it work. I never played with it because it was so sturdy—my father was probably along on that shopping trip—that my six-year-old poundage wouldn’t make it budge; nor did my father’s forty-plus-year-old poundage. The pogo stick hung on the wall in the garage for years, waiting for someone heavy enough to make the spring depress. The whole truth: I was so acrophobic that I wouldn’t have been able to bounce on it anyway; the pedals were too far off the ground.
I made the doll a suit, a rather nice one, because my mother wasn’t into playing around with the sewing machine; if I was going to sew, I was going to do it right. I found the suit last year when we moved, unironed but intact. I guess the skirt got lost in the six-decade shuffle. Note that the cape is lined. I couldn’t make a lined anything today. Or unlined. My manual dexterity has departed.
One year it wasn’t the presents I remember but the living room floor covered wall to wall with discarded wrapping paper, so Sabre, the Cocker spaniel, couldn’t figure out how to get across the room to the front door.
So many other presents over the years, so many experiences, so many memories.
My mother told me once about a Christmas during the Depression when there were no presents at all, but the Christmas Eve sky was clear and bright with stars, and the family decided it must have looked like that on the very first Christmas.
I didn’t say, of course, but I thought that must have been terrible. No presents. How could they bear not having packages under the tree, and surprises, and new toys.
So I grew up and things fell into place and presents fell into perspective. I’m still pleased to receive them. But the truth of the cliché applies: It’s the thought that counts. And the people behind the thoughts.
And with perspective comes new definitions: Presents come in boxes wrapped with colored paper and tied with ribbon and bows.
The thoughts, the experiences, the memories, are gifts.
If as Herod, we fill our lives with things and again things;
If we consider ourselves so important that we must fill
Every moment of our lives with action;
When will we have the time to make the long slow journey
Across the burning desert as did the Magi;
Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds;
Or to brood over the coming of the Child as did Mary?
For each one of us there is a desert to travel,
A star to discover,
And a being within ourselves to bring to life.
~ Author Unknown
“The Road to Bethlehem” appears on other websites, where it’s attributed to Anonymous. If you know who wrote it, please share the name and, if possible, other documentation, in a comment, so I can give the poet credit for his creation and can search for information about copyright. Until I know more, I will assume the poem is in the public domain.
For seventeen years after the death of his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, at twenty-two, Alfred Tennyson worked on the elegy In Memoriam. In effect, he wrote through his grief.
One of the last cantos in the book, “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” signifies the end of grief, the casting aside of the heartaches and pain of the old year, the return of faith, and the hope of a new and better way of life. Legend has it that Tennyson was inspired by hearing church bells on New Year’s Eve.
“It is an accepted English custom to ring English Full circle bells to ring out the old year and ring in the new year over midnight on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes the bells are rung half-muffled for the death of the old year, then the muffles are removed to ring without muffling to mark the birth of the new year.” (Wikipedia)
The poem was published in 1850. Read it slowly. Words composed 170 years ago are as alive as if Tennyson had written them with the upcoming New Year’s Eve in mind.
I need to hear them now. Maybe you do, too.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
The musical setting by Charles Gounod omits two of the poem’s stanzas.