Brownstone Blue

DSCN21964-11-2015

Brownstone Blues

My newspaper opens to a “Questions for the Editor” column in Section C. The first question brought memories that I had tried to put behind me-for many reasons. Unwillingly, they crept back into my mind. They have not left all day.

A writer had asked “what the two little buildings were-one looking like it might have been a church”-in a run down part of town that has seen recent interests in renovation”.Right away, I realized that  I knew a lot more about it than the editor. It was a church in the 1970’s and 80’s, the little congregation  even had managed to raise the money to build the little cement block social hall next door before the church ran low on members and closed it’s doors for good. Closed, like so many little Evangical Churches did when the neighborhood were in decline or attendance waggered.

My ex’s family went to church there all of their lives.  My 1st wedding, 40 years ago was there, my shower in the “new” cement block building. I had seen the church and event hall there, empty maybe fifteen years later, after a short try by another church to lure members in-it failing as well. It was sad, but the reason it failed was much deeper, closer to my heart.

The “projects” were just down the street, and the houses around it were run down and filled with both older, long term residents and young people on the edge of povery and drug use, some still struggling to hold on to family land.

I knew these people, they were my friends.  After an abusive marrige ended, I was part of that world for a time as I began my struggle to find a new life.

The small, sad, church was a reminder than in THIS community,at that time,  their savior, their woman, their daily life was not God, but “brownstone” (heroin, dilaudids, whatever was handy) or a thin white line between misery and estacy. I realize that “regular people” don’t understand these things. They don’t talk about it, especially now, as the plague has moved to another neighborhood. Not disappeaed, as folks want to believe, simply moved.

I am of an age when I look at the obituaries first  when I open the newspaper. It is sad to see the parents of friend listed there, just as I have seen my own, but what breaks my heart is seeing the friends, I knew, hung out with, were close to long ago, listed there too. It has been a shock, not unexpected, but disappointing, scary, hurtful-knowing it could have been me. I’ve looked over death certificates to see the causes of death in my friends-in their mid- fifties to early sixties. Liver or pancreatic cancer, alcohohoc abuse, drug overdose. Some were homeless, many had gotten their lives together, only to watch them fall apart again. As few, like me, had suffered and survived.

In younger days, the friends I lost to a life of the brownstone blues, cocaine, a long list of substitues for the hard fight life can be -would often be more violent. A friends’ brother shot on the sidewalk of the projects during a drug deal, another friends’ brother, missing for days, discovered shot dead in the trunk of a car. Someone close to you arrested, the weekly trips to court among the people I knew.  Then, there was a childhood girlfriend, overdosed from cocaine at 23. A friends son, blew his head off after drugs did not cure his depression. The sad story goes on.

I remember, “back in the day”, listening to the hard rock songs I’ve always loved (and still do). They told the true stories of young men (and women) who made it big, only to find the pressure of musical careers and the ease of obtaining drugs ruining their lives. Some made it to tell their story, many did not.

There is a series on “You Tube” called “Behind the Music” that tells many of these tales. In the music world, when a group found success, they often found another world as well. The program allows members of the music groups to tell the story of how life became a series of drugs, highs and lows, ruined lives, wasted talent and too often wasted lives.

I know it didn’t start with Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc. but it was the first time I was old enough to hear of it. Living on the cusp of it, years later, simply reminds me of how easy it can be to try to ease a pain that cannot be eased by numbing that pain with habits so addictive that only the strongest survive-sometimes.

I don’t have an answer, I have lived through my own hell, I live through it every day, but somehow managed to recognize the stop sign when it appeared before me. I had heard too many times, the stories of people falling for someone on drugs or even alcohol, and the cynical laugh of their friends when they said, “Man, herion IS their woman, they “think” with that nedle in their arm-or wherever they can find a spot where the veins have not collapsed. You, dear,  don’t have a chance.”

The list grows, the sorrows of life increased over time, but for those of us who made it, those who ended up in jail or dead and the lucky ones who managed to stay away from problems so deep that we felt ther was no answer.

I’ve heard it called the “brownstone blues”. No one who hadn’t been there would know what it meant if it came up in random conversation. I think of the little church, and todays generation not even knowing that once God lived there, or tried to.

One day, I think I will drive by and force my mind to remember-both the days when church services struggled there, and the times, when the lights were out day and night. I wish to those trying to re-use the structures, the grace to remember what WAS and what CAN BE-not just in that neighborhood, but in YOURS.

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Duncan’s Ledger: Those Deadly Pies

Originally posted on Add Humor and Faith....mix well:

A poem my grandfather wrote down in his ledger while sitting around a campfire or a bunkhouse with other cowboys about 100 years ago, which gives us some humorous insight into the anonymous author’s experience with food preservation!

Those Deadly Pies

I loathe, abhor, detest, despise,

abominable dried apple pies.

I like good bread, I like good meat,

or anything that’s good to eat;

but of all poor grub beneath the skies,

the poorest is dried apple pies.

The farmer takes his gnarliest fruit,

’tis wormy, bitter and hard to boot.

They leave the hulls to make me cough,

and don’t take half the peelings off.

Then on a dirty cord ’tis strung,

and in a garret window hung.

And there it serves a rest for flies,

until it’s made up into pies.

Tread on my corns and tell me lies,

but don’t pass me dried apple pies!

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Dedah’s Tulips

james shaves dedahThirty-nine years ago, when I was expecting my first child, my father planted red and yelow tulips down the border of his sidewalk. It became a custom to take pictures of the children in from of them each year. Sometimes, I would be in the picture with them. At first, there was just me and my baby boy, in a few years, a sister appeared with us. The tulips became a way to keep up with how my family was growing.

In years to come, I would have six children. There would be years when some of the older ones weren’t in the picture. Once in a while, we would give up on getting a lot of them together and just take a photograph of whoever we could catch up with at the moment.

I think we all saw Spring having “officially” come whenever Dedah’s Tulips bloomed. Dedah was my chilrens name for my father.

Last year, my father was very sick, I was taking him to the doctor two or three times a week. It would be the last year we took pictures of dedahs tulips, with my father smiling , unseen I the background.

This year, my father is gone, I am cleaning out the house he and my mother shared for 61 years, until her death several years ago. Along the way, I lost my 15 year old son. Taking pictures of the tulips had begun to remind us, not of spring, but of what we had lost.

Right before Easter Sunday this year, my son, who was living next door to my father told me, “You know, mom, Aunt Phyllis’ tulip have bloomed and Dedah’s haven’t. Aunt Phyllis lived up the hill from my parents and their flowers would always bloom at the same time.

It got to the point where I found myself dreading the trips to clean out their house  so badly, there would be weeks when I didn’t go. Watching as the house became more and more empty, the losses and sweet memories of my children growing up fresh in my mind, was  just too emotional as I thought of my youngest, now 6 ‘5″ tall. Seeing another room emptied, cleaning out another cabinet had become so painful to me that it was nearly unbearable.

Today, it was the day before “trash day”,so I felt I needed to go do some cleaning, inspite of my dread. I walked down the brick steps that my father had replaced maybe ten years ago, after I teased him about the steps feeling like walking down a waterfall when it rained. As I reached the bottom of the steps, I noticed that the tulips, now scattered, with spaces where they had died out over the years, had come into bloom. I smiled, thinking that perhaps, they were somehow waiting on dad to decide spring had come. After all, it had been cold the whole previous week.

I called my son and told him, excitedly, “Guess what? Dedah’s tulips are blooming! You’ve got to take your boys down and have their pictures made!” As I hung up the phone, I realized that time had moved on, from pictures of my babies with me, to pictures of my children with Dedah’s grandkids. How I wished he could be there to see them again. I had grieved my parents and my son so much while cleaning up that house.Finally, something had brought a smile to my face.

The sun peeked through the early morning clouds, shining a spear of sunlight directly on the tulips. With tears in my eyes, I looked up and smiled, “Thanks, Dad.” I whispered. It was warm, it was spring, and somehow , he knew.

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When Winter Begins to Surrender

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The breeze still draws chills from my body

as I walk, head down along the field.

I want to see the signs of winter awaken.

giving in-flowers, every tiny flowers!

Some are tiny bluets, sprinked among the

dead grasses, rushing to grow before the grasses.

There are stalks of white blossoms, so tiny

I must look close to examine them.

I remember how the seed pods burst open

when they flowers have done their duty.

I see the sign of periwinkles along

the cracked brick wall beside the road.

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A snowflake Story

A pelting of ice jingles against my window pane..musical-sweet childhood memories.

the sound softens. I can FEEL it changing form…

a softness surrounds me-comforts me.

i am snowblind deep in the forest. I am young,free.

I giggle,stick out my tongue to taste its beauty

Long ago, this was my world.

i watch the different shapes of whiteness fall softly on my black coat.

We are one, the snowflake and i- beautiful for a moment, catch me if you can!

Magic-and i own it- Just for a blink in time,yet the memory  lives on.

if only i could make the world so beautiful and innocent once more.

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Reflections of Life’s Passages (click song at end to listen while you read)

        DSCN2720     The mirror reflects back a “me” that I no longer know.  She isn’t young, My health was decimated by the loss of a child. Even my youngest child has a car, a job and a girlfriend now.  The years since I lost my son and health have completely changed me. I have known this for a long time, but held out hope that time would at least partially repair the wounds .Allow me to explain the crisis that lead to these reflections.

I have come to a point where I do not see that happening.  I raised six children. Raising them, loving them, teaching them was not only my dream, it was my life. I home-schooled them on vacations, Saturdays and in summer. The youngest one was home-schooled full time for several years. With a large family, there is little time to worry about what “yu” want or even need. I lost my best friend to cancer when we were 48-two years before I lost my son.

I worked in the children’s schools as they grew up, as an assistant, a volunteer, and a substitute.  My life was filled with ball games, dance lessons, band and activities that revolved around them. Since i was a stay-at home mom in summer, I would have up to 14 kids at my house in one day.  I admit it was hectic. I suffer from migraines and it often took everything I had to be the kid of mom I strived to be,

Even today, my kids say that I was a terrific mom, that now as parents themselves, they don’t see how I did it.  I worked my way through a university while raising two kids as a single parent.  It seems I found endless energy and patience somewhere.  I only wish I could find that place today.

When I lost my health from Cushing’s Disease, it was determined to be from the trauma of my loosing my son.  Being a mother WAS my life.  Loosing him was unthinkable, unbearable.  It was at a time when my older kids were going to school, getting married, having their first child, and I was at that age a woman faces when she realizes that “youth” is no longer with her.  My grief, my problems were not recognized by anyone but me.  I would hear, “It’s natural that you are greived over your son, that your children moving away is difficult, but you will, in time adjust.”  I didn’t believe it then, and when I had heart failure eight months after my childs death, I knew that I had been right all along. I really was sick. The heart doctor started doing tests and wrote a report to my regular doctor that month, saying that I had the classic symptoms of Cushing’s and should see an endocrinologist.  Evidently, my regular doctor never read it.  When I went to my cardiologist in January and he asked me what the endocrinologist had  said, I told him that I had never been referred to one. He was astounded. I ordered a copy of my medical records from my regular doctor, and there, right on top was the letter from my cardiologist. Apparently, it had never even been read, just stuck in my file.

The cardiologist immediately sent me to an endocrinologist and after many test, Cushing’s Disease (sometimes called Cushing’s Syndrome) was confirmed.  She told me the only way to get well was pituitary surgery, which meant going into my head through my sinuses, and into the area right below my brain, where the pituitary  gland sits.  I was terrified. Why was all his happening to me -loosing my son and then my health  as well?

When I was finally accepted at an out of state facility for pituitary surgery, I was told that the tumor was wrapping around my carotid artery and I would have probably had less than 3 weeks to live.  It had now been a year and a half since my son died.  Not long after he died, I started a slow process of gaining weigh, although I couldn’t eat and watching my long hair thinning out, I was nauseous all the time. I could hardly walk, using a cane  to steady myself. It took months after the surgery to even begin to recover.  The joyful events I should have been enjoying had been taken from me, yet I felt that no one could really comprehend what I was going through.

As I mentioned, my youngest child was only eight years old when his brother died, He was my rock. He needed me, he didn’t care if I didn’t have a lot of energy, he played with friends, with siblings, and most of all supported me.  Now, he, too has grown up. I wonder, tearfully , how much he remembers about his brother. They were so close. His brother and I were so close. When the time came for my son to get his drivers license, he was going to college in the afternoons and high school in the morning. He started dating, and, like all children growing further away from needing mom.

I continued to try to make a small garden. I had been taught the love of gardening as a child and loved sharing the study of nature, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and even arachnids with my children. Even  when pregnant, working and  and tired, I would find time to have a large garden. It soothed my soul. I could enjoy the bounty of anything from spring strawberries to autumn pumpkins. Now,  I was so weak, I could hardly make it to my garden. I was not able to work in it long at a time.  I watched as my beautiful garden got less and less attention.

Cushing’s affects your whole body, especially if left untreated as long as mine was. My endocrinologist described my bones as like “chicken bones”-terribly fragile. I broke my hip in a simple fall simply because I went down at an odd angle on my fragile leg. My digestive system has continued to be a problem. I feel sick when I eat, I have severs scoliosis and and in constant pain. from my neck and back to my hips. My feet are numb, my face is numb from the pituitary surgery, my hip has cramps so bad, i can only compare it to natural childbirth-without the joy of your baby at the end of the immense pain. Even though I have made some improvements in my strength, I know I will always have the symptoms of Cushings knocking at the door. For a time, It took small steps and a cane or holding on to something to navigate a room, My goal was to reach my son’s grave, on a hillside, without help.  I felt like I was climbing a mountain, but one day, I made it and it became a place of solace for me. I find letters and mementoes there from others-his many friends, even now, after eight years,a wedding invitation, a Carolina memento, a black rose. I put Victorian statuettes of a mom and son watching younger children sleigh ride, or laid a baseball there, maybe holiday rememberances. Even though I never liked baseball, he died between innings in a game he didn’t want to play, so I had “Safe at Home” carved on his black obsidian stone to help us remember that his last hit was one of the best he ever made.  Many years ago, I put a heavy chain with eight links on it around the flower pot-to symbolize that there would always be eight people in our family. I find messages from him there, I have written about them in other blogs-things only he and I would understand. Black widow spiders that we studied, dimes,(that one is secret), feathers from a bird killed by predators.

Every day is a struggle. I feel like I was cheated out of enjoying the years of my other children’s lives when they were maturing, going to college, marrying, having their own children, living, laughing, just regular things. I am having a difficult time accepting that my youngest child is not now, that youngster who helped me so much and needed me-no matter how poor my health is.  Now tthat he is older, I depend on him for other things.  He is just doing what young people do-grow up, just as my older kids were doing when their brother was so wrongly taken.  I know that, but it still hurts.  I have to find the strength to do things with him that I am often not really able to do. I have had to learn not to expect to be “mommy” after 40 years. It is more difficult than I can describe.

Looking into the mirror of my life’s struggles has affected me in many ways. I think of my friend who died at 48, after struggling with cancer for 15 years and I am thankful that I was a least here to witness the maturing of my family. I fight the anxiety and stress of not being able to do for my family what my heart longs to do. I smile when my older children sing the songs to their kids that I sang to them, or one of them remembers a book we read together. I walk in the park with them as they tell them the names of insects and flowers we studied so many years ago.

I have given up on having even the people who love me, and that I love, truly understand what I have been through and why I am less patient, more emotional, not as strong as I once was. I can only hope that one day, when they remember “me”, they remember the “me” that I was when I had all of my children, when I was young, healthy and strong. I hope that as all of us grow older and struggle to keep up with the things that made us who we are, that our children, our loved ones, realize that those thing are still there, inside of us. Our hearts have not changed, our love is just as strong, even when our bodies have failed us.  

Once in a while, I have a good day, and can almost do the things I once did. What a joy to be “me”, if only for a while.  I still listen to my Lynyrd Skynyrd and other Southern Rock music.  I still love long hair and blue jeans.  I am still me. Those who know me, please, remember that. Inside, I am strong, proud, loving. Outside, I still manage an incredible amount of accompishments, difficult, though they may be.  If the sun is covered by clouds, it is still there. I am still there. Remember that.

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Death in the Cemetary

326Death in the Cemetary

Today, I went to the cemetary where my precious son and parents are buried. I am used to finding odd items there, as if they were leaving a message that they are with me. Black widow spiders are one of the most odd, but because I study insects and arachnids, I look for their webs and see them. I do not find them on any other graves, which makes the incidences more profound.

Today. I was at my son’s grave site and found turkey feathers scattered over a span of maybe 60 feet in a grassy area by the woods and in the graveyard. Already being there to talk about my most recent anguish, I was especially struck by finding the feathers scattered so near my son’s gave. I

We have a lot of wild turkeys in the mountains here, and finding them was no surprise. It was imagining the scenario of what happened that made them so profound. I could see the group of turkeys wandering down the grasses at the edge of the woods when suddenly a coyote appears, snatches one of them as it fights for its life. I see the others scattering into the forest, turkeys take care of number one, particularly adult turkeys. It was apparent by the number of feathers, the force of the wind, and the long trail of a variety of feathers, from downy white to the long, iridescent tail feathers waving in the wind that the turkey did not win and the battle had taken place only a short time ago.

What make this discovery so profound is the event that sent me there-that one of my children might move-a short distance, but from a home on my fathers property. It brought back the story of my life-full circle-that no mater how hard I try, how long I suffer, how much I work with a now disabled body, I will not see my dreams come true. Perhaps my children will, and we parents often give in to this pain at our own expense.

I know their reams are not mine. What hurts is that my dreams never seemed to matter. Even If I came near them, something came along to ruin to feeling we have when we meet a long sought goal. We work so hard to help them be able to fulfill their dreams, only to find that it isn’t good enough or simply that theirs are different and our efforts are pointless and often complicate any efforts we may want to make to help them reach their dreams.

I see the coyote and turkey as the heartbreak I continually encounter. One problem, disast, tragedy does not end before another is thrown at me. I wonder how much I can take. I wonder why I try. I wonder why sometimes members of my family that I have depended on since childhood seem blind to my needs and expectations.

I gathered the feathers and mixed them with the flowers on my sons grave, just as my feelings are often so mixed when it comes to what to do to make my life worth living without ruining my children’s chances for their dreams to come true, like mine were ruined.

I ask my sweet angel for guidance and help, wondering if he is allowed to provide me with it from heaven. I ask my parents why they left things undone that wiped out my efforts to help my children,

knowing that they had no idea when their health would fail or they would loose control of those little dreams we all have that don’t work out like we had planned.

It is ironic that this violent death by my son’s grave happened when I felt so much like my own dreams had died. Please, my angel, find a way to help me-tell me what to do.

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