Sticks and stones

I’m sharing some painful memories, which are offered to illustrate, rather than to offend. Please forgive the coarse language I’ve quoted. It was common “back in the day.” Thankfully, those days were long ago.

After school one day, my brother told our mother a classmate called him a “kite.” Our teachers told us, “Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us,” and the phrase, “I’m rubber, and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me, and sticks to you,” was offered in reply to bullying and name-calling.

My mother replied, “Tell him he’s uncouth.”

The next day, my brother told Mom his antagonist had had gotten him in trouble by telling their teacher my brother called him a “coon.”  Mom calmly explained that “kyke” was a derogatory name for a Jew, and “coon,” was an equally insulting name for an African American. At that time, African Americans were still called “colored people,” and “Negroes.”

It’s important to mention that our father was a Jew. Our mother wasn’t. The little boy hurling the racial slurs was white.

My mother was in a difficult situation, because our family was vulnerable, but Mom never permitted others’ prejudice to intimidate her. We learned to ignore the taunts and not to engage with the provocateurs. Fifty years ago, when words were the weapons, rather than guns, that was the appropriate response.

I wish I could end this essay, here, but I need to add an explicit conclusion.

More guns is not the appropriate response.

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Shanah tovah

Each morning, I remind myself, as if in answer to a young child, there have always been, and still are, mean-spirited people.  We must coexist with them, even though we do not share their beliefs or condone their actions, with the reassurance our own convictions will protect us from their influence.

Those who don’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah, can, and must, still have hope. In the forthcoming year, I will strive to let my better self govern my interactions with those who challenge, provoke and antagonize. I will disagree, when necessary, and agree, when appropriate.

Each day will be a new opportunity to promote goodwill and peace.

Best wishes.

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Nothing scheduled. A blank slate. Shall I clean the kitchen cabinets, wash and line the shelves, as I’ve been meaning to do? Drag down more boxes from the attic, unpack them and sort their contents?

I have quarts of frozen berries to use in late fall after all the fresh fruit is gone, a half loaf of bread, some cheese, three quarters of a moussaka-ish casserole from last night. A half bottle of merlot. Some green beans.

The bills that are due have been paid. I will not scrub the floor or paint my nails. I won’t look for cobwebs, or pull weeds.

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I walked in a rainstorm on Sunday, enjoying the quiet. A block from home, I found three little kids, lying in the gutter, rainwater washing over them, covering their bellies and reaching their chins.

One of them popped up. “It’s not raining!”

I pointed with the hand that wasn’t holding my umbrella, where raindrops disturbed the turrent heading to the grate. He lie back down, determined to out-last every last drop of the deluge.

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When I was 21 years old, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, skipping much of the way down, despite the whole cabbage I carried in my backpack, enjoying the lightened load during the next day’s ascent.  I’d spend the previous six months working as a National Park Ranger, hiking trails and fighting forest fires for minimum wage, and sopping up every blessed second of the experience. I was young, and fearless, and fit.

I’m older now, with a prosthetic hip and another that’s so ravaged by arthritis I can sleep in snatches of a few hours at the most. My back aches and I imagine x-rays of my neck resemble those of a camel’s.

When my physical therapist, who’s as young and lithe as I once was, encourages me to walk, “on a level surface,” outside, or on a treadmill, I can’t bring myself to tell her how hard it’s become to imagine walking to Machu Picchu, or even to recall the trails I once ran with my boisterous hounds tugging at their tethers, up slippery wet rocks.

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I’m fortunate to live one short block from a small grocery, so I can easily walk there. Getting myself and my purchases home is less easy. My free-standing garage is in the back corner of my yard, so even if I drive to and from the store, I sometimes have to make more than one trip from the car to the house.

During my decades as a a litigator, I unselfconsciously drug several briefcases bungee-corded to “stewardess wheels” behind me onto trains, planes, elevators, buses, and up several flights of stairs. Setting aside my vanity, I reasoned that a wheeled shopping cart would be no different.

I learned such articles are available from suppliers that sell walkers and other assistive devices. I refused to leave my home following my hip surgery until I graduated from a wheeled walker to a cane, and involuntarily cringed whenever teenaged cashiers asked, “Would you like some help getting to your car, Sweetie?” Post-operative pain makes even those of us with the most pleasant of dispositions a tad cranky, and when you throw inhibition-lowering pain meds into the mix, the combination is a bit dicey. I constantly reminded myself that while my collapsible cane would come in handy as a defensive weapon, my temporary disability was unlikely to be a viable defense to an assault charge.

I decided a lightweight black cart would draw less attention than one that was shiny chrome, but, sigh, a red one was cheaper. Having survived using a long-handled claw to pull up my drawers after my hip surgery, I jettisoned the last remnant of vanity and placed my order, imagining myself in a hat with an enormous brim festooned with plastic fruit, pulling a tomato-red cart, retro-fitted with sled runners, over a six-foot snow drift.

“Some assembly required,” has never intimidated me, but after I unpacked the box and removed and opened the instruction booklet, which was securely attached to the metal frame with a twist-tie by someone who was apparently left-handed, I realized this effort would become both a test of my deteriorating eyesight and mental acuity. While the diagram showed where each of the six washers and two springs were to be threaded onto the axle along with the wheels and hubcaps, it was impossible to determine which of the cotter pins went where. To further complicate (I’m not yet perplexed) the assembly, the packing instructions indicated there were only two pins, while there were two sets of differently configured pins in the plastic bag sinistrally attached to the frame.

In case you’re thinking, she needs a man, please understand that while I’ve been religiously doing my exercises, I haven’t regained my pre-surgical speed, at least not sufficiently to sprint to the walls and windows to intercept flying hardware. Moreover, since I’m not yet deaf, the thought of enduring an ear-splitting diatribe about “Chinese instructions” would make that scenario even more distasteful.

I’m much more resourceful. To thank a friend (who loves shopping and loves the color red, even more) for helping me haul a carload to Goodwill, I’d ordered an identical cart for her. I sent her a message, trying my best to sound nonchalant. “Have you put your cart together, yet?”

She replied, “My husband did. I LOVE IT!”

I’ll admit to wondering, wistfully, how many bottles of wine will fit in my cart once it’s road-worthy, but I banished that thought to the same realm as my obsolete vanity and messaged back, “Can I look at it to see where the pieces go?”

I’m not giving up.

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I visited my daughter last weekend. I hadn’t laid eyes on her in more than two years. I entered the small bookstore where she works, unnoticed.

Once she’d helped another customer, I approached. She smiled, and asked, “May I help you?”

“Do you have Paul Sheldon’s latest novel?’

She stared at me for a full second, then wrapped her eyes around me and turned to her co-worker, who’d seen me point towards her when I came through the door, as I pressed my index finger to my lips.

“This is my mom!”

He laughed.

Her eyes narrowed. “Was that a lame ‘Misery’ joke?”

I nodded. “Sorry.”

An author was reading in the adjoining room, so we descended to the lower level, where she showed me her favorite section of used books and the shelves of advanced reader’s copies they’d received from publishers.

* * *

The last afternoon of my visit, after sharing several memorable meals, including an enormous vegetarian feast for two at an Ethiopian restaurant, brunch in a greenhouse where all the ingredients were grown a few steps from the kitchen, a picnic before an outdoor performance of “Into the Woods,” a roasted vegetable tart we ate on the balcony before a stroll through the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden, we settled down with a kitten and coloring books.

“Adult coloring books are trendy, now,” she said, passing me the sleeve of markers. I chose a deep blue, and began carefully following the thick, black lines.

“Do you remember when I had my wisdom teeth removed and you bought me a bunch of coloring books and an enormous tub of markers?

I nodded, remembering that after my mother died, my friends did the same for me.

I chose a lighter color to fill in a several larger areas of the mandala. It was difficult to judge from the plastic whether it was pink, or orange. “You can test it on the back of the page,” she said.

“If it’s not the right color, I’ll work around it,” I said.

Without looking at my paper, she said, “You can always color over it, if you don’t like it.”

“I can,” I thought, “but I don’t want to.”

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Let’s embrace this day

Three trees were planted on the new tree lawn across from my house, yesterday. This morning, their leaves are wet from the rain, and a sweet breeze enters the house through the screen door.

The lilies are blooming, tall, red, and triumphant. They say, “Let’s replace grief, with hope.”

Let’s embrace this day.

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Conversations with my house

House: We need a fluffy calico cat.

Me: When you get a job, you can have a cat.

House: All you have to do is brush her and feed her and make sure she has clean litter.

Me: What’s in it for you?

House: She’ll look pretty in the window. By the way, you need to wash them.

Me: Tell me something I don’t know.

House: We need a cat.

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On holidays I couldn’t spend with my daughter, I went to big box stores. Once, on my birthday, I went to PetSmart and adopted a cat. On another Christmas, I roamed the aisles at Walmart for a few hours before leaving with bananas.

A few years ago, I went to IKEA on Mother’s Day. It was an adventure as well as a tradition. That Mother’s Day, I bought myself breakfast.

“Are you a Mom?” the cashier asked.

“I am.”

“Your breakfast’s free.”

I ate my free scrambled eggs and bought a mattress pad and sheets for my single bed.

This year, I’m better off.  And I’m grateful.

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