Category Archives: memoir

dark mother

leavesm

Why do I not write here anymore, someone kind asks me in a comment. I lost energy in the too-long journey of writing the current novel (not finished). I lost a little hope about life (regained). I thought, what does it matter what I say (whine).

Today, I want to share a lovely, deep piece about winter from Dunya. One line of it reverberates in me…..a last savoring of our mother. Her mother, too, has Alzheimer’s. My mother, in her 12th year of it, lives and breathes, but little else.

I share this with you in an embrace of the dark and fine, fine writing……leavesm

 

dead

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We make an ofrenda, which is an altar for the Day of the Dead. I bring photos of a father, grandparents, an uncle, a sister. Among them is a suicide, an alcoholic, a poet too gentle for this life, women who had to scramble to survive or live with men who treated them badly. Few died with any semblance of peace.

I offer chocolates and mums, a pencil for the poet, a cigarette for the smokers. What I wish I could give them is another pass at life, for too much of theirs was stark and unforgiving. Some of it was character, some of it was heritage, some of it was cultural.

Do not go gentle into that dark night, wails a poem. But why not? Why fight against the dying of the light? For we all must die. It’s the last clause in the contract made with being born. What unseen can I offer my dead, who have gone on before me? Courage to amend mistakes and character flaws with unflinching honesty? The never ending weeding of my inner garden? Loving what is? Love?

For them. For me. For it all. Forever and ever. Amen.

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trust

DSC_0132I love it when a historian echoes one of my hunches. I read a lot of history: biographies, memoir, overviews, always have since I was a girl and became intrigued with the Plantagenets and Elizabeth I. I think I’m looking for tone, the shading I’ll paint under the story I write. I really don’t know; I just absorb and let the vapor appear filtered through whatever it is that makes up me.

So, I’ve read dozens of biographies about Louis XIV, and only this one—by a woman—and just read this week said what my gut told me as I wrote a piece of Louis’s personal story in Before Versailles. “The young King, entranced by the sincerity and intensity of Louise’s feelings towards him, loved her as he had never loved before, and was never to love again.” (Therese Louis Latour 1924) As I read other biographies, in which Louise de la Valliere is a footnote, glanced at and abandoned by the writers, I always felt there was a unique tenderness in the love affair. And that’s what I wrote.

DSC_0132It’s nice to have my hunch validated, even if the writer isn’t current or well known. I think much of what I do has to do with subtlety. And I must trust subtlety.

Grace notes: Saw a dove sitting in her nest in one of my trees. Nests used to mean much to me; they were a symbol of my own task in this younger life I was living.

sister

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I think I’ll plant daffodils around their headstone. I was in Arkansas this weekend at the small country cemetery where my mother and father’s ashes will one day be buried. Dad was born around here; a sister of mine lived down the road. Daffodils were blooming everywhere, covering yards in thick clusters, and that sister, now gone, was much on my mind. We all planted dozens of bulbs in her yard for her during her last autumn, a few months before she left us forever. Days before she was taken to the hospital—a place from which we all knew she would not return alive—I walked with my daughter to look at the green daffodil stalks in my sister’s yard. They represented love for her. In those months before her dying, we would have done anything for her, bought her anything she wanted, taken her anywhere she wanted to go. There were parts of her that were the best of us.

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My daughter was in her 20s; my sister’s daughters were 11 and 5. I remember realizing that she would never do this simple thing I was doing—walking with a grown daughter. The pain around that was sharp like a honed blade and achy dull at the same time.

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She didn’t live to see her daffodils or her daughters bloom. When I see those flowers in this place near where she had her home and family, she lives again in me; her final, bittersweet leaving is daffodil fragrant inside.  Mom and Dad will like having them nodding their yellow heads around their grave, I think. I think my sister will like it, too.

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i keep saying good-bye

IMG_0277_2I’m straightening Mom’s room at the place which cares for her. She’s in year 10 of Alzheimer’s, healthy but unable to do a single thing for herself or communicate clearly. I’ve made her room pretty, but more and more I take things away and store them: the costume jewelry someone gave her to play with, the received cards she so loved to tear to pieces and then rearrange, clothes which are too difficult to put on her. If I bring a plant, she doesn’t notice it. I gaze at the things I’ve selected to comfort and define her. Without her zest and vitality, their definition is less and less clear. cameilla

spaces

I’ve been driving across a lot of vast, open spaces in the past few days….the beginning of plains country around Amarillo and the high desert and desert of New Mexico stretching all the way to mountain. Dad has been on my mind. He was about the same age I am now when he died. And I never really knew him. If he could have waited on me to grow up more, to be able to sit in the discomfort that was always between us, we might have been able to have some real conversation, or if not that, that sincere quiet that can reside between two people who love one another. My Dad was a child of the Great Depression, and that marked him all his life. He left home early; by 16 he was off to college and then to the Merchant Marine Academy. He was forthright and opinionated. He drank too much and said things I would imagine he regretted later. It was the saying of those things that put distance between us. They hurt, and by the time I was 8 I moved some place far back inside myself and never came close to him again. But some of my siblings managed better. My late sister Carmen said she always saw him as a hurt, little boy. My brother loved and admired him and has nothing but that to express when my Dad’s name comes up to this day. But me….I missed an opportunity to know him. I couldn’t get past the fear of hurt. So I’m thinking of him as I drive past vast, open spaces because there was a vast, open space between us, and now I’d like it closed.

for my son, whose middle name is edward*

*(This was among the first posts I wrote in this blog. I wrote it in 2008, and I think it bears repeating. Hope you agree……) 

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 in 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 nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. 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………

My note this 5/29/11. Elgin, at 90, soldiers on. He lives by himself, drives himself around the little town in east Texas near which he lives, and tends his garden. He still won’t talk about the war. War scars and maims. Men who live on the brink of death bond in a way that is immediate and soul wrenching. Is there a war story in your family? How have the men in your family been impacted? How has that impact reverberated down? And what about the women?