Jilly D.

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Sunshine and smiles for Sam in September

In Anniversary and memorials, Friends, Mourning, Pictures and memories on August 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

september smiles

The days creep closer to the two-year anniversary of Sam’s death and I approach it with some fear and trepidation. For nearly a year the pain and grief seemed an emotional abyss; a black hole that sucked me in and the best I could do was hold on with magical thinking to the life we’d had together and all our dreams on the farm. Sam’s death brought me face to face with a darkness and depression I had to know as grief and face in mourning. I’ve spent another year trying to get back up on my feet, falling down several times, even breaking a wrist. But I’ve let go of the magical thinking. I am no longer expecting that collect call from the Sundance Kid in Bolivia.

 My memories are fond and sweet and the ways in which he touched  lives should never be forgotten. Everybody who knew Sam has a special story.  My recollections of this wild man backwoods lover are different from those of his mother, sister, and daughter. His buddies have endless tales of Sam and their rollicking good times together. Sam etched into our common memory the simple joy of summer, barbecue chicken, good friends and laughter.

In memory of Sam I have asked family and friends to join together for a chicken barbecue before summer’s end. My wish is for a day in the sun to celebrate Sam. A good day.

Sam' Warren's mother and sister

The Sam I knew lived a full life; everyday he tried his damnedest to do a good job, make something, fix a problem, accomplish a goal, live out a dream. He and I knew a rich life on the farm he grew up on as a boy. His fondest memories were when he was ten years old. His parents gave him a good start in life and he had so many friends along the way. I only knew him for short time, but I like to think of our years together as his best times. What we had was special, not perfect.  I never thought, honestly, I’d be able to live without him. I couldn’t continue to live without him on the farm. That was a slow reckoning, and painful. I didn’t think I could continue to live without his love and physical presence. But somehow the days continue to add up. I still wake up and do what I gotta do and go to sleep and do it all over again —  without him. I’m looking to bring a little more joy back into my life and that means more memories of the good times. I hope to laugh as we remember Sam and talk about the stories that made him Sam.  He was one of a kind and could always make you smile. He was my sunshine.



What I learned in Kindergarten in 1963

In Time and seasons on August 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm

“Ha-ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha,” the red stuffed Woody the Woodpecker handpuppet with its big yellow plastic head said when I pulled his string.

“Booooo. I’m Caspar, the friendly ghost,” said my other pull-string toy. In 1963 play meant watching and reenacting Bullwinkle and Rocky, Captain Kangaroo, the Flintstones, the Jetsens, I Love Lucy, Red Skeleton and The Honeymooners. I lived for Saturday mornings and the Fractured Fairytales.

That was the same year my sister Barb and I first saw the movie, Wizard of Oz, on our black and white Zenith TV with rabbit ear antennae. Barb and I sat together in the big boxy pale aquablue living room chair. My sister wore her toddler-sized pink sleeper suit. I wore my red-and-white striped long johns. There’s a Kodak snapshot of the two of us watching the monkeys fly in the movie. I sit with Barb at her side, with my arm around her and tears flowing from both of our eyes; mine behind cat-eyed glasses. Dorothy’s journey seemed plausible and scary.

We’d been through tornadoes. Mom and dad and Barb and I had been driving home through Fridley, Minnesota, after buying some sweet corn for supper up in Anoka county.  A bad storm come up out of nowhere and then I saw the twister. Dad pulled the Chevrolet Impala station wagon over to the side of the road beside a concrete embankment of an underpass on Highway 100.

“Get up here,” he yelled. Barb and I scrambled from the way-way back into the back seat. My skin sparked with electricity and the hairs on my arm stood up on end. Dad grabbed Barb by the seat of her pants and pulled her over and shoved her under the dashboard. He smothered Barb with his arms. Mom scrambled over the back seat and laid down on top of me; over the hump in the middle of the back seat. We were as low to the ground as we could get inside that vehicle.

Then I heard it roar. My heart beat so fast and hard and I could hardly believe for the terror caught in my throat. The noise and vibrations in the air surrounding us intensified until my ears hurt. Then suddenly it went silent. Mom got up first to look around. Then I sat up and what I saw in front of our car scared me.

A VW bug parked 20 feet ahead of our Chevy Wagon had a 10 foot long 2 X 4 through its’ middle; from side to side like a meatball on a toothpick. Dad sat up. He looked at the looming black clouds behind us and the blue sky straight ahead. He started the car, pushed my head back down and pulled away from the scene. Fire engines and police cars and ambulances drove in our direction in the oncoming lane. Dad drove as fast as he could for home. Tornado alley they called that stretch of highway.

Then Grampa Swenson died. Dropped dead of a heart attack at age 59 shortly after a quarrel with my grandmother. She’d been urgent to get to the Methodist Church’s benefit dinner and white elephant sale. My earliest memories of Grampa putting me on his foot and swinging his leg across his knee seem primal. I can see him reading the newspaper and putting it down and tucking it into the built-in rack of his oak rocker. I don’t remember the funeral, only the fall out.

Woody the Woodpecker, Caspar the Ghost, The Wizard of Oz, the soundtrack to Grampa’s sudden disappearance called death. Then President Kennedy was assassinated.

That November day in Kindergarten at Jenny Lind Elementary School confused me. Its meaning I derived from those who surrounded me in my narrow set of circumstances. Frankly, I had become more interested in the very adorable John Allen whose Native American heritage stood out in my Germanic and Scandinavian kindergarten class. Suddenly class was dismissed. The hushed tones of the teachers conversing at the classroom door sent an emotional crashing wave of sadness into the room. I didn’t know why.

“The President has been shot,” is all I had heard but didn’t understand. Lincoln had been shot. That much I knew.

I walked the two long blocks home from school alone. I ran in the back door of our tiny two bedroom house on Dupont Avenue in the Camden neighborhood of northeastern Minneapolis where a curtain hung for my bedroom door.

“Mom, Mom! The President has been shot!” I delivered the news as I stepped in the kitchen.

Mom was sitting on the lineoleum kitchen floor with a tin bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush. The television set was on and instead of watching “As The World Turns” to find out what happened next to Lisa, mom and I sat transfixed to the live news coverage.

After the kitchen floor dried, mom and I played jacks. Dad came home for lunch. He closed up the furniture store and locked the door for the day. We had grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup.

Two days spent watching television together, reading the newspapers, magazines and looking at the pictures of an American prince, Sir Camelot, I made a scrapbook. Something to show and tell.

When school resumed the following Monday, life went on. My elementary years had the sounds of air raid sirens and practice drills in case of nuclear war. I want to laugh now at how I quivered under my first grade desk in fear of Russian Communists dropping bombs on our heads; I seriously thought our desks would save us from atomic annihilation. Crouching in fear of distant threats to God and country, I was raised an American.

Boo! Ha-ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha!

Broken angel

In Mourning, Signs from beyond, Time and seasons on August 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm

My right elbow flew up and knocked the glass angel to the ground where it shattered into too many pieces.

I stood there struck dumb.

The white porcelain angel had legs to hang over any ledge. Sam had kept in on a shelf as long as I knew him. He had told me its significance.

“Joyce gave me that after Robbie died,” Sam said. “I’ve kept it with me wherever I go.” He stroked the wings while he told me. It sat on the edge of his dashboard when he drove truck across country. For years it had sat on a ledge above our heads in bed.

Joyce’s son Robbie was a few years ahead of Sam and when he died, Robbie’s friend and mother tied their heartstrings together in a simple glass icon of an angel sitting on the edge.

“If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room,” Sam would say to me.

That cherubic totem broke unexpectedly many years ago while I was cleaning a dense layer of dust and dirt out of our lives in the cabin. I hid my sin and superglued the angel’s head back on. The next day Sam broke a mirror and I imagined seven years of bad luck.  And so it commenced.

Today while a whirling dervish of housekeeping, that angel flew off the shelf at me. When that little glass angel that had already been glued back together fell apart, I noticed its wings intact even though the head broke off. I couldn’t superglue it back together again though. Instead I swept it up and threw it away.

He’s broken away from me. I can feel it as I use the broom, my vision clouded by my tears. I still miss him. But the angel that protected  him on the road of life no longer serves his purpose.

Did I mention how much I miss him? He’s gone. Really gone.

Summer School

In Time and seasons on August 1, 2011 at 12:35 am

Most people thought summer school was for dummies when I was a kid in the 1960s. Summer school also housed bored kids like me who needed some adult supervision. With both parents working, I was too old for a babysitter and too young to be a latchkey kid.

My first creative writing class was in summer school session in 1968 when I was ten years old. The course was held at Lee Elementary on the other side of town. I got to ride a school bus for the first time. I had always walked to Lakeview Elementary. That year I had been chosen to be in the Great Books Reading program. Aesop’s Fables was the first selection for a cohort of ten students pulled from three third grade classrooms. We met in the same small seminar room where the Special Ed kids went for their personalized lesson session. The classics opened wide my mind through my cat-tailed glasses with coke bottle thick lenses.

Summer without school would be so dull. When I got on that school bus every morning I knew I was the only one who thought so.

The classroom was a science lab and we sat on stools at the counters in between sinks. The back wall of windows faced east and it got really hot before our morning summer session would end. One steamy morning we walked into the classroom to find the blinds down and the film screen pulled down over the chalkboard. The teacher signaled to the AV student assistant  — the guy I labeled dork the minute I walked into the room — to start the 35 mm black and white film projector. Images of water splashed on the screen. A silent film, it illustrated the poetry of nature’s spurting forth a spring, a stream, a creek, into a marsh, reservoir, river, and becoming a force as mighty as the Mississippi.

When the lights came on, coolness descended upon my brow. An inspiration burned hot inside my head.

“A thousand word essay is due by Friday.” My first real deadline. “Start your homework now.”

The teacher required us to sit quietly and write during the remainder of the period. My number two pencil was a nub halfway through the assignment. I grabbed my pencil case and dug out another. I started reading from the top and used the new pink eraser to correct my misspellings and punctuation shortcomings. I added a few more things.

Furiously I wrote down my words into sentences that conveyed my ideas and emotions and convictions. The emotional history lingers in my memory even though my original essay is long ago lost.

The water. The stones. The water rushing over the stones, carving them into new shapes over time. Time. Time lapse. Growing up in the land of 10,000 lakes in the city along the banks of the Mississippi, I knew water and the joy of fresh springs.

Diving in and swimming into the rushing currents of the creek. Tubing down the river. Toe dancing with the springs deep down. Sandbagging the river’s edge against spring floods. Scavenging for frogs and snakes in the swamp. Skipping and jumping through the lawn sprinkler.

My early memories rinse clean my current panic about planet Earth. Guess, I’ve been reading too much environmental literature lately. The tipping point for reclamation of the planet for human inhabitation passed about five years ago. We are first class passengers on the sinking Titanic. Even if we could turn the wheel 180 degrees, shove it into reverse, and radically alter course, we will be unable to avert catastrophe and disaster for Mother Earth. Global climate change is real and happening faster than scientists predicted. All their models and predictions were based upon a number of 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide as the tipping point. Now they’ve discovered that magic number is 350 ppm and we passed that number in the previous decade.

Can you smell ice? The snow caps on the Alps are melting; they are gone from the Andes. The seas rise. Contamination of groundwater under my feet is threatened because of the need for more natural gas to continue my carbon rich lifestyle. Strike up the band. I want to hear Water Music while the ship goes down.

Water. Time. Lapse.