A GREAT READ!

I just finished reading “Turn of Mind” by Alice LaPlante! The voice in the story comes from an accomplished surgeon, diminishing in mind from Alzheimers. The “inside” information she brings forth is amazing. The way the story is told is so true to life; if you’ve ever cared for a person with Alzheimers, you’ll recognize her experiences.

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Hands of Time

Anna had piano playing fingers, soft and dappled with freckles, smooth and very slow.  The kind of hand that would caress my cheek, pat my hand, or drop upon my shoulder and rest there.

Hundreds gathered for Anna’s memorial in the largest Protestant church in the area.  The building looked like a Roman Catholic Church with marble floors, statues, and stained glass windows two stories high.

“Deb,” Suzanne said rushing in, “Will you please wrap this?”  She handed me a plain cardboard box and a roll of gift wrap along with ribbon.

I had already been downstairs with the family creating picture boards of Anna. I was glad to have something to do beside fight the grief trying to explode from my throat. “Sure,” I agreed as she transferred the box and paper to me, “but I think the service is about to begin.”

The box was quite light for the ten inch cube.   The paper Suzanne brought was birthday paper, a royal blue background covered with balloons in red, baby blue, yellow, green.  I finished the last curl of yellow ribbon and handed it back to Suzanne.  “Who is this for?”

“Oh, it’s Anna’s ashes!” she said triumphantly as she ran out of the room with the package.

I was tired. I pushed forward my palm and grimaced.  “Oh, God. Are you kiddin’ me?  That’s awful.  You should have told me. Birthday wrapping paper. Really?”

“Well her birthday would have been in three weeks.” Suzanne murmured.

“Oh, I get it. Anna lived a good life and is now in the arms of Jesus, and I’m supposed to be okay with that?  Well, I’m not!  I’m not ready for Anna to be dead.” I was screaming at no one in particular.

A college graduation party—now that was a celebration more suitable for balloons.   While the kids played bags in the yard, the mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles chatted quietly in the garage where we attended the food tables. Out in the yard the college grads laughed, jeered and rewarded each other in their drunken attempts to land a ping-pong ball into a cup, the 21st century version of Bozo’s Buckets.  They all had to tie up some loose ends to move into the workforce, hopefully in their area of study, but for tonight they were just having fun.

“Remember that football game against, who was it? Nebraska?—“I started as we watched the kids.

“Yea, and we froze our asses off!” interjected Kyle’s mom.

“What about all the band concerts and theatrical productions?” asked Wendy.

Phil chimed in, “Well the best one was when the kids were still in high school.  You know, the night the cops called us to come get our kids ‘cause they were caught watchin’ stars on the roof of the funeral home?” Everyone laughed.

“And now, they’re all graduating; where did the time go?” I finished.

“Remember when we used to come up with the games for their parties?”  Jenny said melancholic.   So we just watched. On a college campus, somewhere, our children had become adults. We were just beginning to realize we were only visitors to this land of young adults—it isn’t our party anymore.  Right now, our only function was to make sure the food tables were full of chips, sub sandwiches and hot dogs.

Hey mom!” John called out as he grabbed a plate and headed for the hot dogs.  Tall and straight, John walked without hurry, the limp from his spinal surgery barely perceptible now. An exercise in Basic Training required him to jump out of a moving truck.  He had slipped a disk and impinged a nerve—plenty of reason for discharge.  But his commitment to the Army National Guard was another sign of his new maturity and he refused to quit.

Anna had been John’s piano teacher when he was nine.  He played by ear and Anna’s blue eyes danced as she watched John discover new melodies. She would often place her hands on the keyboard next to John and play with him.  But John’s interests moved on, as children are apt to do, and he quit piano.  Anna struggled with the dichotomy of John the soldier and John the tender-hearted pianist.  It was hard for me to accept, too.

A fist and wings on a large tattoo were teasingly visible beneath John’s army camouflage shirt, and over that he wore a very white t-shirt that read “Change Sucks” in red and blue.  It was a juxtaposition of the Obama campaign logo.  This was probably the last time for a long time he would be able to assert his political opinion—he was leaving in four days for Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, a heat-saturated, hell hole of an Army base.

The memorial service had begun and Anna’s daughter Michelle was speaking from the pulpit. Behind her, an ornate marble altar held nothing but the brightly wrapped box with yellow ribbon.  Her hands rested gently on the edges of the cherry podium.  She spoke of her mother and my heart broke again—but it was Michelle’s hands, so much like Anna’s, that captured my attention.  Michelle was a teacher, and I’d seen her hands gently adjust the pencil in a student’s clumsy grasp, her hands skimming over her children like water.  And now her hands were peaceful as Michelle told us Anna-stories.

I clenched and unclenched my hands trying to release the storm of emotions pushing their way out of my body.  How could they put Anna in that box?  She was always a think-outside-the-box kind of person.  Putting festive paper on this cardboard box full of dust and bone and tying it up with a curly yellow ribbon didn’t make Anna’s death pretty.  Change sucks.

At the end of the Service we hold hands in prayer, petitioning that Anna have a safe journey to the other side.  One of my sweaty hands entwines with John‘s, and I hold on tightly praying my son doesn’t come home from his deployment in a box.

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The Mug Shot

I went to visit Steven last Saturday at the Correctional Center.  After proving to the clerk across a counter that I was, indeed, the person listed as “mother” on Steven’s file, I was sent to the next desk.

“Take everything out of your pockets.” This female correctional officer looked sweet and vicious at the same time. “No phones, money, paper, pens; put your stuff in this basket,” She shoved a plastic bowl at me. “I’m going to search you while this officer,” pointing to a very tall, large man in uniform, “searches your purse.  Do you agree to this search?” in rote she asked.  “Yes.” I mumbled.  Did I have a choice?

I walked through the metal detector, and then the fem ale officer took me behind a screen and did a physical search—at least I was spared a cavity search.  And lest I forget I’m a visitor and not an inmate, she says “Thank you.  You can put your belongings in a locker over there,” gesturing toward the far end of the room.   I walked over to the lockers; they required a quarter deposit.  Good thing I hadn’t left my wallet in the car, I would have had to go through the whole ordeal again.

When I was finished with processing, one officer led me along yellowish-white cinderblock walls, through a locked door, slammed locked behind us.  Another officer opened the next door from the inside, let me through and relocked the door. It was a large gymnasium that smelled of sweaty boys. Did I mention Steven was an awesome wrestler?  We spent a lot of time at smelly Wrestling Meets.  For a child who had been developmentally delayed and physically damaged, it was a remarkable feeling to see him run at the State Track Conference two years in a row and perform as a dynamite running back as well.

“Who are you here to see?” not even looking at me.

“Steven Weaver.”

“Alright. You’re at table 16.  Take a seat and we’ll bring him to you.”

Steven’s father is not my husband.  In fact I’ve never met him.  No, he was not a sperm donor; unless you count sex with his prostitute while he was pimping.  My son is adopted.  I know where to find his birth parents.  There is a hyperlink on the Department of Corrections website for “Inmate Search.”  Most of the time that’s where his parents can be found.

The State tried to create opportunities for Steven to bond with his birth father.  When he was six months old two caseworkers, whom we had never met before, took my baby on a plane to the southern part of the state for a visit with his birth father—in jail.  They put oatmeal in his formula bottle and he refused to eat it.  He’d never been fed that way.  When they returned him to me late that night his diaper was full and he was screaming hungry.

After Steven Sr.’s release from jail, the judge told him to get a job and a place to live so that he could bring his son home.  When Steven Sr. didn’t come to the follow-up court date, the judge revoked his parental rights.  Mom had given up rights at Steven’s birth, just like she did with all her other unnumbered, unnamed children.  I often wonder what kind of father Steven Sr. would have been.  Could he have saved Steven from the irretrievable chain of poor choices and inevitable police involvement?

Steven was born exposed to cocaine, heroin and alcohol in utero.  After he had gotten through withdrawal, he was sent to a shelter.   We walked into the nursery at the shelter, a room with rows and rows of cribs.  The lights were dim to keep the environment soft for all the over-stimulated crack babies.  The caseworker stopped at one of the cribs, double checked the patient ID number and the name on the crib with her paperwork.  Satisfied, she reached into the crib and pulled out little baby Steven and lay him in my arms.  His life force blew through my soul like a hot wind in the desert.  Surely such powerful warmth would overcome his difficult beginnings.

We’re in Chicago at the Daley Center standing on the outside of the bureaucratic countertop in some nameless department.  We find it only because of the room number.  Steven is three.  He had been our foster child since infancy.  After presenting our documents from the courts and signing a dozen others, the woman behind the counter says, “I have to ask Steven these questions. Why don’t you have him sit up here on the counter?”  I’m thinking, he just turned three what is he possibly going to be able to answer.

“Steven,” she says, “Do you know who these people are?” motioned toward my husband Al and I.  Steven looks on blankly—not unusual.  She tries again, “Steven, what is her name?” and she points to me.  Steven’s face brightens and he says, “Mama.”  When the clerk is satisfied, she asked Steven to raise his hand and take an oath that he wanted to live with us and would now and forever more be our child.  Steven didn’t have a clue.  Or so I thought.  The next day at preschool he told his teacher “Now I have a forever home.”

“Mom,” Steven says after a tough football practice, “Am I gonna get any taller?”

“I don’t know honey.  Your dad was only 5’ 6”, but your mom was 5’ 10!” I add as a consolation.  “But your dad was a good looking man; you look just like him.  Here, look at the picture.” It happens to be the mug shot from his most recent incarceration.

Steven Sr. has a shaved head and a peppered beard sparse along his cheeks and chin.  But it’s the shape of his head that stops my breath.  It is the same head as my son.  My son, whose beautiful eyes could melt any girl’s heart, whose life-spirit comes bounding from the deep, deep brown-ness of them.

When Steven reached puberty, he decided that he wasn’t black enough: didn’t talk black enough, didn’t walk black enough, and didn’t dress black enough.  When he said he would never be like my “lily-white family.” I remember looking at him quizzically.  “My” family?  It was his family too, or so I thought.  He stole a gun and took it to school to appease a bigoted bully.

67!  Sixty-seven police involvements in two months in our town.  Sixty-seven.  I’ve lost count of how many arrests that really made.  Of course, there were the surrounding towns.  Like the town in which he attended high school.  I loved him.  I thought love and family would be enough.  I think I was wrong.  At least I’m wrong right now.  Right now, Steven is in a Juvenile Correctional Center.

Is he already lost?  My tears tell me that Steven will never be lost to my heart, or to our family.  My head reminds me Steven may never care that he is loved.  Perhaps inside, he has always been Steven, Sr.’s son, not just by the way he looks, but in some genetically pre-determined way my mother’s heart will never understand.

Finally, my smiling boy comes into the gym.  I’m not sure if I can hug him, but he initiates so I hug him big—enough for the five months he’s been gone.  He is thinner, but in good spirits.

“I don’t really didn’t mind it here,“ he said.  “I just wish I could get more to eat.”  Truthful or not, he played the mother-feed-your-children card.

“I put money on account for you; can’t you buy chips and stuff with that?

“Yea . . well . . I haven’t been on level, so I can’t go to the commissary.”   He was alluding to his constant fighting.  About a month ago he accepted five snacks in exchange for beating up some kid he didn’t even know.  He’d figured out a way to get extra food.

Steven, with his flawed adolescent choices has been turned into an inmate who learns to work the system to get what he wants.  I fret that this new behavior won’t translate to life in a family.   But, then again, he can’t come home to his family because he is violent, and there are domestic battery charges against him from attacking me.

So what is home to a child without a home?  Prison.  It becomes the home.  He continues to fight and break the rules and receives an additional 30 days in prison for each one.  It seems as if he has chosen this “family” at the prison over our family.   Maybe even over his biological family.  I don’t know.

His mug shot looks just like his dad might have looked thirty-five years ago.  It’s the head.  The slight tip of the crown toward the back, the gorgeous eyes half closed.

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Included in the 2009 University of Iowa Summer Writers Festival Anthology

NO ONE TOLD ME

We left him in Montana, far away.  My two older brothers stayed with him.  Mother packed up our clothes, a few toys and drove Michael and me toIllinoisleaving father. We lived with Nana Susie, and ate grapefruit and soft boiled eggs and oatmeal in the mornings.  Michael and I walked home from school next door for lunch.  Nana put pretty plates on TV trays so we could watch Bozo’s Circus while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The jelly was always gritty, just like the egg salad always had shells, but it was good to have enough food and only my brother complained.  Nana crocheted a hat for me, a red one, so she could pick me out of the crowd on the skating rink.

And then Mom got us our own house with a big yard and a built-in friend two houses away.  It was quiet, I was alone a lot, but I was safe.  I began to have fun and to sleep at night.

No one told me he was coming back.  In fact, no one told me much of anything.  All I knew was that my brother Rick had been killed in a car accident, my family went to a funeral—whatever that was, and I didn’t get to go.  My little brother got to take an airplane ride to Montana, but I had to stay with my cousins.

I was left with cousins in my grandfather’s converted garage that stunk of cat litter, half empty cans of cat food, dirty dishes, filthy clothes and cigarettes.  I slept in a bed piled with crumpled clothes, no sheets or blankets.  And there was nothing to eat. 

I wondered if I’d ever get to go home, school.  I wondered if I would have to live there forever.  No one answered my questions.  And then, after an endless ten days, my cousin says, “Your mother’s coming today!”  I whoop with joy, so ready to sleep in my own bed and be in my own house. 

I wait and wait in the late summer sun.  Finally, I hear gravel crunching and a noisy car driving up the long driveway.  I hop off the metal glider with its peeling yellow paint and run to the driveway.  I see my father’s van!

What?  How?  Who?  I’m confused and terrified and want to run and hide.  The van stops and my brothers Michael and Fred wearily crawl out.  My mother steps out and walks past me into my grandmother’s house.  My father gets out of the van, walks around the front grinning. 

“Hello, Emera.  It sure is good to see my little weem girl.  Look what I brought for you.”  He hands me a small, white kitten.  I take the passive kitten in my arms without looking at it.  In fact, I’m not looking at anything because I’ve gone far, far inside myself where the terror rising in my gut cannot kill me.

And now here he stands waiting for a hug, or something.  “Thank you for the kitty.” I mumble trying to say the “right thing.”  “Are you gonna live with us?” I whisper, half hoping he won’t hear me and it won’t be true.  My brother Michael rolls his eyes in annoyance with me as if to say, “Did you have to start something now?”

“Your father’s back, little girl!  And things are going to be different around here now.  Alright boys, let’s get moving.  Get your mother; it’s time to go home.” 

Fred jumps to attention and bolts into the house.  Michael just climbs back into the van.  There is nothing I want from the smelly house, so, still holding the seemingly lifeless kitten, I get into the back of the van and sit on the metal floor.

No one talked about my dead brother or our life in Montana.  No one talked about my father returning to live with us.  Except for my father, we were all walking dead—even the cat.  And I thought how lucky Rick was to be gone.

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Included in 2009 Iowa Summer Writing Festival Anthology

A scene from my yet-to-be-released book, Stained Glass; a creative fiction account of my grandfather’s Stained Glass Lamp company, a Tiffany competitor, at the turn of the 20th century:

 

 Lu pours Fels Naptha into the steaming water and stirs with the broom handle.  Tonight she will wash Little Max’s trousers and her walking skirt.  All the while she’s beating the fabric back and forth in the wash tub, Lu anxiously listens for Maximillian’s steps on the stairs.  She dreads telling Maximillian about their tenant’s complaint, but sooner done is sooner over, as her mother used to say. 

Maximillian forbids her to hang laundry outdoors to dry.  He believes hanging one’s personal clothing in public is poor taste, and not fitting a family of social means.  Instead of one wash day a week, as most of her neighbors, usually on Monday, Lu is forced to wash every night.  Not only does Maximillian object to laundry hanging outside, he does not want to see it hanging in their home. 

She dredges clothes from the soapy water and plunges them into another tub of hot water, her hands red and steaming.  The neural pathways from her hands to her brain no longer registered pain.

Lu is pulling out Little Max’s trousers when she hears her husband’s voice on the street.  She drops the pants back into the rinse.  Moving toward the door, she wipes her hands and opens the door to the hallway to greet him.  Maximillian is engaged with two men, business associates she assumes.  The first towers over Maximillian; he must measure six and half feet.  His suit fit him perfectly, no pulling or bunching around his huge barreled chest.  And he wears new cuffed trousers, perfectly creased, at his ankle.  Lu makes a mental to note to begin searching for this style for her husband.  The other man, the same height as her husband, wears a fine suit as well, but it is his gray Homburg hat that strikes Lu as she backs away from the door. 

“No, wait!” the tall man beckons.

“That’s just my wife.  Lu, close the door!”  Scowling and annoyed, he sweeps his hand as if to ward off a fly.

Obediently, she continues closing the door, when the man booms, “I’d like to meet your wife, Maximillian.  What kind of woman would put up with you and your tomfoolery?”  He laughs deeply, easily from his belly; the other man is timid and serious.

“Lu, come here.” Maximilian orders.  Smoothing her apron and pulling back the hair hanging loose from its pins, Lu steps across the threshold and into the hallway.  As insecurities force old habits, she remains looking at the floor as she had as a servant in the Johnson home.

“I’m George Peterson.” His full, gregarious voice projects his arm and he scoops up Lu’s hand from behind the folds of her skirt.  “Good to meet you, Mrs. Suess.”  With a grand, warm smile, he bends down to meet her face with his.  Without raising her eyes, she curtsies.

“My God!  You’ve got a good, old-fashioned woman there, Maximillian!” he chuckles loudly!  “Yep, a good woman!”

“Lu, go back inside now.  We’ll be upstairs for a time. I’ve brought these gentlemen to meet the girls.  I’ve already had my dinner.” Maximillian grunts.

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Harsh Words and Dry Bones

In a war where millions died
Not just for acquisition
But a war of elimination

Bureaucratic rooms filled
With uniforms tightly pressed, medals
Speak of strategies and missions

Storms prevent civil rescue
No provision or water for soldiers
What fuels a human’s survival?

Storing the dead and not-quite dead in pits
Carving pieces off the thighs and calves
When the kill is fresh, bones are soft

Sell our souls for our flag
Offer our bodies to save our children
Negate our hearts for those we love

Harsh words order death
Stubborn and irretractable
Dry bones become weapons.

Deborah L. Weaver
June 15, 2011

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Rainbow Trout

RAINBOW TROUT

So, let the river take me

I’m tired of holding on

My hips and ribs battered by the boulders

Rooted deeper than history knows these waters

Knees, ankles shredded by shrapnel

Of shattered granite who dreamed

of a resting place

Let the river take me

My blood racing downstream

As if it actually had some place to be

My lifeless body caught

In a deep, dark hole dug by the eddy

Tucked up tight against the shore

Where the rainbow trout

Spend hot summer days.

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