Thursday, November 19, 2020

Companions

Sixteen years ago after a suspicious mammogram and subsequent biopsy, I drove to my doctor’s office for what both she and I knew was bad news, but news easier to be heard in person. I was not alone. Riley went with me. Riley was my fluffy grey Lhasa Apso, my boon companion, my soul mate, who went almost everywhere with me. I’m not sure if he understood why I was crying, although he was pretty smart, but he looked at me with those soft brown eyes, and I was consoled. 

Five years ago we made another office visit together, but this time only I walked out. 

Riley was not my first pet. There had been Patsy, the tiger cat who was a present for my seventh birthday. Patsy, also grey, was a friendly but independent feline. He loved to rub up against my leg, and his purrrrrrrr went on forever,  but he was also a hunter and not infrequently he showed up at the front door with the present of a chipmunk in his teeth. We were together until I started college, and he chose the wrong time to cross the street.

I was sad when Patsy died, but it was different with Riley. Riley and I were a team. So much as we could do things together, we did. Not only did we explore the trails and paths of Forest Park, but he went with me to the Cape where he got to run on the beach (off season) and explore wooded trails near cranberry bogs.  

Almost immediately friends started to ask if I were going to get another dog. I thought about it, even explored some shelters online, but I kept coming back to this: I didn’t want another dog; I wanted Riley.  

In the meantime, my friend Angie became ill. Angie had a chihuahua named Kat to whom she was devoted, and every time she had to go into the hospital, she would call and ask if I would take care of Kat until she got home, and each time before she left the hospital, she would call me to be sure Kat was home when she got there. She didn't want to be away from her more than she had to. Then one day she didn’t come home, and Kat remained with me.

 Kat is a lovely dog. Unlike many chihuahuas, she is not yippy, but extremely affectionate. She likes nothing better than to climb on me, nuzzle into my neck, and lick me. She demands little except attention and affection. She only barks to tell me that there’s someone at the door whom she welcomes with a wild wag of the tail once she sees who it is. But, she isn’t Riley. 

So in those early days after Angie died, I asked around for another home for Kat. I even visited one place that seemed a good fit, but it didn’t work out. So days went by. Every day I would put out her food in the morning, then sit down to eat my oatmeal by the window, and after she had eaten, she would come and look up at me expectantly, and I would pick her up, and she would lick my face. Every day I would take her out for a walk around the block, and neighbors began to know her name and talk to her. Every day as I filled the bird feeders, she would follow me outside and chase any squirrels who happened to be nearby. Every day I came to understand that Kat was Kat, different from Riley, but special in her own way. 

I think our relationship must be like a second marriage after a long and happy first marriage. It will never be the same or as sweet as that first, young love, but it is rich in the way that age gives us perspective to see what’s important and what’s not. 

Recently another mammogram and another biopsy has again delivered bad news, and tomorrow I will begin chemotherapy. I don’t know where this will lead, but I do know that when I return home, this tiny tan soul will greet me with unlimited love and loyalty, and what better medicine is there than that?

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Hope is a Thing with Brown Fur


Kat the dog is ever hopeful
always expecting affection
from whoever happens to be near
pawing at at a pant leg
whining oh so quietly,
 “Love me, Love me.”

Most comply
offering pats or smooth strokes down her back.
Still it is never enough.

Before she was mine
she was Angie’s.
Before that
her history is unclear
except that she would have been abandoned
had not Angie taken her in.

So she begs to be picked up
while I write or talk on the phone.
She does not understand my annoyance
or a guest’s allergy.
She only knows love me and hope.

And because we do love her
and grant her the affection she desires,
her hope for more
only grows.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Peaches


 “...those peaches, hanging like constellations in the leafy
sky? In this darkening world, they are the only steady light.”
Barbara Crooker


When I try to imagine what the Greeks meant by ambrosia, that food of the gods delivered to Olympus by doves, I cannot imagine anything more heavenly than ripe, sweet golden peaches picked fresh from a tree in August. Fortunately I do not have to wait for avian delivery, but merely a trip to Bilton’s in Hampden. 

On a recent trip I asked when they would last have peaches and was told, “The end of August.” So this morning, the first of September, I was pleased to see I still had a few left before the long wait for next season. 

I picked one that looked ripe and perfect, no blemishes, then squeezed it every so gently, and it responded, “Yes.” I peeled off its downy skin with my fingers, cut off sections, removed the fruit willingly from the pit and slipped it onto my oatmeal, my hands dripping with its sweet, slippery juice.

But the pure joy came with my first bite. This was the perfect peach at the perfect moment. A day or even an hour earlier or later, and it would have been less-than, but here on this morning I was enjoying ambrosia!

The last few days have been difficult for me as I am dealing with the news that my cancer, dormant for 16 years, has returned. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I am reminded once again this morning that we only have this moment, and moments like this are meant to be savored. 

Wishing you many perfect peach moments!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

On Sumner Avenue

On one side of Sumner Avenue we held signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “End Racism Now,” and one with the carefully written names of victims of racial violence.

As the Carillon tolled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds we, a group of about 60 mostly white people wearing our masks, stood or kneeled as four lanes of busy traffic rushed by, many honking or raising fists in support.

All the while I stood there, I was watching a family across the street. This young black family was sitting on their front steps. There was a mother, a father, a baby, a young boy maybe 4, and an older boy about 11.

I wondered about theses people—these neighbors I had never met. I wondered if they felt protected by the police, or threatened by them. I wondered about the older boy in the red shirt resting on his yellow bicycle. Will he be able to live out his dreams? Can he ride his bicycle freely through the streets of the city as I had done when I was his age in this same city?

The street where we stood, Sumner Avenue, was named for Charles Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts during the Civil War. Wikipedia describes him as a leader in the abolitionist cause, “A radical Republican.” At one point in his career after an impassioned speech against slavery. he was attacked viciously, nearly fatally by another senator on the floor of the Senate

Over 150 years later he is remembered here by this street and the school on it. Yet the racism at the heart of slavery that he fought against, and nearly died fighting, is still here.

So there I was in my white skin silently protesting this evil of racism across from a black family I did not know, realizing all too clearly that there is more than 4 lanes of traffic that separates us.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020


I never knew my maternal grandfather, William John Gilpin, Jr. as he died before I was born, yet I’ve been thinking a lot about him this weekend. There was the annual Memorial Day visit to his grave at Quabbin Park Cemetery in Ware, but even before that, I had found his 1936 federal income tax form in a box of family photos and documents in the basement.

IRS Form 1040 A records that he made an income of $1,886.49 as a machinist at National Equipment Company, of which he paid $28.38 in taxes. Though small, it is important to remember that not only was this 84 years ago, but it was also the middle of the Great Depression, so having a job and any income was a plus, and he had held several different jobs in his lifetime, including selling insurance for Metropolitan Life when the job required him to go house to house picking up payments during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. Fortunately, he never got sick.

It was indeed fortunate because my grandmother, May Reid Gilpin, had died very suddenly the year before. She had been ill when he left for work in the morning, and when he came home for lunch, she was dead. That story demands more time than I have here, but suffice it to say that the events of that day changed the family forever.


My grandfather was left the sole parent for my mother, Vera, age five, and my aunt, Gertrude, age nine. Taking care of and supporting them became the focus of his life. This sometimes meant the girls had to stay with family while he was away working.

By 1936, the date of the tax return, he was living in his sister Alice Moffatt’s home on Revere Street in Springfield. There he shared a room with my mother (age 24). (By that time my aunt was married and living in Vermont).  Aunt Alice’s four adult children also lived there. Elmer worked at the US Armory, while Sally, Emma, and Harriet worked at the two big department stores downtown.

I know there were conflicts with that many adults living in one house, and my grandfather could have chosen to move, but his priority, as always, was his daughters. Aunt Alice was his older sister and took a sort of parental attitude toward him, and as the mother of four girls, she felt she knew what was best for them. Education was wasted on girls, she insisted.  After all, her girls didn’t need an education to sell handkerchiefs at Forbes and Wallace or women’s dresses at Steiger’s.

But my grandfather ignored her advice and sent both my mother and my aunt to Bay Path which prepared them to become a secretary and a teacher, respectively. He knew all too well that life can change in a minute and that you need to be prepared to take care of yourself.

I wish I had met my grandfather, but I suspect many of the qualities he had were reflected in his daughters. They were both dedicated to their families and raised children to be responsible and independent.

Maybe if I get serious about cleaning the basement, I’ll discover more treasures, maybe find out more about the names on the cemetery stones.





Sunday, May 17, 2020

Pedernal

"My Front Yard, Summer, 1941" by Georgia O'Keeffe
This is Cerro Pedernal, a part of the Jemez Mountains in Northern New Mexico. Its image keeps reappearing in the paintings of  Georgia O’Keeffe.  She said, “It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” After she died, her ashes were scattered there, as she had requested.  
"Ladder to the Moon, 1958"

Her statement seems almost laughable—that God would give it to her, as something to own, but the more I think about it, maybe it’s not so strange. It certainly was hers when she was alive. All she had to do was look up from her studio at Ghost Ranch, and there it was. She preserved it in painting after painting. It appears even in those paintings whose subject was not the mesa.

And perhaps she is not alone in receiving such gifts. What of this earth is given to us—not as a possession, not as a piece of property with a deed—but as a gift to be cared for?

This morning I heard part of an interview with Dave Pollard, author of the blog “How to Save the World.” He described the Earth as being in Hospice—no longer capable of being healed, only cared for as it comes to its end. Cheery news to start the day!

I cannot accept this, so I look out every day on my “Pedernal”—the aging hydrangea that is sprouting green flames of leaves, the row of leafy hostas along the back fence, the tulip tree that I planted as a sapling that now towers above the maple, and, of course, the birds—the usual visitors the sparrows, finches, and starlings, and the new visitors—the orioles and the catbirds. 

This is what has been given to me—the tiny bit of the planet for which I am responsible: to appreciate, take care of, and understand its connection to everything else--from the maple across the back fence to the rainforests of South America to  the mountains in New Mexico.


"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. 
We all breathe the same air. 
We all cherish our children's future. 
And we are all mortal."
John F. Kennedy

Friday, March 27, 2020

Stars



Several years ago when I was part of a mission trip to the tiny village of Las Mercedes in Nicaragua, we would gather at night on the field, reflect upon the day, and just stare at the millions of stars. The stars, of course, were no different from those shining over our homes back in Massachusetts, but we could see them here in all their splendor because after the great star disappeared, there was no artificial light to distract. Because of the absence of the light we were used to, we could clearly see the beauty that had been there all along.

We are living in a time of absence now—absence of human contact, absence of familiar schedules, and, for many, absence of hope. It is not hard to sink into the darkness, to focus on what we are missing, not knowing when things will go “back to normal.”

But into this darkness have come some bright spots—some stars, if you will. You may have heard of the Italians coming together in a Balcony Flash Mob. Others have collaborated on virtual balconies. There was “Love, Sweet Love” sung by the students of Berklee College of Music, “Me and the Sky” by cast members and fans of Come From Away, and my favorite: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” by members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

None of this music was new. All the performers had played or sung before. What was new was the sharing across boundaries of time and space and the desire to make the world brighter in a dark time. May you find the stars in your darkness today.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Og Mandino