11.30.2013

Talking to Myself

Soliloquy: The act or custom of talking to oneself or talking when alone.

When I was growing up, I would often overhear my grandmother and mother talking out loud to themselves. They'd count up something, make an oral mental note, mutter an exclamation or make a declaration, shoo away a pet, scold a child - and at other times, deal with a frustration by 'talking it out', out loud.  That doesn't even count all the singing, humming, Irish 'diddly-dee'ing', or whistling.  Some of it I suspect was just to deal with the continual work that never seemed to end, or the solitary nature of the majority of their long days. Whatever the reason, I grew up around hearing them vocalizing their thoughts, and felt it the most normal thing in the world to do.

Thus, I also talk to myself. I have done so all of my life, on an almost daily basis, about this and that.  It is like a method to clarify my thoughts, lay out problems, work through frustrations, or express deeply felt emotions.  I don't really think about it, and have even been caught doing it by other people around me, who find it very odd.



11.03.2013

Spring Cleaning


When I was growing up, it was common practice for my mother and grandmother to do what was called spring cleaning.  Windows were opened up, curtains and quilts were washed and hung out, rugs were aired and beaten, walls and floors scrubbed.  And kitchen cupboards were emptied, and thoroughly cleaned out and washed down.

As a young wife 35 years ago, even I used to do this domestic ritual.  I liked how it connected me to my mother and grandmother, and how it made me feel like a successful homemaker.  Everything felt so wonderful, so fresh, renewed!

Over the years, I became a very busy single working mother, and spring cleaning was forgotten and abandoned.  Not because I stopped believing in it, but because there was never enough time.  Deep cleaning gave way to spot cleaning on-the-fly.  It seemed to suffice.


In recent weeks, Bill and I have noticed increasing sightings of a small, dark, and thin beetle on our counter tops.  Along with this tiny beetle we have seen nearly as many small 'worms'.  We cleaned the area and thought no more about it.  Until it kept happening.  Over and over.

As often is the case, we were in denial.  It became obvious that this was not isolated but ongoing, that no amount of wishful thinking was going to make them vanish.

We did some research.  We learned they were a type of grain beetle, of which there are many kinds.  The solution sounded suspiciously like...spring cleaning.  I had lucked out over the years;  sadly, time and statistics (and maybe domestic karma) has caught up with me.

So this week, I shall be slowly but surely unloading the corner cabinets top and bottom, doing an inventory on my supplies, throwing out anything that is old, open, and/or infested, and thoroughly cleaning the cabinets.

Grandma and Mom knew what they were doing...

10.15.2013

Dresser Scarves

When I was growing up, this was called a dresser scarf. No good home was without them. This one is quite lovely - it is made from linen that has been crocheted over, then edged with. The embroidery is quite striking - a crewel using ribbons. I admire the maker, whoever she is.

I used to do a fair bit of embroidery myself, when a young girl and young woman. It was the one handiwork I truly enjoyed. I never wanted to learn to knit, did learn basic crochet but never was interested enough to develop it. But I can do a mean satin stitch.

My favorite linens to embroider were dish towel sets consisting of seven flour sack dish towels, one for each day of the week.  The old ways were nothing if not generous with the linens, which meant more laundry!  Other favorites of mine to enhance with thread and needle were dresser scarves, hankies, and pillowcases.  My Grandma Fitzpatrick taught me a lot about the different stitches, how they were done, how to properly separate your floss, tricks to threading needles, and how to tie off your thread.  The best needlework, it was said, looked as good from the back, as it did from the front.  Due to my never wanting to waste an inch of floss, I never did get that down; looking at the back of my needlework was like looking at a drunken spider's web!  But my fronts were splendid, if I do say so myself.

I still to this day, have dresser scarves, pillow cases, and towel sets that I have never used.  They were done by my grandmother, and I treasure them and the work of her hands so much, I do not want to use them and have them worn out.  They are to me, a heritage I wish to preserve.

9.30.2013

Putting Up and Putting By

In our basement, which was just rough cement walls and floor, was a root cellar left from the days when there wasn't a proper basement under the house when my grandparents built it in 1906. Later in the 1950s came the basement. My parents continued to use the dark cellar for potatoes and carrots, and other root vegetables. But my mother also had many shelves, and they were very full when I was very little. Over the years she did less and less when it was only me and Dad, and my sisters had grown and left. She took her first full-time out-of-the-home job in 1974 to help attain some financial goals her and Dad had before he retired in 1987. She still canned even then, but only as little as possible. She began experimenting with freezing some vegetables. I will never forget the many meals we had during many long, dark winters with food she and Dad grew and then put up. That was the beginning of my 'pickiness' about food; if it wasn't as good as Mom's, it wasn't good enough...

8.04.2013

In the Backseat: Sunday Afternoon Drives


Anyone remember Sunday afternoon drives? No destination, just a drive. The idea of not knowing where you would be going was half the fun. Discovering new places, seeing new things.

The other half was arriving somewhere unplanned, just because you felt like it. No one called ahead. No one minded that you arrived unannounced. They were happy to see you. There was always food ready and a place at the table for you. Visiting was an art that everyone excelled at. You caught up with all the gossip and goings on. Goodbyes were drawn out, and callers and called-on were sorry to say farewell to one another.  And if you were lucky, the car would end the day driving up to an ice cream stand and you'd get a small cone, every lick of it treasured.  You got home after dark, and that night you slept like a baby.

7.07.2013

Before Dick and Jane

"Fun with Dick and Jane"

Dick and Jane.

I remember using this series of books in elementary school. I breezed through them, finding them fun but a bit boring and silly. I had already learned to read before attending school, thanks to my Mom, who felt it was important to provide good books for me to look at and learn from, from a very early age.  She subscribed to the Dr. Seuss books for me, and each month we'd received a 'large' thin box in the mail, and I would know another book had come for me!

I cannot remember which one I got first.  It might have been CAT IN THE HAT, or GREEN EGGS AND HAM.  At any rate, I remember my favorite - HORTON HATCHES AN EGG.  I always loved Horton, and felt he did a very honorable thing.  I did not like the jealous mother bird at all, feeling she wanted to take all the credit for doing none of the work!  Even then, I really got caught up in my stories.  I literally learned to read from being read to, and looking at the words as much as the pictures.  I knew that words have power, that stories transport, and I wanted to know the secret.  I wanted to know how to read! I cannot remember the details, but I remember being told what a word meant, the sounds of words, and between those hints, my own deductions based on observation and context, I began to understand the mystery of the written word.

Before any of that, however, there was my father.  He told great stories to me at bedtime, stories that he would make up as he went along.  I never knew what the stories were going to be about, and that made it all the better.  I was very young at the time, so I can't remember any of them.  But that's not the important thing anyways.  They made a lasting impression of me of how powerful words are, and when they are used skillfully and tell incredible stories, the stories take you with them.  I was hooked!

Thus, when I started school, I had a head start.  I absorbed it all as fast as I could because I couldn't wait to read more.  And more.  And MORE!

6.21.2013

1966: A Very Bad Year

Family Photo: After the flood but before my seizure.  Dad is sitting due to his broken leg.


Sometimes Grand Mal - or as they are more commonly referred to now, Tonic-Clonic - seizures can be isolated. Thankfully mine was. At the time, my parents were fostering a classmate of mine. I was the youngest of three girls, my two older sisters being significantly older than me.  Since I had never had a sibling near my age, there was a learning curve on how to get along, and even how not to and then make up and go on.  One night at bed time, we were not settling down and Mom separated us. I felt angry that I was the one that had to leave 'my' bedroom. In my big sister's room, I purposely held my breath over and over, increasing the length of time I held each breath. At the same time I tightened my facial muscles until I felt my head was about to explode.  Then, it did.

It was 1966 and I was only 7 years old.  During the seizure - except when I came to for a few seconds where I was being carried and remember seeing the old telephone cubby between the kitchen and living room - I was unconscious.  I asked my sister Betty to share whatever she could remember...
I was at play practice - it was my Junior year in high school. When I got home, you were laying on Dad's bed downstairs.  They had a bed set up for him after he broke his leg. Mom was on the phone frantically getting ahold of Wim Surface to come help. You were starting to turn blue. I had just had CPR training in school and began giving you mouth to mouth.  Mom had carried you down stairs. Mom said: that every night her and Dad played cards and listened to music; but for some strange reason they DID NOT turn the music on that night. Mom said, she heard something and told Dad that is a weird sound coming through the ceiling vent. She ran upstairs and saw you in a Grand Mal seizure and carried you downstairs crying. Dad couldn't move off the bed. I can't imagine how he must have felt. Before we knew it, Wim was there. He carried you to the car and us three sat in the back, praying you would not die. Wim drove like 100 miles an hour. The ambulance meet us on this side of Humboldt. We were instructed to blink our lights at every car to know it was the ambulance. Mom went with you in the ambulance. Wim and I went to the hospital and I don't remember anything about that part, except they took you by ambulance to Grand Forks, and Wim took me home.
There are many reasons someone may have a seizure.  The only logical trigger of the many I've read about, in the case of my isolated event, is stress.  It had been a very stressful year for my entire family, including me.  My oldest sister had graduated high school, and in the fall had boarded a passenger train at the depot my father worked at, and the rest of us waved tearfully goodbye to her.  In the meantime, I had had more kidney and bladder infections involving many tests and procedures to try and determine what was going on.  It rattled me badly every time I had to go through them, plus nightly I was wetting the bed.  During the early spring, my father had been removing storm windows on the second story of our home when the old wooden ladder suddenly dropped from under him with no warning.  He fell straight down, his one leg compound-fracturing upon impact with the ground.  He was in a cast for months, and was still at the time of my seizure.  That same spring, we had one of the worst floods ever of the Red River of the North, after a historic blizzard.  Our town didn't have a dike yet, so much of the town flooded, including our home and outbuildings.  We had to move everything possible upstairs, only the piano staying downstairs up on bricks.  That still wasn't enough to keep it entirely out of the water.  In the fall, my parents felt led to bring a classmate of mine needing a foster home, into our home.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, it may have led to a level of stress that my mind and body just couldn't cope with...

5.18.2013

Homestead for Sale

Me and my teddy bear out in the yard, circa 1961

I would buy it in a skinny minute, as a retreat for writing, and it would be close to the museum for research. If only I could...

The house I grew up in, the one my grandparents built, is up for sale again. If only I had a spare $100,000  available. It needs a lot of TLC and capital put into it, but I'd find a way to do it if I could. I love that house, I love the land it is on. I love the town it is in. It won't make sense to many others, but it's not just a place. It's my family, my roots, my neighbors, my friends, my history. It's love.

Several people have commented about it, including those that have connections back home, or still live there:
Cleo Bee Jones: I know how you feel, I always wanted to get the land my grandparents farm house had been and built a new house on it and made the rooms bigger and more of them, so all of us 39 grandchildren and families could use it any time...  
Margaret Dykhuis: I agree with you, Trisha. When I drive by the house my father built, I wish for a moment that I still lived there. 

5.08.2013

ASMR: Auditory Orgasms


ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a physical sensation characterized by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs.

COMMON TRIGGERS:  Slow speech patterns, accents, soft-speaking voices and whispers. Lip sounds/smacking/eating. Clicking sounds, brushing sounds, white noise, etc. Painting or drawing Instructional videos. Watching other people performing simple tasks. Getting close, personal attention from someone (eye-exam, make-over, etc.)
I first experienced an ASMR in the mid 1970's in my school library; another student, reading a newspaper, kept slowly turning pages.  The sound of the paper crinkling as the pages turned suddenly overwhelmed my brain with the auditory stimuli, and I felt a powerful physical sensation wash over me as described above.  The feeling is not unlike a sexual orgasm, except it's not centered in or originating from the genitals, but rather it seems to stem from the brain itself.  While it is often triggered by auditory stimuli, sometimes it can be by subtle physical contact.

Triggers for me are:

- hearing someone chew and pop gum
- listening to people slowly turning the pages of a newspaper
- having my hair washed by another, or getting a haircut
- soft whispery voices
- swelling, orchestral music
- someone barely touching me, just barely touching the hairs on my skin

4.08.2013

Family Sayings


I've been collecting family sayings for several years now. I know what I have so far is far from comprehensive let alone complete. But if I wait any longer, I will never get this entry published, so I'm going ahead, and will add more as they are remembered.

My family used other sayings too, as many of us do.  What I tried to do here was to collect those that I had either not heard outside my family, or at the very most, outside my hometown area (regional). There are always variations of sayings, and you may recognize some but know them a bit differently.  I provide meaning where I think meaning is not obvious, or unclear.  For those that should be clear, I do not.

3.16.2013

How I Became a Political Activist

My membership button from the
organization Annie created to
watch for violations of the laws
created to protect the wild horses:
Wild Horse Organized Assistance

I was what was commonly called 'horse crazy' when I was a little girl.  I loved all things horses.  I loved how they looked, and how they made me feel, and when I could see a real one, I would pet it and smell it and hug it.  I wanted one so bad I could feel it to my core.  One year, after a lot of focus, determination, and hard work, that came true.

But first, I read about them.  Boy, did I.  I was so obsessed for the first several years of my reading life, I would not read about anything else.  When I was around 10 years old, I read a book that was about more than just horses; it was about some very special horses, and they needed help.  Marguerite Henry's prize-winning children's book, Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West.  Through that book, a woman named Velma Johnston became a popular heroine to millions of American children. With clear, innocent vision, we young readers of her book quickly grasped the heart of the issue.  One young reader's letter to Ms. Henry shared:
"It makes me angry and I think that the horses should be allowed to run free. They will soon be like the Buffalo that used to roam the plains of America. Extinct."
I had the same reaction.  I wanted to do something about it!  But what could I do, just a kid?  I didn't know it then, but there would be a way.

Determined to make a difference, Velma Johnston began a grassroots campaign, that involved mostly school children. Young people from all across America sent letters to newspapers and legislators and attracted enormous attention that outraged the public and made them aware of the issue. And, as public attention grew, some of Johnston's critics began to make fun of her and call her Wild Horse Annie. But no matter what her critics did, she continued her fight — and newspapers continued to publish articles about the exploitation of wild horses and burros. Starting back back in January 1959, Nevada Congressman Walter Baring introduced a bill prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on all public lands. The House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill which became known as the Wild Horse Annie Act. The bill became Public Law 86-234 on Sept. 8, 1959. However, this law did not include Annie's recommendation that Congress begin a program to protect wild horses and burros. Public interest and concern continued to increase, and with it came the realization that federal management was needed. In response to public outcry - including the letters from kids like myself, written to President Nixon - the Senate unanimously passed a law on June 19, 1971. It became known as The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Wild Horse Annie knew that young people can make a difference, and through this experience, I learned, too.

2.25.2013

Where I Came From

"It's a sad country, but it's the most beautiful God ever made. There's a wildness to it, a richness of colour, a sweetness on the wind you couldn't know unless you'd smelled it. It's a very old land where once heroes and saints and scholars lived and now the memory of those days aches in the colour of the earth, the standing stones, the trees against the sky, the sound of a storm." - Ann Perry

My ethnic background is a mixture of many cultures. My father's was Norwegian and German/Scot/English stock, from his mother and father respectively; my mother's was Irish/English (both parents).

While I did hear about the Norwegian side of things in passing conversation while growing up, my general sense of who I was, was of being Irish. My mother’s family was overwhelmingly Irish, with a wee bit of English thrown in just to keep it interesting.  I grew up with brown bread, strong Canadian tea, roast beef dinners, making do, passionate ‘discussions’, and knowing the value of hard work and faith. Family was important, and that included laying your cards on the table even if feelings got hurt; honesty was prized, and unkind words quickly forgotten. While you might feel like killing someone for a split second, you hugged them the next. Life went on.

While I eventually grew to appreciate my father’s family, learning there was more to my father's family history than I at first had realized, I’ll always think of myself as an Irish girl.

1.19.2013

Bedwetter



One of my oldest memories is of being in a cold metallic crib, crying my eyes out.

I was in a room in the Emerson Hospital, and my Mom had to leave me for awhile.  Dr. Ferry was going to be performing a tonsillectomy on me in the morning.  I was just three years old.

The next day, I recall large people looming over me in a strange room.  I was lying down, and they were coming at me with something round, and telling me don’t be scared.  That just made me more alarmed.  I began breathing faster, through the thing, and it smelled strange.  It was the smell of rubber and ether.  I suddenly felt a huge lurch in my stomach, someone brings a metal pan to my mouth, and I vomit.  Evidently ether often had that effect on patients.  After that, I didn’t remember anything until I woke up later with a sore throat.  The good news was that I could have all the ice cream,  pudding, and popsicles I wanted.  

That was my first time, post-birth, that I was in the hospital as a child, but it wouldn’t be my last.

So many times, more times than I can remember, I had problems that required a doctor or hospitalization when I was growing up.  I had the normal things that many children did at the time - chicken pox, mumps - but I also had an unusual amount of upper and lower respiratory infections, sinus and ear infections, as well as kidney and bladder infections.  

The kidney and bladder infections were frequent and often severe.  My mother was told to cut me back on salt, to not allow me to sit on cold surfaces, to dress me warmly in winter, and to keep my head covered from cold and wind.  I was sometimes on several medicines, including antibiotics.  As my urinary tract problems increased, I had more and more catheterizations to obtain the most sterile urine samples possible to determine the cause and course of treatment.  I once had a dye injected into my bladder and told to not urinate for as long as possible as they observed my bladder when full, with the dye helping them to see it better.  To a child, those  procedures were extremely frightening as well as painful1.

There were times I had long hospitalizations that caused me to be out of school for awhile2.  I received cards wishing me well from my classmates, which cheered me up.  I don’t recall being particularly concerned, my Mom said the doctors kept saying that they didn’t think this was serious, that my organs were functioning well, but just that I was getting infections that caused significant pain.  I remember well the pain, the burning, the urgency, the fevers, and the bed rest.  And then, there was the bedwetting.




I don’t know if my bedwetting was connected in any way to my other problems.  My mother made allowances for it and may have thought so, at least at first.  I was not allowed to drink after supper, in hopes it would curtail the problem, but it didn’t.  As I grew older, however, there were many times, especially in the middle of the night when she was changing sheets, that she would mutter about me being lazy about getting up to use the pot3.  I would tell her that I wasn’t.  In my own mind, there was nothing more that I’d rather do than get up.  I hated it far worse than she believed I did.  

When I was growing up, all the way through high school, I slept very sound and very deep.  Nothing would wake me up.  I dreamt profusely, dreams-worthy-of-the-Twilight-Zone dreams.  The only thing that (sometimes) woke me was a cold, wet bed.  The routine went like this:  I’d wake up in a swamped bed, everything wet.  I’d call for Mom.  She would come and I couldn’t look at her, ashamed and wishing more than anything that I didn’t have to call her.  When I got old enough, I changed the sheets myself4, but I knew she was often woke up by me opening the old dresser drawers which squeaked at every pull.  The old house’s floors creaked, and every sound seemed magnified in the night.  

The doctors' predictions turned out to be right.  Some time when I was around 11 years old,  I stopped wetting the bed.  All my fears of never being able to go to camp, or stay over at a friend's house, went away, and I was excited to expand my universe, which I inevitably did.  But I never forgot the sicknesses of my childhood.  In a way, although there was a brief respite, they have followed me into adulthood.  But as I often say, that, that is another story.


__________________________

1 - No test or procedure, at any hospital, during all the years I was afflicted, ever could give my Mother a definitive reason for my multiple kidney and bladder infections.

2 - At one point, when I was about 10 years old, my physician referred me to specialists at the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg.   They had a whole floor just for children, a pediatric section.  There, I met the first black person I had seen - a girl my own age.  I felt strange meeting a person so different from myself, but at the same time excited.  This was the late 1960s, and I had been watching the news on TV, and knew that the civil rights movement was happening.  I believed in it, as young as I was, and wanted to learn more.  Thus, she and I became friends in the time I was there, and I was sad to part when the time came.  It was also during this time that my Mom tried to soften the separation by giving me a very special gift, a doll I named Sally. She and I became very good friends.

3 - “The Pot” was what our family called a chamber pot. We used took one upstairs every night to use, and it was my responsibility as a child to prepare it with a little water and bleach, and take it up when we went to bed, and dump it and rinse it every morning.


4 - My Mom used old rubber draw sheets from my Grandma Fitzpatrick’s old maternity home days.  On top of that she doubled up a white top sheet and covered that around the middle of the bed.  That way we didn’t have to change the bottom sheet itself.

1.09.2013

Last Mittens


Sleepovers at Grandma's house. Asleep in the big bed downstairs with Grandma. The one she used to share with Grandpa. The one he died in. Snuggling close to her and loving how her skin smells. Falling asleep feeling happy and safe. Next morning, Grandma makes me milk toast sprinkled with brown sugar, served with hot cocoa...

Among my Grandma Fitzpatrick's many talents, was handiwork. She sewed clothes.  She made pillow cases, dresser scarves, and dish towels, then embroidered them.  And she knitted.

The photos here show some of the last work she did.  She not only knitted, but she repaired what she knitted.  Usually she'd darn them with yarn of the same color and you'd never know they had been repaired.  On this example at left, she had to use what she had on-hand.  We didn't care.  As long as it kept our hands warm!

The pair on the bottom were the last ones she made.  Those who know their knitting will notice she did not have as steady a hand, and a stitch or two may have been dropped.  It was harder for her to see, and her hands were not as nimble as they once were due to arthritis.

No one has ever worn the green mittens, and no one ever will, if I have my way about it.  I have kept them - and a set of dish towels, several sets of pillow cases tucked away, tangible evidence of a woman whose hands made them.  I can look at them, and touch them, and along with memories, the love we had between us comes flooding back.  I will never forget you, Grandma.