Chicken Soup for my Psyche

People – ordinary people – can be kind and cooperative. Someone in the upper levels at a Houston Astros game dropped her hat and it was caught several levels down. And very determinedly, with overwhelming cooperation, the hat was returned:

Yesterday we broke a high-temperature record for December 4, at fifty-seven degrees. This morning there is snow on the ground and we hope to have a high of twenty-four. Out in northwest Minnesota there’s a huge blizzard. Amazing weather.

I’ve been going out a lot, physical therapy, doctor’s appointments, setting up the Bethlehem display at my church, Christmas shopping, etc., etc.  I am going to declare today a Sunday and stay in, writing, stitching, exploring a research subject on the Internet, cooking a special dinner.  Restoring my soul.

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We had a terrific Thanksgiving. The “spatchcocked” turkey was really good – Google “spatchcocked turkey” to see how it’s done. Roast at 450 degrees for eighty minutes, which sounds insane, but it works. Ate the last of the leftovers yesterday.

Decorated the balcony with faux evergreens and lights and it looks pretty good. The weather has been very mild which was helpful in getting it done.

I’m trying hard to work on Tying the Knot, without much success. Weird how the impulse to write is there, the plot is strengthening, but the simple ability to put one sentence after another is missing.  Maybe my author lift is running on empty.

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Okay, it’s officially the Christmas Season. I just heard that tv commercial in which Hershey kisses are being rung like handbells playing, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

My surgeon told me a few days ago that I am his “star patient” because I am healing so swiftly. My knee goes almost straight out front and I can bend it about 117 degrees.   But I still can’t kneel in church. I’ve been treated by a “Healer,” a woman in my building who lays her hands on me.  I think it’s helping.

I hope all of you have a very pleasant Thanksgiving and, if you take a minute or two to name the things you’re grateful for, I hope that’s not enough time to list them all.

Meanwhile, this: It was about this time of year in 1962. I had survived boot camp and a few months of “General Duty” (cleaning the barracks) every new WAVE was assigned to, and was just settling in to work in the Public Affairs office, striking for the job of journalist at Naval Air Station Alameda, California, when the phone rang. The chief grabbed it and he listened so intently a silence fell as we waited to hear what news he was getting. He threw the receiver into its cradle and announced, “They just shot the president!”

Another silence fell, this one shocked and alarmed. The president, we knew, was in Texas. Out in the open, not safe in the White House. There was tension between the US and Russia over Cuba. Were we at war? Suddenly the fact that I was in the military became exceedingly relevant to me.

The president was alive, he was in a hospital, he was seriously wounded, there were others also shot, Mrs. Kennedy was not injured, it happened during a parade – we turned on the radio to listen as meager facts came dribbling in. I was sent to lunch. The talk there was excited, sad, frightened, full of rumors. He was dead, he was only wounded, it was the Russians, it was the Cubans, we were going to bomb them back to the stone age, they were going to bomb us. I don’t remember what I ate.  I was walking back when a loudspeaker blew the trumpet call for Attention. It was a pretty day, cool and sunny. I and the other sailors out of doors halted where we were and faced the Admin Building, where the flag was. Taps began to blow, we saluted, and one solid fact was known: the president was dead.  A young sailor near me began speaking softly, obscenities, over and over.  I was nineteen years old and too scared to cry.

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Barefoot Hero

The kind of hero fiction writers invent (love the bare feet!) – turns up in real life:

Our cat Java has settled deeper and deeper into the routine of the household. She manifests her deep trust of us by sleeping on our legs when we sleep or watch tv. And curiously, she lays her head down heavily on a leg or, preferably, on a hand or wrist. I’ve never had a cat lay down her head so weightily. When we’re not paying attention to her, she complains to us in her raspy voice and if that fails, she gets up on a shelf or table and begins pushing things off.   Shout at her, and she looks at you with those copper eyes and says, as if to explain patiently, “Raaaaaaaaaah.”

Tomorrow I can go to the therapy pool at Courage Kenny! Another choice regained.

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Remember, Remember

This past Sunday was November 5, which is celebrated in England as Guy Fawkes Day – it’s their fireworks day. When I lived in London from July to July 1966 to 1968, children still kept the custom of constructing a rough figure of “The Guy” which they would drag around in a wagon, begging “a penny for the Guy” of passers by. They didn’t want a penny, they wanted at least a sixpence, of course, which they would spend on fireworks set off in the street around bonfires in which they’d burn the figure on the night of November 5.

The fifth of November 1605 was the day a search of the undercroft of the House of Lords in London revealed a cache of 36 barrels of gunpowder guarded by a man later identified as Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was tortured and revealed to be a member of a plot by thirteen Catholics to kill King James I and members of the nobility. (James was a Protestant and his government was determined to keep any Catholic far from a position of authority.) They were all arrested and executed in the hideous manner of the time – Fawkes escaped the worst of it by falling or jumping off the scaffold and breaking his neck.

English children recite a rhyme to keep the memory fresh:

“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason,
Ever should be forgot.”

There is a book called 1066 and All That (an amusing history of England) which says that ever since the discovery of the plot, England burns effigies of Guy Fawkes while setting off fireworks on November 5 to “remind their rulers of what can happen.”

On the other hand, it was while living in London that I read an article in a Sunday newspaper that made a very curious point: Gunpowder was a controlled substance back in the seventeenth century, and the government owned most of it, kept it carefully stowed in the Tower of London. So how did the conspirators get hold of 36 barrels of it? Also, a check of the records of the Tower show no increase in the amount of gunpowder stored there after November 5. So where did it go? Or was the whole thing an anti-Catholic plot, Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and the others innocent men, and the 36 barrels a myth?

I have been promoted – demoted? – from oxycodone to hydrocodone, and am taking it sparingly. The healing of the replaced knee continues. There are actually hours here and there when I am in no pain at all.

And I am at work on a short story. I am giving no details, lest I spoil the fragile progress I’m making on it.

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Today is Halloween, the Eve of All Hallows, the evening before the Christian Feast of All Saints. It has become a mish-mash of many contrasting and competing ceremonies dating all the way back to the pre-Christian eras, but all surrounding beliefs in life after death. In some, the souls come back asking for prayers and, often, food. In others, evil spirits descend to the earth seeking to harm the living. In others dead relatives come back to offer advice or warnings. In yet others the living dress in costumes to a) fool the dead spirits into leaving them alone or b) fool other living people into giving them food or money. And there are lots of curious customs, such as telling scary stories by candle light, and doing divination (for example, peeling an apple in one long spiral then dropping it over a shoulder where it will form itself into the initial of a future true love), or visiting cemeteries to leave food for deceased ancestors, or going trick or treating. And that’s just skimming the surface of a thousand examples. It’s a brief time when a great many people believe this world and the next come so close there is a chance for one to get a glimpse of the other. Do you believe in ghosts? I’ve had a couple of ghostly experiences, so yes, I do. But I don’t think ghosts can harm me. I will drink a glass of cider, light the jack-o-lantern, have a pleasant shiver or two, and be glad to wake tomorrow safe in my own bed.

And wouldn’t it be interesting to write a story about what Halloween might look like to the denizens of the other world?  All those warm, fleshy, ignorant, pushy people poking and prying . . .

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Here, Kitty, Kitty

I am starting to feel the pressure of Not Being Able To Drive, which is, I suppose, another sign of healing. I recommend to any supporter of Americans Should Drive Less: just turn in your driver’s license for ten days. Anyone can do it for a week, but by day eleven, the pressure grows. Even having a compliant friend or spouse to take you places isn’t good enough. I go to church on Sundays and stay half an hour after for coffee and chat or even a session of Bible Based Discipleship. Worse, I like the early service, which begins at eight. My husband treasures any opportunity to sleep in, and on Sundays isn’t getting one. Worse, not being a believer, there is this inconvenient ninety-minute gap between dropping me off and picking me up. And also right now there are doctor’s appointments and grocery expeditions and the occasional shopping excursion. I am doing what I can to limit these outings, but oh, for the days when I’d need a skein of DMC 883 and just grab my keys and purse and head out! Public transportation, taxi cabs, even Uber are not satisfactory substitutions. Thank goodness my physical therapy takes place at a clinic just across the parking lot from our building, so I can walk there.

I should be fully mobile in a couple of weeks, which is a good thing, because it’s coming on time to start planning the layout of the model of Bethlehem at my church. I’ve already bought a couple of new pieces – a boy driving a pig and a little girl holding a kitten. Our church administrator is retiring the end of this year, which is sad both because she is a very admirable administrator and because she has a tall, strong son who can manhandle the two big crates of figures from the basement to the narthex (lobby – we Episcopalians are noted for esoteric terminology) where I set the display up. And he is willing to stand on a chair on a table to reach the hook on which we hang the rack of a “multitude of the heavenly host” singing over the shepherds. I used to do it, but have lost my nerve.  Here’s the little girl:


I have succumbed to temptation (mea maxima culpa) and put in a bid for a George II shilling. Davissons, Ltd., is holding another Internet auction of a selection of gold and silver coins dating from ancient Rome to modern England. The coin is a beauty and the current bid is just approaching my price limit. I need to do some research on George II. Actually, I don’t know much about any of the four Georges, except they seemed fertile in any direction not including their wives, with whom they had difficulty producing a legitimate heir.

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