Monday, May 30, 2022


May 29, 2022

“Please mom, leave a few for us!” But each Memorial Day she would cut all the beautiful new Peonies in our garden to decorate Alice Marie’s grave. The drive to the cemetery was a treat in the freshness of spring. The trees lining the roads seemed dazzling, and the grass was so tender and fresh that I could smell it through the car’s open window, and the sky was cleaned of winter drabness to intense blue by a soft spring breeze. At the time, I processed the dissonance of new life with death as disappointment. It took decades before I noticed the irony.

 Alice Marie was my infant sister who died a few days before we moved back to Denver Colorado from Vallejo California. Even as a child, I discovered that Alice Marie deserved to take everything potentially good and beautiful from our lives because we couldn’t save her life.

Mom sealed her infant’s fate before birth by taking a Sulfa drug prescribed by her doctor when she was pregnant with my little sister. This was before the discovery of penicillin. Despite this tragedy, my mother never quit believing that doctors were touched by God with divine knowledge. Instead, she blamed herself and tried to compensate for her perceived failure as a parent by depriving us all any peace or joy in life out of respect for Alice Marie.

My baby sister was born with a defective heart, and only lived two or three months. Barely out of toddlerhood myself, time stretched very far and thus I don’t know her exact age. Alice Marie’s room was a sacred shrine. I could only enter when mom fed and washed her in the morning. I wanted to touch her but wasn’t allowed. She was like refined porcelain, and I was a robust danger. Mom said she was too sick to touch. People had given mom shower gifts of baby toys that she stored at the bottom of a small chest of drawers. I was fascinated by the colorful toys but was only allowed to touch them a few times under mom’s supervision. They seemed like holy objects of worship.

Over the years Mom accidentally poisoned all our pets, with unconscious carelessness. None of them died outright except a baby bird we were caring for. It had fallen from its nest. We were feeding it in a cage, and then one afternoon, mom decided it would like to be out of its cage for a while and turned it loose. It fell into the commode and drowned. Willy was a cocker spaniel and her special companion. He kept her company while dad was at work, and I was in school. She poisoned him twice by leaving rat poison in an accessible spot. Willy would eat anything! My parents typically went limp and vacant at such times, but I was determined that Willy wouldn't die.

 I was a preteen at the time and totally focused on saving Willy. There were directions on the package of poison for flushing everything out of the stomach as soon as possible. This took several hours of forcing saline solution down his throat again and again until he threw up only water. I was equally dedicated in treating the other animal victims of our curse. Our sweet tabby cat, Bows rolled in the soft earth near rosebushes where mom had distributed a very strong insecticide. After finding her almost comatose, we deduced the cause and took her to the vet. There was no effective antidote, but our vet gave me something that would neutralize much of the toxin, and again I medicated her day and night at the recommended intervals. Bows (so named because of a pattern on her shoulders) sustained some permanent nerve damage but lived another ten years. Later, I went through the same routine with Joker, our Labrador Retriever. Mom seemed always to forget that she left poisons where the animals would find them.

I was three-and-a-half years old when my baby sister died. Mom was ill throughout that pregnancy. While we were in California during the war, she was far from her own mother and the only world she’d ever known. In retrospect, I can see that she was experiencing a perfect storm emotionally. 

Following Pearl Harbor, my dad was drafted as a skilled metal worker to repair damaged warships at the Mare Island Naval shipyard near Vallejo, California. Neither of my parents had ever been out of Colorado before, and much of the time my mom was terrified. Adding to her fear, her brothers were both on active duty in the Pacific. It was in this environment that she conceived my baby sister. I remember being pushed to the side as my mother was taken away on a hospital gurney. When she came back, Alice Marie was with her. I never really had her again until I was almost an adult.

Through the years, I’ve given, lifesaving rescues to chickens, horses, other dogs and cats, and a husband. Right now, I’m trying to save a very sick tom cat, and I have no idea what to do with him, if I do succeed in saving him. As I write this, I’m wondering for the first time (yes, it may be obvious, but I didn’t notice) that nobody else in the family was motivated to respond to these situations unless I pleaded and then took control. Dad was wonderful with mechanical breakdowns and fixing all kinds of mechanical disasters. Mom was very generous with friends and relatives who needed every other kind of help, but both became disengaged and remote about life-or-death issues.  Even as a child I was puzzled that mom took me to doctors frequently for what seemed to me imagined problems but ignored real injuries.

On our last night in Vallejo, we went to the mortuary to view my sister’s body. At three-and-a-half, I took this visit as another adventure. I remember the three of us waiting in our old ’36 Dodge for a long freight train to free the railroad crossing, then to a parking lot where we caught a ferry boat to cross the bay. I still remember lights sparkling on the black water as if it was last week. Apparently, our destination was a mortuary to view my sister’s body. I said, “she is so pretty why don’t we take her home”. Many years later when I talked to mom about that night, she told me that her knees buckled, and she struggled not to faint.

The next day, as I looked through the screen of our back door, I heard mom and dad arguing over what to take with us to Denver and what would take up too much room in the rental truck and must be given away. I remember dad saying, “we can’t take her red wagon,” and he and mom argued about it, but dad prevailed. I was holding onto its handle as I listened. I had personalized that wagon, as I did all my favorite toys. To me it was a living being, a companion and the only one I could talk to as all the adults around me had more important things on their minds. It was as if someone kicked me in the chest and I couldn’t breathe for a while. I never really trusted dad again.

After my sister’s death, I became terrified of trains but kept it to myself. It was a new fear that arose shortly before we left our Vallejo home. I didn’t know trains couldn’t leave their tracks and imagined these huge black locomotives crashing through our house, just because they could. Next, I remember Mom, Grandma and me walking across several railroad tracks and up a stairway onto a Pullman car.  At one city the train stopped and a great number of young men in uniforms boarded the train. They packed the hallways and stood all night. They seemed like mysterious ghosts milling and mumbling throughout the night.

I didn’t sleep that night. Our sheets were sprinkled with uncomfortable cookie crumbs, the result of a goodwill gift from one of the friends as we were leaving. We arrived at Salt Lake City at sunrise. It must have been a switching point, because our train stopped, and a conductor came to our car and said, “you must go outside now and see the sunrise.” The view was breathtaking and surreal. Our train seemed to be hovering between air and water, deep purple, magenta, gold, and turquoise colors filled the entire world above and below.

I don’t remember anything of the next few days. While I remember our journey on the train, I have no recollection of getting off nor of what happened next. There is a photo of me standing beside an older cousin on the day after we arrived. Mom told me years later that I stayed with my paternal aunt and uncle while she and dad were at my sister’s funeral.

The weeks that followed were a blur. I stayed with another aunt and uncle for two or three weeks. I remember my uncle being angry all the time because he felt put upon with a responsibility he didn’t want. I stayed out of the way as much as possible. Mom and dad were frantically trying to find a place for us to live. I don’t know where they were staying during the search. Later, I stayed with my grandparents and that was easier but still lonely. Dad turned the car over on a wet road during one of their forays and mom’s arm was broken. This meant that I had to stay with grandma and grandpa another two weeks.

I remember mom as always frail. During this time, she was very thin, and worried about everything. For many, many years she would look through me with unfocused eyes when she talked to me. I felt invisible as if I was made of a transparent material.

When my parents finally found us a house it was quite different from our government quarters in Vallejo. It had only two rooms. The main one had an alcove with living room on one side and my parent’s bed on the other side. Our kitchen was a precarious lean-to jammed against the main house. It was so low on the far end that I could barely stand straight up at age four. There was one cold water pipe jutting up from the kitchen floor. All our appliances were from the previous century.  I slept on the sofa and listened for the sound of trains at night.

Mom was always sick. She could seldom keep her food down and suffered with ulcers. Often, she was in bed. I remember running up to her bed to show her something. She moaned in pain and my grandma pulled me back and told me mom was too sick to see me, and I should leave her alone. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but I soon learned to be silent and stay out of the way. I was fortunate that the neighborhood was semi-rural, and our house was on half an acre of land. I learned to entertain myself in the neighborhood and with my invented games and stories.

Death seemed to be attached to us like an idol. I remember attending many funerals before I was ten years old.  I judged them by the music and flowers. Unlike most young children, I didn’t consider anyone old before the age of sixty-five. Of course, that seems middle aged to me now.  I walked for miles in our neighborhood and often stopped to contemplate and pray over the bodies of road-killed animals.

Although I had virtually every childhood disease, and was often miserable with fever, aches, and pains, I enjoyed being sick because I could spend the day in a real bed and indulge in my love of paints, crayons, my own imagined stories, and books—all things otherwise judged as a self-indulgent waste of time. Childhood illnesses became my ticket to a personal life. They were perhaps also a payment for the sin of being a survivor. I never for a moment thought I would die from any of these sick times even when the pain was so great, I wanted to disappear. In retrospect, I recognize this as payment to the Lord of Death for the sin of being strong, resourceful, and basically healthy.  

I was only three years old when Alice Marie briefly passed through our lives, but she became the focal point for the rest of our life as a family, even though often intangibly. She shaped everything about my life and relationships. I wonder if I will meet her when I pass over. I would never have been who I am nor struggled against death and depression to follow my heart without her. Perhaps we worked as a team of sisters all along.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022


There are workmen next door dismantling the chicken coup that Julie made when she decided to raise several hens and thus have her own fresh eggs.  Does this mean that her house was sold? The house has been vacant for almost a year. After PQ died, there were empty houses on both the north and south sides. It added to the feeling of being stranded on a desert island.

Julie, died last year almost the same time that PQ died, give or take a few days. She hadn’t lived in the house for the last two years, but her son lived there for a while and later a friend who was working toward a master’s degree lived in the house until last summer.  It all seemed surreal as I watched the workmen carrying away pieces of lumber.

Julie had grown children but looked very young and fit. She was beautiful, intelligent, very idealistic and always friendly. She had bad luck with partners, however. Several years ago, she married and seemed very happy and then her new husband died suddenly. Later, she met a man from the Pueblo, and moved to the Pueblo. I only saw her when she would occasionally come to check her house. I learned from her obituary that when she died she had a baby that was only a few months old, perhaps her hope for a restart.

The war in the Ukraine has poured over my heart like thick black tar. All wars sadden me, cause me to wonder how we humans get through life, and especially why we bother.  There is one image that glued itself to my heart and mind. It so starkly represents the precariousness of our human situation. On the News a few nights ago, a young woman who had escaped to a neutral country is showing a reporter a picture of her dead father, a casualty of the war, that she keeps close to her heart.  Here was the kind smiling face of a man anyone would like to know. He had pink cheeks, kind, clear blue eyes and a trim white beard. He was smiling with love at the photographer, who may have been the daughter who now held this photo to her heart.  He was relaxing on a couch, with a blissful, totally trusting ginger cat spread, arms wide over his chest.  Both he and his cat were a perfect image of loyalty, comfort and inter-species love.

PQ has been appearing in my dreams for several days. I’m so glad to see him again, even though it’s frustrating to have him so close but out of reach. The only living human I see often is Grandmother Jean, who is having a struggle with cancer. She can no longer drive, barely walks and lives out of town She relies on me to take her to doctor appointments, pay bills, pickup mail, and shop for groceries. I’m so busy, or so it seems, that I haven’t had time to apply for food stamps myself (out of date term for EBT card). Although, we are (so far) as a country staying out of a world war, this war between Russia and Ukraine is certainly affecting the world.  Food and gas prices are souring rapidly. I was careful with spending and now I have to cut back even more.

“When it rains, it pours”, an old saying that would be good if it was literal in this time of drought. So many things in my immediate environment are waning. Last week my main computer, the expensive one that I’m still paying for revealed a swelling battery. I took it to the Geek Squad in Santa Fe. The said nothing can be done. Its battery is now obsolete, and my insurance has expired. My dream computer is dead. However, my dear Deer, (PQ), two months before the final onslaught of his disease, bought me a simple laptop for just such possibilities (it happened once before). He paid cash after the sale of one of his paintings and that computer is what I’m writing with now.  Everything on this computer was pre-set. I fought with it for over a month to install the programs I use, and finally won, although I had to change its safety settings, uninstall its preset programs and install the ones I use. I also had a new wireless printer that I went through similar grief with. Now they are both working smoothly. I’m hoping this is a sign for other aspects of life. Right now, however, I’m tired of struggling.

Sick cat, sick trees, sick friend, sick computer, all reflections of a sick world.  Not only is my tall Cottonwood tree dead except for one branch, so is the once beautiful weeping willow, next door. It offered much needed shade over my house from hot summer sun.

These are times of great change, and it seems that turmoil and destruction come before regeneration. In the great Hindu system of earth ages or Kalpas, we are in the Kali Yuga, a time of materiality, ignorance, disintegration and destruction before the start of the next round. But there are wheels within wheels, so that doesn’t mean that there are not times of relative creation, stability and rebirth within the Kali Yuga.  The Kali Yuga is the shortest of the great ages, but it still covers many thousands of years, and we are in the early stages. Here is an easily rendered video link that describes the system of Yugas: 

There was a time when I thought the Indian Yugas to be a fantastic invention and believed the earth not old enough to contain such tremendous rounds of time. Now it seems very plausible, as I recognize the imprint of great swaths of time reflected in all smaller cycles, just as holograms stretch to infinity.

The past few weeks have been a descent into sadness, a review of a lifetime attempting to overcome the shortcomings and handicaps that accompanied my start in this round of life. As I move through my personal Kali Yuga, I’m approaching my 80th birthday. Experience tells me that I usually have a serious review in the month before my birthday. This year has been more intense than usual. I won’t fight it or attempt to cheer myself up. Looking to the positive as a weapon never works.  Best to face the weaknesses, lost opportunities, misunderstandings, unrequited hopes and lost loves straight on. As Carl Jung said, “the only way out is through.”To be continued.

Friday, May 13, 2022


Himmy in my flower pot last month
Himmy, the stray cat I’ve been taking care of since PQ wisely, it seems, moved to the next world, appears to be coming to the final stage of his struggle with an upper respiratory disease that has been unresponsive to medication. I thought when summer came, he would get better, but warm weather, laced with wind and smoke from the forest fire on the east side of our mountains has made it almost impossible for him to breath. Should I take him to the vet and have him put down, since this is only one of his problems and it has resisted treatment, or should I let him fade away naturally, since he doesn’t seem to be in pain? I’ve grown fond of him, and I can tell he was once a beauty. But he and I can’t have a long-term relationship, and the no-kill kennel, Stray Hearts, won’t take him with his medical problems. Going to the vet earlier was a traumatic ordeal for both of us, so which is the more humane approach to his problem? Care taking and problem solving is in my DNA. Now, it seems there is no good solution. It may be time to find a different avocation.

An important part of my week is given to helping my closest Taos friend cope with the limitations of Cancer. She can no longer drive and sometimes can barely walk. She lives by herself, a 30-minute drive for me, and so is her P.O. box in a different direction. The last time I took my car to the gas pump it cost $52.  I must plan my trips for groceries, and mail very carefully. No spontaneous trips to the store for bread or cat food.

The dreadful war in Ukraine feels like a blow to the chest, like when I fell off the roof as a kid and it took some time before I could breathe again or see something on the black screen. You see, I have what feels like a past life (or maybe just other life) connection with both Ukraine and Russia, and this is like a family quarrel with guns and rockets. Neither country will ever be the same again, nor will the countries that depend on wheat and oil. In our own country, partisan politics seems to be marching us toward another civil war, as the sides become more alienated by their opposing beliefs about a future that is based on fear and speculation. The Hatfield’s and McCoy’s on a national level, and perhaps soon on an international level.

Spring is trying to move into its place, while a dry wind withers new leaves and blossoms and feeds the fires.  Oh, by the way, this is also Friday the 13th.  Does all the seeming problems and lapses mean as a species we are heading into the future with all the dysfunctional patterns of the past, plus a few new ones we invented along the way?

As humans we are myopic, and our brains are full of obsolete programs for new problems.  Perhaps, nature tries to wipe the virus off the world’s hard drive and do a hard restart. But of course, the past is never entirely destroyed, and new structures grow on the old foundations. When summer finally arrives, maybe I will look at the leaves on the plumb tree outside my living room window and forget that the wind blew the blossoms off last week. Time is the only medicine for some diseases. We seem to be approaching that high fever crisis that determines which way the sickness will go. Hmm! I wonder if COVID19 is a kind of metaphoric disease for the times we live in.