Jilly D.

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Blinded by Snow

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm

            Green Bay is mostly known for the Packers but I know it for its winter. The academic year 1987-88 I had a visiting appointment at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Just an hour north of Appleton, following the Fox River north into the bay, it’s terrain I knew from my college years in the late 70s.

           After the unrest in Madison during the late 60s and early 70s, the state built a new campus along the shores of Lake Michigan, on the southeastern edge of the Bay. The “lake effect” of wind and snow from the Canadian northwest provided the people of Green Bay with true tests of survival against the forces of weather. It gets cold there.

            Winter’s cold wasn’t the reason the state of Wisconsin built a campus with hallways underground between buildings. Sure, it was great in the winter not having to put your coat on to walk across campus; but the subterranean level of the school seemed to me symbolic of a liberal education as underground and somehow subversive to the state. Not only did the campus walkways exist underground, but throughout the maze of connecting paths between classroom buildings and administrative facilities there were electronically activated security gates that recessed into the walls. Should civil disobedience or disorderly conduct occur on campus, security could quickly “cage” the problem without any media access. Or so I was told during my new faculty orientation.

            But it is cold in Green Bay in winter. So cold the campus shuts down in early December after finals and is closed until the spring semester resumes in February. No classes are conducted during January. It’s doesn’t make any sense to even try to hold class sessions during January. For me, it meant a month of uninterrupted dissertating at home.

            January 3, 1988, was another cold day. I hadn’t done laundry for weeks. Hadn’t been to the grocery or gone outside much in more than a week. It was bright and sunny though. Thermometer said 20 below. The coat, the hat, second pair of socks, boots, scarf, gloves with mittens over.

            My 1974 Subaru turned right over. I let it run, but I ran back inside while the car warmed up. I took everything off and put an extra hooded sweatshirt on and then put everything else back on and took the laundry out to the car. Then I took Bob for a short stroll and a quick whiz before we climbed in the car.

            The plows had piled snow along the side of the roads waist high and left the road a smooth hard base of compacted white ice. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, the roads were clear and empty. Driving in such weather is more like skiing. Slow, gentle, gliding along. A few stores open, but parking lots with only a handful of cars. I pulled into the strip mall where I figured I could do my laundry, get groceries, and walk Bob along a building instead of out in the bay’s wind.

            Bob and I dragged several laundry baskets inside. Each time I opened the glass doors, those inside moaned and moved away from me as the unwelcome cold air invaded the space. Shoved the dark clothes into one machine and the lights into another. Then I took my mittens and gloves off and dug into my pocket for the frozen quarters. Bob sat next to me, watching every quarter go in and hearing its clunk. I took my hat off and unwrapped the scarf around my neck. My face felt flushed. The humid air of wet clothes and lint-filled dryers felt good and I noticed I could see through my glasses again. When I first walked in they had steamed up. I felt the metal frames pinch my skin with how cold they felt against my flesh.

I noticed the sounds of two or three other machines going and a woman sitting in a hard plastic office chair against the back wall reading a magazine. Another couple folded their clean clothes on a countertop while their toddler son pushed a laundry cart around the aisles between the rows of machines and the dryers lining the outside walls.

With the laundry started, I figured it was time to venture out again and give Bob a much needed bathroom break. I put on all my winter outdoor gear again: hoodie up, hat on top, gloves, mittens, scarf over my mouth and nose.

“You know it’s about 80 degrees below with the windchill factor today?” The woman barely looked up from her magazine when she gave me a forewarning.

“No, really?” I said.

“Oh, yeah. Heard it on the radio just a minute ago.”

“Wow. Let’s be quick about this Bob.” We pushed open the door and took three steps forward when the wind coming off the open field across from the strip mall hit me.


I couldn’t see anything. White. Was I blind? What? I heard and felt something right in front of my eyes explode and then I couldn’t see anything. White.

I reached up and took my glasses off. The lenses had exploded. When the cold air hit the glass and met the warm, humid air held next to my face from inside the lenses, they shattered instantly and flew out of their frames.

Freaky cold. That’s how cold it gets in Green Bay. Cold enough to test your frosticles off.

Driving home with Bob riding shotgun in the Subaru, I felt myself living out a Mr. Magoo comic adventure. Blinded by snow.


Merry Christmas 2011

In Holidays on December 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

This is my third Christmas without Sam. I don’t remember the first and the second year found me so blue I sought the support from a “how to survive the holidays” just get through the holidays. Then in my bleakest midwinter I broke my right wrist. It couldn’t get any worse, so it’s got to be better this Yuletide.

This year I gathered with Sam’s family on Christmas Eve afternoon at his sister Judy’s. It snowed overnight and at 7 a.m. the dogs and I made fresh prints in the first rays of Christmas sunshine. This morning I baked breakfast casserole and had a piece of my Danish Kringle; an almond flavored pastry I whipped together yesterday afternoon. UPS delivered wrapped gifts from Minnesota, and to my delight my niece Emma Kay sent me an exquisite bracelet she hand-beaded herself. And my nephew, Ben, a hand drawn self-portrait in a nice frame.

This third year I just let the holidays get ahead of me and stopped trying to be Mrs. Claus. Smile more, expect less.

It’s working for me. Enjoy this special times of memories and dreams. I took my holiday nostalgia by watching a classic film: an old black and white movie made in 1947 called “The Bells of St. Mary’s” starring Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby. At the school nativity pageant first graders performed their first grade comic version of the story of Joseph and Mary giving birth to baby Jesus in a manger. Instead of another carol by Bing, the sounds of children singing “Happy Birthday” Jesus Christ is the real showstopper.

Whose birthday is it?

Sam used to ask me that question every year as the rush of the holiday stressed me out. Scrooge he could play to the Santa frenzy.  The Hostess fruitcake he bought me that first year got frozen year after year as we gifted it back and forth between each other.

The only gift that matters is love. That’s the good news in the old story. Merry merry.

My gratitude attitude makes life more like a holiday!

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm

These past few weeks so much has been going on building a successful new business that I haven’t had time to pour my heart out or sing the blues.

Instead I just let those tears flow while trying to get some dishes washed, or a load of laundry done, or walking along the empty highway with the dogs.

I’m thankful I don’t howl anymore when I start to weep in sadness over Sam’s death. I’m so thankful I had a year on the farm to go down deep into my grief and spill my tears on the land and swim in the pond with Sam’s ashes. I’m so grateful to have found wonderful stewards of the land and our dreams for its sustainable future. I’m so grateful to have fields and woods nearby and to have rediscovered state parks and forests here in the Finger Lakes. With tremendous appreciation for my friends, the small farm community and culture,  who are farmers and local artisans keeping the larger dream alive, and Ithaca’s supportive network of social, spiritual, financial, health, and other professional services for those traumatized by the sudden loss of a loved one’s suicide.  

I may have a foolish heart but I still believe in love. Too many people hide from truth but I can’t live like that. I’m thankful, in a perverse twist of my fate, that Sam lived and died deliberately. Self-reliant, authentic and on his own terms, this modern day renaissance romantic hero taught me many lessons. The least of which is that each of us has the choice every day whether to live or die. Embrace life. Hang on. Don’t let go.

Even as I know he has passed over, I sense Sam everywhere.

Thanksgiving Day I drove down to Harrisburg, Pa. I’d booked a room for one night with a King size bed. Project dog travel. I’d spent the last month training the dogs for car and travel obedience. Mission accomplished. Only took 6 hours to arrive 250 miles away from home and in a quiet hotel with a very cheap rate. Lots of dog walks with free runs in remote locations with no one else around for miles. Freedom.

When Scooby jumped into the bed with its headboard lined with half a dozen white pluffed pillows, he went wild with delight. Lucy and Scooby and I turned on a television and watched marathon sessions of House and  CSI episodes before collapsing into deep snores. For the first time there is room for Lucy and Scooby on the mattress to sleep flat out with room to spare. I fell asleep between his deeply tired dogs.

Around 4 a.m. I sensed where I was and not quite fully awake I knew Sam was watching and that he’d sighed deeply in some relief. Me and his dogs had taken a break and taken a new adventure.

Since I got back home with these damnations they seem calmer, more relaxed and so am I. Freedom to take road trips. Embrace life. Trying. Grateful I can even try.

Happy Birthday Sam Warren

In Anniversary and memorials, Pictures and memories on December 6, 2011 at 3:10 am

Born December 6, 1951, Sam Warren was one of a kind. He’d be 60 years old. Sam would have been ornery, irritable, crochety and downright nasty about getting that old. Miserable old coot, he’d cuss and mope about the big six-o.

From the day I met him, Sam was an old soul trapped inside a younger man’s form. While he never read Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau, he lived their 19th century ideals.

Sam Warren

Sam in Summer

Sam hated getting older. To me, he’ll be forever 57.  His hair will never grey; long golden tendrils. The smile lines around his eyes and mouth remain soft and supple. His moustache and beard still strawberry blond. It’s his birthday and there’s no cake and ice cream party at his mom’s this year. I can’t buy him supper at the Glenwood Pines. He ordered the same thing every time we went there: Delmonico steak and shrimp, baked potato with butter, tossed salad with ranch dressing, and a Black Velvet and 7-Up. And please warm up the bread and bring extra butter.

He used to call his mother at the hour and minute of his birth from wherever he was on his birthdays. In the last 15 years of his life, he called from his phone sitting by the pond up to this parents’ house on Buck Hill Road.

Sam didn’t just call his mom on his birthday. He used to call her at any hour of the day or night; just every once in a while to check-in as his way of saying I love you. Now she misses his calls. And I miss listening to Sam talk on the phone. I’d stand there at the sink washing dishes and he’d call his mom to tell her some news. I’d turn around and he’d give me a big smile and those eyes twinkled with a wickedly happy glint.

Sam took me to the LeHigh Valley Restaurant for his last birthday. Prime Rib. He told me about coming there with his family when he was a child for New Year’s Eve. He didn’t come into Ithaca until he was 11 or 12 years old, he’d told me. In its day, the LeHigh Valley Restaurant was a pretty fancy place. Named after the train line first established here in the 1800s, this establishment closed just a few months after Sam died.

I close my eyes and remember the white table cloth. Sitting knee to knee at a table for two surrounded by people talking, eating, joking, singing. The linen napkins and white china and Sam’s freshly washed hair and clean shirt.  Relaxed and calm, he told me about the LeHigh Valley Bar and Restaurant and his image of it as a high society place to gather and celebrate. He liked that years earlier it was the nearest hotel and restaurant for those traveling by rail to Ithaca. And he liked that in his 20s he’d built the canal across the road, operating large equipment, and that he and the guys on a crew would stop in for lunch break . He had never taken me out to the LeHigh Valley before and he said it was a good birthday.

Happy Birthday Sam. It’s a good day to celebrate you.