Ruminating: All the day

I go through seasons of feeling as though nothing I write is showing up much of anyplace at all. They feel like desert patches, the sun bearing down and sand kicking up in my face when the wind blows. I think about the way the heat seems to bend the air, making it heavy and visible, making everything ahead appear farther away, more desolate, no consolation in sight.

It’s a little disconcerting to say the least.

Then there are times when it feels as though I reach an oasis. I have a little thing crop up there in the middle of the big nowhere. It’s a life-giving event, a life-saving event. Here’s the water, at last.

I have a new post up at Ruminate Magazine’s blog this week and I truly hope you have a chance to read it.

Header-Ruminate-Logo

It was a tough one to wring out, to be honest. It was tough because it touches on the grief I encountered recently when a pal of mine died suddenly. Reading it brings up all the sad again, it’s as though it reignites that grief in me even now, a few weeks later.

And I’m glad of it.

I have to be reminded of these things, these feelings, these losses. I want to remember. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my own brand of bullshit and crazy making. It’s easy to turn away from the people and the events that press in on my pain and in fact, it’s preferable in some cases. But I want to remember the people I’ve lost. It’s important to remember how much I loved (and still love) them. It’s how I know my own mortality, how I know my own heart, how I know my own fragile state of being.

So, I hope you read the essay on Ruminate and I hope you will be able to get in touch with your loss and your grief too. Turn away from your own brand of bullshit and crazy making just for a little while. Let’s remember together, how fragile we are.

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Memory eternal…

When we’d visit my Dad’s family in Dayton, Ohio the tiny house where my grandparents lived was always filled with people. My Dad had 12 siblings growing up and by the time we came along they were all married and most had children. I had so many cousins on my Dad’s side that I did not even know all of their names and the ones I did know I usually got wrong. The visits to Dayton were a flurry of activity in that house on Briarcliff lane. My family had lived in the house next door to my grandparents for a number of years before we moved 90 miles south to Cincinnati so it was always a little strange to come and visit and see strangers wandering around “our” yard. Still, we loved to visit, to meet up with cousins we rarely saw, to explore the field behind my grandmother’s house and see where she kept bees or where she grew green beans she’d can and serve to us for dinner that afternoon. If we were brave we’d find a way into the greenhouse just off the patio or sneak into jalopy one of my uncles kept in the garage there.

I would often confuse the names of my Dad’s sisters and brothers, forgetting which were related by marriage and which by blood except for Uncle Kenny. It was easy to see that my Dad and Kenny were brothers. They were close in age and looked alike to me as a kid. Uncle Kenny was famous to my friends because I was able to tell them that I had an uncle named “Ken” and with a last name like “Doll” that’s something. I liked my Uncle Kenny because he was kind. When I think back on those years and those visits this is what strikes me. He was kind. He always seemed to be jovial, happy-go-lucky, easy-going. When I think of him I always remember him smiling.

Lt to Rt -Chuck, Marge, Roger, Gary, Barb, Gene, Don, Sitting Lt to Rt-Jim Kenny, Irene, MaryAnn

Lt to Rt -Chuck, Marge, Roger, Gary, Barb, Gene, Don,
Sitting Lt to Rt-Jim Kenny, Irene, MaryAnn

I wonder if that is why the news of his battle with Alzheimer’s was so hard for me to hear. Having been through that struggle with my husband’s father a few years ago, I remember all too well how it hollows a person out, how it robs them of some essential pieces of their core personality. I remember the physical struggles Dave’s dad encountered but I remember more the emotional roller coaster and so, when I would see updates on Uncle Kenny’s condition it always hit me in a soft spot. My Dad had already lost 2 older siblings when Kenny was diagnosed so my Dad took the news of my uncle’s illness hard.

My Uncle Kenny passed away this week after a short stay in hospice. It felt too fast to me but then, I’m far away. I’m out of touch with the extended family (save for Facebook) being in Chicago with a family of my own. It’s been a long time since I saw my Dad’s family in person, a long time since we ran in the fields behind my grandmother’s house, since we rummaged around in her basement finding treasures, since we sat crammed around that table in their tiny house and listened to the stories Uncle Kenny would tell with that wide smile he wore.

It took a few minutes after I got word that my uncle had died to put things together. In some ways my life won’t change all that much. I won’t feel that loss as closely as my family who still live close to everyone there. Still, I found as I sat at my computer looking at old photos the family had posted that I was in tears, feeling that loss deep in me anyway.

Perhaps grief is the reminder of those past days, those absences we had not noticed before. Perhaps grief is what shakes up old memories so that we can hold them in our hands again, fingers wiping away the dust we’ve allowed to form on the faces in the photos, the moments we’d pushed aside, the kindnesses we’d forgotten.

Memory eternal, Uncle Kenny. You will be missed.

nowhere man…

My Uncle Ed died this week. He was about 75.

It came out of nowhere but not really.  My mom’s older brother was always something of a mystery to me. Growing up he lived with his little family an hour or more from us. He lived on a stretch of farmland that I don’t think he farmed. He lived in a trailer and he had a mynah bird and a layabout dog named Max. It’s strange what I remember from those years. I remember getting carsick on our way there to visit him after his daughter was born. I remember the little store near his place was owned by a man named Ed Morton. He had a lot of beef jerky and soda pop in there. I remember when he and my dad and Mr Morton opened a paint manufacturing business together out there in the middle of nowhere and I remember when they closed it, amid unanswered questions and quirky circumstances.

I remember the day he had packed up everything, following an argument with my grandmother and moved his family away from all of us. We did not know where they’d gone. I never overheard my parents talk about it with our extended family or with each other. I suppose as kids we did ask about him, where he’d gone but I can’t recall asking, I can’t recall hearing an answer.

He was tall and always tanned in my memory of him. He was an imposing figure with a deep, booming voice and loose-fitting clothes. He always seemed to be pondering something heavy, even when he joked he appeared to me to be carrying the weight of the world.  He may have scared me when I was growing up but I liked him a lot. I missed him when he left Cincinnati under that shroud of secrecy.

After a number of years my mom found him and his family. I think she’d been searching a long time for her big brother. I think she missed him more than she let on during those years. She found him because like his father, his namesake, he didn’t have a middle name, just an initial, “B.”  She found him before the internet and without a private investigator. To be honest it’s a mystery to me how she came across his phone number listing in Brandon, Florida but she did and then suddenly he was found.

We visited him in Florida not long after this. They were family but unfamiliar. Uncle Ed had lost something vital, something strong. He seemed broken to me as I saw him through my teenager lens.

I had seen him maybe a handful of times over the last 20 years. The dates and the occasions escape me. My mom kept in touch. She’d visit him, talk with him on the phone. I saw him after his son, my cousin, Scott, died of complications from his congenital heart condition. I remember Uncle Ed had lost a lot of weight. I remember him shuffling around the house, uncertain.  After his wife died suddenly several years later of an aneurysm it was if more of his soul chipped away. He soldiered on though and I lost track of him again. I was steeped in my own life by then, my own family, my own struggles and joys.

I like to remember him best by the stories my mom tells. I like to think most of my mom staying with him while my dad was in Vietnam. My brother was young and my mom was pregnant with me. I like to think of him driving my mom to the hospital at Wright Patt Air Force Base when she went into labor with me. I like to remember that he worked at Wright Patt, that he was a rocket scientist, that he worked on projects for the government and that he quit, for moral reasons, I thought. I don’t know if that’s true but I like to think it’s true.

I like to remember that he started a strange, entertaining tradition of sending the turkey neck from a Thanksgiving previous, to one of his siblings and that the siblings would freeze it and send it back to him some time later. I like to remember that he told great stories, that he smelled like scotch and cigarettes and that as a kid it didn’t occur to me that this combination was unhealthy.

When my mom called me to say he’d died of a massive heart attack, we think (we hope) peacefully,  in his sleep, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel sad or empty or at a loss. Uncle Ed had always been something of a nowhere man, a story we told, a memory we had, a ghost of sorts. In truth, he was lost to me long ago.  Writing this, at this moment, I do have a sense of the grief. Writing this today is a way of filling up that space I’d been holding for him all these years and in so doing I see how important his story has been to mine. In writing this I can see the space between the stories we tell, the pain we hold, the time we wish we had and things we wish we’d said, the people we didn’t know we’d miss.

Goodbye, Uncle Ed. I pray peace and comfort to you after a strange, disquieted life. I pray peace for all of our family in the wake of our loss. We will miss you. We always have missed you.

Edward B. Thompson