December 27, 2010

A New Year's Greeting/OR untrimming the house

A NEW YEAR’S GREETING FROM BARB
with apologies to Dr. Seuss

Cleaning up after the holiday
Isn’t quite as much fun,
As on the day
When the decorations were strung.
There was my family, all spruced, in the den,
With an eggnog toast, and a cheer, “Let’s begin.”
We set about bedecking every pillar and post,
Window and mantle -
With ribbon, wreath, Santa, and candle.
By the end of the evening
The tree was aglitter.
The windows were glowing
With the candlesticks flicker.
The children were happy
Mom and Pop, too.
To think we did all this.
You! You! and you!

But, then, the week after
Rolled quickly ‘round.
No time to untrim.
We headed to town.
To return all our presents.
To see a quick show.
What? It’s the first of January
The trimming must go.

Undo each ribbon. Undo each bow.
Untie the wreaths
Get that tree in tow.
It’s out to the trash bin
Arms loaded, we go.
Away go the boxes.
The cards and the letters.
Out comes our list of “Things to do better.”
Resolutions. Affirmations.
Declarations. Proclamations.
Where’s that old diet?
By jiminy, we’ll try it!
It’s a New Year we’re facing. And face it we will.
Without eggnog. Or fudge. Or even a pill.
We’ll face it together -
Oh, taste buds be still!
Until, oh no, here comes the BILL.
Or, as in our case, it’s many -
Giving the post man exercise aplenty.

At my house we’re still undoing the fun
Dusting and washing and rising and wiping
Trinkets and dishes and goblets, and griping,
“Next year, it’s a vacation we’ll take.
By Amtrak. Or horseback. Or roller skate!”
Who cares how we do it, we plan and we plot.
Next year it’s to the tropics.
Anywhere that it’s HOT.

But whatever we do, one thing is clear.
We’re wishing you and yours a VERY HAPPY
NEW YEAR!

God bless!

December 16, 2010

A Lonely Christmas

A large statue of the Virgin Mary guards the entrance to St. Francis Hospital. Nearby stands a big, snow-covered pine tree bathed in blue lights. As I pass through the reception area, a life-size, mechanical Santa waves a cheery hello.
On the third floor, under an antiseptic sheet, mother’s form looks slight, fragile. I am glad I’ve come. We kiss and hug and cry. She fusses. I shouldn’t have driven so far. The weather is to unpredictable this time of year. The roads are unsafe for a woman alone. But, her eyes light up as we talk.
The food is tasteless, she jokes. The trays look suspiciously like the ones she sent back to the kitchen during her last stay two months ago.
Was our respite so short, I wonder?
As we chat, we drink cider from the container on her window sill and munch grapes from the fruit basket on her night stand. The doctors and nurses are good people, she says, but they’re just too busy taking care of the patients who’re really sick. Besides, she is going to be all right. She says so.
The heparin injected in the plug in her arm every four hours does seem to be clearing her lungs of the blood clots faster than the shots she had in her stomach last time. Her chest x-rays show improvement. If only she weren't so pale and thin.
Mother says she feels fortunate. Her roommate just came back from surgery. Breast cancer. So, mother, with only one leg and blood clots in her lungs, cares for their needs via the bedside buzzer.
From the intercom in the hallway, strains of “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,” drift into the small room at the end of the long corridor. It doesn't matter that the television doesn’t work.
There’s enough activity, mother says, outside her doorway. We watch as the head nurse makes her rounds with the medicine cart. She pauses only briefly to direct an elderly man back to his room.
Last Christmas, mother enjoyed a healthy reprieve. No hospitals, no tumors, no radiation.
This year, well, mother says a hospital is a lonely place at Christmas.
From the third floor window, I look down on the dark, deserted city street below.
The other visitors have all gone home, past the mechanical Santa, the blue-lit Christmas tree and the Virgin Mary, who on this night will have help watching over her flock.

*Dedicated to my mother, Ollie Null Bailey, who passed away a number of years ago. I was her biggest fan and she was mine. She loved the essays I wrote, both published and unpublished. She told me one time that one of my essays about her made her cry. I told her I hadn’t meant to make her sad. She said, “Oh it didn’t make me sad. It made me happy to think you thought that much of me.” She was special.
Blessings to you and yours! And join me in doing at least one kindness for someone this holiday season.

December 5, 2010

Pearl Harbor, My Experience

Shortly after my trip to Pearl Harbor, this essay appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pearl Harbor, My Experience

Dec. 7, 1941: The memories sear, the blame washes away

"War! Oahu Bombed By Japanese Planes." I read the shocking headlines, back in the eighties on a visit to Pearl Harbor, from a souvenir copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, dated Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.
I was waiting in line to board a tour boat to go to the USS Arizona Memorial. Finally, moving toward an empty boat, I noted that most of the people on the crowded platform were Japanese.
On the short ride across the harbor, I listened to a guide describe the events of that fateful day. As the small boat approached the white concrete building, the guide concluded, "The battleship Arizona still rests at the bottom of the harbor in 38 feet of water just eight feet below the water's surface. The memorial is an enclosed bridge that spans the sunken hull, but touches no part of the ship itself. Oil will continue to seep from the battleship for 38 to 39 more years."
When I stepped off the tour boat, I saw the American flag flying over a small part of the ship that is visible above the water. Inside the memorial, I was swept back to the day of the disastrous bombing. From the walls, pictures of the battleship in flames and sinking, looked down at me and seared themselves on my mind. I couldn't appreciate the mementos salvaged from the ship when I knew that 1,177 men were still entombed below in the battleship's blasted hulk.
A loudspeaker was effectively re-creating the day with the sound of bombs exploding and chaotic outcries. As I stared out an opening in the wall at the calm blue water, I was lost in thought for a few minutes. Then black oil gurgled to the water's surface. Though the temperature was 85, I turned away, chilled.
From the middle of the memorial, I could see the ship through a large opening in the floor. I thought of the many men and all the ambitions and dreams that had gone down with the ship. I thought of the mothers, fathers, wives and children who had been left behind with the burden of unanswerable questions. I wondered how the men would feel if they knew the memorial was filled with Japanese men and women.
Silently, I suffered their indignation. In the shrine room, where the names of the dead men are engraved on a marble wall, I stood in reverence, trying to wish away the horrors of war. Nearby, a Japanese gentleman left his group and gravely studied the wall. Over the speaker, the names of the men were slowly being read. Almost ceremoniously, the Japanese man removed an orchid lei from his neck and placed it next to several wreaths on a marble platform. He backed away and was lost in the crowd. Aboard the tour boat for the return trip, I tried to sort out my emotions. Before my visit, I'd thought of the memorial at Pearl Harbor as another tourist attraction. Yet, I'd been tremendously touched by the harsh realities of war and by the wasted lives and destruction.
Why, then, did I feel the need to condemn? Could I blame the Japanese man who had humbly offered the lei? Or the Japanese couple who sat on the boat in front of me? Or the somber young Japanese woman on my right? With tears in my eyes, I realized I couldn't blame anyone. I remembered Hiroshima.

December 1, 2010

HUNKER DOWN AND WRITE...IT'S WINTER!

It's snowing here in Ohio which means it's time to hunker down and write. At least that's what it means for me. There's something about being inside a cozy warm house when the temperature outside is falling along with the beautiful snowflakes. My thoughts turn to the characters inside my head who are now demanding center stage.

What is it about a cold winter day that brings out the creativity in some of us?

I'm not sure --- but I believe it's born in us. A longing for something more. A longing that can only be sated by the sweetness of words on cold winter days.

It reminds me of fall when my thoughts turn automatically to buying notebooks and pens for the beginning of school --- though my school days are long over.

Thus, my winter writing odyssey begins.

This signals a new beginning for me. A time to renew friendships with the characters I abandoned back in the spring when the earth came to life with new buds and the Robins sang to me from their perch in the pine tree at the edge of the woods.

In cold weather, I'm ready to be clothed in the warmth of words and absorbed by new stories and characters I've never before met.

There is no other season quite like this one for writing.

I'm off here now to pick up where I left off.

And, please don't think I don't write in other seasons. I do. But I'm not as dedicated to it as I am in the winter. I seem to get more done without the pull of the sun to bring me outdoors.

NOW, here's to a profitable winter for all of us filled with words, characters, and stories enough to fill our hearts and minds and the dreary days ahead.

Today, I promise to do one act of kindness. How about you?

Blessings as we slid into our sleigh filled with words.