Loss

It seems to be one of my irritable days
They come rolling round in the month of May
I don’t feel friendly and don’t want to play
It seems to be one of my irritable days

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
At nothing particular. I feel really bad
I hate those damn tourists who always wear plaid
I really intensely dislike feeling sad

I haven’t felt quite this bad since last year
But I’m not one to cry. I don’t like weak tears
I’m not one to let myself feel any fears
I haven’t felt this bad for almost a year

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
I think I’ll go pick a nice fight with that lad
He looks too damn happy and just too damn glad
When I’m punching his lights out I won’t feel so sad

It seems to be one of my irritable days
Going to work on them just doesn’t pay
My boss’s revenge just goes on for days
Today it’s so bad that I can’t even pray

Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother, died May 15, 2000. I wrote this poem in the early 2000s. Her birthday was May 31, right near Memorial Day. Mother’s Day always falls near her death.

I am putting up a series of poems that I titled Falling angels, after a dream, where all the stars in the sky started falling. I was frightened and then realized that they were all angels. Then I was more frightened.

I think we need poetry and dreams and angels during this difficult time. Even if the angels are all falling.

I took the photograph of my mother. A friend loaned me his 35mm camera and I took one roll of pictures and gave the camera back to him. Almost all of the photographs I took were portraits.

Painting angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
40.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children.
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere


January 19, 2002

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

For the RDP: another day.

Recipe: Corned Beef

My mother gave my sister and I small notebooks decorated with our names when I was starting high school. She said that we were each going to cook once a week. We were to tell her what we wanted to make. She would give us the recipe and we would put it in our notebook. She would buy the ingredients and we would each cook.

It ended up being every other week so that we alternated, but I still have the notebook. My mother died in 2000 of ovarian cancer. I miss her. The first recipe I chose was corned beef and cabbage.

I have seen the frogs

I have seen the frogs
in the northwest

all you have to do is be quiet
near the puddles
or a pond

walk there very very quietly

in the spring they are singing
to each other
calling
a symphony of longing and joy
and they don’t hear me
when I walk very quietly
at the end of the world

as a child my father teaches me
to catch frogs

very quietly
approach the pond
or puddle

if the frog hears you
it will duck under water
you will only see a ripple
spreading out

or it will hop
into the woods
and hide

my father
would occasionally use frogs
as bait
to catch northern pike
a live frog on a hook
frogs scream
when you stick a hook through their back

I hope they go into shock then
and don’t feel much

one we’d seen this
my cousins and my sister and I
when my father got his fishing rod
we’d run through the woods
yelling “Hide the frogs, hide the frogs!”
and we would catch any frog
that was dumb enough not to hide
and quickly set it in the woods
to hide it from my father

we would check the puddles, too
feeling in the brownish muck
to make sure no frog was hidden
in the shallow puddle
come out, you must go in the woods
to survive

to catch the smart ones
normally
we would tiptoe to the puddle
hoping a frog was facing the other way
if they saw us, they were gone

slowly bend down, hand out
behind the frog
reach gently
grab just above the back legs
not too hard, don’t squish it

I was under ten
on a canoe trip
when I run to my father
“A frog! A frog! The biggest frog I’ve seen!
Papa, come help!”
My father comes.
An enormous frog is beside the canoe.
“Catch it.” says my father.
“Please! You catch it!” I beg.
My father creeps up on the frog.
His hand moves out slowly.
He grabs the frog, who tries to jump
and croaks, a bass, huge mouth.
“It’s a young bullfrog,” says my father.
“It will get even bigger.”
He hands it to me.
I take it carefully, shaking a little.
“We could eat it’s legs.”
“NO!” I say. I just want to hold it for a minute.
I turn it over and gently stroke it’s throat.
The frog goes limp, mesmerized.
I set it down gently, right side up,
near the water.
I squat by the frog and wait.
I am waiting for it to wake up.
The frog is so beautiful.
I wait until it wakes up
and returns home.

The Introverted Thinker deals with death

When my introverted thinker daughter was two and a half, we took care of her maternal grandmother at home in hospice for nearly six weeks. Her maternal grandmother died at home.

Two and a half year olds can’t process death, right?

When she was four she came to me.
“How old was grandmother when she died?”
“She was sixty-one years old.” I could anticipate the next question.
“How old are you?”
“I am forty-one.”
“When will you die?”
“I don’t know. No one knows. But, great grandmother K lived until she was 93 so I am hoping to be more like her than like grandmother H, but I don’t know. I don’t think I am going to die any time soon.”
She studied me very carefully. It felt like she was checking to be sure that I was telling her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Apparently she was satisfied, because she toddled off to do something else.

And that is how the introverted thinker processed death.

Fierce woman

Ok, who is this fierce woman?

It is not me.

It is not my daughter.

It is a relative.

It is not my mother.

It is not my grandmother.

I have pictures of all of these women with that expression.

This is Mary Robbins White, my grandmother’s mother.

This is the line of women: mother to daughter all the way down.

What is passed from mother to daughter and mother to son? Besides the fierce expression?

Mitochondria. The mitochondria are only in the egg, not in the sperm. My grandparents, had three children, two boys and my mother. My mother passed the mitochondria to me and my sister, but the men would not contribute mitochondria to their sons or daughters. It is amazing to look at that serious face with intensity and concentration and see that passed down to my daughter, my son and my niece….

Guess who is who in the following photographs. I took two of them.

beach walk

My daughter is home and we went on a beach walk yesterday! The stupid oxygen keeps me from going fast. She went for a bike ride afterwards. Hooray!

Yesterday evening she brought up social distancing and how careful she should be. She has about 5 friends who are home that she is going to walk with. I am still wearing a mask over my oxygen tubing most places. She will unmask if they are vaccinated and they don’t have a cold or anything else. Even a cold would make me worse at this point. It makes me grumpy to be vulnerable, but I appreciate the discussion.

The Introverted Thinker and the Extroverted Feeler Deal with Divorce

When my children were eight and thirteen, their parents were getting divorced. It had been a very long process involving hours of counseling and had officially started when they were five and ten. We paid counselors more than lawyers, which is a good thing. My Ex had pushed me to fire my first lawyer and to switch solo counselors. The final straw was when he decided that we needed to switch couples counselors.

“I don’t agree with anything he’s said.” said my future Ex.

I was flabbergasted but really it had been obvious. “We’ve been going to him for OVER A YEAR.”

“Yeah, but he’s on your side. I don’t agree with anything he says. I don’t want to go back to him.”

I found a new counselor and found that I had a new goal while filling out the paperwork: amicable divorce. We did one session with the children. The counselor introduced herself and talked about divorce and said that children often had questions. My extroverted feeler son went first.

“Why are you going to Grandma’s for Christmas, dad?”

Dad began to say that I was being mean to him, but the counselor intervened. “It’s not appropriate for you to tell your son about your disagreements with your spouse.” Dad argued, but the counselor stood firm.

Dad said, “I want to have Christmas with people who love me.”

The extroverted feeler just looked at him. “But we love you, dad.”

Dad stared back at his children. “Yes, you do. I am sorry. Next time I will talk to you before I decide what to do.”

My introverted thinker daughter went second.

“Mom, if you get divorced and daddy moves away, and if Auntie’s cancer comes back and you go to take care of her, who will take care of us?”

I think all the adults were stunned by the complexity of that question from an eight year old. I had left the children with their dad to go to take care of my sister for the week before her mastectomy over a year before. It was the longest I had ever been away from my children.

I replied. “If Auntie’s cancer comes back then I will not leave you to take care of her. Either she will have to come here to be taken care of or I will take you with me.”

That was it. She had only one question. She was quite clearly satisfied with the answer. I thought the counselor was amazing to make them feel safe enough to ask a big question.

Previously published on some obscure place on the internet 11/2/09.

Mother’s Day Songs: motherless children

A friend and I are talking about Mother’s Day yesterday.

Somehow having a song about Mother’s Day came up. “Bet I can think of one.” I say.

“Humph.” says the friend. Or some skeptical comment.

I start singing.

“That’s NOT a mother’s day song.” says my friend.

“Well, it is if your mother is dead.”

“It’s not cheerful.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

So here is a recording. I haven’t learned the guitar part yet so I thought… well heck, why not sing along with Dave Van Ronk?* This is the third take. Might replace it with a later take later today.

Trigger warning: I miss my mom. This is about missing our moms. Hugs, all.

sing along with Dave Van Ronk

Happy Mother’s Day and hugs if you miss your mother.

*Is this a copyright violation? It probably is. Someone yell at me if it is. My brain is muttering something about sampling. Let’s see, from circa 1959 to 1961… does that make a difference?

found

Going through boxes, I found this photograph of my father, Malcolm Ottaway, working on the Cornell cycloton. He engineered and built the stand, which had to be mobile but very very stable. I suppose it is called something other than a stand, but he died in 2013 so I can’t ask him. The photo would be from 1964 or 1965.

I framed it. What was the excuse for not framing it before?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: excuse.