Dawn

The brightening on the rhododendron, the peachy-pink that expands gently on the bark of the silver poplar, and the sudden racket of the birds – what is that one, that sounds almost like a turkey, or a lost loon? Morning comes at me indirectly, in sound and light.

And smell.

Pepe Le Pew is back.

The steel mesh stapled around the perimeter of the deck, held down by cement blocks, has once again been defeated. Something has burrowed under it as easy as kiss my hand. I was hoping it was the fox. But based on the size of the hole, I’m afraid it is Madam le Pew.  And family.

My nose gives me hope that she may have moved on. I’m just not up to fighting it anymore. Why do they like my particular deck so much? Isn’t there any other deck in the neighborhood that would do?

The skunks couldn’t stop me from noticing the sudden burst of growth one day of warm weather has brought. Grass that seemed like it was nothing but a short mound of straw yesterday is 10 inches of green this morning. The rhodo has exploded into bloom, when I thought it had only set two or three buds. The catmint and roses already need cutting back. And the foxes haven’t eaten that damn chipmunk yet, the resourceful, ingenious little bastard, taunting me as he skitters through my raised vegetable beds. The “fencing” around the garden is a joke – the fox jumps over it, the chipmunk fits through it, and the skunks, apparently, stink their way right around it.

The Tuesday-that-feels-like-Monday after Memorial Day weekend has always been a starting gate for me – here it comes, the heat and humidity of an un-airconditioned summer – prepare yourself, it will last until the end of September. This year there is a good chance I’ll spend most or all of summer working from un-airconditioned home.

We’re used to it, and we’ve been through extreme summers before. Yet after record setting rains this spring, I’m nervous about what’s coming. Bigger storms, hotter heat.

One thing Angelic Daughter and I have been working on is trying to live in the now. We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, so let’s enjoy today. No, sweetheart, I don’t know when the doctors and the scientists will have a vaccine. And no, my love, I don’t know when you can have meet-ups with your friends again. I’ll try to arrange some more Zoom chats, OK?

I’ve promised her a kiddie pool to cool off in this summer, and I’m pretty sure I’ll use it too. Our method of enduring heat is to douse ourselves in the brutally (and blessedly) cold Lake Michigan water that comes out of the hose, several times a day.

That sunrise peachy-pink light has heated to a lemony yellow. The damp cool of the morning will burn off and the moment is coming when we must close the windows downstairs, and reverse the fans upstairs, to try to blow the heat out of the house.

I grew up in a brick house without air conditioning, and I don’t remember suffering for it. Summer was what it was. We lived about two miles closer to the lake back then than we do now, but the lake effect is still strong here. So I’m trying not to jump ahead, to dread a summer when we can’t really find relief by going someplace air-conditioned, other than my furtive, masked and hurried trips to the grocery store, where I always forget something but don’t want to risk going back. Or by driving around, with the AC on in the car, only to return to the heat of the house.

Mike taught us how to keep it as cool as we could, by closing windows and drapes once the sun is high.Whoever built it in 1948 and planted the trees where they did was very good at some sort of mid-last-century passive solar shady cooling.

And there’s always the basement.

The birdsong changes as the sun gets higher. I have a few more minutes to enjoy it before my workday begins. I said I’d try to give you something, a little something something at least, every time I inflict a blog post on you, so here is today’s humble offering- I bet you already guessed:

Getting ready to close the windows and reverse the fans, I remain,

your working-on-staying-positive-even-though-I don’t-summer”-well,

Ricidulouswoman

Heroes of the Heart

In 1942, no one instantly became a hero simply by enlisting. Everybody signed up, if they could. Heroes were people who did something selfless and extraordinary under extreme circumstances. Often they died and were declared heroes posthumously. Sometimes they survived to collect their medals, and became heroes quietly. Like my Dad.

96th Infantry Division (“Deadeye Division”), 382nd Infantry Regiment. Battles of Leyte and Okinawa. Wounded twice. Survived, came home in 1945, lost two front teeth in a bar fight with a Marine in San Diego, fresh off the transport. Went to college on the GI bill, then law school, and worked his way across the Atlantic on ships each summer, to drink wine, eat bread and dream in French, back when the French actually liked Americans. Graduated 1952, married Mom in 1954 and provided for her, my brothers and me. Died in 2003, age 78.

Dad carried the trauma of war with him for 58 years – dampened, but not obliterated, by as much scotch as he could absorb each evening before shuffling off to bed. But he had already been traumatized before the war. His mother committed suicide when he was 12; after the war, his eldest brother also took his own life. A few decades later, his younger brother died at just 50. How much can one man take?

A lot, it seems. Endurance is a type of heroism. “Soldiering on.”

I’m stumped that I can’t find that picture of Dad in his army uniform, at 17, in 1942. I loved that picture. I don’t know if he lied about his age, but he joined up and set off for war, and they let him.

Here’s another picture of him from around then, jamming on the drums, before he went for training (which included Army Ranger training, when he was required to jump off a pier in San Diego, about 40 feet above the ocean):

Dad drumming

Mom was a hero in her way, too. She quit her job at the peak of her nursing career to raise my brothers and me, in the 1950s style, staying home while Dad went to the office. I know she felt thwarted in some way. She found outlets in volunteer work. Dad wasn’t easy to live with at times, and we kids weren’t appreciative enough of Mom. She was hypercritical of me, I thought. But in this, my “third quarter” of life, I find that I understand her better. I get it, now, Mom.

Mom's Nurse Photo B&W scanned as color

I hadn’t cried in a while, about my parents or about my late husband Mike. But yesterday morning, listening to some random playlist while paying bills or keeping ledgers or whatever I was doing, I heard Eva Cassidy’s version of Sting’s “Fields of Gold.”

Mike liked Sting, and he and Angelic Daughter kept a CD with that song on it among their collection in the car, to listen to as they drove around, running errands. Something about Cassidy’s version went straight to the hurt and the loss and the missing him, to the regrets and the inadequate, unfinished apologies, the time wasted in anger and blame, and the shock at the magnitude of the loss, even when I knew it was coming.

I went to find that picture of Dad (not there) and picked up one of Mike instead. I noticed tears dropping off, around me, when I blinked, instead of running down my cheeks. Mike faced his illness bravely, trying to stay with us, and calmly accepted hospice when the time came. Another kind of heroism.

I haven’t posted a picture of Mike here – some idea of privacy, or just grief, not being ready to share this picture that I love so much. But yesterday I realized it’s time. I’ve written so much about him, it’s only fair you should see what a beautiful, vital man he was (cola and poetry on my parent’s back deck):

Favorite photo of Mike

I’m grateful for this private Memorial Day 2020. No parades, no loud barbecues, no toy soldiers flapping flags while swilling beer, to “honor” those who actually serve, or those who, like my Dad, personally experienced the horrors of war. In the midst of massive and incomprehensible loss, numb shock, ongoing uncertainty, isolation and loneliness (front page, NYT today – 100,000 dead from the pandemic in the US alone, and counting) I cope by retreating to my personal, familiar grief, letting the tears come, remembering Dad, Mom, and Mike.

Both Dad and Mike made pancakes on occasionally on weekends. They were much better at making them than me. I wanted to make pancakes for Angelic Daughter today, but discovered we’re out of syrup.

She didn’t really want them, anyway. When I asked her what she wanted to do today, she listed several options, and then chose, “talk to Mom.”

Remembering those now walking in Elysian fields of gold, I remain, your grieving, grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

The Isolation Age: Masked Ingenuity

There had to be a way to remove that drawer. I WOULD NOT GIVE UP.

My brother the scientist mailed me two high quality masks, one for me and one for Angelic Daughter, back in March. Two regular surgical style masks, and two sealed in plastic coverings, that supposedly block pathogens on the inhale, as well as the exhale. Their labels say they expired in 2015, but hey, under the circumstances, who cares?

At first I was afraid of the mask police. I didn’t want to wear those very recognizable blue/green surgical masks, because I was afraid of being berated in public by someone who thought I should have donated the mask to medical workers. I felt guilty. Why should I have a mask to wear when doctors and nurses are DYING because they don’t have them?

But these weren’t the N95 masks that are supposed to protect medical workers in addition to patients. They were just ordinary medical masks, and after a few weeks I noticed everyone was wearing them and no one was giving anyone crap about them.

I started with the regular surgical mask, with an added t-shirt made mask on top, tied with bows (adorable!) tightly around my head, sealing the underlying surgical mask closer to my face.

Those masks are supposed to be disposed of after one  use, but I hung mine up after each wearing, to air out and (I hoped) rid itself of any nasties it picked up while I was out grocery shopping. But that flimsy thing had reached its limit, so I was going to break into that allegedy anti-viral mask.

I had tossed the envelope into the big bottom file drawer of the desk with the hutch that I splurged on, knowing the moment I saw it online that the green of it would match the willow green of my Bulgarian built kitchen cabinets. I just crammed it in the back, behind the files, and left it there, for a rainy day, when the mask police might back off and the ordinary mask wore out.

And then that envelope slipped behind the back of the drawer, and I couldn’t reach it.

DAMMIT!

OK, there HAS to be a way to remove these drawers. I WILL NOT GIVE  UP. Rubbery thingees on the side of the rails that the drawers run in and out on – ok, that must be something. Press down. YES! That seems to get one side past the rail stop thingee that keeps the drawer from falling out of the desk.

But WTF? It didn’t work on the other side.

I jury-rigged a number of tools that I thought would help me drag that envelope back up out of the void behind the drawer, most involving coat hangers and duct tape, but none of them worked.

DAMMIT!

OK, think, Annie. There HAS to be a way to remove that drawer. Back to rubbery bendy things in the rails that support the drawers.

AHA! One goes up, but the other goes DOWN! Oh, you diabolical bastards! You WILL NOT DEFEAT ME! I figgered it out! Press down on one side, up on the other, and VOILA! The drawer lock stop thingee is defeated – the drawer pulls out far enough for me to see behind it and reach my tiny child-sized hands back in there to grab the envelope and retrieve those high quality masks. HA! DID IT! MOMMY WINS AGAIN!

I wanted those masks because I had to go to the garden center to get the plants my scientist brother, my sister-in-law, Angelic Daughter and I traditionally plant on my parent’s graves on Memorial Day Weekend, and the fuchsia basket for Mike’s grave. And I was damned if I was going to go to a garden center on the Friday before Memorial Day when there was a good chance of encountering someone without a mask, or wearing a mask that didn’t cover their noses.

I got the geraniums and the sweet alyssum and some kind of blue impatiens that aren’t the right kind of bluey-purpley flower we usually get, but it was crowded and Angelic Daughter was waiting patiently in the car, so I had to get out of there.  We headed out to plant on Friday afternoon, on behalf of ourselves and my brothers and me on my parent’s grave. Angelic Daughter carefully placed the flag for Dad,

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and on the way  home, we hung a fuchsia like this by Mike’s grave:

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gravestone

I didn’t cry this time, like I usually do. That came today, and I’ll inflict my writing about it on you tomorrow. Until then, I remain,

Your never-give-up, no-retreat-baby-no-surrender (hey I’ll add that to my bouncy playlist stat, how could I forget that one?), looking forward to mask free shopping someday,

Ridiculouswoman.

Image by DoomSlayer from Pixabay