Monthly Archives: May 2012

for my son, whose middle name is Edward……

I wrote this in 2008, and I think it wears well. One more time……

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years during World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He, too, had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was eighteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troup. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

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maze

I can’t find the story yet. There are 50,000 words in the computer, but there isn’t a story. This always happens, but because it takes me several years to write a book, I always forget. When I was writing Before Versailles, it was two very rough drafts before I realized the story was Louis XIV’s. It took forever and a day to find what the heartbreak would be for Barbara in Through a Glass Darkly and then build around it. In Dark Angels, I played for months with a romance between Princess Henriette and Monmouth, none of which I used, and thought for awhile I was writing the Louis XIV story I wanted to write….not.

Why do I wander aimlessly for so long? What do you do when you’re lost in the maze? You know this is why writers drink.

promising

Some days are hard days, lost days where I feel I belong nowhere. They usually occur the day after I go out and visit my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. The push with which I begin the week stops still that day I visit, and the next day is hard. I sat out in my back deck recently, feeling things that don’t feel good, straining to remember various spiritual mantras, this too will pass, etc., and I remembered the one about finding things to be grateful about. This day, it seemed there were only things very small: 7 limes on the lime tree, a slit in the agapantha pod promising the purple blossom would show eventually, and carpenter bees, who love the cedar trim on the garage, and every spring lumber in and drill the perfect little holes in which they live. I like watching these bees. They’re big, but they are peaceful. They  remind me of sightless helicopters when they come home to their hole, humming around it, many false forays before somehow they climb in.

False forays, like this day when I can’t find meaning in my life. I can’t find the entrance to my inner home. I can’t summons passion, but counting the limes, seeing the agapantha, the bees,  quietens discontent enough to go inside and sit down to write at these stories I make up about a family that lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Joy cometh in the morning, the prophets say, and by afternoon, the mood has passed. There isn’t joy, but there isn’t despair. I guess our lives are designs only seen later. My mother’s life has impacted many, her pebble thrown into a pond, the ripple outward. Does the ripple stop? For I am impacted by her, and I impact others who impact, on and on it goes. The hum of bees comforts enough to bear all I don’t understand. And I know joy comes some mornings.