mom


Last night I re-watched My Dinner with Andre for the first time in a very long time. At least 20 years, maybe longer. I’ve seen it many times. There was a time when my friend and I would go to see it every time it played at the Nuart cinema in West L.A., an “art house” theater which still exists (though it’s part of the Landmark chain now). Every time I saw Andre I felt as if the conversation had somehow magically changed, that new things, new concepts had been added. My sympathy would swing back and forth between the two people talking, I’d laugh at one and then the other, cry with one and then the other. The ending always made me appreciate the mystery and the wonder of life, from the ordinary details of a cold cup of coffee, to the mystical wonders of Findhorn, to living life consciously, and living life in a dream. And it still works. It still works.

In some ways it works better in today’s society than it did in 1981. The themes of living consciously rather than floating along; the themes of how distracted we all are and how difficult that makes it to live meaningfully.

“A baby holds your hand and then suddenly there’s this huge man lifting you off the ground. And then he’s gone. Where’s that son?”

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And speaking of watching, I just finished season 3 of The Detectorists. What a lovely, lovely show. Low key, gentle humor, sweet spirit. One of my very favorites.

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Mom and her starling, Baby:

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Butterflies are such beautiful creatures. Which is why I can’t understand the urge to collect them, kill them, and use them as art objects, preventing them from living out their life cycle and reproducing so that we will continue to have beautiful butterflies.

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My mother grew up right in the middle of Uintah Co., UT, a place well known in paranormal circles and home to the infamous Skinwalker Ranch. It was a little farming community called Willow Creek, not to be confused with the current day town of Willow Creek which is some ways northwest of where Mom grew up. Mom’s community doesn’t exist any more, as it became part of the Ute reservation. I had to locate the Creek it was named after to get an approximate location on Google maps (below).

I’ve often wondered if Mom’s nervousness regarding “weird shit,” as she called it, was because she grew up in a place where it was common.

Having said that, one of the shows she really liked to watch in the last years of her life was Finding Bigfoot. It was one of the few “weird” shows she could tolerate. Every time we’d watch she’d be fascinated and almost every single time she’d say afterwards, “There has to be something to this.” Not sure why she found it so convincing. But maybe Uintah County had something to do with it.

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Speaking of weird (as I do so love to), I was reading a thread on Twitter about the superstitions of health care workers. One of the most frequently mentioned was that health care workers would open a door or a window when someone died so the soul could find its way outside. (This is a very old folkloric belief.) While reading this I remembered that when my mother, who was in hospice here at home, passed away, the very lovely hospice nurse (a lady from Africa—and I’m sorry, sweet nurse, I no longer remember which country you said) took care of business and then went to open the front door.

I don’t think I even asked her why (I was in grief shock) but there must have been something in my expression because she hurried to say, “That’s so the funeral home knows what house it is.” I accepted it at the time but in retrospect, that makes no sense at all. It makes more sense after reading that thread on Twitter.

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It’s so difficult to overcome the “I want I want I want” mentality so many of us have been raised with in this society and replace it with the “We are we are we are” mentality. But necessary deprogramming.

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I’m a rather half-assed pagan. I do witchy things but I respect and honor witches too much to call myself one unless I feel I’ve earned it. I think I’m on a parallel but different path, anyway. I have a kind of spiritual practice that I’m getting back in touch with after many years of distraction and tamping it down to deal with this world. Any spiritual practice that’s worth its salt, I think, has to deal with both the mystical and the mundane or it’s just escapism. (Yes, I know, some would say all spiritual practice is escapism, but that’s their problem. I have no patience with them.)

In recent times, I have meditated and put out calls of—how to phrase it? Belonging? Certain deities respond and when they do I honor them on my mantelpiece. Others are just “the spirit of the rock” or “the spirit of the tree.” I am sure there is a spirit of the house, this house, but it’s unnamed. My mother, as I’ve mentioned, was not comfortable with discussion of anything spiritual. But I think she had some talents. She said the first time she walked into this house it opened its arms to her and said welcome. And I still feel that.

Everyone on the mantelpiece seems okay with everyone else, but I always ask before I place a representation there if everyone welcomes the addition. On rare occasions they say no and I honor that, but most times they’re accepting. And not just spiritual things go on the mantle. It’s a kind of cornucopia of silly and sacred and artwork, but it seems to work for everybody.

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What’s something about myself that I once wanted to change to fit in but am now happy with? My weirdness. I never saw things the way most people did. I now realize that’s not my affliction but my treasure.

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“It’s not a swastika it’s some kind of Tibetan symbol,” said the guy in the Nazi war helmet when asked why he put a concrete swastika in his front yard. “I don’t think he’s a Neo-Nazi,” said his neighbor, adding sheepishly, “But he may be racist.” #TalesFromTheLocalNews

Yesterday I spent nearly four hours transcribing my mother’s memoir. It’s a huge job, the bulk of which I did years ago, but I’d printed it out at a certain point with lots of footnotes asking Mom questions about things. She dutifully went through everything, often answering questions, sometimes not. Those answers are what I’ve been transcribing.

I’ve felt a pressure to get this done lately so I can pass it on to interested parties in the family—or outside. I even dreamed about it the other night. After talking to a 90-year-old relative yesterday (still perky and independent, thank the gods) it hit home profoundly that Old Time, she’s a-flying. So, I took a break from my own writing to concentrate on this.

My mom had a remarkable life in her not-quite-94 years, ranging from cattle drives and log cabins to Rosie the Riveter to the digital age and voting for the first African American president. She has a lively stream of consciousness writing style. Her sense of humor and spunk come through clearly, her sense of adventure and fun and unself-conscious grit. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but sometimes it’s frustrating. She’ll toss out stuff like going to see big bands at the Aragon Ballroom during World War II and I’ll ask her to tell me more about it: what did the ballroom look like, what did the people wear, what did the bands play, what kind of crowd was there, etc. All the telling details that make a scene come alive. Sometimes she’ll go into more detail, sometimes I can tell she’s bugged by my questions and she’ll write things like, “It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.” Or worse, “It was just an ordinary ballroom.”

Because, of course, for her it was just an ordinary ballroom. It was hard for her to conceive of the fact that people don’t live like that anymore. Sometimes when I’d point that out to her, she’d perk up and go into nice, rich detail. But not always. My questions, I think, were sometimes a chore to her.

I keep repeating to myself as I transcribe, “She’s the writer, not me. It’s not the way I would have approached it, but this is her memoir, not mine.” And she wasn’t striving for a literary work, just a walk down memory lane to share with me and whoever else might want to read it. I’ve tried to leave things as she relayed them. On a couple of occasions when her memories overlapped mine and she’d resisted my requests for more detail, I’ve filled in the blanks trying to match her style, but I’ve kept that to a minimum. Her story, her words.

The vast majority of this was before her stroke, before the incredible time and energy suck of caregiving. Before the long, slow slide of my grief years, before I could face a project like this. Years.

After the stroke, my mom’s mind was still lively (thank the gods) and her memories intact, but her vision was seriously impaired. Her handwriting, always somewhat of a challenge, got more challenging as time went by. But still she persisted—and so do I.

I got almost all of the footnote answers transcribed. And near the end, when my own end was going numb and my stomach was growling and I thought it was time to stop for the day, I came across several more handwritten pages. More material, untranscribed. Some of it must have been written years past, long before the stroke. Others were clearly after, getting on towards the last years. I tried reading those, and it’s going to be touch and go, frankly. I didn’t despair at finding new work. I grieved that she was no longer around to clarify things, to ask for more details, to be bugged by my questions.

But that’s the ephemeral nature of existence. I’ll do my best with Mom’s legacy. I know in my heart she appreciates what I’ve already done.

But Old Time, she’s a-flying.

Be forewarned: this isn’t about a haunted house, it’s about a haunted person. It’s about a strange thing that happened around the time of my mother’s death which has troubled me in the four years since she passed. I am writing about it mostly because I want to make sense of it. If someone could suggest a rational explanation that isn’t more preposterous than a paranormal one, I would glom onto it like a leech to a fleshy leg, but I suspect there is none.

In the last few years of my mother’s life, a marked coldness dominated her room—much more than the rest of the house. I had to buy her an electric mattress cover so she didn’t sleep so cold at night. The chill was so pervasive it stretched about five feet out of her bedroom door into a small adjoining den. Walking through the den towards her door you would hit a well-demarcated wall of ice. Being a mostly rational human being, I searched for possible sources of the chill, had the heating company check the vents, but none of us could find anything. And to test the existence of this wall of cold, I had my friends walk through the den to see if I was imagining it, but they felt it, too. Even the skeptical one.

The day my mother died, I brought her home for hospice to that bedroom. She arrived at noon and was gone by about eight that night. Two remarkable things happened after she died. First, five to ten minutes after she passed, our cat (who had not gone into her room once the cold stuff started happening) came to the foot of her hospital bed and started rolling around, showing her belly and acting coy as she did when my mother talked baby talk to her. The second thing, which I didn’t notice until the next day, was that the cold had completely disappeared. No wall of ice emanating from her door, the bedroom the same temperature as the rest of the house. And it has never returned in the four years since, even in the coldest parts of winter (which in L.A. is a relative thing, but you catch my drift).

What haunts me is wondering what caused this. I am certain there are no lingering spirits in this house, nothing sinister. I have lived in a genuinely haunted house—and that was sinister and creepy. I can tell the difference. Here, in my current home, there may be the occasional transient spirit—something of a lifelong pattern for me—but nothing sinister-creepy. So, I don’t think there was anything evil in my mother’s bedroom sucking the life/heat out of the place. I sometimes wonder if my mother, who was herself a force of nature, was sucking the energy out of the room in her fierce determination to stay alive.

See, Mom had two incidents of possible near-death experience in her later years. There was the time in her late eighties when she got a severe blood infection and almost died. She told me that one night she woke up in the hospital and three shadowy figures stood in the corner. They didn’t speak aloud, she said, but in her mind. They told her that if she wanted to leave this life at that time she could go, but it was up to her. She told them she wasn’t ready to leave, and they said she could stay but things would get much harder from that point on. She survived, and things did get much harder. Maybe a year after this incident, her shaky kidneys finally failed and she had to start dialysis. A year after that, she had a stroke. We were lucky in that it didn’t affect her mind, nor was she paralyzed in any way, but it severely affected her vision and her sense of balance. Though she was still strong and remarkably flexible for her age, she could no longer stand upright without a walker or she would fall right over. She had to go into rehab for three months and came out of it with her fighting spirit intact.

She confessed to me, though, that her three shadowy figures visited her in the rehab center and offered her the same deal. Again, she refused, and again they said things would get much harder. And they did. Things were okay for a while, but the severe stenosis in her spine made things difficult. “I don’t know how she’s still walking,” said her doctors. “Determination,” I said. But in order to tolerate the severe pain, Mom had to go on opiates.

Thank the gods, she kept her faculties until the last month of her life, but the other thing that haunts me is the memory of her slow, inevitable decline. Yes, I know, the circle of life and all that crap—but it’s very hard to watch up close. In particular, there is my memory of the time the hospital fucked up and took her off her opiates then sent her back to the rehab facility after her being off the drugs for several days. The rehab facility couldn’t legally start the opiates again without a doctor’s authorization but it was evening by the time she got back there and she was going through withdrawals. The doctor on call was not answering his page. I held her in my arms while she writhed in agony for over two hours before the doctor finally responded and the drugs finally took effect. It was the most harrowing night of my life. Even sitting by her bed holding her hand while she died was not as harrowing because she was at peace then.

I tell myself she’s no longer in pain, she’s dancing now in the Summerlands—and I believe she is. But some things are not so easy to move on from. April 7 would have been her 98th birthday. My friends and I—those who were her adopted kids—always celebrate her birthday by going out to a restaurant she would have liked, but this Sunday I had to cancel our plans. I’d been suffering for days from some unspecified belly complaint. The symptoms were real but I can’t help thinking the source was somewhere inside my spirit.

Yes, I know she’s at peace now. She’s not haunting me. I’m haunting myself. I did therapy and grief counseling in the year following her death and that helped but I was still working then and distracted. Now I have time to contemplate things and I have been doing ancestor work lately which has been hawking up a bunch of stuff. This is mainly a good thing, as it’s helping me to process so many things that I pushed down and away. And these things need to be processed for my own soul’s growth. As I’ve often observed, once you entered Faery, there’s no going back. You must go forward to find your way out again. On the other side, things will be better, but in the meantime, I haunt myself. The scales drop from my eyes, one by one, and I feel lighter once I’ve faced things I didn’t want to look at before. Things will get better. Or so I tell myself. It’s easy to be fooled when you’re a mere mortal.

And I still would like to understand the icy cold that came and went. I probably never will—leastways, not completely, not on this side of the veil. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad.

I haven’t done one of these kinds of posts in a while, but this post by sartorias has me thinking again about things in my room/house.

One of the good things about getting older is that you get less sentimental about things that you once thought were important. One of the bad things about getting older is that you get more sentimental about things you never thought were important.

In my own defense, I have managed to purge three large black bags of trash in the last couple of weeks, with another half bag waiting to be topped off. So, I am making progress. If you walked into my house you might not see that progress because most of the purging has been in two abomination rooms where I shoved junk to get it out of the way when company came. I am not proud of this behavior—and definitely paying the wages of that sin now—but I am moving on to it. Someday the decisions may be harder as I get away from pure clutter trash to somewhat more meaningful trash. I have gotten rid of some of that, too, either through donations or—gasp!—throwing away. Some of these decisions were made easier by the rat apocalypse that happened in this house the year after my mother died. I won’t say I’m grateful for the rat input, because I’m not, but some things were no longer redeemable. And the rats are finally gone after I did away with humane trapping and went medieval on them (after them destroying one appliance until it was unrepairable and having monthly visits of repair persons for about nine months straight).

In my trash sorting, I came across some patterns my mother had used to make countless craft aprons in the sixties and seventies, with the posh and retro lady shown above. On the aprons, she wore a tailored bodice, a skirt that flared out and could be lifted to show her matching underwear. The garter belt around her leg bore a sparkling rhinestone in the middle. Mom sold quite a few of them over the years through her work and friends of friends. They were exquisitely made—because my mother was a fine seamstress—and hand-painted with fabric paint. Cute, kitschy things. Maybe someone who is into retro might want to make them again. But not me. I am not the seamstress my mother was, for one. For another, this was my mother’s thing, not mine.

I thought I was strong. “I won’t ever use these patterns. I can throw them away for the sake of my sanity.” Not two hours later I fished them out of the trash bag. My mother drew these with her own hand, used them countless times. They had her imprint all over them. I just couldn’t do it. A friend suggested framing them and hanging them on the wall of my own crafting space. I thought that was an excellent compromise.

Here you see the pattern Mom used to cut out the material for the lady’s skirt, bodice, and knickers. These were redrawn in a kind of shorthand after the original patterns disintegrated. Mom had done so many of these she didn’t really need a pattern, but it was a security blanket for her, and if they weren’t precise, well, her artistry made them fit.

I didn’t even have the heart to throw out the old envelope they were in because it had my mother’s handwriting on it, “Donna’s apron pattern.” You can see on the lower edge where the rats chewed it. Miraculously, they didn’t manage to damage any of the patterns.

If only those old patterns were the problem. My mother painted, she did countless crafts. All that has to stay. Most of the paintings are good, I like them, they will stay on my walls. Some of the craft things may as well. Others will be carefully wrapped and put into one of the closets. Other things Mom handled I was sure I’d get rid of. Like this:

Me Virgo, she Aries. These graphics are so not my style, not what I want on my wall. But my mother put these puzzles together with her own hand, glued them to cardboard backing, and hung them on her wall. I cannot for the life of me consign them to the trash barrel. I can and will take them down from the wall, but they are also going into the closet. Let whoever gets this house and doesn’t understand the sentimental attachment get rid of them.

I will do my best to clean out as much trash as possible, but some trash isn’t real trash. At least not to me. Whoever winds up clearing out this property will just have to deal with that.

My mother loved collecting chatchkes. Some because she loved them, some because they were given to her, some just because they were there. Most of them are not really to my taste, so my plan has been for some time to sell them on eBay. Why shouldn’t someone who actually likes this stuff have it? And why shouldn’t I make a little cash on the side?

I’m keeping some of the chatchkes because I do like them, but there are others I’m keeping because I feel too guilty about selling them. These were dear to my mother and I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them. Let whoever has to clean out this house when I croak and won’t know what my mother loved deal with them. (Sorry, unknown person of the future.)

It’s odd the power that things can have over us. We shouldn’t let them, but we do. Still, I console myself that I am getting rid of a whole bunch of junk. That is, treasures that I do not sufficiently appreciate.

I have put some of the eBay plan into action, but I still have a ways to go before listing and selling. It will only be two weeks today since I left my job and I’ve had some serious depressurizing to do. I’m slowly getting there. I think I have plenty of time to bring this plan about, but we all think that, don’t we? One never knows when time will run out. But I would like to get this junk gone before that poor above-mentioned person has to deal with it. I really want to streamline this house. Need. I need to. For my own sanity.

Maybe I’ll even have the gumption to start cleaning out my mother’s room soon. It will be three years in January since she passed. I’ve moved things into her room in temporary storage, managed to give away all her clothes to the cleaning lady (who actually did the job of cleaning out the closet), but mostly her room remains a time capsule. I just haven’t had the heart to deal with it—and frankly, I see no reason to push myself. It’s an important part of the grieving and moving on cycle, but it’s also important to do things when the time is right for me.

Those things in that room are not my mom, much of it not even vaguely precious to her, but they are the last tenuous physical link I have to her. I need to get to the point of getting rid of them without feeling like I’m getting rid of her.

There are people who will say (who have said) that I should bite the bullet and just do it. But I fundamentally disagree with them. Grief is a process. It must be moved through on its own timetable. And only the one who is doing the grieving knows what that timetable is.

In the meantime, I am surrounded by junk, both precious and not. But I am in motion. I hope to stay in motion, to keep moving forward until time stops.

My mother’s 97th birthday was April 7. She used to make some damned fine chicken cacciatore. So in celebration of her birth month, I invited my friends who used to dine on her cacciatore for dinner in which I tried to recreate Ma’s cooking. I had her well-loved and well-worn recipe, but I was nervous that I couldn’t duplicate it.

As any cook knows, recipes are only suggestions. You add a little more of this, a little more of that, to make it your own. I was pretty sure I knew how Mom fudged the details—because the things she would add would be the same as the things I would add.

I was still nervous.

Still, I persisted.

Friday, I got out the old cast iron Dutch oven and went through the paces. The cat, who hadn’t smelled chicken cooking in my house for a long time, followed me from room to room meowing because she wanted to make sure she got her share. (She did.) I let the cacciatore cool then stuck it in the fridge overnight. On Saturday, all I had to do was reheat it and cook the spaghetti and garlic cheese toast.

My mother had this theory of feeding people which boiled down essentially to “too much is never enough.” Many who have eaten at her table learned the hard way to wear loose clothing and to eat sparingly of the oer d’oeuvres because Mom’s servings were large—with a rich dessert to follow. Also, asking for seconds usually meant you got a plate heaped as full as the first.

I didn’t honor that tradition. (Sorry, Ma.) We had plenty to eat but we’d all agreed there would be no oer d’oeuvres and I let everyone choose their own serving size. Rich dessert afterwards, yes. We’re none of us ascetics, after all. But somebody else was responsible for the sweets. (And he did a fine job, bringing a tiramisu and serving portions almost as large as the diners’ heads. Mom would have been proud of him.)

I’m happy to report that the cacciatore tasted just like Mama used to make. I was so happy that I could recreate such a well-loved taste from my past. It let me know she was still with me.

Still with me, but still missed.

This morning on National Public Radio I was listening to Sherman Alexie discuss his troubled relationship with his mother and his new memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Memoirs, it seems to me, and Alexie affirmed, are for those who don’t get the chance to reconcile their complicated feelings towards parents and other loved ones. Oh yes, there are celebratory memoirs, to be sure, but when you come from a twisted root, it’s hard to write the sweet without delving into the sour.

The discussion triggered a lot of things for me. While I listened, I thanked God, thanked God, that for the last five years of my mother’s life, I was her caregiver. Those were difficult years, but… I got that sacred chance to reconcile my complicated feelings—and I think my mother did as well.

I used to call my mother the Dragon Lady with my friends who knew her well. She was hard-charging, always right, full of anger and unreconciled childhood crap of her own—but charming as hell, funny, creative, with an amazing life force, and a remarkable personality that drew people in and made them love her. Both sides were genuine, but she generally saved the Dragon Lady side for those she loved. People always told me I had the coolest mom. And I did. Except for when she was Dragon Lady.

I harbored so much anger and so much resentment for so many years. Therapy helped, but it didn’t leach the poison in me, just gave me mechanisms for coping with it.

In those last five years of Mom’s life, though, the roles were reversed. She was the child, I was the parent. At first, Dragon Lady was still there, fighting to retain her power, fighting to get the most out of life that she could in diminished circumstances. But even when she was most frustrating, she was so damned courageous. Always. For me, being a full-time caregiver, working full-time, and trying to find a way to get Mom to and from dialysis three times a week, I didn’t have the physical or emotional resources to carry my bad feelings forward. Gradually, I released them—or they released me.

And a wonderful thing happened. My mother began changing, too. The Dragon Lady never apologized for anything, ever; she said thank you rarely and never said “I love you” unless someone said it first. In her last years she became gentle, grateful, considerate in a way I’d never seen. She frequently told me “I love you, baby girl” without any prompting at all. And it became very easy to reply, “I love you, baby mom.” It wasn’t just that I didn’t have time for anger and resentment anymore—they really, truly went away. All that remained was love. For her, for me.

I won’t kid you. Those years were not easy. By the time my mom died I was stretched so thin I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on and not torn to shreds. But I really think my mother died in a state of grace, and that grace extended to me.

It nearly crushed me when she passed. But at least I had gotten that incomparable gift of reconciliation.

About a year after she died, I got the notion of writing a memoir, and worked in a fever for about a week. But it was impossible to write the sweet without the sour. I had purged myself of those hard feelings, and I didn’t miss them. They had poisoned my life for a long time and I really did not want them back. I let go of the memoir and held on to my state of grace and my reconciliation. I am so grateful for them. They are a rare and precious gift, mysterious as grace always is.

I love you, baby mom.


Conseil Tenu par les Rats
by Gustave Doré


Rat magic and first world problems

My third, and mostly successful, extermination company came to the house last week. They had to reinforce some of the extensive anti-rat measures they did last June to seal the house from intruders. That previous round of prevention seemed to have worked pretty well. It didn’t appear that I had lost any more appliances, anyway. Through chewing hoses and what-like, the rats had taken out my washer six times, my refrigerator water hoses twice, completely ruined the fairly new dishwasher so it can’t be fixed, and stolen insulation from my antique stove. All that seemed to cease, as I said, after the rat men did their thing last June. Then the furnace man showed up after the rat men left. During the summer when I wasn’t using heat, the rats had chewed holes through all the ducts and built nests—which is why I kept smelling something burning and can’t now use the furnace because of fire danger. I have no heat until the furnace crew comes to replace ducts on Saturday. It’s the busy season for heating folk and they’re working overtime to fit me in. Which I’m paying for, of course.

We didn’t used to live in the state of rat siege I’ve experienced in the last couple of years. I didn’t think it had anything to do with magic, but now I’m thinking maybe it did. Rat magic? Spirit of place magic? The magic of persistent and smart vermin and the spells to counter them. Or maybe the magic of my missing mother who died almost two years ago. She said the first time she stepped into this house it welcomed her with open arms. She knew she was home. I believe that. I truly think the house loved her. We had rats when she was alive, but nothing like this deluge and we never lost any appliances to them. My mama had her some powerful mojo, I tells you.

I’ve tried the magic of plugging holes with wire mess and solid metal, the magic of rat traps, the magic of cayenne pepper dumped down their holes and liquefied to spray on appliance hoses and the surfaces they frequent, the magic of poison, and now I’ve experienced the magic of my third round of mesh and metal and traps. These vermin are also partial to building rat nests in my bookshelves, consisting of my books and notebooks, taking over my art and craft cabinets–there’s a metaphor I don’t wish to examine too closely. I make sure I lock up every scrap of food at night, which cheeses off the cat. She liked snacking at night. I told her since she decided to retire from mousing, those were the breaks.

Before that second round of anti-ratting seemed to save my appliances, I felt pretty desperate. I decided I had nothing left to lose and I’d try some more conventional magic—spells and charms and the like. If nothing else, it was something to make me feel less helpless. Interestingly, rat spells are sparse, at least on the on the internet and in the books on magic I have. Our ancestors probably recognized the futility of trying to get rid of these insistent, persistent, adaptable rodents. I found one candle spell; an ancient Christian amulet which I talked about here; a few references to putting mummified cats in crawl spaces and building foundations to ward off the beasties. One of the more passive aggressive techniques I found entailed writing letters to the rats stating that the eating was much better at the neighbors’ houses and they should go there and leave (my) house alone. The letters are then stuffed down the rat holes. As any fan of Outlander can tell you, this is reminiscent of the Scottish tradition of “rat satires,” improvised songs indicating that they should leave the house alone and go to the neighbors.

I am not passive aggressive by nature, nor did I wish to mummify my cat or any other cat, and I felt I needed something quicker than making an amulet. I decided to do the candle spell.

My experience with the spell

I mentioned that I was desperate and wanted something quick, right? The spell had to begin on the night of the full moon at moonrise—and the day I found it was the full moon. I didn’t want to wait another month so decided to use what I had around the house. It called for yellow candles and the only yellow candles I had were about three inches long. You were supposed to run the spell for two hours every night until the candles burnt up. The ones I had probably wouldn’t make it through the first night, but I thought it better than nothing. (First corner cut.) The spell called for a sprig of heather so I confidently went into the front yard and only then realized the gardener had pulled up the heather bush. I quickly looked up the magic properties of heather and realized rosemary had many of the same, so I cut a sprig off my rosemary bush. (Second corner cut.) Moonrise was late that night and I had to get up at 5:45 the next morning for work, so I started the ritual early. (Third corner cut.) About 45 minutes into the ritual, the rats started making an unusual amount of noise in their favorite room, the one where I keep my birds. In general, their behavior was much louder and more aggressive that night. One of them got up on the fridge and scooted down the face of it, knocking off one of the magnets. My magnet portraying the three faces of Hecate. Most of the candles from my ritual burned out after about 90 minutes, but one brave little flame burned on. Just shy of the two hour mark the candleholder for that brave little flame spontaneously shattered.

Between the raucous behavior of the rats, the cracked glass, and the Hecate magnet I had a strong suspicion the Universe was telling me something. Maybe to do the ritual the proper way next time. Or maybe Hecate and the rat gods were saying, “I hate dabblers.” I rather thought it the latter. I’ve long maintained that dabbling is a dangerous practice, but I had set aside my principles that night in frustration. Henceforth, I’ve decided it would be better to take my own—and Hecate’s and the rat gods advice—and leave the magic to those who know what they’re doing.

The rat siege continues, though it has abated somewhat. I accept that it will continue. Nature always finds a way in where humans wish to keep it out—no magic about that. After all, the rats consider this their home as well. Maybe instead of fighting them I should try propitiating the rat gods? Or maybe the spirit of place, to see if the house will help me as it did my mother.

 

donna glam

Happy 95th birthday, Donna Rae!
April 7, 1921 – January 22, 2015

donna later

I had a crappy week last week. I’d managed to pull a muscle in my ribcage the week before and not only had it not improved but by midweek last week, it was spasming and reflecting around my side and into my back. I missed work on Wednesday because of it, thought it a bit improved Thursday so went back to work. But by the time I drove home Thursday night it was flaring again. When I woke up Friday morning it seemed worse than ever, the spasming returned with a fierceness—and my stomach roiling and burning, too. Since it was also raining, I stayed home from work, called my friend and cancelled our dinner for Saturday night in Pasadena (I just wasn’t up to the drive), and went back to bed. I didn’t leave the house for three days.

I read and watched a lot of TV, ate bland food, took aspirin (which doesn’t usually bother my stomach and worked well for the muscle pain), wore a heating pad, tried to be as gentle with my side as possible. I had to resort to drinking chamomile tea to soothe the GERD-like acidity of my stomach. It works well. After that initial Friday, it was never as bad, but the heartburn never completely disappeared that whole weekend. Added to that, I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep. Even sleeping until noon, I was ready for bed again by 10.

Every television show I watched, including the news, was awash with Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day. I thought perhaps that might have something to do with my heartburn, but after three days alone in my house with nothing but my own thoughts and Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, I started contemplating all sorts of exotic maladies.

“I’ll call the doctor first thing on Monday,” I thought, although he’d seen me the week before when the pain in my side was just a muscle pull and not radiating into my back, and hadn’t seemed particularly worried.

Sunday night about 10:30 I was ready to go to bed again. I crawled gingerly into bed (so as not to set the pulled muscle off). The cat came in and got on the foot of the bed and commenced to clean herself.

I thought, “I sure am glad Mother’s Day is over.” Out of nowhere—I swear I don’t know where it came from, perhaps the Otherworld for all I know—but out of nowhere a noise erupted from my throat, part cri de coeur, part animal yowl, part choking sob, long and loud and reverberating against the walls and ceiling.

The cat looked up from licking her butt with an expression that clearly said, “What is your problem?”

“Sorry, kitty,” I told her.

I’d swear she shook her head and said, “Just get on with it, for crying out loud,” and went back to licking her butt.

I thought it very sound advice. I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up and felt ten times, a hundred times better. The muscle thing hasn’t completely gone away, but mostly. The acidity is almost nil. I can face the world again. I am not cured, won’t be for some time, I imagine. But I am definitely getting on with it.

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