mom


I’ve been working on editing my mother’s memoirs for a while now, and I’m in the final stages, I do believe. Which means it’s time to replace my bracketed placeholders [insert that picture when you find it] with actual photos. My mother had a huge collection of snapshots and in her later years we’d sometimes go through them and I’d ask who everyone was and pencil in the description on the back. Then Mom “put the boxes away in a safe place” one day and subsequently couldn’t remember where. I’d made a half-hearted attempt to find them—and did find one small collection—but there were tons of photos I could remember but couldn’t find.

Then one day last week I realized there was a gigantic plastic tub—maybe 18 in. tall and wide and about 2 ft long—buried beneath a bunch of bags with books in them waiting to be recycled. I cleared off the bags and looked inside. The pictures my mother and I had both been looking for had been hiding in plain sight all along. So, I started going through them and scanning ones I needed for the memoir. And for other reasons. I’ve only made a small dent in this enormous collection. Many have the penciled information on them, many do not. And Mom kept everything, even the inside-your-purse-mistake photos, the thumb-enhanced photos, the so-blurry-you-can’t-tell-what-you’re-looking-at photos. (Back in the day when you took your film to One Hour Photo and the like they’d print everything, even the crap ones.) I have managed to throw away those, but the others? What to do with old photographs of people you don’t know?

I know what Cleaning Nazi Marie would say, but I just can’t throw them away. It’s like throwing the lives of those people away. I tell myself the old ones at least might have some historic value. And if that self-con doesn’t work, I remind myself that there is something of a market for these things at antique stores and flea markets. I don’t plan on selling them, but maybe the poor unfortunate who comes after me and cleans this place out can make a few bucks. Or finally get around to throwing them out. Either way, I won’t be involved.

My mother was not a particularly talented photographer. Too impatient to wait, frame, focus, get those thumbs out of the way. Just point, snap, and move on. Which is odd because she was a good and patient painter and crafter. There are a number of vacation snaps she never got into albums of places I can’t identify. I may get around to chucking those. Most don’t have people in them and they’re the kind of thing that is only precious to the one taking the picture because it evokes a memory of time, place, feeling. A memory I don’t have.

She also kept every note from baby gifts when I was born, every congratulations message, early birthday cards from her to me, and an entire keepsake book of Pamela paraphernalia. All the things to let me know I was once held precious by someone. I don’t say that in a pathetic way because it makes me feel warm inside. And miss her. The mother she was then, the mother she became again in her later years, not the mother in-between who tried to make me who I am not and who I fought with and hid from so much.

Memory is a double-edged sword, but I’m keeping all the memories, even the bittersweet, because they made me who I am today—as much as my mother did.

 

 

I’m not sure this is a genuine case of high strangeness. It’s easy to dismiss—and, in fact, I dismissed it almost as soon as it happened. But it is strange.

When my mother was still alive, I had to get up early every Saturday morning to take her to dialysis. It was a chore to get up early on Saturday, but at least I got to sleep in until 6:45 instead of 5:15 as I did on weekday mornings for work. And it meant I had 3 hours of precious me time when I didn’t have to worry about caregiving. I loved my mother, didn’t begrudge the giving of care, but during the week the only time I got alone was driving to and from work (and, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t really count as me time).

On this particular Saturday, I had just left my mother off at dialysis and was feeling good anticipating the free time. The quickest way between our house in Westchester (a suburb of L.A. near LAX) and Inglewood where her clinic was located, was the 105 Freeway. On that section of it’s run the 105 is built high up in the air, towering above all but the skyscrapers and gives you a panoramic view of the L.A. Basin. As well as LAX, since the freeway was built to be something of an expressway from various parts of L.A. to the airport. (On a sidenote, I remember taking my mother to dialysis one morning and watching the space shuttle in the distance wending its slow way through city streets.)

It was a bright, clear Chamber of Commerce day, blue skies all around and views to forever. The sun was behind me as I traveled west at high speed in the direction of the airport, and I had a clear view to the horizon from a long way out. From the 105, you see the backend of LAX, the south side behind the terminals and runways where they park planes and maintenance/emergency vehicles and the like, and where the outbuildings reside. I don’t know what made me look that way but I became suddenly aware of some odd thing floating low over this part of the airport. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred feet off the ground. It didn’t look like a balloon or a drone or any kind of aircraft. It was oblong and odd shaped and brownish. “It looks like a donut,” I thought. (I’d already had breakfast so I wasn’t especially hungry.) That was odd enough, but stranger still was that it was absolutely motionless. It didn’t seem to move a particle for many long minutes, then began to glide with painful slowness to the northwest, towards the terminals and the runways, gaining a little in altitude but not much. The sun glinted off it a bit then, but not much. I kept flicking my eyes back and forth between the road and the sky. Fortunately, early on a Saturday morning, the traffic was fairly light. As I approached the Sepulveda Blvd. off ramp (where I usually exited the freeway), I flicked my eyes towards the exit, then back to the thing—and it had completely disappeared.

One thing most people may not know about Los Angeles County is that it has one of the highest rates of UFO spottings of anyplace in the country. This may have to do with the large amount of air traffic in the area or the vastness of the skies on a sunny day or military bases or…other factors. I can’t say.

I usually prefer logical explanations before jumping on the high strangeness bandwagon (something those who have read this blog for a while may not credit, but I do). So I thought perhaps whatever it was had landed (although in four or five seconds, that would have been more like a crash). I could still see the ground underneath where it had been and there was nothing like it on the ground. Maybe it was an odd-looking balloon and the wind picked up and started to move it—but why did it hover motionless for at least five minutes if that was the case? It could have been a drone, but I’ve never seen a drone that looked like that, and they were much less common back then. I suppose because I was traveling at a high rate of speed towards the object, I could have had the illusion that a very slow-moving object was standing still and as I got closer it appeared to move. Or some other form of real life trompe l’oeil. These are the things I told myself as I finished that drive home—even wasted some of my precious me time on it—and what I’ve thought about in the time since it happened.

But it was strange. And it did share the one characteristic with other more clearly delineated incidents of high strangeness I’ve experienced: I’ve never forgotten it, and it periodically hawks itself back up again in my memory to be examined and wondered over before I put it away on the shelf.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Unless, of course, it’s a cruller.

*It didn’t really look like a cruller—more of a buttermilk Long John, oblong and irregular—but cruller just sounded better.

Last night (this morning) about 1:30 a.m. I was reading quietly in my chair in the living room and heard a loud thumping noise from the side yard, just beside the living room/kitchen. It startled me but I dismissed it, thinking the gardener must have forgotten to latch the side yard gate again. It’s been pretty windy so I figured that was the noise, and decided I wasn’t going out at 1:30 in the morning to re-latch the gate. A little while later I heard the noise again only this time louder and accompanied by a big dragging sound. The gate doesn’t make that noise no matter how windy it is.

So I turned on the kitchen light and I first thought to open the front door because it provides a view of the gate in question. I turned off the alarm and looked out but didn’t see anything. I closed the front door rather loudly hoping that if somebody was lurking they’d get the message. I was pondering what to do next when I heard another thump and drag. I wasn’t at all sure at this point if it was coming from my side yard or the neighbor’s yard (they have a very high fence I can’t see over). I don’t know if adrenaline kicked in or stupidity or what. But I went to the side door off the kitchen and turned on the side yard light. Then I open the door, looked out, didn’t see anything and decided to go down the stairs and check things out. The gate latch was perfectly secure so I looked behind me but the rest of the yard beyond the light was too dark to make anything out.

That’s when I said to myself, “Woman, if somebody is out here they’re going to hit you on the head and it’ll be all over.” So I hurried (as much as my arthritic legs can hurry) back into the house. And I said to myself, “Sometimes you are not very smart.”

But I didn’t hear that noise again. Either there was somebody messing over next door or in my yard and I scared them off, or it was critters and I scared them off. Whatever, I had no business going out there at 2:00 in the morning (by that time) on my own. Maybe next time I’ll just settle for flicking the lights on and yelling out the back door that I’m going to call the cops.

I have to admit, though, that I am my mother’s daughter. Neither one of us ever had enough sense to do the girly thing. We always charged full bore out any existential back door to investigate on our own. It’s a wonder either of us survived until old age. My mother was tall (5’9”) and strong and had grown up tough with a house full of brothers and on cattle ranches. She didn’t think twice about taking on anybody at any time. And yet, she always managed to look glamorous while doing it and she liked girlie things. A glamorous Valkyrie.

There was one memorable instance when I was in high school and some teenaged boys decided to break into the tool shed at our old house in Venice. It was a summer Saturday night and the windows were open. Mom (who had been up late reading, as it happened) heard something going on (she had ears like a terrier) and charged out the back door. She was wearing baby doll pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She bore down on those boys in full Valkyrie mode. One of them managed to get away, but she wrestled the other one to the ground and held him there, yelling at me, “Call the cops! Call the cops!”

Imagine, if you will, in those days before 911 when you actually had to call the police desk to get a squad car to your door, and me, a teenaged girl on the line with a cynical police desk sergeant trying to convince him that my mother had actually wrestled a thief to the ground and was sitting on him until the police could arrive. There were no cell phones in those days so I was in the house and my mother was outside so no sounds of commotion reached his cynical ears to help verify my story, even though I left out the detail of the baby doll pajamas. He eventually, grudgingly agreed to send a car (to get me off the phone, I’m sure), but none ever arrived. (It was Saturday night and Venice was a pretty rowdy place in those days. I mean serious crime and all.)

Meanwhile, some of the den of thieves who lived across the street and were related to the boys heard from the one who got away that my mom was holding the other boy prisoner and came to his rescue. Picture this: my mother in her baby doll pajamas and fuzzy slippers wrestling with not one but two teenaged boys. Going at it pretty heavy. One of their older brothers came running up holding his hands out like a peacemaker at this point, but the teenaged boys managed to get the other one free. My mother was so mad at this point she coldcocked the peacemaker on the chin with her fist and knocked him on his ass. He didn’t retaliate, fortunately, and managed (somehow!) to calm my mother enough that she went back in the house. But she insisted I call the cops again.

For some reason, the cynical desk sergeant was even less inclined to believe my story. Even though Mom got on the line this time and did some yelling. She insisted I write a scathing letter to the Times (“You’re good at that sort of thing”), cc’ing the chief of police and our local councilman about the shocking lack of response to a poor frail lady and her teenaged daughter needing assistance with a gang of teenaged thieves and receiving none. The Times declined to print our missive, and we never got a response from the chief of police or the councilman, either (although I’m pretty positive whoever may have read that letter got a really good laugh out of it).

The den of thieves who lived across the street remained the scourge of the neighborhood and surrounding blocks, but none of them ever again tried to rob our house.

I think, however, that in future I will try turning on the lights and yelling out the door if I hear suspicious sounds. If those Valkyrie genes don’t kick in an rob me of all sense of self-preservation.

A glamorous Valkyrie

I’ve been doing some clean-up work on my blog, trying to eliminate duplications and other messes that happened long ago when I transferred it from LJ to Dreamwidth. It’s never been a high-priority thing, but something I dip into when I’m in the mood to do something fairly mindless (and kidding myself it’s productive). (Or as a time waster instead of writing, but we won’t talk about that.)

I ran across an old post from June of 2011 which was just at the beginning of my caregiving for my mother when she was on peritoneal dialysis and still able to do most things for herself. That changed in September of that year when she had her stroke—but that’s not the point of this post. Apparently, in June I had just finished my last read through/clean up of my second completed novel, Blood Geek. I think maybe I had the idea of self-publishing. That idea was overtaken by my mother’s illness and never came about. It’s just as well, I suppose. It was a decent effort, but not my best work.

But that’s not the point of this post, either. In the above-referenced post I was talking about the strange parallel of writing a novel (almost twenty years prior at that point) about a woman whose early life had been constrained by caring for her sick mother. She was just about to break free and live life for herself. In 2011 I was rather amazed by the “haunting echo, now that I am helping to care for my own mother, that keeps bouncing through the chambers of my heart. It’s a little disturbing. I knew more than I thought I knew back then.” But in June of 2011 I had no idea, really, of what was to come, how consuming caregiving would be, how it would leave no room for anything but working and caring, how it squeezed out all time for anything like creativity.

But again, that’s not the point of this post. This is, this paragraph I came across:

And now I am in a different phase of my life. I have no vision for what comes next. I can’t see that far beyond the day-to-day. I do know that when I get back to writing something new again, I don’t want it to echo that day-to-day in the slightest. Which is not to say I might not use some of these characters again—in fact, I fully intend to. But they will be engaged in some other enterprise, something that blows the doors open to other worlds with no fences.

What blows the doors off my mind on this day, in 2020, is that I am writing new things again, and the new novel I’m writing does involve some of the same characters—in a whole new enterprise, a whole new process of growth and transformation. (And I am going through that transformation with them.) I haven’t really thought about these characters much in the last nine years, although one of them, Carmina, kept popping up now and then to insist she had a story I really needed to tell. I poked at her story over the years, but beyond the first two chapters, nothing gelled. I didn’t start last year thinking she will be the one. I started last year just trying to write something, anything. And then I wrote a completely different novel in a completely different universe. Also one I’d used before, but nothing to do with these characters.

Yet here I am. Happy and more than a little surprised that this fall Carmina’s story finally took off.

And that’s why I say that no story I have ever committed to paper or electrons (or, hell, even the ones that knock around in my head that I haven’t bothered to do that with) is every truly dead—until I am. Or until my brain blows out. Even my first completed novel, which if I have anything to say about it will never see the light of day, has produced nuggets that I have mined and used in later books. Like the clerk in the dead parrot sketch of Monty Python fame keeps insisting, these stories are not dead. Even if I’m not aware of them on a conscious level, they’re still in there. Resting.

I’ve been working with the Marseille tarot lately and I quite like it. I’ve been finding a lot of clarity with it. When I “interviewed” the deck it said that its strength was in helping me reconcile conflicts [Temperance] and that has proved to be the case. I used it to find clarity with what the Knight of Swords has been trying to tell me and that seems to have worked. I basically told the Knight if I hadn’t gotten the message correct, he should show up again and so far he hasn’t. Fingers crossed.

This Marseille deck came to me in a strange way. Many years ago Llewellyn publishing offered a subscription service called, “Enhancing Your Mind Body Spirit.” The basic deal was that for a low monthly fee they would send you how-to cards and spiritual chatchkes on a variety of New Age stuff. (This was back before New Age became a subject of much mockery.) What can I say? It sounded like a good idea at the time.

It wasn’t long before I realized it was a diletante’s dream: one month I’d get an essence oil and/or incense and/or a couple of rune stones (building towards a full set) and/or small crystals, et al., and some cards I could file in my special notebook on such subjects as Reiki, aroma therapy, astrology, or whatall. Some months I would get a few Llewellyn reproduction cards from the Marseille tarot.

Although I almost never used the how-to cards (they were superficial treatments at best and designed mostly, I think, to get you to buy Llewellyn books on subjects that caught your fancy), the subscription was relatively cheap and I liked the chatchkes. I also had a lot more disposable income back then, so I let the thing ride much longer than I would have otherwise. But I did reach a point where I thought it was ridiculous and was just about to cancel the membership when Llewellyn sent a notice that they weren’t making enough money on this scheme and would discontinue the service. They phrased it nicer than that, but that’s the essence. They also said members shouldn’t worry about the partial rune and tarot decks or the incomplete cards sets because they’d send out one final large chatchke shipment. When I got mine, it had a complete set of runes, a complete Marseille deck (leaving me with about one and a third sets each), a final set of how-to cards and crystals and oils and incense. I put everything away and didn’t think about it again.

Until I pulled this Marseille deck out of my tarot box recently. There was no accompanying interpretation booklet. I suspect there were cards for that but in the chaos following my mother’s stroke in 2012 and the caregiving that followed, I put them somewhere “safe.” I’ve never found them again, of course. So I downloaded this, the late Yoav Ben Dov’s “CBD Tarot de Marseille” interpretation guide.

I quite like using this guide. So maybe that’s I find this deck so soothing at the moment. That’s at least one good thing that came out of Llewellyn. I know many people are skeptical of them these days, but back in the olden, pre-internet days, they were one of the only places—besides musty old esoteric libraries or specialist/used bookstores—that you could find stuff on mysticism and the occult. The internet has brought a fundamental sea change in these studies, but I am still grateful for those life rafts Llewellyn set adrift. They let me know that I may have been seriously weird, but at least I wasn’t alone.

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.

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