Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Country Living Protocol

I live in a quiet country setting. There are not a lot of comings and goings. But nevertheless, when I am in the garden, neighbors going by come into my driveway for a chat, or if I am shoveling the walk, they stop in and we head for the house for a quick cup of coffee. And when Hub and I walk the dogs on the gravel road, neighbors pull up alongside of us, roll down the window and inquire how we are doing.

And though I seldom talk to other of my neighbors, we still have spoken on occasion in the garden, in the yard, or on the gravel road. So I know their names and where they live and what they look like and where most of them work.

Now you must be wondering what this is all about. Believe me, it is about important stuff. Important because these are necessary conventions for country living.

Now if you will just set the foregoing ramble aside for just a moment, I will tell you what happened last Wednesday.

The power went off and about thirty minutes later, a neighbor came to the door. When I let him in, he frantically explained that down the road were two grass fires raging in the ditch where a tree had fallen and broken a power line.

My youngest daughter was visiting at the time. So while she phoned the fire department, Hub and son-in-law and neighbor rushed back to the fire with nothing more than the two pails of water they managed to get (with no power) and two old blankets I quickly gathered from my basement.

The fire was already threatening a house and outbuildings and with the gale-force winds there was extreme danger that the whole place would go up in flames. Hub and his small crew battled the edge of the fire that was threatening yard buildings with the bit of water and the gunny-sack substitutes I had given them.

The house was the home of the ‘Unknowns’ who have never stopped in, waved, or strolled in my yard. They were not home. Still after we contacted the fire department, daughter and I wanted to contact the people that lived there. But how?

They came from the city. That much we do know. And they have lived here for more than four years, but nobody knows their names. We still refer to their residence by the names of the previous owners.

Nobody knows where they work. Nobody knows anything about them. We only know the vehicle that drives by. We have discussed that they don’t understand country-dwelling protocol but none of us has ever felt adept enough to go to their door and try and explain it. How do you explain it?

So now there is a fire and we are in a real pickle. Nobody knows who to phone, how, or where. Then someone commented that they had heard that a relative of the wife-of-the-man-down-the-road, where the fire was, worked at a particular business place in town. I called there. Even to myself, I sounded like a total idiot, while I tried to explain that I didn’t know who I was looking for but there is a fire burning near a place down the road that is the home of someone related to someone that works there.

The individual who answered the phone was confused, and who could blame him, but recognizing the urgency, he re-conveyed in loud shouts and short phrases, all that I said to a shop full of workers. I was close to panic myself and my words were foolishly construed to begin with, but when repeated, they sounded even worse.

And so, within the mentality of country-dwelling protocol, I could only give approximate directions that were more dependent on fence-posts, trees, fields, and a list of names of dwellers of adjacent homes – than any kind of sound and specific intelligence.

It seemed to take forever to communicate any key intelligence to those on the other end of the phone. But finally, the very person who answered the phone, screamed, “That is my daughter’s home. They are away. I’ll be right there!”

With that contact resolved, I began phoning other neighbors. Meanwhile, Daughter jumped in her car to see if there was any way she could assist in the fight. She arrived at the scene just when the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man drove up. He came quickly. Well ahead of the fire trucks. By then Hub and his small crew had managed to quell the flames that were less than two minutes away from the house and outbuildings. But downwind the fire raged on.

Soon the fire trucks arrived, as well as two large water tankers, and two smaller ones, and a throng of neighbors. Some with water backpacks, some with shovels, and some with chainsaws. And another neighbor with a backhoe, that he used to push trees and underbrush out of the path of the fire.

There was little daughter could do so she soon returned to the house and what I noticed was wetness in her eyes.

“What happened?” I asked with extreme fear.

“It’s okay, mom,” she said, “they are able to contain the fire as long as the wind doesn’t change.”

“But why are you so disturbed?” I asked. “Was anyone hurt?”

“No,” she said. “But I spoke to the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road and I have never spoken to anyone so heartbroken. (Here her own eyes spilled a bit.) His voice was so choked he could barely speak. His body was quivering and tears were streaming down his face. I have never spoken to anyone that sad and emotional and I didn’t know how to react.”

Much later when Hub returned, and gave an update of the fire, now well under control, suddenly he said something that caught my attention.

“I spoke to the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road,” he said. “He is a crushed man.”

Now Hub is a practical man that takes little notice of emotional conditions, and for him to say this spoke volumes. This man must be distressed beyond comprehension.

Now somewhere in all the ensuing discussion, it was revealed that the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road had just buried his own father a few days earlier. But as I pondered that and what daughter and Hub had said, it seemed that since he was in his late fifties, his dad was probably in his seventies, maybe even older. So of course the loss would cause sadness, but it should have been eased somewhat with his own maturity and the acceptance that this is the normal rotation of life.

The next day Hub and I drove up the road so I could see how much of the landscape was scarred and burned. The fire had covered a much broader area than I expected.

As we turned around to come home, I said to Hub. “I can’t forget what you and daughter said about the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road being so incredibly sad. He is a grandfather himself. Surely a man of his age could not find it that hard to accept the death of his father. And even a fire, and the risk of the damage fire can do, could not be the sole cause of such severe sadness.”

“I agree,” said Hub. “I think what overwhelmed him was a total and unexpected never-felt-before feeling of gratefulness. The shock of seeing how many cared and the shock of seeing that his daughter is part of a community where every single soul within a thirty-mile radius stopped what they were doing and rallied to assist without hesitation.”

I am awed by Hub’s comment but I have to admit, this perspective explains best the extreme emotional state the fellow was in.

While still pondering the man’s condition and what Hub has said, I begin to wonder if ‘gratefulness’ and ‘loss’ pluck at the same heart strings, but with a different beat and sequence.

Making the identity of tears of sadness and tears of gladness much confused.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kill or Cure

First a minor update. The good news is my teeth are fixed and I now have a beautiful smile. Strong, and – ‘secure teeth’ as well, now that I have the talent for keeping them in place. The other good news – I won’t need to see a Dentist again as long as I live.

Now, here we need to digress, cause there is more to this story.

I have long been aware that for some puzzling questions, there is no one to ask so you just have to figure it out for yourself. The puzzler for me, is why doctors offer medications for minor conditions that have side-effects that are as lethal as a ‘gas chamber’. Now, I have finally figured it out but must go to a bit of my own history for you to understand how I rationalized my conclusion.

As a child, medical practice in our household stalled at homemade chicken soup, a stay in bed, a warm sponge bath, and a cool cloth on the forehead. And for extreme situations, a goose-grease chest-rub, a drink of honey-lemon tea, or the utility of a warm mustard plaster. Aside from that, no pills, no bottled elixirs, no infusions by needle or any other way.

In the first 16 years of my life, I was in hospital for a few days when I was 4 or 5 years old with double pneumonia. And then when I was 16 I was hospitalized for tonsillitis because it was extreme enough the Doctor expected he might have do a tracheotomy so that I could continue to breath. And yes, for each of these hospital stays I was given antibiotics by pill or injection. But that was the extent of what I was given for medications in my youth.

Since then I have taken no more medications than I can count on two hands, and no more aspirins than I can count on ten digits as well. This is not to tell you that I am in big wondrous rollicking health. It’s just that I prefer to wait stuff out rather than run for immediate medical attention.

Now not all of us aspire to be what our parents were. But many of us do. We have shared DNA, lifestyle, and environment pushing us to follow the same paths – unless the paths of our forebears show evidence of being one big horrendous mistake from start to finish.

So in my analogy here, according to the rules of my birthright, I usually self medicate my maladies with prunes, a salt-water gargle, or chicken broth, rather than pharmaceuticals. And, within the context of that thinking, I assume that many doctors (though I have no way of being certain how many), coming from homes of medical dependency, entirely shun such medieval measures in favor of pills.

I say this because some of them no doubt were raised in a household with a parent, neighbor, or uncle who was a doctor. I know two of my doctors are the offspring of doctors. Most farmers in my area are the offspring of farmers. And many teachers are the offspring of teachers. And so it is no great stretch to assume that many Doctors become Doctors for the same reason. And with that history, I think it is safe to say that in their youth, medications were dispensed more frequently than in other households.

I furthermore expect, that Doctors, like the Pharmacist I once worked for, self-medicate themselves at the first sniffle, cough, sneeze, or stomach cramp. The result of this kind of frequency of medication, according to experts in the study of pharmaceuticals, is that one soon builds an immunity to drugs that calls for an ever increasing strength of medication to arrest infections.

So now, to return to my original story. After my teeth were extracted, my mouth became infected. And because of this I was given an antibiotic.

With that antibiotic came that blood-curdling fact sheet that is dispensed with drugs nowadays. Now I’m not certain a mouth infection is life threatening, although I realize it could lead to blood poisoning that is. But still, according to the fact sheet I was given, this medication –

“…should only be used for serious infections because it can cause a severe (rarely fatal)
[thank god, for that while wiping beads of sweat from my brow]
intestinal condition…This condition may occur during treatment or even weeks after treatment has stopped.” [!??]

And furthermore, side effects include
“nausea, vomiting, mild diarrhea, sore/painful throat, joint pain/swelling, yellowing eyes or skin…oral thrush, vaginal yeast…rash, itching, swelling, severe dizziness, trouble breathing.”

Holy shirt! What is going on here? I have no immunity to anything medical. There is no reason to call out the entire brigade. One aspirin for me can easily arrest pain equal to the pain of child-birth. Guaranteed, I don’t need such an extreme antidote. Honest to god, I’m certain this bacteria in my mouth could be arrested with a salt water or lemon juice gargle, or a bit of moldy bread or cheese, perhaps even with nothing more than three sandwiches over three days layered with goose grease and raw garlic.

And so I ponder, “Why have I been slammed into this kind of extreme treatment? Surely there are pharmaceutical drugs that cure bacterial infections without radical desperation that verges on the point of 60% possibility of a kill and 40% possibility of a cure?”

That leads me to the conclusion that Doctors are impacted by two life experiences that I don’t have. One is intense medical study and knowledge. The other is their own immunity to drugs arising from living in a medical climate where drugs are dispensed like candy in order for health problems not to interfere with their education, study, travel, family life, or ultimate medical practice.

So now, as I sit on an examination table and have a small bit of infection examined, the Doctor reacts to my condition as if I came from the same environment that he came from. Seemingly with the assumption that I have swallowed as many medications, as he has, and so nothing will work for me except the most extreme measures. Which isn’t true of course. I know that, but how can he know that?

Sure I could tell him…but will he believe me? When within his own education and life experiences, he is so convinced otherwise?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Articles of Faith - Part 2 (conclusion)

2. The Fools of 'Dingley-Dell'

So this is my catechism and at times it is suffocating. Despite the oppression of it, in my youth, I posted pictures on every inch of the bare boards of my attic-bedroom walls. Pictures of spiral staircases, lovely brick houses surrounded by paradise gardens, furniture and home accents of color and unsurpassed beauty, and divinely tall and fair looking ladies in long flowing gowns of lace. All of which were representative of me, my hopes, and my dreams.

Of course, the conflict in all this is that the love of money, thought of money, aspiration for money, all form still another context of sin.

As I’ve already said I must mimic my mother’s simplicity for my own redemption and to be as certain as she was of her paradise, money must have no context in my life. Mother never carried money (except that small bit on a Sunday that my Dad gave her for the collection plate). She spent no money, or asked for no money. All because she was so solidly convinced that it was a sinful act to participate in the dispensation or gathering of money. When money was offered to her, she turned her back and curtly stated, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and onto God the things that are God’s.”

And so, my dad made the money and spent the money. He bought the groceries and household needs without input or communication with her as to cost or deferred payments. And it was only when my father walked past the clothesline on his way to the biffy, and saw a ratty display of mother’s underclothes, that he would finally purchase a few new under-things for her to wear, or a swatch of cloth to make a new dress.

And now the foregoing contemplations remind me of another curious ritual. I don’t know whose benefit it was for. Maybe it was just because of my mother’s strong disdain for money. But when my Dad opened his wallet he turned his back and moved into a corner of the room. I have never seen hell, I have never seen heaven, and the other thing, as I child, I never saw, was the inside of my father’s wallet.

And so I have grown up with an underlying current deep within my psyche that money matters are disgusting. That money is a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. Couple that with the curse of my forbears, and I guess I’m as forever lost as someone who was stupid enough, foolish enough to wash sand from a stone three times.

If ‘evil thought’ equals ‘evil deed’, I am up there with the most extreme villains of all time. Particularly when I watch CNN and the never-ending-story over money matters. I’m left wondering if it is just me. Maybe I’m the dumb one. Maybe articles of faith are supposed to include money matters. Maybe life is not about purity of thought and deed. Maybe it is about playing the game of Monopoly and playing it well.

And then I watch the closing bell at the stock exchange and see that silly-looking group of the rich and famous from ‘Dingley-Dell’ decked out in their finest, standing behind a railing on a raised dais. Someone rings a stupid bell and then I observe them clapping their hands like ‘a bunch of brain-dead stupid fools’ – whether the market is up or down or stable.

I gaze in dismay, thinking impure thoughts of disgust and wondering what their catechism or articles of faith are, or if they have any.

[Acknowledgement: ‘Dingley-Dell’ is a name borrowed from Charles Dickenson’s novel “The Pickwick Papers”.]

Monday, October 13, 2008

Articles of Faith - Part I

1. Sins of Thought

When I was a child, no one ever asked, but if they had, this was my catechism. And these were the articles of my faith.

“I believe in God. And I believe in heaven and the certainty that it is the reward for the pure of mind, and hell – a deep pit of everlasting brimstone that is as certainly the reward of sinners.”

But the catch for me was that sin goes beyond evil deeds. It is also the mental act of impure thoughts. That blows my mind cause I can stay my hand when tempted to steal, or hold my tongue when tempted to lie, but it is impossible for me to avoid the equally vile sins of thought.

As a child, from little more than tiny seeds of resentment of expectations placed upon me, a forest grew of anger and annoyance and thoughts of bitter revenge. And likewise tiny spores of dissatisfaction with the poverty and want of my circumstance, grew like a flourishing field in light soil enriched with pig manure.

And so, it was hard for me to accept responsibility for the thoughts I entertained in my head of envy or distasteful judgment of other human beings. I knew it placed me in danger of burning brimstone, but though I could stay my hand from committing sins of the body, I could not stay my mind from mental digressions. Scenes and scripts in my mind fell so solidly outside of my control, that I was compelled to think my mind was oft under the control of a spirit other than my own.

So the pit of brimstone couldn’t be ignored with evil pictures unfolding in my mind for which I had little means of prevention. I feared the nasties that played endlessly like the music of a looping MP3-Player. Enough to wonder if perhaps I carried a curse that had descended from one evil individual within the root system of my family tree that would make my mind forever and always think impure thoughts of evil, envy, and disdain.

My father once told me that the most damnable act one could ever do was to wash a stone three times in a stream and each time repeat, “I wish to be as free of God as this stone is from sand.” And after the third time, there would be no turning back. That life would remain lonely, solitary, and godless.

I had never done it, never contemplated it. But had someone somewhere in my genealogical history done it. Is that why my father knew that and told me that?

So maybe this was the original curse, and maybe that curse is what prompts evil thoughts of hateful disdain for those who belittle things about me. Things over which I have no control – the eats in my lunch pail, my clothes, my shoes, my home, my family, my mother’s plain and unfashionable dress, or the culture of religious beliefs that rule my home.

But I digress when I want to get back to my articles of faith. To continue…

“I believe also that I can only save my soul from eternal damnation by mimicking my mother’s attitude of sparseness, humility, and self-denial.”

Like her, I need to deny the charm of riches, vanity, and worldly pleasures. Like her, I need to form alliances with lonely social misfits (without consideration how such alliances will damage my own status), and though I have a scarcity of luxuries, the few I have, I must willingly share with those who have less.

I do what I must but there is no denying it. I still miss the beloved doll I gave, at my family’s suggestion, to the little girl who had none. I gave Dolly away but, in truth, I still feel more remorse than beatitude for that so-called generous act. And extreme guilt not only about the misplaced loyalty Dolly had in my love and care but also, sadness for my other doll, Lulabell, and her separation from a dearly beloved sister.

NEXT POST: Conclusion - The Fools of Dingley-Dell

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Writing What Matters

If I was serious about writing, then why didn’t I write my book during that stage of life when everything about me was of such prominent interest?

You know what stage I mean. That stage when it mattered to everyone around me how I styled my hair, how I walked, how I talked, what music I preferred, what star-celebs I idolized, and how well my jeans fit. That’s when I should have been writing cause that is when things mattered a whole lot more to everyone around me.

Don’t you remember how it was? Don’t you remember how those who adored me, celebrated my successes with dance and frolic? And don’t you remember how those who held me in disdain celebrated my failures in like manner? And for sure you remember how, either way, every day, I was cause for a zealous celebration of inauguration or dethronement?

With all the celebrations day after day, I soon no longer took notice, and so I don’t know for sure when all the dancing and frolicking stopped. All I know is one day I had a good look around and saw that I was nothing but a wallflower at a celebration for others I had never even met.

If I’m going to write, what I think or say needs to matter to the world around me. What needs to happen is I must somehow recapture others’ interest and when I’ve done so, I’ll not become blasé and take it all fore-granted next time. Seems to me that while I’ve been dallying away at a postponed plan to write, my chums have aged as I have and now they have their own woes. Too much so, to care about the events of my life – whether distressing or uplifting.

I thought it would be easy to circle back to how things once were. I started by doing a few stunning things. Nobody noticed. Then I did a few clever things. Nobody noticed. Then I did some really stupid things! – and still nobody noticed.

I guess because I am at that other stage of life where people are expected to become forgetful, weird, odd, and bizarre there is nothing I can do to re-capture audience-interest in my world. In my current state of oldness and weirdness, there is no immoral act that I could commit that would give rise to a dance-and-frolic celebration among my foes. And in truth, there is likewise no righteous act I could do that would give rise to dance and frolic celebration among my ‘pros’.

The lowest common denominator of all this is – ‘Like, who cares?’ (I included ‘like’ in that phrase cause it is the only tool I have left to draw small notice to the things I wish to express.)

Obviously, I’ve waited too long and now it is too late for occasions in my world to speak to common interests of any generation. It is too late for my self-expression to blossom outside of myself into a new, funny and endearing nickname from one associate side, or a taunting mean-spirited nickname by the other. And, way too late for my perspectives to afford lingering disgust, or even delight.

Nothing I say or do now is the stuff of legends as it was in my youth. I can no longer magically chain what I say or do to a fixed space in time so solidly that the memory remains for me and all who knew me. I can no longer create memories that are so sturdy and long-standing that they bring tears of laughter to old acquaintances forty years later at a school reunion.

Case in point – is there anyone laughing, crying, (or even reading) yesterday’s rant? Of course not. You see how the relevance has been forever lost. Obviously, as a would-be writer, I procrastinated much to long and now what I write spills out with a deadening thud.

So why didn’t I do my writing in my youth?
---– When it had as much precedence, meaning, clout, character, and relevance as my hair-do, the fit of my jeans, the celebs I adored, the movies I watched, the songs that I sang, and the symmetry of the rolled cuffs on my socks?

Thursday, October 2, 2008