Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Grow Old

With big holidays a few months down the road, thoughts of my widowed mom lead to thoughts of last Christmas, when Dad was still living. Looking back at my last visit with him, there were clues that Dad was going to die--sooner rather than later. At that point, however, we all believed he was just going to keep on going indefinitely. We were all in denial, including Mom. Tough-broad-aging-actress Bette Davis is credited with saying: getting old is not for sissies. True words. Mom and Dad have set an example for their kids and grandkids. They are/were Not Sissies.

Dad stopped me one day during that Christmas visit as I walked by him, ensconced in his favorite recliner-in-front-of-the-tv chair. He said my name, and as I paused, he craned his neck to see into the kitchen if the road was clear. Then he whispered, sotto voce: "I think your Mom needs to get out more. She spends too much time at home." I thought about that a minute, and said, "Well, she doesn't want to get out. She likes to be here with you. " And he shook his head in irritation at not communicating what he really meant. His hearing was quite poor, had been for years. I realized it was an effort for him to reach out to people, that the effort of communication was more difficult than it had been for most of his eloquent and verbally acute life. I consoled us both that Dad shouldn't worry about Mom, who was undoubtedly happily making her tenth batch of cookies for us, even as he spoke. And I walked on by.

Later that same ( too short) visit, Dad once again stopped me, nearly planting himself between me and the door towards which I was headed--no mean task for a guy who was a bit wobbly on his feet and refused to use a cane, out of vanity. I was startled at his assertiveness, and stopped to stare--really look this time--into his face. He said again, with increased urgency, "She needs to get out more." I thought maybe Dad was having some kind of confusion attack, which was totally unfair, because he was never confused at all, not even in the final months of his life. But I said well, I'll talk to her about it, and maybe we can encourage her to join some group or something. Like, in Steeleville pop. 2100 there are groups to join--right. But I figured the Senior Site was good for a meal out a week, although we both knew Mom wouldn't leave to go eat dinner at the Senior Site and leave Dad alone. The Library offered Senior computer classes, and she was actually pretty good with keyboarding and limited internet. I made a mental note to snag her for a library trip ASAP.

Dad actually did pretty well on the getting-out-and-about scene, himself. Every morning, he got up at 7 a.m., had coffee and oatmeal, and went to his gym. I kid you not, at age 87, when he and Mom moved to Steeleville, pop. 2100 (aka, the city) and left the isolation of the farm, he joined the local teensy-tiny gym a few blocks from their senior condo. I don't know what he did there, and didn't like the picture when it loomed before me--any muscle-building machine is good for hurting someone with heart/prostrate/age issues. He was frail the last few years, but despite all his increasing health deficits, he kept walking without a cane, kept driving. Well . . . he did, the last month or so of his life, start using a cane now and then. We all threatened him that no one would visit him in the nursing home if he got busted up by falling at walking, with no attempt to bolster himself. The threats were not what ultimately decided him, but I believe when someone said that Mom would suffer if he got laid up, that did it.

Anyway, he'd go to the gym faithfully, then head over to the Steeleville American Legion for the coffee they kept brewed--just for him--at 10 a.m. God bless the members of the Steeleville American Legion. They all respected the old Marine who couldn't hear too well. They gave him dignity and a sense of belonging to the end of his life. His social life was intact to the week before his death. I love and cherish and will donate financially and physically and whatever to the AmL whereever, whenever.

So Dad was set with his social life, and it was really about all he could handle, a couple hours a day. Then he'd sit home the rest of the day, and read. Reading was, right after Mom, the love of his life. Well, that and St. Louis Cardinal baseball games, which he and Mom watched nearly every night in summer. Mom still does. I hope the Cardinals realize what they contribute to the lives of so many.

Dad died the following February 15th. I believe he waited as long as he could to breathe his last, to not-leave Mom alone, and to not-die on Valentine's Day. And after a while, I realized that he knew his death was growing close when he pulled me aside during Christmas and urged me to help Mom get out more--so she wouldn't be alone.

Dad was brave. He fought at Iwo Jima and Saipan and Tinian, historic Central Pacific arenas of WW2, as a Marine. The farm boy from Southern Illinois fought on Central Pacific islands against Japanese forces who were fierce. Both sides suffered horrible losses. He was able to say, after his 60's, that "both sides did what they had to do." He didn't talk a lot about battle, but said that "there are some things that you do not talk about." I.e., don't tell kids and womenfolk the gory details that war brings, and don't tell anyone what they don't have to know.

But he was brave from the time he was a child. His mom was put into a psychiatric hospital when he was 7, and his 5 brothers ranged from 3-yr-old twins to 11-yrs-old. Grandpa couldn't take care of the whole brood, because he was a superintendent at a coal mine. So he sent them to a Methodist Children's home, which cost a bit in those days. However, the boys weren't together, their mom was gone, they were alone and people weren't always kind. Sometimes people / caretakers were just mean. As Dad got older, he was fostered out to homes, where a boy was needed for compaionship and labor. Again, not always the best place to be. Eventually, he was fostered to a home which was near to my Mom's family. Her brothers and sisters sort of adopted Dad, and the rest was a 75 year+ passionate (not always in a good way, but unflaggingly passionate nevertheless) relationship.

But war, orphan homes, and not-belonging aside, the bravest thing Dad ever did was keep-on-living. When he was around 70, again sittting in the favorite chair, again he waylaid me as I walked by. My family isn't a chatty-touchy bunch at all. We were raised, as one of my sisters said at Dad's funeral, "to be little Marines." Those of you who are children of Marines will attest to the fact that once a Marine, its in the blood and seems to seep into the DNA, too. So, he halted my skitting-past any emotional encounters and said you know, I'm tired. At that time, Dad was supporting an enlarged prostate ( for which he never underwent surgery, but it stayed manageable without it thank-God), nasal polyps which mercilessly returned every time he underwent painful surgery to remove them so he could breathe, and had just completed healing from a pre-heart attack operation on some damaged arteries. He was understandably discouraged at the physical hurdles he had to face every day. His whole life he was active and physical, a constrution worker and a farmer. He said, "Sometimes I just want to go off into the woods and never come back, and run away from all this." But he didn't.

As I get older, I realize what the price is for surviving into old age. You lose a little here, a little there. Your eyesight goes, your hearing diminishes, your bones and muscles ache. You don't heal as quickly from anything like you once did. You just don't have the energy you used to. And all of that doesn't take into account any extra added illnesses or injuries you pick up. So I understand what Dad meant that day when he said that he just wanted to run off and leave it all behind. And I'm proud that he didn't.

He stuck it out as long as he could. Down to the last wire, he did not wimp out for one minute, until his heart just gave out. He had been laying in bed for a week, and Mom must have been in denial. My brother noticed that they hadn't been to the weekly Wednesday lunch at the V.F.W., but they didn't call and he didn't think about it much. Like me, he probably felt Dad would go on and on. Death was really drawing up on Dad, but only he recognized it, back at Christmas. So Mom had been trying to get Dad to eat, and fussed over him, and finally called Kenneth to say she was taking him to the doctor. When my brother went over to help her, he told me later, he could hardly look at Dad. He looked dead already, very gray and very fragile. But when Mom said okay, lets get in the car, Dad got up. He took two steps and then just dropped. My brother and my mom rushed to him, and he died. As dying goes, we all think that it was as good as anyone can ask for. At home with people who loved him, and in control of his faculties and his body up to the last heartbeat. And moving forward, never turning away.

I agree with Bette Davis. It hurts to get old, its a lot of work, and why the hell bother. I'm proud of Dad for living till the very last minute of his life. I'm proud that my Mom does go out to the Senior Site, the VFW Wednesday lunches, the Sunday School class which her younger (82 yr. old) sister teaches, to funeral home showings of friends who die, and, recently, to out-of-state weddings of two of her grandchildren. I"m proud that she said, a few months after the funeral, "Some people want to die when they lose their husband. But I don't. I want to keep going." And she has.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One week after my dad died at age 89, I started an oil painting. I've been an artist my whole life and have reasonable skill. The last few years have been focused on making a living, and painting took a back seat. This last week of grief and hard truths has brought some new perspectives. Who will remember me when I'm gone? What will I leave behind? What have I done to deserve being remembered? What expresses my deepest self?

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie series after her father, mother, and sister Mary had all died. Wilder was in her 50's when she began the stories. One of her biographies noted that loss turned her inward, remembering. Wilder's recollection of life in the late 1800's is valuable for descriptions of a way of life which has passed. But it is beloved because it recounts love: Ma and Pa's love for each other, their love for their children, the family for each other.

Any need to put feelings out in the world, in words or music or pictures, is from the same place. I have lived experiences which my children might benefit from. I can chronicle a time and a place so others will know, and tell a story so others will remember. Because if we remember, as Tim O'Brien notes in The Things They Carried, story keeps us alive.

The potential painting is of Mom, in her 80's, under an apple tree from their farm. Its working title is Things My Mother Gave Me. I'll post it when its done.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Things of This World

Kenny and Sue have lived on a small farm behind my parents' farm for around 40 years. Kenny was born there, and lived there for 20 some years before he married Sue. They are neighbors in the sense of someone you have known all of your life, and known well enough to love and hate with equal caring. They are neighbors who have walked across the fields to visit, and gone to the same small schools, and been at the weddings and funerals and BBQs. They went to Dad's funeral a few days ago. they didn't say much. No "If you need help, . . . " because we knew that.
The day after the funeral, my son and I had tickets for an evening flight back to our home. On the way to say goodbye to Mom, we stopped at Kenny and Sue's. They and 3 other families were butchering hogs, a yearly event to stock up on their own meat. Four hogs had been slaughtered the day before, and hung up in the barn to bleed out. Now, couples and friends were busy in old, blood-stained clothes, in 30 degree weather, cutting up carcasses for freezing and making sausages. Something my son has seen a few times on visits to the farm, but we figure you should never forget where food comes from.

We checked out the progress of the butchering, and Sue said that she was boiling a tongue and it should be almost done. I said how much I had always loved tongue, especially pickled tongue; all the parts of an animal are used when you live on a farm, but the organs and muscles aside from regular cuts of meat are special. They have unique texture and flavor, and are rightly considered delicacies. As farm kids, me and my siblings never thought twice about what was put in front of us. Our city-raised kids were not rusticly trained in the Art of Eating What is Set Before You, and don't share our enthusiasm for some things. However, they try. And the cousins who still live in Illinois encourage them in their education, especially if it means offering head cheese, pork hocks, you get the picture.
So when I kind of wistfully mentioned my tastes, Sue without another word put down her (very sharp) knife, went out of the butchering shed and came back in a little bit with some generous slices of tongue for us to sample. It was hot and incredibly tender. It was a very real part of the animal, with the taste buds and the root of the tongue quite obviously naming what it was. No denying, that was somethings tongue. And it was good.

Later, we were ready to leave, and Kenny asked if Mom would like some tongue. I said I don't know, but she might like a little, and if she didn't feel like eating it, there were more grandkids over there who might like to say they ate some pork tongue, once. So Kenny disappeared and returned with a plastic butter tub, which held an entire boiled tongue. I noted that out of only 4 pigs, one tongue was a lot to give. Kenny just said, in his characteristically sleepy way, that he hoped Mom enjoyed it.

We took it with us over to Mom's. She was holding up like a true Marine's wife, which she has always been. We put out the tongue and sliced it up, and teased the faint of heart who wouldn't eat it, and told stories about all the things we'd eaten as kids. Everything at a funeral is a reason to remember other things.

Food is one of the most common expressions of comfort in time of sorrow. This is told in the Christian act of communion, the eating of the body and blood of Christ. It is told in the Hindu deity of the goddess Kali, who is both giver and devourer of life. We eat to live, whether its a pig or a tomato. Death for one thing is life for another, and they become the same thing.

Lots of people brought food to Mom's. I talked to her the day Dad died, and said Mom how are you, and my Mom said "It's been a pretty rough day, Patricia." Understatement is a family trait. But she was sitting at her table with my brother and his wife and they were eating sloppy joes which the next door neighbor had brought over. The next night when I called, she was having fried chicken with her two sisters and Kenny and Sue, who had brought the chicken.

The slaughtered pig's tongue was a small precious gift, of simple generosity and understanding of neighbors. It was a gift which personifies the fear we have of eating flesh, which is not all that different from our flesh. It was a gift of the reality of life and death.

Thanks to Kenny and Sue, for the casual friendship which has been understood for my whole life and which continues without comment or fanfare into the future. And thanks for the tongue.

The Hardest Things are Simple

Two days after my father's funeral, I am back home from a long trip home--home being a place in the heart, and therefore subject to adjustment. I woke up this morning, and began to put things in order: a hot shower; a good vacuuming and straightening; a trip to find a new teapot; a brushing of two cats who are responding to longer daylight hours. Then I am ready for Grief. We'll have a cup of tea. We'll talk it over.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Changing into Old Age

Joseph Campbell's books on myth in culture include The Hero of a Thousand Faces. The Power of Myth is Campbell's explanation of myth as a guide for living, particularly for growing old. One thing that myth encourages to embrace, he says, is change.

In his work Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell describes life as a journey from "the womb to the tomb." On a complete journey, we are born (womb), grow to maturity (phallus/ yonus), and complete the cycle to old age and death (tomb). Same as Carl Jung: a complete person is one who accepts all of the stages, and lets go as each is completed. An unfulfilled life, an unhappy life, is one that avoids changing and going to the next stage. Anyone who tries to stay protected and refuse responsibility, for example, remains in the womb stage of life. They refuse to make the whole journey.

His drift: if we live our lives in the security of the womb, and refuse the responsibilities of fertility or adulthood, or the decline of old age, we aer not fully accepting our life. In refusing to let go of the phallis/ yonus/ sexual prime, we deny old age and death. The message from myth or Jung is: don't be afraid to let go, to change, to explore all the parts of life.
Old age brings a change which is hard to accept: loss. Loss of vitality, mobility, responsiblity, among other things. Clearly downhill. A way to deal with this loss, says Campbell, is to make a sort of pre-emptive strike: change yourself. Change your name. Change where you live. Change your habits. Why make changes?
Because outer change creates inner change. What do Russian child psychologist Lev Vygotsky, Joseph Brownowski [The Ascent of Man], and 2001: Space Odyssey have in common?The idea that concept formation follows physical action. We change how we think by changing our environment. For example, the scene in 2001 where the ape picks up a stick, whacks the giant monolith with it, and realizes hes just used the stick for a guided purpose. Whacking with a stick eventually led to a point where body and mind learned a use for it. Or as Brownowski illustrated it, digging into the earth to make caves to live in eventually gave way to the realization that shaping earth into bricks was an even better idea. Using bricks/ physical changes then change the way we look at the world, after we make those changes. And as Vygotsky observed, children learn by playing: concept is formed by purposeful action. Physical education and play are vital to thinking and changes, at any stage of life.
At any age, purposeful changes leads to new ideas, to forward motion, and to the next stage of life.

The drawing on this post is 10 years old. The model was an interesting person, a veteran of Vietnam, and a great reader. He practiced meditation, and could pose without moving, literally, for hours. He was interesting. Thanks Ron. Youre in our memory, and on our walls.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Practical Guide to Aging

I'm lucky my parents forge ahead of me, through life. They are trailblazing, and I appreciate the path. They have had a long and passionate life (both a good thing and a bad thing), and are working out their own road map for aging. Their parents died at a younger age than they are now, and in less good health. In fact, Mom and Dad are exceptional; not only have they survived in good form, but they had five children, who have all grown to adulthood and had children. As I get older, I realize: this is not easy stuff to get through life with, intact. It takes genes, work, and dumb luck.

My mom took care of her mother for many years, after Grandma became less mobile but refused to leave her home. Constant caregiving took a lot out of Mom, and out of Dad, too, since he was on his own when she was with Grandma. Out of this experience, Mom gained a stong conviction (Mom has lots of strong convictions, and some are scary, but I do admire her stubborness). She said numerous times: "You kids are never going to take care of me. When I can't live on my own, I am going to a nursing home." The upshot of her conviction--and of her amazing good luck, manifested in regular bingo, lottery, and punchboard wins--is that she is not dependent, period. She still takes care of herself and Dad in pretty good style, and only recently, at age 88, gave up bowling and choir. She just knew it was time, and she handles it well. She now spends more time baking cookies (incredible amounts of them, which she freezes and forces on family and strangers), crocheting, playing piano, and working in her small yard and garden.

One of the issues they face in their 80's is losing friends. As they age, their friends die from all of the attendant maladies of old age. The last of Dad's siblings died over a decade ago, and he is now approaching the family record age of 92, set by his Aunt Ethel. Mom's 3 brothers have long since died, but her two sisters--one 90, one 82--are still living independently. They live in houses that are right next to each other, and provide caring companionship (when they are speaking), since their husbands died long ago. There are also a few cousins, from both families, to round out their ties to their childhood identities.

However, many of my parent's friends have preceded them in death. Its hard for me to tell how that affects them; they have each other, my brother lives nearby, and they live in a small community where they have been known all their life. They seem to do pretty well each time they lose someone. I think that part of their acceptance of loss is their knowledge that they, too, are on the short list of life. They have the courage to keep going, despite their increasingly isolated position--which is no small thing. The very fact of their surviving into old age gives them friends and admirers: Dad's status as a WWII vet, and their mutual status as survivors, insure that they are known and acknowledged by a considerable number of people. Everybody wants to see living proof that they can grow old and live well. Mom and Dad provide that assurance and hope, just by walking around and talking.
When I wonder about growing old and losing people in my life, I therefore look to my folks. I remember especially how my parents reacted to the death of one of Dad's friends. He and Dad were friends for as long as I can remember. They always went hunting and drinking with each other. He and his wife, and Mom and Dad, were part of a group of good-time friends for decades. Eventually, however, the friend became ill, then incapacitated, and, finally, died. I thought my parents would be very upset over this loss of a close friend. Dad went to the funeral. Mom, however, did not. As she said later without a trace of guilt or self -consciousness, "It was my bowling day and they couldnt get a sub." Further, she noted, his wife wasn't feeling well and "I knew she wasn't going, so I figured why should I go if his wife didn't go? It would make her look bad, anyway."

This is heavy stuff to sort out as I consider Aging Gracefully. Facing death and the loss of friends is not a walk in the park. However, it can be faced with practicality. My parents have been nothing if not practical, as they walk that road. They have their cemetery plots picked out, their will made out. Mom has Dad's military stuff all ready to go, to accompany his Color Guard funeral, which she knows my brother will commandeer in his role as the VFW Commander-in-Chief. These decisions have brought them comfort, let them put the final touches on their life. They've also afforded them some small source of pride, knowing that they'll be remebered in style.

Life goes on, and life's connections go on, despite the losses. There are rules to follow, even for growing old and losing friends, and losing oneself. A neighbor who died years ago showed Mom the dress she had picked out to be buried in, as she waited for cancer to take her life. Plots are plotted. Cookies are baked. Bowling leagues depend on you. Don't show up other people who are surviving. Keep up your spirits and your courage. Keep forging ahead.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Simone de Beauvoir revisited (its good to look back, despite Lot's wife's take on it)

I've had a copy of Simone De Beauvoir's classic work, The Coming of Age, for a few decades. It was first published in France in 1970. I finally plan to read it cover to cover, starting tonite. I knew it'd come in handy some day. Perhaps the reading of it was waiting for a lifespan rainy-day: my 50's. Or more likely, I was hoping I'd age and thought a handbook might come in handy. I recently thumbed through it in analytic fore-play, and find that it has aged well.
Old Age is a good thing to do, and do well. It merits research. De Beauvoir was one of the first to do that. She wrote The Coming of Age after the book that gave her fame as a feminist, back when feminists were a new thing: The Second Sex. A succint quote from that book: "Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female--whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male" [1] . Whoo hoo! Strong words, Simone. "Feminist" of course quickly became a dirty word in some quarters. I think that in the decades since then, "humanist" more accurately describes someone who believes that there isn't a second sex, but universal humanity.
De Beauvoir had interesting ideas for the 60s, thinking that old people and women (outside of tribal studies) were worthy topics of research. An evolution of "the second sex" can be followed using my favorite girlbooks: do the protagonists act like a female, or a human being? Its an interesting overview of culture and era, too.
Start with The Complete Claudine, by Colette [3]. Colette is another Famous French Female Novelist. She is famous for intriguing novels which portray the worldly-wise French Schoolgirl Incarnate: Claudine. Colette also penned Gigi, which might give you an idea of the Claudine books. The Claudine stories deal with the heroine's spicy involvements with both genders and all ages at her girls' school and through to young adulthood. The heroine's entire documented life is centered on romantic interplay. Titillating, but narrow definition of female.
Compare the Claudine stories with another classic girlbook series: Anne of Green Gables, written by Canadian Lucy Maud Montgomery, and also set in the early 1900's. Anne is a lot more chaste then Claudine. She meets her future husband bang off the bat, never seriously considering other guys, or girls either (unlike that Claudine). Her school days actually lead to a stint as a teacher, which widens the role of women somewhat. But her guy is always around, waiting for her to ripen and pluck. The story wouldn't be the same without Gilbert.
Then there is Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, set in the late 1800's. (I haven't read the American Girl series--it will probably shoot holes in my girlbook cultural definition theory but I'm going to read it someday. After de Beauvoir gets read.) Laura's heroine/ self didn't have the least little romantic interest until the last few books. She is thus, on my limited scale, closest to behaving "like a human being," with adventures and interactions. Sure, its autobiographical, but so was Claudine. I have no idea about Anne.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland also has a heroine based on a real girl. Alice, unlike the aforementioned heroines, doesn't deal with puberty or any kind of romance at all. (Although the Cheshire Cat does seem to leer, do you think?) She just has adventures. And because of that, she could've easily been a male protagonist, without loss of story. She acts just 'human.' And how about Dorothy and the Wizard? Frank Baum created Dorothy, who doesn't have a speck of romance going either. But then again, like Alice, she was pre-pubescent, and the girlbook chronicles of Claudine and Anne either began in or traversed through the girl-trait-loaded minefield of puberty. In fact, Baum purposely fashioned Dorothy as an American version of Alice's adventures. So, generally speaking, in some popular earlier literary depictions, females had to be defined by their relationships with men. However they weren't defined with the female trait of romantic preoccupation until they were sexually potent. Weeellll, does that happen in post-pube guy books? I'll have to check this out. (Why do I have to? Because I'm a frustrated anthropologist. And I care.)
I know I'm loading the die here, just using my limited knowledge and examples of the human vs. female literary data. I just remembered, for example, George MacDonald's wonderful wonderful Scottish children's tale (which I read all the time), The Light Princess. MacDonald says, in the book, that princes always get to have adventures, and princesses should get to have their own. Even tho he makes a good point, his princess is girly and undergoes transformation into a 'real woman' only after finding true love. No adventures, per se. And I bet there are other sports out there. If got paid to do this, I'd look a little harder. However, I'm in it for fun and for justifying my own viewpoint. Which a lot of people tend to do.
So, I like a good sex-role-stereotyped romance novel now and then, and some steamy sci-fi or anthropological fiction (Children of the Earth has a lot of sex, but I love the series anyway), where the men are all strong and the women are all good-looking but helpless. Its easy to keep things black-and-white and define wimmin as wimmin and min as min. But Simone has a point which I love when she says that females, at least in the past, had limited definitions. No one denies it. And "things" have changed. Disney proved that with Mulan, where the post-pubescent girl heroine (although still encumbered with romantic notions) does get to have a little adventure. In the neat sci-fi movie Avatar, the female lead alien does get in some hissin' and hittin'. Lots of stories these days give girl heroines some muscle, but alas very few I think allow them to escape the female defining role of romance. Captains and Commanders, the movie about a ship full of guys having adventures all over the ocean, does a fine job of eliminating the whole requirement of romance. I hope some good post-pubescent girl story exists somewhere with similar success. Men can be manly without romance, and girls can be girly without it, too. It lends variety.
I'm not complaining. In my 2 score and 17 years, things have greatly changed. Its fascinating to think how they have changed and track the changes. Like men where I grew up, in a rural area, pretty much let women drive the car these days when there is a guy in the car with them. No small cultural change, that. De Beauvoir's quote from above finishes with: "To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; . . ." [1]. Too true. A little depth of depiction goes a long way.
1. Simone de Beauvoir quotes, accessed 01/04/10

2. Beauvoir, Simone de; The Coming of Age; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1972; New York, N.Y.; Translated by Patrick O'Brien.

3. Colette was the surname of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28 January 1873 – 3 August 1954). She is best known for her novel Gigi (upon which the stage and film musical comedies by Lerner & Loewe, of the same title, were based); Wikipedia; 1/04/10.
4. Picture: Daphne Emerging; charcoal, collage; by the author.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Lost and Found

I went to a nice winter's evening musical a few days ago. I was appropriately bundled in warm coat, red gloves, and red knit scarf. After I left the concert, I realized my scarf was missing and presumed lost at the concert venue. It was a nice, thick acrylic knit, easy to wear, easy to clean. Warm. And red--a raison d'etre for anything in my book. I was glum about losing it. A friend gave it to me years ago, and it was in fact second-hand from his friend. It was a traveled scarf before it came to me. I wonder if it will languish in the concert hall's lost and found, if someone picked it up when I left and claimed it, or if its trash-heaped by now? If I go back that way in the next month or so, I'll stop by and ask about it. If I don't, I don't.

A few days after I left the scarf behind, I was driving down a remote road and saw something lying motionless in the middle of the lanes. It looked uncomfortably red, and I was hoping it wasn't a squashed mangled rodent. When I swerved around it, I saw it was a red scarf. Wow, I thought. Thats not MY red scarf, but it was a nice-looking one, that someone must've let fly while going down the highway. There are all kinds of ways to lose things, without trying.

I'm superstitious, if you want to call it that, although I call it mystic. Hey, I lose a red scarf, I grieve suitably, and then a few days later a red scarf appears out of nowhere in my direct path. Waiting for me to makeright the loss. To reconstruct or replace the little meanings I attached to it: warmth, memory, friend, color. It was a cold day, no traffic around, and I could've pulled over and had a good mystic reunion with what was lost.

But then again, it was a cold day. I was on my way to somewhere, and not in the mood to stop and pick up an item that, although neatly completing a found-and-lost cycle, would after all need a good wash. So I drove past it and left a perfectly good found item to its fate. (I wonder if rodents might use it for nesting?)

After all, I don't need to replace everything I lose. Some things are just ready to go. And replacements can never be an original 'thing', although they can grow their own story. Its a responsiblity to keep track of the stories of things, and I try to choose wisely which stories I keep. The scarf story, MY scarf story, was one that was truly ready to go, as the friend who gave it to me was long and unhappily out of my life. I was happy, however, to think that small lost things in life have their own karma. It comforts me to believe that lost and found, or found and lost, things can unexpectedly come back to us. And we can choose to take them back, or not.