Friday, November 26, 2010

Decisions Not Made

It seems like every November evening now even with the shortening days the sun still decides to put on a drama on the western horizon. I miss the evening news as the sky hypnotizes me, somehow each sunset like a handprint finding unique ways to imprint itself on the skyline. The photo above was snapped three nights ago, whereas tonight's production was enhanced by the blackened outline of a dirigible pausing in air, and then looping gently over twin peaks as it turned 180 degrees in a wide arc heading back to the old Oakland air port. I could see the tiny cabin lights under the giant balloon. In proportion to what's attached above, that cabin is so minute. For a birthday about twenty years ago Lee treated me to such a flight. The memory is fresh as yesterday. Two things about it both shocked and thrilled me. One was that in order to board, each passenger (it only held six) had to lunge for a swinging rope ladder. The air ship, like a puppy on a leash, was being held somewhat precariously be four men with guide ropes. It groaned and gyrated, yearning to be free. The other thing is that once aloft the windows of the dirigible were wide open, and passengers could actually lean out. Well, I leaned a wee bit out, especially as we "parked" high over the traffic on the Golden Gate bridge, but my decision was tentative, like so many in my life, balancing safety against risk.
Reflecting yesterday on last Thanksgiving, spent on Maui, I thought about what a poor choice it had been to go there, a place so dear to my heart. It turned out I was so sick with allergies that I spent most of the time in bed. Month after month as the year rolled on I was plagued by health problems, one after another. It seemed like each health crisis was in some way caused or perpetuated by my faulty choices in activity, or physician, or reasoning. Or was it fate, and not poor reasoning? Goodness gracious, I hope this will be a different year.
Another memory of a conversation many decades ago comes to mind. Folks who knew my friend Marcia, now many years deceased, marveled at her sage wisdom. As well as a college professor of music, researcher and author, Marcia was born to the role of a Cherokee medicine woman (yes, they had women, not just men) and her own life was one plagued by which role to follow. Searching for the right path, she flipped back and forth more than three times that I know of. At times she would go back to reservation living, wearing her grandfather's cloak, the inside of which was filled with many pockets, too numerous to count, full of herbs.
Once, while ruminating over a decision in my usual style, Marcia said "Bonnie, there is no such thing as a bad decision. BAD stands for BEST AVAILABLE DATA. We all make decisions intending for them to be right, and consider all the facts we know. No one intends to make a bad decision. Sometimes more data becomes available, and then we make a different decision."
I doubt that Marcia invented this pearl of wisdom, but what a comforting thought.
As I write this I'm thinking especially of my friend in France, searching for the right alternative/additional therapy for ovarian cancer, and of my friend who three years ago made the same kind of hard decision in his successful fight with melanoma.
My ruminations fade in significance. Somehow what color to paint the living room ceiling, and what brand of hearing aid to buy, seem like decisions of such little consequence, like the wee cabin under the giant airship.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dear Andrea

Tut tut, or should I say gobble gobble? Its almost Thanksgiving, and you still haven't let me know what it is you want me to bring for dinner next Thursday. If its fruit salad or my homemade persimmon cookies, famous as they are, I may balk, because right now I have a sore right shoulder (from picking up a too heavy bag of rotten deck wood, I think) so chopping and stirring does not appeal. How about ice cream?
Little did I dream forty some years ago when you were my still-wet-behind-the ears waterfront assistant at the Yakima YWCA camp (what a poor excuse for a camp that was) that Lee and I would eat so many turkey dinners with you and Stace, and that our friendship would endure over four decades. We have seen each other through a lot of holidays, indeed, including many silly ones, like the scene above. This coming Thursday, incidentally, would have been Lee's and my 54th anniversary. Inaccurate as I am about some dates, as you correctly point out, I'm not in error on this one. Besides, your perceptions are not always without error. Remember the whipped cream you raved over that was really Cool Whip?

So to set the record straight, as you accurately corrected me following last week's blog, Aunt Celia could not have been conscripted into the Army in 1918 and served three years in the trenches of France because the war ended in 1918! Regretfully I threw out all her memorabilia a couple of years ago so I was fudging on my inadequate recall and not checking the data. Like you, I am gifted with a great imagination, and sometimes mine runs away with me. In twenty years when you catch up with me in age perhaps you'll do the same.

Checking Google, I find that within weeks of the US declaring war against Germany on April 6, 1917, the American Red Cross dispatched a ship to Europe loaded with medical personnel and supplies, carrying 170 surgeons and nurses. So I wonder if that was the ship Celia was on? I suppose the list is somewhere in the Red Cross archives, but since I'm not writing a novel it really doesn't matter to me. What does matter is that I might have inherited some of her risk-taking genes. The other thing that matters is that the "e" on the end of my last name is attributed to her, for like the rest of my father's family, she was born a Cross, not Crosse. I do know in the army she was called "Crossie" because I saw in in her old letters. Its said she took on French Aires in Paris, and ordered her brothers to change the spelling, as it would be more elegant. Only my father conceded. Of course, if YOU were writing the story you would get all the facts documented, whereas I am content to live on my own fantasies. To my credit though, I have not missed a week since I started my blog on April 1, which is probably more writing than you, the educated one with a passion and gift for writing, has produced. If you think this is another gentle nudge, right you are.
Tonight just before I started this meandering saga something wonderful happened to soothe my wounded ego, no thanks to you.
The door bell at the locked front gate rang. Dark as it was and ignoring Kodi's frantic banking I turned on the the patio lights. I could just make out the UPS driver with two big boxes from Omaha Steak. With relief I thought I recognized him. (How many ebony skinned delivery men have to duck to clear my iron gate, and still prance around in brown bermuda shorts in November?) Indeed, he was the driver who witnessed my car wreck last June, and was so helpful in calling the police, ambulance, fire, etc. He carried the heavy boxes all the way to the kitchen. Then he inquired what had come of the accident. (He'd been a volunteer witness, seeing the whole thing.) When I told him the other driver planned to hire an attorney and sue me, he wrote down once again his name and phone number. "I'll be there" he insisted. He swore the other driver was delerious, totally lost, and was even unaware he had been hit, and that the accident was not my fault. He attested to my innocence and praised me for my driving skills. I told him the other driver, legally, had two years to sue, but I doubted that it would come to that. Still, I felt a big smile of gratitude deep inside, and his thoughtfulness will long stay with me. Besides your presence to tease, I have one more gratitude for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perspective on an Unusual Veteran

My aunt Celia never wore any underpants. I never could figure out why, but then I never met her until she was in her sixties, and, at that point, it seemed rude to ask. Not that she was immodest. Quite the contrary. She always dressed in tailor made lavender suits, with hems five inches below her knees, remarkable considering her measly pension from the U.S. Army and the State of California. She never left the premises without white gloves and fancy hats. At her neck, she sported either a purple chiffon scarf or lace folded carefully over the suit lapel, usually matching the embroidered handkerchief, with a monogrammed C tucked in her black leather purse. She once advised me (unsolicited) I could never get a decent job if I continued to carry Kleenex in my purse to an interview.

I never understood Celia. For one thing, she looked and acted so differently than her brothers Sandy and Gus, the latter being my father. Whereas Celia was pale, squat and round, they were thin and swarthy. All were small of stature, but their genes produced rugged Western men, most at home in the saddle. All were born before 1900, poor children of the Rocky Mountains, their father eking out a living at whatever presented itself; cattle, sheep, or horse trading, mostly, near Trinidad, Colorado. From stories I’ve heard, there was gambling and womanizing thrown in, also. Often shuttled from relative to relative, mother deceased, its a wonder that any of the children survived. In their teens they were taken in by a distant aunt and uncle in Maine, a strict religious household, which troubled all three. Sandy was placed in a boarding school for delinquents. Gus ran away, and rode the rails back to Colorado. Celia, however, persevered, and made it to the Boston School of Nursing, from which she graduated a year later at 19. The year was 1918.

Concurrent with her graduation, the Red Cross was actively recruiting nurses. Celia enlisted. Two weeks later she found herself on a troop ship crossing the Atlantic to France. Half way across the loud speaker on the ship ordered all Red Cross nurses above deck. There the captain reported a sub had been sighted, and the president had ordered all Red Cross nurses be sworn in as Army nurses. On pitched decks they raised their right hands and took the oath.
Back below, they were given physicals. The requirements were that a nurse must be 5'2". Celia, at 4'11", was instructed to stand on her toes.
Soon followed three years nursing the wounded in France, often in field hospitals set up in trenches. Celia told me that often all she could do was hold a soldier's hand while an arm or leg was amputated without anesthetic. At one point she had a "beau" as she called it, a wounded soldier. Alas, he died. She never married, and returned following the armistice to become a public health nurse.
She lived to age 94 in spite of a bad heart, macular degeneration, and a trying life.

Though I tried hard to be a good niece, it was a struggle for me. I found her rigid and judgemental, and her religiosity over bearing, nothing like my gentle, loving father. I suppose I carried resentment that he died so young, and that in my later years I was burdened with her care. She found me liberal, immodest, and irreverent. Its a loss to both of us that we struggled unsuccessfully to understand each other. I really don't know how she found the courage and wits to survive. She was so brave.

All that aside, when I saw today the American Legion table at the local Safeway, I felt a potato sized lump in my throat.

Women veterans are so seldom truly honored, I feel. I salute you on this Veteran’s Day, Celia M Crosse, RN. A true veteran of the First World War.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Open Wider, Please

Yes, doc, I’m ready, or at least as ready, at 80, as I think I could ever be. Incidently, do you like my black patent leather sandals, because I wore then especially today for this procedure. They slip off easily as you can see, in case I have to run to the bathroom. Just kidding, of course. Whereas I have procrastinated on this cavity for three years, I took time to use your bathroom on the way in. There shouldn’t be a problem, although at times age catches me unawares. By the way, your wallpaper in there is rather painterly, if a bit outdated, like me. I’m not sure I like this paper tissue hat your nurse made me put on. It feels like I’m going into surgery, or something. Not very becoming. Ah, yes, denial is one of my other character defects. Hold up, doc. Right now I’m pretending I’m at a pilates class. Inhale, Bonnie. Shoulders down. Gut sucked in. I’m usually excellent at following instructions, you know. Whoops, I almost forgot to exhale. But honestly, doctor, I just can’t open my mouth any wider, even though (tee hee) I have always had a reputation for a big mouth. And by the way, doctor, I’ve never seen a periodontist before, and I can’t say I like the name. Is it from a periscope or something? Up, periscope, down periscope. Is that scalpel your periscope? Which reminds me, my torso is getting more and more pear-shaped with every passing decade. Gotta do something about that. Another procrastination has caught up with me, I must admit. By the way, you said if this took you'd also be doing a sinus lift in February. Is that some kind of internal face lift? If so, could you please do both sides, because I don't want to walk around lopsided. So you were telling me that the material you will put in following the extraction is sanitized. Or was it pasteurized? Or did you say homogenized? Oh, now I remember, sterilized. Because, I’m curious. Do they sterilize it before or after its ground up? Do I have any choice of donor? Because I would prefer to know the source of the cadaver. I’m really an atheist, you know, but I’d prefer ground up bone from a Bhudist priest in Bali. I once saw the cremation of such a hallowed person, and boy, was I impressed. The whole small town celebrated. They danced and sang for hours. I’d like that. Perhaps you mix several sources together, and if that is the case, because I’m also a feminist, could you throw in a little feminist bone matter? This is another fantasy but I wish I could have some of Eleanor’s or Amelia’s. That gives me an idea, by the way. When I croak could some of my bones be donated for other folks dental implants? I’d love to have Hillary thinking of me with occasional swallows with heads of state. Heck, I might even settle for Nancy Pelosi. Upward and onward, you say?