fabrics jan 2010 – letters to the editor

FAMILY PATTERNS

A phrase in October 09’s  Ninepatch  got me thinking about my family of origin.  LindaSue’s comment after her letter struck me. As I recall she said, “Sadly, our family doesn’t get together any more.” When I read that I thought, “I remember having that perspective but, no longer!” 

Being the only girl with three brothers I used to try to guide any family event towards an “Ozzie and Harriet” moment.  I would try to cajole my brothers into leaving old hurts and grudges at the door, sit and steam that my sister-in-laws didn’t help keep the peace. I would pout that I had traveled fifteen hundred miles west to come home — but there was no family dinner to celebrate being all together, even if it was

Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

What I tended to forget was our history… why we didn’t get together.  What slipped my mind was the drinking to excess, the inevitable arguments, accusations, and once in a while — a thrown punch.  In the midst of it all my mother and I were always trying to keep the peace, hoping our family could experience just one “Norman Rockwell” holiday maybe even hoping that experience would miraculously change them and we would enjoy a meal and conversation from start to finish.    

         One visit, when the in-evitable patterns were in full swing. I just blew up.  I got so angry that I screamed, shouted and pounded from my soapbox.  Why can’t you guys just get along for two hours?  Why do you think you are the only one with childhood scars and pain?  Why continue to bring it all up?  Why can’t you suck it up and PRETEND we are a close family?   Uh oh.

It took me a long while to admit it, but a happy event with my entire family would have to be a game of pretend and I was the only one willing to play it.  And for what?  What good is a game of pretend?

            As with all of our family explosions, we got past it.  Now, I communicate with each brother and his family in different ways.   One has even come to visit me. I do more to stay in touch a few times throughout the year instead of avoiding the day-to-day and then steeling myself for vacation

visit or holiday encounter.  I enjoy what I can — the strengths and faults of my family. I find it easier to excuse myself when the old patterns emerge and I am not tempted to participate, or wear myself ragged with peace-making.

            Like LindaSue, I used to think my family was “sad” because we couldn’t all be together. Now I know that my family is happy and part of “happy” comes from NOT getting together!

 

Georgene (Nov.-Dec.’09) says, “I feel jealous when I hear friends talk of their warm family get-togethers, but it now passes quickly.  Often, those feelings prompt me to make a call to one of my brothers.  We’ll chat and laugh, and I’ll feel better because I remember that we really do love each other.”

**

 

FINDING JOHN AGAIN

I had come to the island with my husband and his young Boy Scout troop. I expected small adventures, but never a huge discovery.                 

That afternoon my husband was off with the boys and I have gone off to visit a local graveyard. I squinted at the brass soldier’s medallion stuck into the ground. Afternoon as shafts of green-tinged light

beamed throughout the old Mackinac Island cemetery.  I was drawn toward the curving flow of letters:  “Korea”. 

I stared down at the name on the headstone and my eyes widened.  John!  I had not expected to find this grave, after more than a decade.  Beside him, lay Rick, his partner of more than twenty years.  

As I stood in that silent place, memories came flooding back. My dog-groomer friend had called me to deliver the news when he died. “Are you sitting down?” she asked. 

“No.”  I sat down at our Illinois farmhouse kitchen table.

 “John committed suicide,” she said in a numb voice.

 “Oh, no,” was all I could muster to say followed by, “How? Why?” 

John had lost Rick a few years before, a victim of cancer.  I knew the man was lonely — we used to trade stories about our boyfriend problems and exchange words of encouragement.  The last, brief note that I had   received from him was in a Christmas card. He said that he had a new love and was doing well. 

     The groomer friend continued, “He left a note, he said he couldn’t stand the pain anymore and that he wanted to go be with Rick.  His sister found him slumped in a chair.  He swallowed a bunch of tranquilizers.” 

“What are they doing about funeral arrangements?” I asked. 

“I’m not sure,” her weary voice replied, “He’s going to be buried next to Rick on the island,

but with the scare going on about AIDS, I don’t know if the authorities will allow it.  I don’t know what’s going to happen.” 

Thinking of John, we burst into tears.  He was a good and gentle soul who lived his life without harm to anyone.  I found the address of the Mackinac’s Catholic church and requested  prayers for John’s spirit.  It was all I could do.  A letter of response came from the church a few weeks later with the information that candles were lighted for his soul.  That was the last I heard about any of it. 

     My first husband and I had looked for his headstone when we were island tourists in the mid-1980s. That search was vain, yet, here it was now.

I noted that someone had placed a small rock on Rick’s side of the stone and I immediately picked up a similar sized one to add beneath John’s name — the start of a memorial cairn.

     Out the corner of my eye, I noticed some of the boys from my husband’s Scout troop were heading over to where we were standing.  I mouthed a quiet farewell to both of the deceased men and walked quickly away.  I didn’t have the power or strength or character (or whatever) to try to explain to small town Mid-western adolescents why two men were buried together in the same grave or how I came to know them.  I had even less patience to deal with giggling or cruel words if that might have happened. 

It had taken me twenty years to find this pair again.  Perhaps in another twenty years I won’t have to explain and grief won’t be confused with shame.

    

Linda Rosenthal (Nov.-Dec.’09) adds, “Recently I saw a bumper sticker, “God Bless

Everyone — no exceptions.”

**

 

 

   MY 2009 CANOE TRIP

          (Part one of four)

            Every fall three guys and I go on a canoe trip. We pack up our tents, canoes and gear and drive from South Dakota to the Namekagon River near Spooner, Wisconsin.

The river is designated “scenic” and is off limits to power boats. The campsite we use every year is called Howell’s Landing. Like other stopovers, it is a natural beach and cleared from the forest area. It includes picnic tables and fire pits. 

Since we usually go in mid-September, we’ve had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the quiet, serene atmosphere of the north woods as well as the river itself.  Over the three years we’ve made this annual voyage, we have become acquainted with some local residents who often stop by to sit around our campfire at Howell’s Landing and visit. 

After we arrived on Thursday and set up our tents, two guests came to say hello and brought gifts: homemade sausages, apples, canned beets, and canned apple sauce. Yum! After we exchanged our stories, it was late and we turned into our cots.

Friday we put our canoes into the serene river and admired the wild setting for several hours.  After we returned, a group of about ten Sierra Club members set up camp at the same landing. We sat around their fire pit and swapped tales while two adult brothers and one’s two sons arrived and set up their own site. That afternoon, we ambled around meeting new folk and talking to others.

Saturday morning we put our canoes in again, paddled ten miles to our take-out location, and returned. During that trip we encountered a bear being chased by the dogs.  Fall colors were popping and the weather was balmy.

Late Saturday we were inundated by a troop of about thirty-five Boy Scouts and their scout masters!  They were very well-organized and did their assigned tasks. The boys’ big grins told us they were having a wonderful time. 

            But the high point of Saturday occurred that afternoon when a group of about twenty young ladies came tubing down the river and landed at our location.  They had brought floating coolers and offered to share

refreshments with us.  In return, we offered them hospitality. They stayed and entertained us with antics and wild poses for our cameras.  The girls were really a lot of fun. 

That evening — as we have done in the past — we stopped at Pappy’s Leatherneck Tavern which is nearby on Wisconsin Hwy 77.   To our surprise, many of the tubing ladies also came by and we continued our fun with them.  Pappy’s is a very popular place with the tourists like us, but locals enjoy it, too.  Over the years, we’ve come to know the owners of the tavern and many of their local customers. When we were canoeing that river last year, we happened upon a weekend of free food, beer and music at Pappy’s as well as a group of party animals. Invariably dancing became a topic of not only discussion, but an activity too.  The juke box had mostly disco music — no waltzes or swings pieces — but we all danced! 

 

            Le (Nov.-Dec.’09) adds, “I’m very fortunate in being teamed up with Tom as a canoe partner.  Being a senior citizen, I find it not easy to get into and out of a canoe.  Tom is a bit small in stature, but he’s run five or six marathons, competed in and completed two Iron Man triathlons. His power stroke with a canoe paddle is second to none!”

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