Happy Thanksgiving Meal

My mother brines and dresses the turkey, cramming the cranberry and celery stuffing into the rinsed cavity, and then trussing the legs before placing the bird in the black and white speckled enamel roasting pan.

Percolating coffee on the stove draws me near, and I perch on the kitchen stool next to the stove, watching as the hot water browns more with each eruption into the glass top of the percolator.  I wish my mother would let me drink coffee, but she makes me a weak ‘tea’ out of cinnamon, and sugar in warmed water, with a splash of milk.  She calls it Cambric Tea, although she substitutes cinnamon for tea.

One of my older brothers is washing a mound of potatoes, carrots, and turnips, while my next oldest brother is on peeling duty. Never a turnip lover, I hate that she mixes them with the carrots, but at least she keeps the potatoes on their own.  My sisters will do the mashing later, while my little brother and I squirm in our impatience, and our pleas of when dinner will be ready, is met with ‘every time you ask me that, it will take longer’, by my mother.

Around 1 p.m., relatives begin arriving into the now steamy house.  Most of my cousins are older and don’t pay my little brother and I much attention, but we always eavesdrop on their conversations until told to go away by our older siblings.  Sometimes we get to play Monopoly, or, Life, with my cousins, although, Mouse Trap, is my favorite.  My older brothers consider Mouse Trap a baby game, so usually my little brother and I play that on our own, or with my next oldest sister, but it turns out that, Mouse Trap, is the only game we have they don’t, so we play it several times.

My aunts keep council with my mother in the kitchen, placing the desserts and sides they brought up on the refrigerator – and out of the reach of any hungry marauders, and then they set the main table, while enlisting me and my brother who made the mistake of coming into the kitchen, to set the card tables.  My father and uncles arrange the card tables and the folding chairs they brought, and then retreat to the den for cocktails, while they smoke and watch football.

There is nothing better to me than sitting on the kitchen stool and listening to the laughter and chatter of my mother and aunts.  They fill an otherwise stressful and dreary house with fun and good cheer.  Even my father is approachable as the relatives take his mind off of everyday life too.

Once everything is ready and platters fill out the tables, my father comes in and carves up the turkey.  Then the assembly line of passed plates circles the room until everyone has their dinner in front of them.  My father intones the Thanks-giving prayer over our bowed heads, and then the happy moment of digging in begins.

Dark meat is my favorite, drizzled with the turkey dripping gravy, a pool of which floats in the center of my mashed potatoes.  I manage to feed our dog the carrot and turnip mash, even though she will throw most of it up later from so many helpings of rich food greedily chowed down.

My mother’s cranberry relish is one of my favorite dishes. Most of the cranberries are ground up well, but an unmixed half a cranberry made it through the mixer, so tart I need a mouthful of potato, or a sip of milk to swallow it.  Hot, buttered, rolls steam on the white cloth napkin in their straw basket, and we know that later on, after the adults have retired in the den for talk and more coffee, and we children have finished the dishes, dessert would finally be served.

Pumpkin, Pecan, and Minced Meat pies, cinnamon rolls, and bread pudding with homemade whipped cream.  Even though we are stuffed from dinner, we’ll find room for dessert!

All too soon the relatives begin saying their goodbyes, and proceed out: our uncles and aunts, laden with the card tables, chairs, and extra dishes, followed by our cousins, start down the cement path, the chilled air swirling into the front hall, as my little brother and I call out tearful goodbyes, knowing a bath and bed are soon to follow.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Hospitality – Writing 101, Death To Adverbs Assignment

As for most of us, hospitals evoke a mix of feelings, and my hometown hospital memories reach back to the 1980’s, before it merged with a larger state hospital system, to today, where I’m sipping coffee in the beige-walled, wood-paneled cafeteria, while waiting for my mother’s testing to finish.

The rectangular fluorescent ceiling lighting casts unflattering shadows across the sitting area, while the laminate wood flooring bolsters whatever warmth this institutional setting offers. The square, white, cork board ceiling tiles absorbs some noise, but the clanging of pots and pans from the stainless steel inner kitchen area is still jarring.

A dozen wood-trimmed tables with aqua and tan faux stone tops – looking more like oxidized copper, or some strange chemical spills – block most of the sitting area, with three or four tables offsetting the conformity.

Four dark-grey enameled metal chairs with greenish-blue vinyl seats square each table, with white and black ridged plastic salt and pepper shakers centering each table.

Six greyish-blue column supports divide the room by a third, with local art hung a foot or so apart down each wall – all for sale – while you ponder the cost of your hospital stay.  What’s another four hundred dollars for a nice still-life to remind of you of your ruptured appendix for the rest of your life?

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Red Sweater – Writing 101 – Point Of View

Divorce.  It’s just a word, until it’s happening to you.  Oh, you’ve felt it. You’ve known it since junior high when your best friend’s parents got divorced.  It was like someone getting cancer but not dying. You didn’t know what to say except ‘sorry’, the lamest of words when your friend’s world is falling apart.

Marcia stopped loving me.  It was little things all gathering at the dam, and then it broke, and she didn’t want me anymore.

It felt like she dropped a fucking anvil on my heart off the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building.  Right there, on 5th Avenue, I had my first heart attack – but nothing was wrong with me.  We had been holding hands, and the last thing I remember is an old lady sitting there on one of those wooden camping chairs with the canvas seat, holding out a red sweater. Marcia let go of my hand and I don’t know how I knew, but my heart started pounding like that time we were walking near North Slope and that douche-bag crack-addict pulled out a knife, and I dropped him.  How the hell I did it still awes me, but we got through it – and it was like a war medal. I protected my wife from an attacker – without even really trying.  It almost felt too easy – like whenever we brought it up at parties, I was somehow lying – but I just got lucky.

As lucky as it felt to be Marcia’s husband.  Except I’m not anymore. That old lady must have thought I was some kinda freak after Marcia said she wanted a divorce right there on the street.  On the fucking street!  I’m not a crier, but I did that day, because I knew.  There was no going back.  No reconciliation.  How a crater didn’t open up and swallow me whole is mind-blowing.  I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t speak.  I was a fucking gusher right there for the world to see.

The old woman actually told me to move along – something like I was hampering business.

And I did.

My legs carried me into the Empire State Building lobby and I considered buying a ticket and just staying up there to rot, but I somehow got a cab to our friend, Tim Malory’s, down on West Houston.

It’s been a year today.  Some days are better than others, but I’m still here.  It’s true what they say – life goes on.

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Last year, I finally broke away from my go nowhere life.  Jack and I hadn’t been fighting, but life wasn’t happy.  I wasn’t happy.  Life is neutral.  It’s just a thing, ya know?  You gotta make it be what you want or it’s never gonna go anywhere.  Jack and I went out for brunch at the Martinique, and everything was fine.  We were going along.  He always liked holding hands, and I did, even though it wasn’t really me – but it was sweet, right?  He loved me, and I really wanted to love him.

We were walking down 33rd after eating and I had to tell him.  I couldn’t live with myself anymore. I needed more – or different.  I don’t know, ya know?  I just had to tell him.  I let go of his hand  –  a hawker was holding out this horrid red sweater – but I told him right then and there.  I’m awful, I know, I’m awful.  I’m a horrible, terrible person, but I feel so much better – so sue me.

I make it sound easier than it was, because I did love Jack.  I loved his kind heart and his – simplicity.  He reminded me of the country, but I’m a city girl.  City girls don’t do well in the country.

I hope Jack found someone really great.  I do.

I don’t care if I’m single the rest of my life.  I’m happy.  I mean, really happy.  Not everyone belongs with someone, I guess. I hope he’s good.  I really do.  I hope he’s happy too.

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Mavis Staples.  That’s my name, and if you ask me again, I’ll tell you the same.  Oh, hooowee – you know she’s a singer?  Well, good for you, sugar.  It’s still my name.

I’ve been an in-de-pen-dent con-tract-tor for plenty of years now.  I’ve seen plenty.  I know what it’s like to live here for real.  I make my money though, maybe mostly pity funds, but I take it.  I knit, and I find bargains, and sometimes I get a boost in inventory from some of the other in-de-pen-dent con-tract-tors you see here on our street.  We don’t let just anybody sell here.  No, missy.  We’re a family and we look out for each other – mostly.

We’re watchers.  We know who might bite and who probably won’t, but we’re equal opp-or-tun-ity sellers, so we call everybody to look at our inventory.  Yes, missy, we do.

We’ve seen good days, bad days, and all in between.  Once I saw a lover’s quarrel that didn’t let out more than a squeak, but I saw the bottom drop out of that man.  Yes, I did!  I saw his heart dangle there while his woman’s eyes remained dry.  Dry!  I wish my red sweater could have held his poor heart – or stopped hers – oh, yes!, I mean that sin-cere-ly.  I had to tell him to move on by.  He needed direction, and I gave it to him straight!  “I’m doing business here, you move on down the street.”

He looked just like a little lost puppy.  Yes, missy, he did.  I felt bad for him, but I gotta make a living, and I knew he’d be okay.  Not that day, but he would.  He just needed some direction.  But her, she brought that cool breeze in, and it buffeted him all the way to the Empire State!  I wouldn’t let her sell on our street.  No, missy, I would not.

Now, are you going to buy something, or do I have to move you along too?

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101 – Give & Take – Contrasted Dialogue

“I twinkle, and sparkle, and rarely run out of light.”

“Unless someone un-plugs you, whereas, I, keep burning into the night, and my glow varies from soft and low, to high and flickering.”

“Until you run out of wick!.  I don’t have a wick, and all someone has to do is replace a bulb every once in a while, while you have to be replaced entirely.  It’s clear that I’m superior.”

“Superior?  How many people replace the bulb – if they can even find the culprit?  A person sees my remains clearly, and I’m so popular that more of my kind are bought every day than your ilk could ever hope to attain!  Not only that, but I’ve been used since people discovered that fat can burn – what’s your heritage?”

“We come from more distinguished minds than ‘fat-burners’ – ha, you’re more like drool-wipers.  If you call that sophistication, then you’re clearly deluded – and speaking of clear, my lineage includes colors, blinking brights, steady, reliable illumination that replaced your kind pretty soon after the knuckle-walkers left caves.”

“Maybe you high-tech air-sniffers with all your fancy gadgetry wow some, but we still dominate at the heart, where love, and poetry, and art – the very seat of the soul – lives!”

“Oh ho! Seat of the soul?  We inspire too!  We are used more often, in more places than…”

“Heh, heh, I guess you just got shut down, los…”

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“Goodnight honey.”

“Goodnight dear.”

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101 – Hauntingly Interesting Person

Annie Keithline, owner/operator of the new, Valley Ghost Tours, out of Northampton, MA, met us in the square next to the town parking garage on a balmy September 8th, under the full, harvest, moon.  A mid-waist, black cape draped over her short-sleeved shirt, framed her slight figure, her ebullience apparent before she even spoke.

Several people had signed up for the evening, but she explained two couples had to cancel, and two more no-shows left just my man & I for the Haunted History Tour, which felt weird at first, but her confident manner and knowledge captured our attention and we eased into her introduction and tour explanation.

Just a few years older than my son, she shared what led her to start the tours, having walked across America(!), and still in college as a declared English major who loves history and sharing it with others.

Ours was more like a conversational walk than a dedicated tour, and I shared some of my paranormal experiences both as a student at Smith, where a few ghost stops were, and throughout my life so far, and my man shared a few ghostly stories he’s heard as well.

Her disarming manner, obvious intelligence, and conviviality made the hour and a half fly by.  I had hoped to see some of the apparitions she talked about, like the ghost dog that walks up and down the street where a Starbucks currently sits, to a floating partial-apparition of a man on State Street, speculated to be seeking pledges for investing in the failed canal, to the teen-aged specter down under the Coolidge Bridge on Route 9, seemingly inviting you into the water with him, but Annie believes he might have been a ferry operator who continues to offer passage across the river, and frowns at you when you don’t follow him.  But, as Annie says, with the River Styx symbolism, who would want to oblige him?

We ended the evening on the busy Main Street, outside of the Hampshire Council of Governments, where Annie told us of a worker at the nearby Shop Therapy, which had long ago housed a bank, who had seen a male apparition, dressed in a long coat, sporting a bowler hat, who walked toward the back of the store and disappeared.

We touched on, but didn’t explore, the old Northampton State Hospital, the institution housing long razed, but an eerie, someone-is-watching-me, creepy office building remained that I had a meeting at several years ago, and was all too happy to leave.  All of the buildings are now torn down, and condominiums are either being planned, or built, on the land. I expect many of those owners will experience paranormal events with all that traumatic energy concentrated there.

Annie spoke of other fairly well-known and not-so-known encounters, unexplained phenomena, legends, and personal experience that made my spine tingle, and I want to visit some of the places to hopefully experience a few ghostly scenes for myself.

Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, or the paranormal, Annie’s, Haunted History Tour, lends insight to Northampton, and the Pioneer Valley’s past, and how we’re always walking in history – and one day soon – we’ll be part of that pageant too.

May you live and die well.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

 

Writing 101 – Briefly Speaking

There it lay, the scarlet A. She tore it off, though many did scoff, and those townsfolk sought to make her pay.

Had I come upon it first, I might have shielded her from the worst, and mayhap she would have seen a better day.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101 – About A Loss

Oh woe – our tomatoes!  They started out so plump and meaty, the early summer heat, and our diligent weeding and watering made our first gardening endeavor seem assured.  We staked and secured the heavy fruit, tending our plants with love and care.

Then came the rain – days and nights of torrential downpours, and along with the rain came blight, a black cancer through the stems, the fungus seeping into the just ripening crop, and no amount of trimming stemmed the disease.

 

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101 – Three Songs of Importance

Seasons In The Sun, Terry Jacks.  No, it’s not important to me now – it’s not even that great a song – but when I was a kid, hearing that song for the first time, it was so sad.  Someone who sounded young was dying!  He was telling his friends and his father, and his little daughter, Michelle, (or at least that’s how I interpreted the lyrics) how hard it was to die, how much he would miss everything.  It was the first time I thought about death from a first person point of view, and it was heartbreaking, and I totally got it. I wished I could save him.

You May Be Right, and My Life, Billy Joel. I had a messed up childhood and Billy Joel provided an outlet for my anger at the world. You think I’m crazy?  Well, maybe I am, but maybe crazy is what you need to survive this world, and ‘I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life, go ahead with your own life, leave me alone’.  I remember friends telling me that my posturing looked like I had a ‘stay away from me’ note taped to my back.  Sadly that never stopped the predators.

Stevie Wonder provided the backdrop to much of my childhood and young adult life, starting with several songs on his, Songs In The Key Of Life, album, and continuing to this day.

During one of the most difficult periods of my life I particularly resonated with You Will Know:

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101: A Room with a View (or Just a View)

He murmurs and rustles around in his bed, and I find myself holding my breath, hoping his movements cease.  I settle back into my pillow, turning onto my right side to go back to sleep.  The street light filters in through the gaps in the blue cotton sheet curtains Jennie made for me several years ago, and I can’t get back to sleep, worrying that his fever is back up.

I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed, touching the cool, worn, dark wood floor.  The ill-fitted glass door handle takes an extra turn to disengage it, but I hear nothing as I tip-toe through the sitting room, trying to step easy on the creaking boards as I make my way past the built-in, glass-covered cabinet where the eight setting, black and green accented, White Lily Corelle dishware, glints in the dusky moon-lit room, the mismatched drinking glasses and Tupperware sippy-cups taking up the second shelf.  The double windows across the room are flanked by hideous floor-length, white polyester, purple and blue-rose patterned drapes, given to me by my aunt, Mary, after the last time she visited and saw the bare windows throughout the apartment.

The kitchen’s tan and white stone textured linoleum flooring feels cooler than the wood floors, but doesn’t creak.  The 1950’s era white Formica kitchen table stands next to the kitchen window, where the hanging spider plant casts an elongated shadow across the table’s surface.

Over the sink, the green Granny Smith-apple shaped clock’s minute hand sounds its steady tick-tick-tick, the time reading 2:30 a. m.

He cries out, as though he knows I’m standing there, and I wait before entering his room, knowing the very creaky old floor boards will fully wake him if I go in now.  I decide to grab the ear thermometer and step lightly off to the right of his room, entering the narrow bathroom, going past the tub to the mirrored medicine cabinet on the opposite side of the room above the sink.  I find the thermometer on the middle glass shelf, and push the cabinet door into the squeeze latch to shut it.

I tip-toe back to his room and stifle a laugh as I see his little body turned sideways, his legs draping over his toddler bed while the upper half of his body remains on the bed.  He must have tried to get up and fell back asleep in the trying.  I move stealthily, kneeling beside him to lift up his legs back onto the bed.  He rouses and starts to cry and I tell him I’m there, and I’ll rub his back after I take his temperature.  The thermometer reads 99°F.  He has fallen asleep again, but I lay down beside him and rub his back lightly over his Elmo pajamas.

He wakes me up several hours later, laughing that ‘mommy’s in his room’.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day Eighteen, Neighborhood Troubles

The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.

Today’s prompt: write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.

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Today’s Saturday.  It’s Cinco de Mayo, which is Spanish for the fifth of May.  We learned that yesterday in history.  Ms. Jenkins told us about the Battle of Puebla victory against the French army that the Mexicans won, even though they didn’t win the war, but it’s sort of like how we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  Mom helped me decorate the window with red, yellow, and green crêpe paper streamers, but she wouldn’t let me have a piñata, but at least we’re having tacos for supper and some fried ice cream for dessert.

I wanted to put some of the streamers around the stair railings outside, so I put on my favorite Hello Kitty cap, pulling it down so the sun was shaded all the way and went out.  It was still morning but it was hot already.  There was a green and yellow car with, Marble County Sheriff, in big white letters outlined in black parked outside Mrs. Pauley’s apartment. The sheriff got out of the car and went up the cement stairs to Mrs. Pauley’s apartment.  Some other guy I’ve seen a couple of times was standing outside Mrs. Pauley’s too.  He’s shorter than the sheriff, and the grey suit he’s wearing looks a little big on him.  I hope Mrs. Pauley’s not in trouble, or maybe something happened to one of her kids?  She’s got six kids, but they’re all grown up, and I only know George, who moved out last year.  He was there a few times when Mrs. Pauley watched me.  George liked building card houses with me, but I could never get mine to stay up as well as his.

The last time I saw George, and all of Mrs. Pauley’s family, was when Mr. Pauley died. It was the same day I started school last September, and I watched through the living room window that night when the ambulance took him away, and after that the Pauleys’ apartment was dark for a few days.

Mom and I went to the memorial service because the Pauley’s were nice to us – they were nice to everyone – but, like I said, Mrs. Pauley watched me sometimes when Mom worked late.  I really liked going over to the Pauley’s with mom in the summer when Mrs. Pauley was weeding her flowers she planted on both sides of the stoop.  All the flowers made her house look happier than all the other houses on the block.  Mom would make up a batch of iced tea or, my favorite, lemonade, and we’d bring some to Mrs. Pauley.  We’d all sit down and have a drink while Mom and Mrs. Pauley talked about the terrible Peterson’s next door, with their bratty kids who got in trouble for spray painting swears on the side of City Market at the end of the block, and stuff like that. Mrs. Pauley got sad talking about Mr. Pauley losing his job, and how they weren’t doing so good lately.

I felt bad for Mrs. Pauley, and started helping pull some of her weeds until she asked me to stop because I accidentally pulled up some things that weren’t weeds. I started watching the ants scurry around the sidewalk instead.  One was pulling a dead bug that was way bigger than it was, and I wondered how it could do that.  I liked being there with mom and Mrs. Pauley. I liked the way the breeze felt on my arms and legs, and how it ruffled my mom’s hair.  Only a few of Mrs. Pauley’s grey hairs moved around because she wears it up in bun all the time.

Mrs. Pauley is my favorite neighbor because she doesn’t ask too many questions, and she likes baking chocolate chip cookies – the chewy kind that I never want to stop eating.  I loved helping make cookies the last time she watched me because I got to eat one almost right out of the oven, and the chips were all melted and tasted so good.  Mrs. Pauley also likes that I have good posture and that I keep my clothes clean.  I guess she doesn’t see me much because I do not always keep my clothes clean!  I didn’t like it when we were on sitting on the stoop and Mrs. Pauley said that someday I’d find someone ‘as good as her Harold to marry’.  Eww, I don’t ever want to get married.  Mom laughed and said, “Jeanine’s barely cut her second molars, it’s not time to start talking about husbands!”  Then mom took off my hat and ruffled my hair, which she knows I hate, but I let her that time because she looked so happy sitting there with Mrs. Pauley, and she’s usually so stressed out.

Mrs. Pauley started crying after the sheriff handed her a piece of paper, and I decided to go over and see what happened.  I pushed my hat up a little so I could see better, and went across the street as soon as there were no cars coming.  I’ve been wearing my hat since I got in for my birthday last June, and it’s getting dingy looking around the brim, but I won’t let mom wash it because I’m afraid it will get ruined.

The sheriff was telling Mrs. Pauley that she had to have all her stuff out by Monday, and the other man said he was sorry, but the rent was long overdue.  Mrs. Pauley didn’t even see me standing there.  She just closed her door and the sheriff and the other man left.

I ran back across the street and told Mom that Mrs. Pauley was getting kicked out of her house.  Mom’s eyes widened, and she said ‘oh, no’, and then she took out her phone and called Mrs. Pauley.  They talked for a little while and mom had tears in her eyes when she ended the call.

I decided that we had to help Mrs. Pauley.  I asked Mom what we could do and she suggested starting a collection to help, but Mrs. Pauley was going to need a way to continue paying her rent.  I thought of calling George, and her other sons – maybe they could help.  Mom helped me find George’s number off the internet, and we called him right then.  He didn’t even know Mrs. Pauley was in trouble, never mind lots of trouble!  I didn’t understand why George didn’t know, but mom said some people have too much pride to let others know when they’re not doing well.

The day I saw Mrs. Pauley almost lose her home was a terrible, horrible day – kind of like Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which was one of my favorite books when I was nine. George must have called his other brothers and got their help too because Mrs. Pauley didn’t move out.  Mom and I went to the City Market and they gave us a bunch of old plastic containers, and I used a red marker to write ‘Help Mrs. Pauley’ in my best lettering.  City Market let me put a container on their counter, and we brought the others to the library, the Happy Bean coffee shop, and I brought one to the school office, while mom brought the last one to work.

We only got a hundred dollars the whole month, but Mrs. Pauley thanked me over and over.  We’re going to keep the containers there, and try to find other ways to help too.  I told Mrs. Pauley she should start selling chocolate chip cookies, and she thought that was a good idea.  It may not be like the Battle of Puebla, but it did start on Cinco de Mayo.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day Seventeen, Fear With A Twist

One of my worst fears?  That the bartender won’t bring my drink soon enough!  That’s my fear with a twist – get it?

Fine, a real fear. I could say something pedestrian and banal like ‘I’ll never find love’, or ‘dying alone’, etcetera, but an honest fear is dying of AIDS, or being burned alive.

The context is ‘address one of your worst fears’.  Of the two mentioned above, being burned alive is probably the worst because there are good drugs for AIDS, but I watched a friend perish from AIDS, each day worse than the last, his broken body wracked with pain, blistering sores, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and he endured each new opportunistic bacteria, fungus, or virus that destroyed his fragile immune system.

Maybe being burned alive is a piece of cake after that, but I don’t know.  I don’t want to find out.  This was a stupid fucking exercise, and I’m not even sure why I did it, but there, it’s done.

Writing 101, Day Sixteen, Labor Of Love

My job keeps me humble.  Every day broken hearts and lost love by the thousands come through the Clearing House, and part of my job is sorting through the morass, deciding what’s repairable, and we send that up to the Techs with the appropriate work orders, but the tough ones are those we ship back for further grief processing.  Sometimes hearts that looked relatively untarnished come back several more times – each time more ragged and bruised.  I’ve been tempted to send encouraging notes with those, but I’m not a Technician, and I’d probably only make it worse.

The Clearing House selected me when I was fifteen, and my empathic powers weren’t developing as my parents had hoped.  I couldn’t repel others’ grief, and you have to keep your emotions out of it if you’re going to be a Technician.  Filtering others’ emotions through my heart used to cause me terrible sadness, but being a Sorter has clarified what’s mine, and how to not attach my heart to others.

Not that I’m immune to heartbreak – I’ve had several leaves of absence while my heart was sorted – and my work review has had several underscores in grief differentiation skills, and too much entanglement.  It has taken me nearly twenty years to learn the craft, and I still slip up now and then.  The older crew worried about me, and a few times I was almost done for, but I made it back, and I hope the last leave was exactly that!

Trey swore he’d never seen a heart that torn up mend, and I owe a lot to the techies – especially Marcia, bless her heart, who took my heart home for some extra care, even though she wasn’t supposed to.  I guess even Technicians can score low on entanglement sometimes.

Dealing with lost love is trickier than straight-up broken hearts.  There’s often so much hope left that you’d think it would be easier to sort out, but lost love is like a bottomless pit.  You send it up to Tech, and it comes right back down to be sorted as hopes rise and fall, and we do our best to piece it all back together into something workable.  Sometimes the best that Tech can do is rearrange pieces to fit, but sometimes there’s only a shell left, the insides are all fragments.

The best part of the job is seeing mended hearts, and when love is found – either old or new.  It’s difficult, but the world couldn’t exist without our work.  The Techs get most of the gratitude, but they share it with us because the entire operation is only as good as its parts.

Last week, I picked up a heart, and was just about to toss it into the irretrievable pile, when it fluttered and shimmered for several seconds.  It wasn’t really enough to send up to Tech, but my empathy must be getting better because I couldn’t toss it.  I knew I might get reprimanded, but I was prepared to defend my decision.  Turns out, I didn’t have to.  We don’t always get to know particular stories, but yesterday Marcia came down to tell me that the heart I saved was from a young woman who reminded Marcia of me.  She almost didn’t make it, Marcia confided, but just as Marcia was about to stop resuscitation, the heart leaped and glowed stronger than ever.  Marcia delivered it personally – she might be the one reprimanded if management finds out! – but the woman decided to love herself, and finally knew that she was enough.

I’m so glad Marcia shared that with me because it helps keep me strong too.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day Fifteen, They Canceled The Fair

fryeburgfairnightHow many years has it been? Twenty-five, no, thirty!  I’ve been going to the Down Home Agricultural County Fair since I was seven or eight, and now it’s canceled.  Sure, there are other fairs, I suppose – other fairs that are not the Down Home!

I had my first kiss underneath the bleachers next to where Frank’s Fabulous Pigs raced. I had turned thirteen the previous September, and Jimmy Reynolds, my friend and secret crush since third grade, grabbed a hold of my hand and pulled me under the bleachers.  At first I thought we were just going where we shouldn’t be, maybe to look for lost money, him beaming that ten-megawatt smile at me, and me awaiting further instruction, when he leaned in and kissed me.  My heart pounded and my hands were instantly sweaty as I kissed him back, and we stood there until the sound of feet stomping above us broke the spell.

We held hands the rest of the night, and although it was usually hard to shut me up, I couldn’t think of a thing to say – and neither could he.  We just kept riding the rides, playing the carnival games, and sharing fried dough, and a fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Jimmy moved to Florida at the end of the summer, and we wrote letters back and forth for a while, promising to visit, which we never managed, and after a year went by the letters slowed, and by the next summer, I stopped hoping for a response to my last few letters.

The Down Home County Agricultural Fair was a near guarantee to see everyone I knew – and the chance to eat my fill of french fries with vinegar, fried dough, and over-priced lemonade, that I enjoyed watching the vendor make for me.  “You like it sweet or tart, honey?”  Sweet for me, tart for Jimmy.

Time wore on, and every year the events that attracted me changed from thrill rides to animal shows, and after my son was born I went with friends who had children, and we’d meet year after year, first riding with our children on the kiddie rides, our knees scrunched up, or wider hips not quite fitting into the tot-sized cars, and when they were big enough, putting our children on the kiddie rides alone, and watching with happy trepidation as they thrilled or freaked-out, and when they were older, bidding them farewell with instructions to meet later by the front gate, and having them pretend they didn’t see us whenever they’d pass by.

With my son in college, and friends scattered around, I went to the Down Home by myself last year, and spent most of my time looking at prize-winning quilts, home-made clothing, garden and preserve entrants’ displays, and shook my head at the carnies luring game players to win prizes not worth the two dollars to play one game.  Back in my day, I find myself thinking, it was a quarter, and the prizes were bigger, and better quality too.  I might as well start yelling at the kids to get off my lawn.  I catch myself and laugh, I don’t want to be in the ‘old coot’ category – not now, not ever.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

 

Writing 101, Day Fourteen: Letter To Mother, August 19, 1912

Photo credit: The Fairmont Copley Plaza
Photo credit: The Fairmont Copley Plaza

August 19, 1912

Dearest Mother,

I am so very sad you couldn’t make it to the Fairmont Copley Plaza’s opening gala.  I’ve been told there were over a thousands guests, although I knew it must have been close!  Oh, the crush of people, so excited to be in such a gorgeous hotel, and Mayor Fitzgerald’s wonderful remarks for the occasion.

Samuel and I toured the hotel with the mayor’s coterie, and you would fall in love with all the furnishings, paintings, and such fine architecture.

Our sixth-floor room looks out over Copley Square, and the windows are shaded with gorgeous gentian-blue brocade drapes, and the floor is covered with thick, soft, deep blue carpeting. There are custom-made furnishings, as well as the finest Queen Anne dresser and desk, and the feather bed makes you feel like you’re floating rather than lying on solid material! The cool marble in the bath feels so good on your feet, even though our room, as every room, has air-conditioning!  Imagine that, mother – all the cool air you could want at the click of a knob!

I wish I could stay here forever, but I’ll have to cherish our weekend as Sam’s architectural work and my household duties, as well as all the children’s activities, keep us from ever doing much these days.

Samuel and I have a luncheon to attend this afternoon, and I promise I’ll write more on our return.  I do hope you’re settling into the Gloucester house comfortably, and I can hardly wait for September when I’ll get to see you, and your mark on the place!

As ever, your dutiful daughter,

Marie

Fairmont Copley Plaza

 

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day Thirteen: Something Found

Shimmering, silver, shadowed light,

Guide my path through darksome plight.

Arose a call cut through still air,

A screech, a chill, nothing there.

Trembling hands, heart’s fast throb,

Holding back a muffled sob.

Stumbling through brush,

A tear at my sleeve,

Barely feel able to breathe.

Ahead, Yes, there! Thankful Shelter –

Door pulled open with a heave –

Behind all chaos I did leave.

Locked, barred, against my fright,

Growling, scratching, they seek to bite.

Once lost, I am found,

And won against the raging hounds.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

 

Writing 101, Day 12, Too Shy

Too Shy, that was my nickname for a while in fourth grade, only the bullies ran it together – Toozhyyyy – so it sounded like my parents named me from a science fiction or fantasy book, or that I was from some exotic locale, which was how I liked to think of it.

I went to a new school a few weeks after fourth grade had already started, and made friends with Annabelle at recess my first day.  She wanted me to join in a game of Red Rover, but I said I didn’t want to because I didn’t know anyone, and I wasn’t very good at it, and she declared my problem was being too shy, which Eddy Frost and Kyle Jacobson heard, and started calling me Toozhyyyy, looking at me with their stupid, sour, faces, as if they had made up the best insult ever. I guess, maybe they had, because that’s what everyone called me when the teachers weren’t making them use my name, which is Susan.

Most of the time I pretended it didn’t bother me, but Annabelle suggested I bow the next time they called me it, and after that I became Queen Toozhyyyy, and one day I couldn’t take it anymore so I started calling Eddy, ‘Betty’, and Kyle, ‘Kyle-Pig-Pile’, and Annabelle laughed like it was the best joke she ever heard, and she called them that too, but it didn’t catch on.

Eddy told me he was going to beat me up after school if I kept calling him Eddy-Betty, and I told him I’d stop when he and Kyle-Pig-Pile stopped, and I hoped he knew how to fight good because my older brothers taught me how to fight, and I’d sure hate to see the bloody nose he was going to have.  I said it with my meanest look, staring right into his eyeballs as if I could see right into his bloody brains.

Eddy and Kyle left me alone after that, and I’ve been Susan ever since.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day 10, Favorite Food

From: http://shortorderdad.com/?p=1734
From:
http://shortorderdad.com/?p=1734

“Why can’t I go with Lisa and Trudy?”, I begged mom for the third time in twenty minutes.  She was cutting up carrots, and celery –  and she gave me and my little brother a half a celery stalk for a snack, before adding the rest into the pea mash in the big stew pot simmering on the stove.

“For the last time, you’re too young to go out by yourselves.”

“But their moms are letting them go!”

Mom stopped chopping and eyed me, her lips whiting around the edges.

“Well, they are not your Mom, and your older brothers will take you after dinner, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go at all.”  She wiped her hands on her blue and white-flowered apron before picking up the ham-hock and adding it into the pot. “And, it’s the first year your little brother is going Trick-or-Treating, and you’ll have to stay with him”  She turned around starting to chop the onions, and I knew I’d be in trouble if I said another word, but I couldn’t help groaning, and I left the kitchen when I saw her raised eyebrows.

I laid down on the couch in the other room to pout, and listened to the wind blowing leaves against the side of the house, and after a while mom began humming, and I could hear my brother playing with his Lincoln log set on the kitchen floor, the sounds making me sleepy.  The celery hadn’t made me any less hungry, but mom would just get irritated again if I started asking if supper was done.

I got up and went into the kitchen anyway, and sat at the rectangular Formica table with the bumpy metal trim I liked to run my fingers along.  I didn’t like the kitchen chairs in the summer when my legs stuck to the plastic seat.  My brother got his head stuck in between the chair top and seat last summer and mom buttered his ears to get his head back out.  The stupid kid tried to do it again but mom warned him that she would just leave him there this time.

I thought that sitting at the table would make supper get done sooner, but instead, it seemed to take longer.  I liked the way the windows were steaming up though, and I went to draw a finger picture on the window but mom yelled at me that it would leave grease marks, so I sat back down and laid my face on the cool table-top.  Mom told me to get up and get the bread out of the pantry and put it on a plate, and then get the bowls and spoons out.

I didn’t grumble this time because I was so hungry and I knew that meant supper was ready!  I even got the butter without being asked.

Mom sat my brother on top of the phone books on his chair, and she told me to get my brothers and sisters for supper.  I yelled from the bottom of the stairs, making my mom yell at me from the kitchen to walk upstairs and get them, but they were already stomping down.

We all sat and ate our dinner, my older brothers finishing first, and my sisters close behind.  I loved the soup so much I wanted another bowl, and mom said there was just enough for seconds.

I hated having to wait for my little brother to finish, but mom let me go get my costume on while she cleaned up my brother.

After Trick-or-treating, the house still smelled like the pea soup, but I was too full of candy to want any more.  Mom made us pour out the rest of our candy to see what we could keep, while I smirked at my secret of already eating several pieces until my stupid brother told her we ate some on the way home – and I had told him he could have some only if he didn’t tell mom when we got home.  She told us to go straight to bed, adding that if we were poisoned it served us right for not listening to her, but when my brother burst into tears thinking he was going to die she relented and let us stay up another half-hour.

Through the years, Halloween has held a special memory of my mom’s pea soup, but I’ve yet to have, or make, pea soup as good as hers.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day 9, Life Goes On

Chester smiled at Bree, squeezing her hand, “What an absolutely gorgeous day!”

“I know! After all the rain, it’s nice to feel the sun again.”  Bree lifted her face toward the sun, she and Chester standing still for a long moment on the park’s dirt path, just past the weathered magnolia tree not yet in bloom.  “The air smells so clean, doesn’t it?” Bree inhaled and exhaled, looking at Chester who nodded his affirmation, his eyes still closed against the sun.

Bree clasped her fingers through Chester’s and they walked on, enjoying the greening grass, the azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwood, cherry, and ornamental pear trees in varied states of blossoming.  Spring was the hardest for Bree, the time of re-birth and awakening, but this was the fifth spring without Jason, and Chester seemed to sense her thoughts as he brought her hand up, kissing her fingers.

The path turned onto the broader paved bike lane where concrete benches sat every few hundred yards, and shade trees offered respite from the sun.  A calm breeze ruffled the edge of Bree’s new spring skirt and she hoped the wind would stay mild.  She bought it because she needed something new and pretty, but more because it was Chester’s favorite cerulean blue, and he liked it when she wore something other than jeans and t-shirts.

A woman sat knitting on a bench, and Bree felt her stomach tighten as she noticed it was a small, red, sweater.  Chester put his arm around Bree’s shoulder as he felt her trembling, and guided her beyond the bench.  Tears welled up in Chester’s eyes at the memory of Jason at two years old, in the red sweater Bree had knitted him, the sweater he was wearing that awful October day.

Bree had been doing laundry down cellar while Jason napped.  He had fallen asleep on their drive to the store and hadn’t woken when she brought him inside.  She put him in his crib and rushed to get some chores done while she could.  She had just finished transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer when she was seized with terror.  She ran upstairs and into Jason’s room to find him hanging over the side of the crib, the neck of the sweater having gotten caught and twisted on the crib’s edge, choking him.  He wasn’t breathing, his body tinted a grey-blue, and Bree heard herself scream but it seemed that someone else far away was screaming.  She frantically untangled him and began CPR, but it wasn’t working.  She scrambled to get the phone, her shaky fingers missing 911 twice before she connected.

She begged them to call Chester at work, not able to remember where he was at first.  The first responders found her clutching Jason to her, her face swollen from sobbing, and unable to speak.  She heard herself growl as they tried to pry Jason out of her arms, and she came back to herself when they told her she would have to let them help her child.  She thought that meant he was alive and she jerked herself up holding Jason out to his redeemer.  She didn’t notice the other responder had taken her arm and was pulling her back.  She heard soothing tones, but she didn’t know what he was saying.

Jason wasn’t coming back to life, and Bree felt hers slip away too as the edges of her sight narrowed and she was no more.

She woke up in Presbyterian Hospital, Chester holding her hand, looking gaunt and vacant. “Hi, love”, he said, bringing his face closer to hers, taking her face in his hands, and kissing her. “We almost lost you, too.”  Tears dropped onto her face, mingling with her own.

“He’s gone.  Our baby’s gone, isn’t he?  They lied. They didn’t save him.”

Chester kept his face next to Bree’s.  “They tried, honey.  They tried with all their might. I love you so much, please stay with me.  I can’t lose you too.”

Bree wailed, the sound chilling to all who heard her grief, and Chester dropped his head down to her shoulder, sobbing along with her.

The next year went by in a blur for both of them.  Their families and friends rallied around them, providing them with meals, comfort, and distraction.  They decided to sell the house and move into a condo.  Chester and Bree took leaves of absence from work, and it was several months before Bree stopped contemplating suicide daily.

Several years passed until Bree’s mourning was less surface, and she and Chester were learning to live side by side with their grief.  The first time Chester and Bree laughed felt like a new ability to Bree, but she felt guilty for having mirth, as though the world should be in black and white now, and always raining.

Bree had a psychic friend who came to tell her that Jason needed to see her happy.  He was waiting for her, just out of sight on the ‘other side’, and her joy would make him glad, and comforted.  Bree wasn’t sure she believed her, but she appreciated her friend being kind and consoling, and trying to guide Bree into the present.  Chester often looked lost and not as ready with a laugh or a joke as he used to be, but he went back to work sooner than Bree, and he started telling her about his daily routine again.

This year Jason would be seven, and Bree saw Jason in any boys about his age, wondering what he would be like.  She and Chester thought about trying to have another baby, but neither of them were ready yet.

Bree forced herself to breathe deep and slow, and find an object to focus on.  A beautiful maple tree grew several hundred feet off the path, and Bree noticed the tiny yellow-green leaves against the dark wood branches.  She looked at Chester who was also admiring the majestic tree.

“Life keeps going, honey.  Maybe we can think about trying to have another baby before we’re too old.”

Bree let the statement hang in the air, but she held Chester closer, and murmured, “I love you so much.  I’m happy to be with you, but I’ll think about more.”

Chester leaned in, kissing Bree full on the mouth, kissing her across her face and down to her neck.  He knew it embarrassed her, but he couldn’t help himself.  Being together in the beautiful day with his gorgeous wife, having survived such loss, but willing to risk again made life feel new for the first time in many years.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day Eight: Adverbs Schmabverbs

A detailed description of somewhere I go today, and the twist is to write without using adverbs.

Tucked inside a low, single-level brick building, housing a law practice, and four other health practitioners, is Dr. Brad’s office. The asphalt frontage allows ten parking slots, one for handicapped parking, and I try to use a different space each time I go because I read that staying away from rote behavior helps your brain.

There is a six or seven-foot tall evergreen tree that reminds me of a Norfolk pine except it’s bent over like someone stuck some branches in the ground and called it a tree, but I can see that it’s alive.  I giggle every time I see it. Maybe it’s a young hemlock that got crossed with a Willow tree in a grotesque plant science experiment?  The landscaping also includes magenta-flowered rhododendrons, and low shrubs, set in a brick-lined, elongated s-curve in front, stopping at the three concrete stairs to the glass door, as well as a Zen sand garden enclosed by small white rock chunks.

Warm air flows over me as I open the door, and I walk over the wall-to-wall, multi-colored, low pile carpeting as I head to Dr. Brad’s door.  A slatted blonde wooden bench, and low white plastic table, garnished with several old copies of, Coastal Living, sit against the wall opposite the office door.  As we live nowhere near a coast, the choice of magazine is odd, but I’m glad to peruse the pages for tips on my future beach digs.

I hear noise from within the office, and see the doctor striding over to unlock the door. He smiles and holds his hand up in greeting. I return the gesture, and place the magazine back where it was while saying, ‘hello’, as he utters his, ‘Come on in!’ – a routine that has varied, in the five visits I’ve had with, ‘Glad to see you’, or ‘Welcome’.

Brass coat hooks line a wooden strip on the wall, and a black rubber mat with a sign reading ‘Please take your shoes off’, are to the right next to the door as I enter the waiting room.  Two deep-red fabric-cushioned, mahogany chairs are to my left, and four more of the same chairs edge the white wall leading up to the sliding glass-paneled window separating the business area and treatment rooms.

Three Van Gogh reproductions hang in gold metal frames over the three windowless walls, and New Age music plays out of round, white, ceiling speakers, but I follow the doctor through the tan wooden door to the left of the business window, through the blue carpeted hall, and into the sage-green painted treatment room, its central features a black treatment table, and a large window taking up three-quarters of the wall across the room, framed with light-yellow cotton curtains shading the room from the outside.  A mounted pull shade sits inside the top of the window frame, with a white-ringed cord at the center hanging down an inch or so.  Dr. Brad places a tissue-paper cover on the split-cushion top of the treatment table, and says, “Please lie face down, and let’s see what needs adjusting today.”

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

Writing 101, Day Five, Found A Letter

“Darling Lisa”, it began, “I am so happy you said yes.  My life without you would be less fun, far less beautiful, and I would only know a life half-lived.”  The letter was signed ‘Paul’, and it was well-worn.  I spied it next to an E Station bench, curiosity overtaking me.  I looked around hoping to find her, unless she had discarded it?  Oh Lisa, where are you?  Two trains had come and gone already – was she on one?  Had the letter been here for days?  I watched a worker removing refuse and felt it was lost today.

I hope it wasn’t Paul who dropped it.

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.

 

Writing 101, Day Three: Three Meaningful Songs

“In My Own Little Corner”, from Rogers & Hammerstein’s, Cinderella, was one of the first songs I remember relating to:

I’m as mild and as meek as a mouse
When I hear a command I obey.
But I know of a spot in my house
where no one can stand in my way.
In my own little corner in my own little chair
I can be whatever I want to be.
On the wings of my fancy I can fly anywhere
and the world will open its arms to me.
I’m a young Norwegian princess or a milkmaid
I’m the greatest prima donna in Milan
I’m an heiress who has always had her silk made
By her own flock of silkworms in Japan
I’m a girl men go mad for love’s a game I can play with
cool and confident kind of air.
Just as long as I stay in my own little corner
All alone in my own little chair.
I can be whatever I want to be.
I’m a slave from Calcutta I’m a queen in Peru.
I’m a mermaid dancing upon the sea
I’m a huntress on an African safari.. it’s a dangerous type of sport and yet it’s fun
In the night I sally forth to seek my quarry
And I find I forgot to bring my gun.
I am lost in the jungle all alone and unarmed when I meet a lioness in her lair
Then I’m glad to be back in my own little corner,
All alone in my own little chair.

Even though I knew the song was a fantasy, I became aware that someone else felt like me, and I learned how to compartmentalize my feelings.  Cinderella saw herself in many adventures and I wanted that too.  That version of Cinderella helped me believe it was alright to dream, even when you couldn’t escape your situation.  The song has popped into my head several times throughout my life, always buoying me up enough to keep going, but it has never had the revelatory effect on me that first hearing had.

Along the same lines, Nazareth’s, Love Hurts, and Elton John’s, Sad Songs, saw me through break-ups and other heartaches along my life’s journey, Dan McCafferty belting out love’s wounds, and becoming jaded: “…Some fool’s think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness.  Some fools fool themselves I guess, they’re not fooling me.  I know it isn’t true, I know it isn’t true; love is just a lie, meant to make you blue.  Love hurts“, while Elton John sings not only of suffering’s universality, but of enjoying wallowing for a while:

Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain
And ironing out the rough spots
Is the hardest part when memories remain
And it’s times like these when we all need to hear the radio
`Cause from the lips of some old singer
We can share the troubles we already know

Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don’t you tune in and turn them on

They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much

If someone else is suffering enough to write it down
When every single word makes sense
Then it’s easier to have those songs around
The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you
and it feels so good to hurt so bad
And suffer just enough to sing the blues…

And while it was three songs, lest you think I’m always wallowing, there’s no other feel good, kick-ass song like Katrina & The Waves’, Walkin’ On Sunshine:

 

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© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.