Sunday we had a speaker between the two services at St. George’s. She’s my good friend Elizabeth Keith, PhD, a sociologist, a college professor, a healer, a Cherokee, and she spoke on how to respond to the dying as friend, family, or medical professional. Set off an interesting series of questions and anecdotes. Some of the dying speak in side references, she said, such as getting on a train or ship, crossing a river or the ocean. Some see deceased relatives or even Jesus in the room with them. A little boy spoke of how he was going to on an elevator with Jesus in such explicit terms her mother became frightened of taking an elevator. The instructions to witnesses are: reassure. For example one man was sure he was going to catch a train, but fretted that he didn’t have his ticket. Elizabeth reassured him by saying his ticket would be at the window at the station. Another woman knew she had a new dress to wear but was frantic about having no shoes. Elizabeth actually went to a store and bought a fancy pair which she showed to the dying woman, who then passed on content. Some people want their family around them, but others seek solitude and they take an opportunity when no one is around to quietly sneak out of life. It was a very interesting session.
On my way home, I was listening, as I often do Sunday mornings, to a country radio station that plays old-time country hymns and I was singing along to one (“I’ll fly away, O glory, I’ll fly away. When I die hallelujah bye and bye, I’ll fly away”). You might find this odd for a high-church Episcopalian, but I find this old music comforting. I saw a big bird circling in the sky down Minnetonka Avenue – and then when it turned and the sun hit its back, I saw the tail was white – it was a bald eagle. I’ve seen him before, but a just that moment it was . . . interesting. An omen? I don’t know, but it wasn’t a scary one. But it gave me to think, truly.
Monday: I’m not going to be an election judge after all. I woke up sick this morning, coughing and wheezing and blowing. I hope it isn’t flu. I had my super-strength flu shot, so this is probably just a bad cold. A really bad cold. Right? I was looking forward to being a part of this historic election, but I don’t think I should reward Seventh Precinct voters with a cold or worse just for doing their patriotic duty. So I’ll stay home, drinking herbal tea, snuggling with our cat and watching the returns between naps.
Today is Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated in England. Guy Fawkes was a lead actor in a group of Roman Catholic collaborators who allegedly, in 1605, packed the basement of Parliament in London with barrels of gunpowder with the intent of slaughtering King James I and many elected representatives. But the plot was thwarted literally as the match was about to be lit. After undergoing severe torture to make him confess, Guy and three others and others were hanged, drawn and quartered – well, Guy fell or jumped off the high scaffold and broke his neck before the worst could happen to him. Ever since the urchins of England make a rough effigy of “the guy” and drag him around in a wagon in the weeks before the day, reciting a rhyme and begging for pennies to buy fireworks. “Remember, remember the Fifth of November/ Gunpowder, treason and plot./ I see no reason why gunpowder treason/ Ever should be forgot.” They build a bonfire for The Guy on that historic evening and set off fireworks while he burns.
However, when I was over there in the late sixties I read an article in a Sunday supplement which threw some cold water on the historic account, saying it wasn’t an anti royal plot, but an anti-Catholic plot. The most telling element in the article noted that there was allegedly an enormous amount of gunpowder in that undercroft, barrels of it. Since the explosion never happened, where did the gunpowder go? There is no record in the Tower of London (the official government storage place for gunpowder) of a sudden increase in inventory. There are a number of places where Guy and his friends might have gotten gunpowder; for example, Spain. But of greater interest, where did it go? Hmmmm . . .
Tuesday morning: Took all kinds of over-the-counter remedies yesterday evening, slept for eleven hours last night and I’m sitting up at my keyboard this am. Feeling a little ragged around the edges, coughing messily, and thinking a cup of hot tea might help. But better than yesterday.
I sold a short story! It’s in a newly published anthology: Cooked to Death, volume III, Hell for the Holidays. My story is titled, “Death Rejoices.” The book, signed by each author, is currently available from Once Upon A Crime Mystery Bookstore in Minneapolis, and is published by small press Obscura Productions. I was approached to write an entry for the book so long ago that I had just about forgotten writing it, so going to the bookstore for a signing this past Saturday was a special pleasure. Here’s the cover:
Entirely without meaning to, I have broken my sister’s dog’s heart. It happened when we visited my sister in Terre Haute, Indiana, last week. Hannah, a beautiful dandy dinmont, was standoffish, of course, when we arrived at her house, but I tried hard to win her over and on the last two days of our visit with her, succeeded. The dog would bring me one of her stuffed toys and growl softly at me until I picked it up and threw it, or played tug of war with her. It was fun to make friends and she seemed pleased to have won my heart. But then we had to pack to go home. I was putting things into my suitcase when Hannah came into the bedroom to sit down in front of me and look up with enormous brown eyes. There was gentle rebuke and sorrow on her face. Dolores said, “She knows what a suitcase means.” Awwww, and I’m not likely to go back for a long time. Now I’m sorry I made friends with her!
A good friend in Canada surprised me with a little framed piece of original blackwork (a kind of needlework) of a rhinoceros. She designed the piece – she’s very talented as well as kind and thoughtful. It’s sitting on my desk right now, trying hard to stir my muse back to life. I think it might be working. Maybe it’s been working for a while and I just wasn’t aware.
We’re going out of town later this week, heading for Terre Haute, Indiana, to visit my sister and celebrate my birthday. Ordinarily we’d be looking to make a similar drive the end of October, to Indianapolis, to enjoy Magna cum Murder, a terrific mystery convention. But we’re not going this year. I don’t have a new novel to push, my muse is semi-comatose, and I don’t think I could enjoy the ambience.
But I’ll take the same pleasure in the drive. By the end of October, autumn is well-advanced in Minnesota (there’s been snow twice up near the border already), and as we head south, autumn retreats until by Indianapolis, everything is still pretty green. Then on the drive home, it comes on again. It’s like time travel. Mid-October in Terre Haute, my sister tells me, it’s still summer. So the effect will be nearly the same this year.
There’s a mystery short story in there somewhere. Maybe a kidnap victim can notice her surroundings and it’s a clue.
Somewhere inside me, there’s still a writer. I wish I could coax her out.
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, otherwise known as Michaelmas, came off without a hitch on Saturday. I roasted two geese and Ellen made calico beans and eighteen other guests each brought a dish to share, so there was plenty indeed. We prayed a serious militant prayer to St. Michael and sang a silly parody of Amazing Grace called Amazing Goose (how sweet the flesh . . . I’m saved from penury). Keeping the holiday promised that you will have sufficient funds for the next year, and so far (about thirty-five years!) it has worked for us.
Tomorrow I will spend the afternoon and early evening being instructed in the running of the voting polls in our precinct – I’m an election judge again this year. It’s not a really difficult job, but it’s going to be a very long day in November from six-thirty am to about nine pm, setting up the polls to the final count. This is going to be an important election, please remember to vote.
Work on Tying the Knot continues slowly – but it continues. Hurrah!
And the cat Java continues to teach me tricks. She will get in front of me and fall on her side, stretching herself fore and aft and looking meaningfully up at me. She wants me to tickle her tummy from between her legs forward up her chin and back again, then stroke along her back, neck to tail a couple of times. Amazing how an animal without speaking a word can make her needs so clear.
I will turn seventy-five the middle of this month. I’m not sure how it happened, I’ve always thought of myself somewhere in my late thirties, perhaps early forties. Seventy-five is old!
Well, not so fast. The rhinoceros has gone back to grazing, no longer incensed at my failing literature. Rats. But I’ll push on; this book has got to be written.
During coffee hour in church this past Sunday, an acquaintance gave me a collection of those thin booklets a visitor can buy at castles and cathedrals in England. (She knows I’m an anglophile.) These are old ones printed in the fifties and sixties. With them came a big road map of England, obviously used, probably from the same era. (I really need to have a long talk with her about a long tour she must have taken; I lived in England from 1966 to 1968, and while I did a lot of exploring, she went to places – Knole in Kent, for example – I missed.) I am looking forward to reading these booklets, which are very well written . The texts are so very English, eloquent, understated, educated – unmistakable. I am awash in nostalgia.
The builder of the building we live in made some serious errors and now the siding has got to be pulled off and the insulation replaced. They’ve been working their way around all summer and now are outside our third-floor apartment, playing country music on their radios and doing a lot of extremely noisy pounding and ripping. Today is the second day of work on our place. Our cat is very nervous about it, sneaking knees bent around corners, requiring frequent reassurance, seeking refuge on our laps while she stares, all eyes, at the blinds-drawn windows. She’s lying across my forearms as I type, purring.
That rhinoceros thing works! I haven’t gone back to re-read what I’ve written, but I’m several pages forward and find myself plotting the next scene and ready to write it. I’m going to have to buy a little model of a rhinoceros and keep it on my desk, if I can find room – my desk is a muddled mess.