the essence of giving thanks


“The oak trees were alive with color in the midst of the evergreens. Bright red and yellow leaves catching the sunlight as Daddy and I walked through the brush on this Thanksgiving morning. The smell of the pines was fresh and all around us. We didn’t speak, but this was when I felt most connected to my father. Nature was a bond that united us, the gift that he gave me, and not just in those East Texas woods. He envisioned the whole earth as my territory and set me on a path to discovery. In 1956, this was remarkable for a girl’s father…

I loved our farm place that sat on the Grimes/Montgomery County line. It was 105 acres of rolling pasture and dense timber land three miles out from the small town where we lived. The land was at the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest which marked the beginning of the East Texas piney woods. We had a medium sized pond in those woods – we called it a tank – that was the main source of water for our few Hereford cattle we raised there…

To this day, Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday. It seems less commercial than the others and struggles to hold its own before the onslaught of merchandising that we call Christmas. The dinners in the fancy restaurants and hotels and cafeterias never measure up to the feasts my grandmothers served their families.

Perhaps, though, it is the love and closeness of those family ties that leave the sights and sounds that last a lifetime.”


This excerpt from the chapter Thanksgiving in the Piney Woods is from my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing. Those of you who follow me will recognize this as the traditional introduction to my annual holiday piece.

 Morris family on my grandparents’ front steps 

(I am seated on the bottom row in my flannel shirt and corduroy pants, unsmiling, at my mother’s request for some strange reason. My dad is the man with the suit and tie on the right. The date is circa 1956.)

One by one my family dwindled, as all families do, so that only four of the five children in this picture remain. I won’t see any of my first cousins during the holiday season on either side of my family this year nor will I see my sisters Leora, Carmen and Lorna –  they are all scattered around Texas while my home is with Pretty in South Carolina.

We will have a strange Thanksgiving due to the Covid pandemic that has returned to our nation with a second wave more vicious than the first devastating attack. More than 250,000 Americans have died in 2020 – unimaginable, and the numbers increase daily as empty chairs at the holiday dinner tables remind families of lives and love lost.

Americans face another insidious attack from a president who refuses to allow the peaceful transition of power following an election he lost by nearly six million votes. Stoking flames of division and mistrust, this would-be king and his subjects flail away at the basic fabric of our democracy while the coronavirus destroys our fellow citizens. Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

We are advised by our medical experts to avoid all travel, be wary of sharing the air with anyone other than immediate folks we live with, only very small gatherings. If we sacrifice now, we should be here for next year’s Thanksgiving, the medicine men tell us.  Wear masks, wash hands, keep safe distances, no hugging or other touching. Why is this difficult? Because those are not the norm for us.

This Thanksgiving is an unusual one for sure. but I still believe in the love and closeness of family ties no geographical nor physical distance can sever, family bonds that usher in the sights and sounds which last a lifetime. I am thankful for those memories of my Texas family but oh, how grateful I am for the family Pretty and I have shared for the past twenty years.

Pretty Too, Pretty Also and Baby Ella

Number One Son, Pretty and Baby Ella

Pretty and our granddaughter Ella James

(birthday number one for our girl)

Pretty and I wish all our friends in cyberspace that love and closeness on this special day for giving thanks – plus in this year we add our wishes for your  safety and sanity in these extraordinary times. We are thankful for you.

Stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

beware the ides of ancestry


His appearance wasn’t what attracted the seventeen-year old girl to the older itinerant preacher in his mid-twenties, but the powerful sermons he delivered in the Methodist church she attended in her home town of Greensboro, Georgia made him seem like one of the Old Testament prophets she had studied in Sunday School. Harriet Howard thought Jesse Boring was anything but what his last name suggested. Since her father had recently “gotten religion” the young man was a frequent guest in their home whenever he came to their church to deliver the gospel.

Harriet Eveline (or possibly Emmaline) Howard was born October 02, 1816 in Greensboro, Georgia, a small town incorporated in 1787 – a town located halfway between Atlanta 70 miles west and Augusta 70 miles east.

Harriet’s father Nicholas Howard spent most of his career as an unsuccessful businessman, local politician and, after a religious conversion in later life to the beliefs of the Methodist Episcopal Church, became the manager of the residence hall at the Collingsworth Institute for teenage boys in Columbus, Georgia before his death in 1849.

Harriet’s mother Judith Campbell was also from Georgia and married Nicholas in August of 1812. They had 11 children in 20 years – Harriet was the eldest of the six girls – Judith died near the end of the Civil War in 1865 at 72 years of age leaving Harriet as the only one of her children to survive her.

The Reverend Jesse wasn’t an unattractive man in Harriet’s eyes, but the stories he told of his travels of riding horseback throughout the Georgia Conference that spanned several hundred miles were spellbinding to the teenage girl who had never left Greene County. He began as a Circuit Rider on the Chattahoochee Circuit when he was 18 years old; his tales of riding through the mountains in uncharted territory made her feel he was the bravest, most exciting man she knew.

Romance caught fire between the two of them, and with the blessings of both families they were married in 1833 when she was 17 and he was 26. Whither thou goest, I will go, Harriet vowed to Jesse. It was a promise she kept for 47 years in their marriage that produced ten children.

In 1834 Jesse and Harriet lived in Augusta, Georgia;  from 1835 – 1837 in Columbus, Georgia where he preached revival meetings and was promoted to supervisor of the LaGrange Methodist Church conference. In 1841 Jesse was transferred to the Alabama conference where he served for six years in Mobile districts and on the Tuskegee Circuit. During the Alabama years four of the couple’s ten children were born in Mobile including a son named John Keener Boring who was born in 1843.

Jesse and Harriet returned to Columbus, Georgia in 1847 for two more years until Bishop Robert Paine chose Jesse to establish Southern Methodist churches in California. The family sailed March 1, 1850 from New Orleans to Panama, crossed 37 miles by land on mules through dense forests from Panama to the Pacific Ocean, caught another sailing ship to San Francisco – arriving in the summer of 1850. During the trip Harriet was pregnant with their fourth child, a son named Isaac who was born in San Francisco.

From 1850 – 1855 Reverend Jesse Boring established churches in San Jose, Stockton and San Francisco; organized the Pacific Conference, and edited the Methodist Church publication known as the Christian Observer. Harriet had another child in 1853 in San Francisco, a daughter named Jesse after her father.

In 1854 the  family left California to make the long arduous trip across land and sea again to return to the Georgia conference so that Jesse could pursue his new dream of studying medicine at the Atlanta Medical College where he later became the first president of the school.

In 1858, after finishing Medical College, Dr. Jesse Boring transferred his family to San Antonio, Texas where he presided at the first session of the Old Rio Grande Methodist Conference held in Goliad in November, 1859. He and Harriet packed all their furniture, clothing, household possessions and seven children to travel from Atlanta to Mobile where they boarded a sailing ship that carried them to  Galveston, Texas.

In the fall of 1858 the family reached Galveston, sailed by Buffalo Bayou to Houston where they disembarked and then moved westward in an old four horse stagecoach. Part of the time Jesse and his older children walked and carried a fence rail on their shoulders to pry the wagon wheels out of the mud. When they reached Eagle Lake near the Colorado River, the wagon couldn’t go any farther. They rode the horses from Eagle Lake to San Antonio.

Dr. Boring built a home for his family in San Antonio, but it was not paid for. He lost it during the Civil War in which he served the Confederate Army as a medical doctor and preacher from 1860 – 1864. Harriet and the children saw a sheriff auction the home and all of their furnishings. After the war, Jesse also bought a home for his family in Galveston where he preached and practiced medicine. However, it was lost in a defective title deed. Another home in Galveston was destroyed by a hurricane in 1866.

In 1868 Dr. Boring was very much a broken man in spirit and in health so he and Harriet returned home to Georgia where he served the Atlanta District of the Methodist Church for a number of years as their presiding elder. During his tenure Dr. Boring regained his fervor and was instrumental in founding a home for Confederate orphans. The Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, Georgia was the result of his persistence in securing funding for its opening in December of 1869.

(Their son, twenty-five-year-old John Keener Boring, remained in Texas to farm and raise his own family. John married Emma Fennell after the Civil War – their farm was 20 miles east of Luling near Nashes Creek. Emma came from a very wealthy family, but she married a very poor man who gave her seven children, bought the family a large farm and then subsequently lost it due to a problem with the deed. My grandfather, James Marion Boring, was one of their seven children.)

Two years ago through random hints on Ancestry I discovered my 2X great-grandmother, Harriet Eveline Howard Boring, was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia which was 71 miles west of our home in South Carolina. At the time of this remarkable discovery I was in the process of having two knees replaced. A trip to Georgia was impossible, but I saved the information for a later day.

Three weeks ago the later day arrived, and Pretty drove me to look for the resting place of my 2X great-grandmother. I was so excited! Pretty loves a cemetery adventure as much as I do, but she cautioned on the drive over there that if I said 2X great-grandmother one more time she couldn’t be responsible for her actions. I had gotten on her last nerve.

Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia (since 1818)

Large number of lovely Greek markers

Pretty walks in plot owned by Dr. Jesse Boring

Ten headstones of women marked boundary

According to the cemetery records this large plot belonged to Dr. Jesse Boring, but the area has a name painted in black letters “Women’s Home” on the lower cement boundary which seems to make sense with only ten women’s headstones in a single line indicating the top boundary. Since Dr. Boring was involved in the Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, it’s no stretch to think that he gave this plot to a Women’s Home in Augusta to honor the memory of his wife Harriet who died in their Augusta home on January 20, 1879.

Sadly for me, there is no mention of Harriet in the cemetery plot. Pretty tried to comfort me with her guesses of what happened to the headstone or other marker in the 141 years since my 2X great-grandmother’s death. My favorite idea of hers was that a tree fell on the marker, knocked it down and time gradually covered her resting place with the beautiful grass and autumn leaves that we did find. I liked it.

Jesse Boring, who married again following Harriet’s death, died in 1890 and is now buried on the grounds of the Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur. His epitaph reads in part “He who turns a child to God changes the course of history.”

I found these stories in a family history compiled by my mother’s first cousin Hugh Boring and his wife Esther in 1991. My mother had little interest in her family’s history so I’m sure she gave the book to me as soon as Hugh sent it to her. I resurrected it from my extensive collections of materials I’ve saved through the years in my genealogy research on both sides of my family. I embellished the stories for sure because I could. I felt compelled to share them here because I am a storyteller from Texas and these are my people.

Unfortunately, I found out slavery was intertwined in many of  our family’s lives and Dr. Jesse Boring was an ardent secessionist in the Civil War days. I did wonder about Harriet’s thoughts on the issue, although I assume she followed Jesse’s beliefs as surely as she followed him around the country.

I close with an actual obituary dated January 22, 1879 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Death of Mrs. Boring.

Yesterday’s Chronicle-Constitutionalist.

Mrs. Boring, wife of Rev. Jesse Boring, the pastor of St. John’s Methodist Episcopal church, died last evening at the parsonage, age sixty-three years. Forty-five years ago Mrs. Boring commenced her married life in this parsonage, and after nearly half a century of wandering with her husband in his ministry as an itinerant Methodist preacher, she came back, as the result showed, to die. Mrs. Boring was an estimable woman. Carrying out the words of Ruth—“Where thou goest, I shall go”— she was by her husband’s side wherever he was sent. She undertook with him the long and dangerous journey to California soon after the acquisition of that section by the United States when he went out and established the first Methodist church on the Pacific frontier, crossing the isthmus on mule back and undergoing cheerfully all the privations of the journey. Her life was an eventful and beautiful one, and her husband, children and friends remember her with reverence and enduring affection.

I think I would have liked my 2X great-grandmother Harriet whose full name was never identified in her obituary. I remember her today with reverence and enduring affection. Her story is a welcome diversion from the emotional toll of a raging pandemic and a raging political roller coaster.

Onward.

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Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

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I’ll drink to them


Our granddaughter Ella James toasts 

President-Elect Joe Biden

and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris today

while Pretty scrolls Twitter for election updates

(and Alexa shuffles music by The Chicks)

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Stay safe, stay sane, and please stay tuned. Happiness is not only allowed but also encouraged.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Matt Chisling, A Gay Man for All Seasons


Matt Chisling

(January 02, 1929 – November 03, 2020)

Yesterday afternoon in the middle of election angst I received a call from our friend Garner who told me another friend of ours, Matt Chisling, had passed. Although the call was not unexpected, it was ironic Matt died on election day because at 91 years of age he never lost either his enthusiasm for democracy or his passion for the Democratic Party.

Pretty and I met Matt in the early 1990s at the beginning of his LGBTQ activist life following his retirement from a marketing career with Casual Corner that spanned decades. Matt was in his sixties at the time, but his energy and devotion to the queer community in South Carolina was an inspiration to all.

Matt was one of 21 individuals whose stories appeared in Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2017. As a tribute to Matt’s service in our community, I am including blurbs from his piece in the book.

“I was brought up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city where yes, there was a gay bar; but in order to go down there, I would put on a raincoat and a big-brimmed hat and hide my eyes under the hat. You covered yourself up because you never knew who was watching – whether there was a plainclothesman in a car outside taking pictures or something. You didn’t know, but Ben and I used to go. There was good music and good drinks, and they were cheap in those days. Down the road a piece there was a city called Atlanta which developed far faster and much greater than Birmingham. Once that got developed, I could always go to Atlanta to a bar with Ben, especially if it was a bar that had a musical event or dancers, as we might say. We would go.”

Matt was a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in political science and journalism. After college he entered the US military where he served in the Korean War from 1951 – 1953 as part of the army that exchanged artillery fire on the 38th. Parallel. “I was not an enthusiast of military life,” he recalled.

Matt and Ben’s story was not unusual for gay men in the mid-twentieth century. They never lived together but continued their loving relationship from their late teens until Ben died from cancer when he was sixty-two years old, two years after Matt retired from Casual Corner.

“My activism in the gay community started after I retired because I had the time and was interested in the social aspect of the organizations at first. A lot of the organizing in South Carolina started with basically sociability…I don’t think the groups had some grand idea of developing a fighting army to take on the discrimination in the world. I think they got started as purely a social place to go and talk to people of your own thinking. At least, it was for me, and then I wanted more.”

Two grassroots organizations were happy to offer Matt “more” than he probably had in mind. He served on the board of directors for the AIDS Benefit Foundation for many years and successfully chaired their Annual Dining with Friends fundraiser during his board tenure. He also became active as the chair of the membership committee for the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Business Guild for more than 15 years.

“In those grassroots organizations, you have to find a niche where you can do some good. There were two things I was fairly decent at: one was raising memberships, the other was raising money. For nonprofit organizations like that, those are the two things they cherish.”

Memberships and money were certainly movers of the movement, but nonprofit organizations also cherished the volunteers who worked tirelessly to find the people and resources to keep them viable, vibrant. Matt Chisling was one such volunteer. Pretty and I both admired his dedication and long-term commitment to causes that changed the course of history for LGBTQ people in the state of South Carolina from the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s to marriage equality in 2014.

Matt loved his mother,  his partner Ben, his friends – both gay and straight – his community.  Pretty and I loved Matt. We will miss this Jewish man who had fun at Christmas bringing gifts he wrapped in gorgeous paper with lovely big bows. We will miss our talks with him on the latest movies and his opinions on well, just about everything.

“This business of growing old, sitting around your condominium, even thought it’s a nice place to sit around, gets…I can’t do that…I enjoy being with people. I have to have something that fills my day, that fills my time, and that fills my mind.”

We enjoyed being with you, too, Matt. Rest in peace.

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Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

This is the Time


“We have been too quiet for too long.

There comes a time when you have to say something.

You have to make a little noise.

You have to move your feet.”

——— Congressman John Lewis

Neither freezing temperatures nor sweltering heat, sleet, snow, rain, wind, long lines, men or women with guns pointed at us, a pandemic or any other hindrance should be able to prevent us from moving our feet to our precincts to VOTE on Tuesday, November 3rd.

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Stay safe,  stay sane, stay cool – and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Ella James is unhappy


our granddaughter EJ just heard someone isn’t voting this year

What’s the problem?

Please put a smile on our granddaughter’s face and make a plan to vote Tuesday, November 3rd., or before. Voter turnout – make America safe and sane again.

Posted in family life, Humor, Life, Personal, photography, politics, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

it’s going to be beautiful


Superlative in Chief is in the home stretch of his re-election campaign, and these final laps are going to be the greatest finish ever seen since the beginning of time, regardless of the outcome.

If you don’t believe it, just ask trumpty dumpty (not original but I wish I had thought of it) who sat on a wall perched for a fall.

Covid, covid, covid – the vaccine is on the way – what’s the big deal? It’s going to be the greatest vaccine ever invented by the most brilliant medicine men in the entire universe which includes millions of Star Trek galaxies our prominent new Space Force will explore forever and ever.

Who cares that more than 225,000 Americans have died in that fake news story? If it weren’t for my amazing Coronavirus Task Force led by my – who did I say led that anyway? – more than a million Americans would have died by now. That’s right. More than a million if not for my leadership and appointing that  – who did I appoint for the most fabulous leadership in the history of the world other than me, of course?

Oh Mike, the guy with the fly in his hair. I always said he was a loser.

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I never knew I could be this tired of superlatives, but then I’ve never had a president whose entire method of communication consisted of superlatives mastered in an elementary private school.

Clearly my endorsements of Joe Biden for President, Kamala Harris for Vice President and Jaime Harrison for Senator from South Carolina  are the most stupendous recommendations of my lifetime. I can’t wait for this election to be over next week, but I will gladly wait for all the votes to be counted.

It’s going to be beautiful.

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Stay safe, stay sane, stay tuned and please VOTE as if our democracy depends on it. That would be correct.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

grandmothers for a brighter future


Thirteen days until Election 2020 here in the USA, and of the countless texts, emails and snail mail from the candidates for the Senate in our home state of South Carolina, this piece that arrived at our home today is my favorite:

Pretty and I have arrived

Apparently Iran and Russia have been unable to locate us in their attempts to interfere with the upcoming election because we haven’t had any communication from them. Nonetheless, it’s comforting to know that Grandmothers for a Brighter Future found Pretty and me with no problem. Many thanks to the Dem activists in Eugene, Oregon for their postcard party supporting Jaime Harrison for the US Senate from South Carolina. We all need hope for a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

Another thank you to Pope Francis today for his warm welcome of homosexuals to be a part of his family by recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples. Baby steps, your Holiness, but definitely in the right direction.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned. Make your plan to VOTE.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

readings


Pardon another interruption from politics and the pandemic – this piece was originally published in August, 2011. For sure not a current event, but in this time of disconnection from family and friends, I needed a reminder of the feelings those up close and personal encounters gave me.

     Dame Daphne du Maurier, the English author and playwright, decries our infatuation with literary public readings by writers, noting that “writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.” She makes a good point, although I have to admit I love to read my own words aloud.  Maybe it’s because I often read audibly as I write.  Ergo, it makes sense I like to read to other people.  Often my motives are mixed with shameless promotion of my books.  In theory, people will buy more books if the author appears in public to read and sign them.  If you invite me, I will come.

            I was so taken with the sound of my own voice  I made an audio version of my first book, Deep in the Heart—A Memoir of Love and Longing.  My thanks to the three people who actually bought that CD, wherever you are.  Who knew everything in the world is now downloaded from some mysterious cyber-place and that no one buys audio books except the technologically illiterate?  Evidently, I missed that memo.

I almost missed another one.

Recently, I was invited to a book club that chose my second book, Not Quite the Same, as their book of the month.  It was the eleventh anniversary celebration for the club.  This diverse group of ten women met monthly for eleven years to discuss a different book chosen by the hostess.  Since I am not a person who likes to belong to groups or attend meetings, I found this record remarkable.  But, if you invite me, I will come.

That night I had center stage in the intimate living room where the women gathered in the early evening.  The voices buzzed and hummed in the festive atmosphere as food and drinks loosened their day’s tensions.  A few of the younger women sat on the floor, but no one seemed to mind.  This was an informal group with good chemistry and healthy appetites.  The hostess made sure everyone’s wine or iced tea glass was filled.  The highlight of the meal was a fresh coconut cake baked by one of the members, but that was saved for later.  No one objected, and, as the last empty plate was removed, everyone settled in for their monthly literary fix.  I had prepared some thoughts on writers and writing, so I began with those.  Not too original and less than inspirational, but the women responded warmly.

“What makes writers really write?” asked one.  “I’ve often thought I could write a book, but when it comes down to actually doing it, I don’t have the discipline.  I think I have stories to tell from my teaching experiences.  I really do.  Of course, I have some others that should never be told.”  The other women laughed.  “What should I do?”

“That’s a great question, and I’d like to give you a simple answer.  I’m afraid I don’t have one, though.  I believe all of us have stories to tell and that storytelling is a primal need.  I’ve seen stones in New Mexico that are hundreds of thousands of years old, and you know what’s on them?  Stories someone wanted to tell.  They’re told in drawings on the rock faces, but they were someone’s disciplined efforts to communicate, and I felt I was there with the storyteller.  I never sat down to write a book.  I wanted to save my stories and the people and places in them.  They became a book because I couldn’t quit writing.  Now, it’s like not being able to turn off a spigot.  When that happens to you, discipline will be the least of your worries.”

I was the first author to be invited to a club meeting—ever.  It was a fun night, and the highlight was reading my own words.  What could be better?   I had selected three different short sections from my book and read them to the group.  Their rapt attention and total engagement in the process pleased me and indicated my reading was a success. But, the evening didn’t end there.  Each woman, in turn, was asked to give her reflections on my book.  Naturally, with the author sitting in the same living room, they were beyond gracious.  No one cast a stone.

What I found most incredible that night, however, was listening to my words read by readers.  Several women read sentences, paragraphs, or whole pages of their favorite words.  I never fully understood the power of writing until I heard other people read what I wrote.  My stories were safe.  They would be remembered and told by these women and others like them.  Although I thought the night revolved around me, I was wrong.  They inspired me.  These women treasured words and ideas that created bonds among them.  My words were now a little part of their wealth of knowledge that lived beyond the pages.  I was elated.

Dame Daphne was in the vicinity, but she missed a key concept.  Allow me to modify her quote: “Readers should read, and writers should listen.”

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            Last week I visited my mother who is in a Memory Care Unit in a facility in Houston, Texas.  She is eighty-three years old and has lived there for two years.  She is a short, thin woman with severe scoliosis.  Her curved spine makes walking difficult, but she shuffles along with the customary purpose and determination that characterized her entire life.  Her silver hair looks much the same as it has for the last thirty years, missing only the rigidity it once had as a result of weekly trips to the beauty parlor and massive amounts of hairspray.

Her skin is extraordinarily free of wrinkles and typically covered with makeup.  She wears the identical mismatched colors she wore on my last visit.  Black blouse and blue pants.  This is atypical for the prim, little woman for whom image was so important throughout her life and is indicative of the effect of her dementia.

My mother is a stubborn woman who wanted to control everyone and everything in her life because she grew up in a home ruled by poverty and loss and had no control over anything.  Her father died when she was eleven years old.  He left a family of four children and assorted business debts to a wife with no education past the third grade.  Life wasn’t easy for the little girl and her three older brothers who were raised by a single mom in a rural east Texas town during the Great Depression.

My mom survived, married her childhood sweetheart, and had a daughter.  The great passions of her life, which she shared with my father, were religion and education and me, possibly in that order.  She played the piano in Southern Baptist churches for over sixty years.  She taught elementary grades in Texas public schools for twenty-five years.  The heart of the tragedies in her adult life made a complete circle and returned to losses similar to the ones she experienced in her childhood: her mother who fought and lost a battle with depression, two husbands who waged unsuccessful wars against cancer, an invalid brother who progressively demanded more care until his death, and a daughter whose sexual orientation defied the laws of her church.  Alas, no grandchildren.

My sense is that my mother prefers the order of her life now to the chaos that confronted her when dementia began to overpower her.  She knew she was losing control of everything, and she did not go gently into that good night.  Today, she seems more content.  At least, that’s my observation during my infrequent visits.

“My daughter lives a thousand miles from me,” she always announces to anyone who will listen.  “She can’t stay long.  She’s got to get back to work.”

We struggle to find things to talk about when I visit, and that isn’t merely a consequence of her condition.  We’ve had a difficult relationship.  Our happiest moments now are often the times we spend taking naps.  She has a bed with a faded navy blue and white striped bedspread, a dark blue corduroy recliner at the foot of her bed, and one small wooden chair next to her desk.  I sleep in the recliner, and she closes her eyes while she stretches out on the bed.

The room is quiet with occasional noises from other residents and staff in the hallway outside her door.  They don’t disturb us.  She has no interest in the television I thought was so important for her to take when I moved her into this place.  I notice it is unplugged.  Again.

“Lightning may strike,” she says when I ask her why she refuses to watch the TV in her room.  “Besides, I like to watch the shows with the others on the big TV.  Sometimes we watch Wheel of Fortune, and sometimes we watch a movie.”

I give up and close my eyes.

“I love this book,” my mother says, startling me awake with her words.  I open my eyes to see her sitting across from me.  She’s in the small wooden chair with the straight back.  I can’t believe she’s holding the copy of my book, Deep in the Heart, which I gave her two years ago.  I never saw the book since then in any of my visits, and I assumed she either threw it away or lost it.  I was also stunned to see how worn it was.  The only other book she had that I’d seen in that condition was The Holy Bible.

“I know all of the people in this book,” she continues.  “And so many of the stories, too.”

“Yes, you do,” I agree.  “The book is about our family.”

And, then, for the second time in as many weeks, I hear another reader say my words.  My mother reads to me as she rarely did when I was a child.  She was always too busy with the tasks of studying when she went to college, preparing for classes when she taught school, cooking, cleaning, ironing, practicing her music for Sunday and choir practice—she couldn’t sit still unless my dad insisted that she stop to catch her breath.

But, today, she reads to me.  She laughs at the right moments and makes sure to read “with expression,” as the teacher in her remembers.  Occasionally, she turns a page and already knows what the next words are.  I’m amazed and moved.  I have to fight the tears that could spoil the moment for us.  I think of the costs of dishonesty on my part, and denial on hers.  The sense of loss is overwhelming.

The words connect us as she reads.  For the first time in a very long while, we’re at ease with each other.  Just the two of us in the little room with words that renew a connection severed by a distance not measured in miles.  She chooses stories that are not about her or her daughter’s differences.  That’s her prerogative, because she’s the reader.

She reads from a place deep within her that has refused to surrender these memories.  When she tires, she closes the book and sits back in the chair.

“We’ll read some more later,” she says.

I lean closer to her.

“Yes, we will. It makes me so happy to know you like the book.  It took me two years to write these stories, but I’m glad you enjoy them so much.”

“Two years,” she repeats.  “You have a wonderful vocabulary.”

The coconut cake we had for dessert at the book club meeting was deliciously sweet and well worth the wait.  But, the moment with my mother was sweeter, perhaps because the wait had seemed like forever.  Invite me, and I will come, and I will read.  But, I’ll want you to read to me, too.

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Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned. I have voted. VOTE.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Nadal’s List of Unlucky Losers


Yes, yes I know what you’re going to say. Why devote time and space to a sports event in the midst of a pandemic that continues to ravage the health and well being of millions of people across the globe? In the midst of institutional racism, police brutality, a criminal justice system with no justice, authoritarian leaders motivated by greed and mendacity, momentous confirmation hearings for a new addition to the United States Supreme Court rushed through a sham process whose outcome is not in doubt? Crises of climate change exhibited by floods and fires that chip away whole communities in a day?

Immigrants and refugees living in subhuman conditions administered by a rogue contractor with the chilling initials of I.C.E.? And, not to be forgotten, the 140 million people living in poverty in the USA who slip through the cracks of our collective memory? Finally, the presidential campaign now in full swing again with the candidates hitting the trail heavy and hard in the remaining three weeks. Agent Orange has been healed, ramping up his rhetoric, promising to kiss everyone who isn’t wearing a mask at his rallies. Super fun? Super dangerous.

Okay, so diversion from current political events was one of the reasons for my passionate following of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris for the past two weeks.  Number two, as Joe Biden would say, is my ongoing love affair with tennis since my high school days on a tennis team with an unremarkable record. But for the past 15 years since a 19-year-old Spaniard named Rafael Nadal won his first championship trophy at the French Open in 2005, I have followed his career like a groupie for the Rolling Stones.

Two days ago on Sunday, October 11th. Nadal won his breaking all records Roland Garros Championship number 13 in the men’s singles competition. An earthshaking achievement in the sports world that gave him 20 Grand Slam titles to tie Roger Federer for the most in tennis history, Rafa’s 100th. victory on the clay courts in Paris.

Who did he beat in the finals for each of those wins? The Unlucky Losers are familiar names to tennis fans around the world:  Argentine Mariano Puerta in 2005. Roger Federer in 2006, 2007, 2008. Robin Soderling in 2010 (Soderling had eliminated Nadal in the Round of 16 in 2009). Roger Federer in 2011. Novak Djokovic in 2012. David Ferrer in 2013. Novak Djokovic in 2014. Stan Wawrinka in 2017. Dominic Thiem in 2018 and 2019. Novak Djokovic in 2020.

Rafa turned 27 on June 03, 2013

( the day of his 8th. French Open title)

Seven years later at age 34 he won his 13th. title in a tournament moved from its usual summer dates to the fall as a result of the Covid pandemic, with a new kind of tennis balls that resisted his patented spin, in cold temperatures very different from those on his balmy island of Mallorca in Spain, in a new Phillippe Chatrier clay court covered by a retractable roof that was closed for the final,  in a venue that holds more than 15,000 fans but was limited to 1,000 for the 2020 tournament again as a result of safety precautions for everyone who attended and participated. And yet Rafael Nadal prevailed as he had on twelve previous occasions.

Today Nadal’s home country of Spain awarded him The Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Sporting Merit which is one way of saying he is one of the greatest Spanish sports figures in their history for not only his achievements on the tennis courts but also for his humanitarian efforts away from the courts. In her presentation of the award Vice-President and Spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Maria Jesus Montero said:

“There is little to mention about the curriculum of this outstanding person on and off the courts,” Montero said. “We are honored to convey this distinction to him not only for the undoubted sporting merits of one of the best sports in history at an international level, but also it is a pleasure to do it in a person who brings together the values of the youth referents, everything that allows us to be better. The Government makes this highly deserved sports recognition for one of our national pride, Rafael Nadal.”

I am thrilled for Nadal’s victory Sunday and was moved by his comments in the trophy presentation ceremony that he was, of course, very happy to win but that it was difficult to feel as joyful as he could have felt if the world weren’t facing the challenges of the pandemic.

His conclusion was the same one he makes in every victory speech, thank you, thank you very much…which is what I want to say to Rafa Nadal for the past fifteen years of entertainment and inspiration as a warrior on the tennis courts, a man who plays every point as if it is his last,  a man who never gives up, never gives in.

Thank you, Rafa, thank you very much.

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Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned. I have voted. VOTE.

Posted in Random | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments