Sleep is not evil. Nor is snoring, though you might think someone is evil at 2 am if their snoring is keeping you up.
This is a small watercolor, 9 by 6 inches. Again, no date, but it is a view near my parent’s house in Chimacum. They loved that house and the views. They moved there in 1996 and my mother was diagnosed with cancer a year later. I want to end with this painting because they were so happy there, even with the cancer. They had wanted to move to the northwest for years, but waited until my grandmother died. She was in her 90s and they were afraid to move her. After she died, it took three years to find a place and sort things and move.
So let’s end with them sleeping and waking to morning and the sun coming over the mountains and the farms around them and the views.
F is also for Final. Death is frustratingly final. I can keep talking to the person, but they don’t talk back, except maybe in dreams. Even then, it’s my version of them.
F is also for fine art and father. This is a drawing of my father in college by my mother. My mother did art all the time and carried a sketchbook around nearly all the time. Every so often she mislaid it, searched, and started a new one until the old one surfaced. I was two when she did these drawings. My impression of fine art was that it involved continuous practice. My mother thought about art most of the time, as her diaries confirm. I love the sketch books.
These two drawings are on notebook paper. My mother sent them to her mother with letters when I was two. My grandmother was in Europe.
In college, late 1950s and on, they would have a sing. My father played guitar, they would invite all their friends, and sing folk songs. They used the book in the photograph, Song Fest, edited by Dick and Beth Best. Last published in 1955, I think.
I have no memory of the book itself. However, a friend of my father’s bound his copy in 2003 in leather. When I saw it, I searched on line and bought my own. It has words AND MUSIC and a chord progression. When I opened it, I know a song from about every third or fourth page.
My sister and I memorized the songs. We both had hundreds of songs memorized, many from this book, or from records. We photocopied a Beatles record insert and memorized all the words on a long car trip once.
I don’t know much about the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association, but there are still copies of Song Fest on line. My parents had to edit a number of the songs for two small children, since we were picking them up. They chose silly songs, “Dead Girl Songs” (Banks of the Ohio, Long Black Veil, My Darling Clementine, Cockles and Mussels) and work/protest songs. They rarely sang sentimental songs, except for lullabies. I loved to sing. We used to have reel to reel tape with my little sister singing a fifth off when she was three or four, but it disintegrated.
My father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, was a fabulous musician. He sang in prep school, in college, in choruses on the east coast, in Rainshadow Chorale from 1997 until his death in 2013. He loved Bach and the Band and loved to encourage other people to sing. He was in our Community Chorus for years, to help new singers. People must try out for Rainshadow Chorale, but Community Chorus is for anyone who wants to join and sing. After my father died, men would say, “I would try to stand near your father in Community Chorus, to help learn the part. He was so good.”
Here is one of the lullabies from Song Fest:
At the Sings, my parents would start with a song and then go around the room, asking other people to pick songs. Sometimes people were shy, but my folks were really good at getting people to sing. Sometimes we’d have multiple guitars and other instruments. My sister and I had favorite songs too!
If I have had PANS since birth, who would I be if I had not contracted it?
No one knows. We are still arguing about whether PANDAS and PANS exist. But, my daughter says, we make up all the words. The definitions of illnesses CHANGE over time, and what an illness MEANS. Tuberculosis was an illness of poets and people too noble for this world, until microscopes became advanced enough to see the tiny bacterium, and then it became an illness of the crowded unclean poor. Medicine and science continued to study it. Once we recognized that it is an airborne illness, tuberculosis sanatoriums were set up, to quarantine people. My mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis when she coughed blood 8 months pregnant, so I was born in a sanatorium and avoided contracting tuberculosis as a newborn.
Antibodies cross the placenta, even though the tuberculosis bacterium does not. Usually infants contract tuberculosis and die, at least when I was born. The antibodies can trigger PANS or PANDAS.
The antibodies prime the fetus’s immune system. This makes sense, right? The fetus has a sick mother and best if its’ immune system is ready to fight.
Did my younger sister have it? I do not know. Not as badly, would be my guess. My mother said that as kids, we’d both get sick, but I got sicker. We both had strep A many times. My sister got mumps, off from school for three weeks, and I did not get it. But I got everything else.
Now the estimate for children with PANS or PANDAS is 1 in 200. This is enormous. A high prevalence. Antibodies, that I suspect are adaptive and lie in readiness for a pandemic or a crisis. And now we have had another pandemic, with the last really world wide bad respiratory one 100 years ago. Is the prevalence rising because of the pandemic or are we figuring out some of the cause of behavioral health illness or is the definition of illness changing or all three? I think all of them.
My cousin’s mother had polio either during her pregnancy or very soon after. My anthropologist uncle took his family to Bangladesh, where he was doing linguistics. So does my cousin have PANS or PANDAS? I do not know.
And what of my children? My pregnancy with my older child was fourth year medical school and went well. My pregnancy with my second was very complicated. I was in my first year of work as a rural Family Practice doctor and working too hard. I ended up on bed rest for three months and on a medicine. Is labor at 23 weeks an illness? Does it affect the fetus? I was on medicine from 23 weeks to 37 weeks. What effect does it have?
Medicine is still changing and changing quickly. We don’t know. There is so much we do not know.
Sailing with my father after I’m divorced we take my two children. They and I are small. My father is frail, 55 years of Camel cigarettes in his lungs. “Papa,” I say, “How would we pull you in if you went overboard? We aren’t strong enough.” Nor is he strong enough to pull me in. My father thinks. “You are right,” he says, “We’ll make a Go Bag.” A 3 to 1 pulley, with a clip. We can clip it to the boom and push it out over the water. Attach the pulley to the life jacket and I can winch nearly anyone aboard. Maybe. We have it in a dry bag, with towels and chocolate and a set of sweats, a space blanket because the water is cold here, 45-55. My father knows, I’m sure, that if he falls in, he’d be unlikely to survive even if I did reel him in, an unlikely catch. We wear our life jackets and the kids do too.
One time we hit container ship waves when my son is on the bow. He is thrown up and drops, flat, prone on the bow, holding on. This boat has no railings but my children pay attention.
We never have to use the pulley.
At first my father said that we could unhook the haul down and use the boom, but I said, if it’s me and two little kids and I have to drop sail and get back to someone, that is too hard. How do we make it easier?
The older we get, the more we learn which bridges to cross, which bridges to burn.
What shall I keep?
And shall I burn that bridge before I cross it
I did not know that was a bridge
I would burn
And I grieve as a I learn
But the sledgehammers and bombs
loosed by the family
have left a bridge
that is all but falling
Into an abyss.
It is stone and old.
It won’t burn, but it barely holds together.
One heavy rock, thrown in the middle
and it will fall
down down down.
What shall I keep?
What shall I let go?
I wonder what my parents think
Do they think at all
or do they let go with death
and let joy overcome them
in reunion with the Beloved.
I hope where they are is joy.
It is ok, loves.
It did not turn out well
but people make their choices.
I can’t rebuild the bridge alone
and on the other side they prepare
new IEDs to blow me up
if I attempt to rebuild
I keep my children away
from the web of triangulation
and so they are not attached to the land
nor do they play the family games.
I am so glad.
I am still attached to the land
and my dead.
Not the living but the dead.
My sister, my mother, my father
grandparents, uncles, aunt.
All the dead.
Forgive me, but I can’t keep the bridge
and I will let the land go.
My children and I will be dead
to those living.
We have family and friends
who are loving and not hating
and not cruel.
I still love my dead and even though the place reminds me of them, they are not there. They are in my heart. I keep them safe and let the bridge and the land go.
It’s about shacks on a lake in Ontario. My grandparents and family built the shacks and I’ve been going there since I was under a year old.
However, my sister died of cancer in 2012 and there was a horrific family battle over my niece. My mother had already died. My father died 13 months after my sister and left the same will as my mother. Unfortunately it was written when I was a minor. I cried when I read it because I was the only person named in it who was still alive. I knew what my father wanted, or remembered what he told me. A will is a will though. I took it to an attorney and followed her interpretation.
Then I was sued by family regarding the niece.
I knew what my father wanted but he had not done it. So I decided not to fight it and handed over half the estate. Because even though my father wanted me to watch over his granddaughter, he had not left me the tools. And she did not want me.
So back to the shacks. It’s the side of the family that brought in all the lawsuits. I have not felt welcomed there nor loved since my sister died.
Part of me is furious that I am being hunted out, unwelcomed, wants our grandparents to curse them.
The other part points out that I have already been hunted out, effectively. I stopped trying to take my children there because I couldn’t tell who in the family was “neutral” (basically not talking to me) or “gossiping” — the rumors re me trying to harm my niece were incredibly painful. I had to let her go.
After my father died I dream that I am issued a huge SUV, black. I am to go pick up three children. When I arrive, two are teens: my two. The third is a toddler. My niece is really the same age as my daughter, but not in the dream. In the dream, they tell me, “You can’t take the toddler. You don’t have a car seat.”
I say, “Can I go get one and come back?”
“No.” they say.
I say, “Please, can I borrow one? I didn’t know I needed it! I was issued the SUV!”
“No.” they say. “You can only take the two teens.
So I took the two teens and left, crying.
I woke up and thought: my father’s will is not my fault. I did the best I could. I followed an attorney’s advice and I tried to do what my father wished. I did not have the tools I needed.
Now my children and I may get an offer to buy our share of the land. My children are ready to be bought out.
I do not know if I am. I feel like this is the last connection with that side of my family, not only the living, but the dead. I love the land far more than the silent living and the cruel living. Why are families so cruel and why do they need enemies so badly? Gossip is a sin, truly, and hurts. Selling my share is saying goodbye to my sister, my mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, my two uncles, my aunt. I don’t mind saying goodbye to the cruel living nearly as much as to my dead.
My son was an Extroverted Feeler when he was little. Let’s call him EF.
We move in the middle of his first grade. From Colorado to the Olympic Peninsula, arriving on December 31, 1999. Y2K. The computers do not stop the next day and the world does not implode. My mother has recurrent cancer.
He starts school. He is in a three year class in public school with two teachers. It is a first, second, third grade mixed class. There are fifty kids and he is starting in January.
His mother is bananas because she is trying to learn a whole new set of patients, phone numbers, specialists and local medical slang. His father hates moving and lies on the couch. His grandmother is not doing well. He doesn’t have any friends yet. He misses his Colorado friends and his teacher. He is gloomy.
His father takes him to get his hair cut.
They return and I nearly swallow my tongue. The EF has a triple mohawk. A central spike of hair, shaved on both sides, and then another spike on each side. He and his dad thought it up. I tell myself: it’s just hair, it’s just hair, it will grow back! Horrors.
Two weeks later the EF is cheering up a bit and has a friend. Why? Apparently the haircut garnered attention. Within a week, not only does every kid in his class know his name, but most of the parents do too. “Who is that kid with the triple mohawk?” The EF is very pleased.
He gets a triple mohawk once more. By now I am ok with it.
After that he gets normal haircuts. His grandmother dies, but he has some friends now. His mother is less bananas over time and his father knows the name of every checker at the grocery store and all the coffee shops and the golf pros.
There was a cartoon where a mother is telling her son not to stare at a person with a mohawk. “But mom, don’t they get mohawks so that people will stare?” Uh, good point!
I wrote this in 2009.I don’t know why this gentleman comes to mind today. Partly because I have a friend in the hospital. She is in her 80s. When the doctors ask how she is, she says, “Fine.” I want to yell “Liar! She is NOT fine!” Luckily she has her daughter-in-law and me and her sons saying “She is NOT fine!”Sometimes people are very stoic and will not tell you that they are not fine.
When I was in residency we rotated through the Veterans Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Most of our patients were either very elderly or they were alcoholics or addicts in their 50s, starting to really go downhill medically.
One elderly patient is particular vivid in my memory. He was in his 80s and black. He was weak and had various problems. I was not doing a very good job of sorting him out.
He wouldn’t answer questions. Or rather, he would give a reply, but it was not yes or no and I couldn’t figure out how the answer related to the question.
On the third day he gave a long reply to a question and I recognized it.
“That’s Longfellow,” I said. He nearly smiled. “We did a bike trip around Nova Scotia and read Evangeline aloud in the tents at night. The mosquitos tried to eat us alive. That’s Longfellow, isn’t it?”
He wouldn’t answer but the twinkle in his eye indicated yes.
So our visits were cryptic but fun. I would try to guess the author. He knew acres of poetry, all stored in his brain, no effort. I tried to relate the poems to my questions to see if he was answering indirectly. I wondered if he had schizophrenia and these were answers, but I didn’t think so. I thought he was just stubborn and refusing to answer.
I challenged him. “Ok, you are the right age. Come up with a song with my first name that is from early in the century. My father used to sing it to me when I was little. Can you?”
The next day he sang to me: “K-k-k-katy, beautiful Katy, you’re the only beautiful girl that I adore. When the m-moon shines, over the cow shed, I’ll be waiting by the k-k-k-kitchen door.”
We sat and grinned at each other. Soon afterward I moved on to the next rotation. I don’t remember his medical problems. But I remember him and remember wondering what he had done in his life to have a memory and a store of poetry in his head. A teacher? A professor? A man who loved poetry? I started matching him with my own store of poems, the Walrus and the Carpenter, songs, bits and pieces. I felt blessed and approved of when his eyes twinkled at me, when I recognized an author or even recognized the poem itself. I looked forward to seeing him daily on rounds. And he seemed to look forward to my visits. I was sad when I had to say goodbye and the next rotation was out of town. And since he had never told us his name, no way to stay in touch. Farewell, poetry man, fare thee well.
We were not doing nothing. He would not tell us his name, so we were awaiting an opinion from neurology. Waiting.
The photograph is not as old as the song. The young man holding the ball is my father, in the 1950s. My Aunt and I think this was at Williston in around 1956.
This child is not afraid of the saxophone because she is growing up with it. The saxophone player is her father. She’s ready to help and be up on stage as well! She’ll have a fabulous jazz foundation and her father didn’t miss a note!
Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.
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