Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
“Remission is possible. However, there really is no cure.” Any patient hearing these words feels upset, frightened, bewildered as processing such information is difficult. Helplessness and, possibly, ‘why me’, moves through the mind. What difference does attitude make with such news?
At age eleven, one of my grandsons learned he had a medical condition that had no cure; a concept of ‘lifelong’ must have been beyond his comprehension. I took him for routine blood work watching his face as a needle stabbed a vein for his fluid. I had him focus on my nose or see if he could out-stare me, something silly like that, so he wouldn’t see the needle pierce his skin after the rubber tourniquet was put around his upper arm nor the vials of blood being collected. I, too, didn’t look. When there were many people ahead of him at the lab, he paced but refused to show emotion.
After each lab visit, we went to a park, or plant-conservatory, or I’d, in advance, decide on something to have him look forward the rest of that day. Among the life of trees or blooms, we both were aware of the determination of Nature and survival, and there was a sense of peace with this connection. He understood he had a chronic condition, but we didn’t speak of it; when he was ready to ask questions, or just vent, I’d listen; he knew that. Once we had a picnic on a bench and dropped bread crumbs for the birds to eat. He spoke about a trail we’d taken when he was little, called a Bird Trail, and the flying creatures actually came to his outstretched palm and gently pecked at the seed he had there.
A gastroenterologist gave him pills to quiet inflammation. A stand-up comic could have made a funny routine of the volume in his daily plastic container some to take morning, some evening, some with food, some without food. Refilling the slot for just a single day overwhelmed the holder! Eventually, he had to take prednisone for a year, along with pills. His appearance changed as that drug causes bloating of the body, even the face; a few of his friends began to distance themselves. No one could “catch’ his condition that was probably genetic, but it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be seen with a person whose body was so puffed-up. Outwardly, he didn’t complain and accepted that this was necessary. Was that because inwardly he was beginning to realize that he had both the power and ability to pattern his life according to his spirit, and that was elevated? He chose a sleep-away summer camp because he wanted the experience and made no excuses for his appearance; campers must have thought he was simply obese. The camp nurse who administered his meds knew otherwise.
Spirit. As he felt connected to me, his medical caregivers, the greenery in the parks or when the snow dusted bare branches, he was linking to others and to his environment. What I noticed was ‘spirit’ is as real as WiFi, which can’t been seen, or radio waves, which can’t be seen, and one doesn’t need to ‘see’ to have it verified. While disbelievers proclaim something needs to be validated, how do they validate pressing a remote control button and having television light up, or having a garage door elevate by depressing a knob in their car, or speaking to someone overseas just by cellphone? Those magic-connections can’t be registered by our eyes.
Eventually his condition made it necessary for him to have infusions of a toxic chemical that would put him in remission, but the infusions probably are for life. Arrangements had to be made at a facility near campus when he was in college, and his attitude was never ‘why me’ or ‘another needle in my arm and chemicals dripping in my body for hours at a time each time’. Never. When he’s in town, I’m with him during those hours, chatting, playing Scrabble with the board only facing him as he’s got one arm in a blood pressure cuff and the other hooked up to a machine via a needle in his vein. We don’t talk about medical but behave as if this procedure just was nothing more than an inconvenience. He is an amazing young man with quiet courage and life-oriented attitude. Personal growth, as, ‘spirit’, can’t be readily seen but does exist. His focus on what he has rather than what he hasn’t displays that to me.
His attitude has affected my life. My arthritis aches and pains are put in perspective as they should be. My half-paralyzed face that happened more than a dozen years ago, and changed the way others see me and the way I can communicate by expression, has been definitely taken into a different dimension: I see courage in that grandson’s face and everything he does, and I’ve realized that my personality is unaltered and only the facade has changed. Only my appearance isn’t totally ‘me’, but all the rest, the important things, are definitely ‘me’. My journey, with the added wisdom that comes with aging, to be kind and caring, protect nature and continue to pray for harmony on earth, has nothing to do with a fully functioning face. The boy, at age eleven, began to make me think about whether I smile because I’m happy or I’m happy because I smile. Essentially, it makes no difference if someone else sees I can only smile with half a face. Within, I’m smiling because of happiness or to make me feel happier. He lives that. His quiet sense-of-self, acceptance about what has to be, sensitivity to others has also allowed him to believe in possibilities for friendships, employment, and so forth, and he lives truly knowing that life is sacred and not to be taken for granted. Who he is, and not a medical condition, defines him. This is what he’s taught me.
©2016The Jewish Press
reprinted Jan./Feb. 2019 The Humanist
Pieces of childhood memories move in and out of our lives sometimes evoking apprehension instead of security; how can a desk be one of those fragments for me?
Stretched out on the double bed with spreading papers touching a tufted velvet headboard, my father did 'the books'. Stock transactions, checkbook balancing, bill paying, insurance changes, and so forth, clung to the coarse threads of the chenille bedspread. He leaned over to get the best illumination from the bedside table lamp, arching his back in an awkward position.
I'd interrupt and plop on the small amount of space not covered with his work, and the force of my body would cause papers to scatter. I didn't think what he was doing was important and it looked like fun making piles and piles of printed matter. He smelled good, and the room carried his characteristic after-shave lotion while he was in it. My mother's scent was fragrant and flowery and different.
'What are you doing' was my statement rather than a question. I wasn't trying to snoop, nor did I really care to understand; I just liked making my presence known at anytime I felt like it, and usually had the urge when a parent was preoccupied with his or her own business.
My red maple desk was efficient, sturdy, spacious. I'd guessed my father didn't have a writing table because he liked leaning on bedspreads and playing with envelopes. Since I used the mahogany dining room table for cutting out dress patterns, and large art projects, I knew he could have done 'his books' on that space. He also could then listen to the radio built into the side of the false fireplace since the living room was nearby.
When I started high school, a textured black Remington portable typewriter took up a large portion of the right side of my maple desk. It wasn't easy to take a typing course when my academic load was pre-college rather than working toward a general diploma. I skipped study hall to learn the keyboard skills. My father didn't have a typewriter and still sorted mail on his sleeping furniture. A sewing machine was added to the master bedroom fitting between the area made by a dormer window; so I knew he liked using a mattress better, for a desk certainly could have been put in the alcove.
Sometimes I let my mother borrow my heavy typewriter but forced her to lug it downstairs to the dinette table. Everything in MY room was for my use only! But everything else in the house was for my use also. Parents are supposed to be pliable, available, unselfish, and totally understanding at all times. I continued to push papers over to make room for myself whenever I noticed my dad's absence due to 'book work'.
On a weekend home from college, I heard my father tell my mother he really wanted a desk with drawers. My mother suggested making him a study out of a bedroom now unoccupied since my sister had gotten married. Was he joyous? Had he really hated being hunched up on the linty spread, reaching for the stocks to sell vs. the ones to keep? Had it been burdensome to balance monthly statements and do the necessary arithmetic using his knees to hold the pad while his fountain pen scribbled numbers? Was my childhood interruption really an intrusion?
My mother busied herself with needlepointing a seat to cover a chair for the eventual desk. She had walls painted a soft grey, and carpeting of crimson wool laid over the oak floor of my sister's vacant room. She handmade drapes, then had the tapes on the wooden venetian blinds changed to match her new color. My sense of "I", with young adulthood, was noticing "they" and my parents were really people with separate, but sometimes suppressed, needs. He had wanted a desk!
The walnut gift arrived. Its shape was somewhat oval and softened corners seemed elegant. Its top was inlaid with leather bordered by gold design. The kneehole was ample but had a center drawer as well as ones going down both sides; the pulls were bronze handles. My room's desk was a functional rectangle with drawers that had maple knobs to grip for opening; this was stately. I looked at the bookshelves built into the back of this writing unit and was impressed by the creative style. My father's eyes filled with tears when he ran his fingers along the leather; when he smiled, some dripped into his dimples. I held back a grin, which he noticed from my funny pursing of lips.
Whatever I seemed to want or need, he sensed and provided for, yet only now did I realize he gave up in order to have money to give his family. No trophy could have been more wonderful than, at age 45, having such a beautiful desk.
On the brocade couch in the living room, he clutched his chest feeling anxiety and pain. My mother cradled his head with soothing and encouraging words after the doctor left muttering 'indigestion'. Moments later, his heart ceased to beat.
I opened those walnut drawers that he had never filled with papers. I played with the bronze handles letting them go up and flop back forcing a snapping sound. Tears poured from my eyes and no dimples caught any in tiny wells.
When my mother moved into an apartment, she asked me if I wanted the desk and chair for my own home. I loved and hated that walnut item. Her needlework would last for generations, I knew, but that oval chair seemed to be linked forever to the desk. I shook my head, no; my hair moved with the violence of my gesture. I was angry, not at the offer but at the injustice. How could I take it and be reminded of the unused; how could I not take it and allow my mother to see a charity haul it off with her other belongings? "Give it to charity," I whispered to my bewildered mother who probably saw my pain rather than my seeming indifference.
I haven't made peace with the desk and the dying. Each time I get something special that I've truly wanted, I get afraid that 'something will happen'. A foreboding forms a shadow that vanishes only when time passes. Since that desk has haunted my emotional space, I've regretted not making my mother feel more comfortable knowing it would be used, and accepting it. Did I think that a truck carting it to an uncertain destination would obliterate its message?
My obsolete, black, noisy, cumbersome typewriter had been saved and sat on a shelf in my basement until I donated it to a museum. I passed my fingers over its suitcase-like container, before giving it to the curator, remembering my father's scent and 'book work' on his bed, perhaps to equip me with such a writing machine.
Through these years, I've come to realize that a desk is not just a writing table, and 'things' are for now rather than saving. I also know that some people often put personal wants on hold in order to provide for loved ones.
published 1996 Palo Alto Review ©1996 Palo Alto Review
reprinted 2009 Via Clear Mt. Syndicate
reprinted 2000; 2013 The Jewish Press
reprinted 2015 Eunoia Review
Couldn’t Fate have Waited?
Do you play tennis trussed up like the victim in a first aid course? How loudly do you groan as your aching elbow eats up the pain of a ball beating the racquet? Does the searing shoulder sensation add punishment to backhand placement? I envy you. In spite of the agony those limbs are enduring, they're still on the courts...but have I got an injury for you!
Once my children were settled in summer camp, I embarked on my proposed athletic accomplishments. Graphing gains and intended goals gave me a sense of purpose. I divided the week between golf and tennis, playing the latter on the three days women were prohibited from the former. Yes, back then, country clubs were for men but wives were permitted to use facilities during certain hours and specific days. The private club to which my husband belonged has seven tennis courts and a superior golf course. Walking, with a caddie, did wonders for my endurance and leg muscle tone. That was only my fifth summer since I learned to play golf, but I was quite adept and it enriched my ego.
The tennis books beckoned. Red crayon ran along such phrases as 'lob to opponents left shoulder', ‘lob when opponent has sun in his face’, ‘doubles is a game of strategy’, ‘aim for alley to keep poacher honest’.
My net game was good. I needed an edge so better players would invite me to join them; by developing an area, the net, often avoided by women, I gained it. Aggressive, attacking, offensive, I put balls away to baseliner’s astonishment.
The graph grew in placement, backhand, footwork; the serve was stable. I still had an overhead minus the smash. My husband suggested I adopt the push serve for a flatter faster ball. Shades of chauvinism crept into that cop-out.
Round one of the club’s mixed doubles championship read 6-1, 6-3 in our favor. The one lost game of the first set was my service. It looked terrific in form but the sphere sped powerless to any place it picked.
The September issue of a tennis magazine arrived with pictures and pointers to perfect a poor serve. Lean, athletic, in good health...there was nothing to contraindicate an overhead smash serve.
Round three of the mixed doubles championship was coming and we were still in contention for the cup. I used a pull cart on the golf course to strengthen my arm muscles. The course has side hill, up hill, and down hill lies all at the same time on several holes. Balancing the cart was a feat. My graceful, grooved swing and super long ball made me question the statement 'one shouldn't play both golf and tennis'.
A basket of wool tennis balls, instructions from the magazine, and time would take my right form and make it a right serve. Right?
That's where my tale begins and ends.
I altered the toss and a flat, deep, speedy serve was issued. After a half hour I tried to place it. There it was...right to opponent's backhand. I joined a game with three women that needed a foursome. Only my fantasies focused on a cup that might read Stone and Stone.
I moved in for a ball and got a cramp in my right calf. Immediately I kneaded it, sat down, pulled off my shoe and sock and flexed my foot.
Being the wife of a physician, I learned sooner than someone else that I had a partial rupture of the gastrocnemius muscle and would be on crutches for about six weeks. An orthopedic surgeon confirmed the diagnosis. This muscle forms the greater part of the calf and its action flexes the leg and points the toe. Together with the Soleus muscle, it forms a muscular
mass; its tendon of insertion is the thickest and strongest in the body, the tendo calcaneus.
How does a big, strong, healthy muscle on a physically-fit lean body partially rupture by a
movement? Let me know when you can answer that.
Enjoy your tendonitis, arthritis, strains, and soreness. Keep your weight down, muscles firm, clothing loose, sun off head, shoes well fitted, racquet tension correct. It won't prevent the partial or total rupture of the gastrocnemius muscle; it might help your game while you have two working legs on which to play.
It was six weeks before I could put my leg down to walk, and many, many months before I carefully tried to play again. One of my paranoic pleas, at the time, was if that was "destined", couldn't Fate have waited until winter?
as children grow older
How do years dissolve as quickly as if putting an ice cube into hot water! Our son was deciding if tiny birthday candles settling into a cake’s top ought be replaced by two wax numbers indicating time passing.
Playful, he once ran tiny fingers across the satin of a baby blanket, enjoyed his left thumb between his lips at bedtime.... eventually, he hid a flashlight under his covers and pretended to sleep but switched it on and off once my husband and I left the room. David didn’t know we were smiling. From flashlight to becoming a CPA seemed to be one leap for us. For him, endless time was still ahead for wishes, dreams, achievements.
In August 2016, he said, “I just dropped my baby off to school for the last day. Sometimes the moment of the ending is stronger than the prospect of the next beginning.” His third child was then starting undergrad school enroute to becoming a physician. And I so recalled my putting him on the school bus for kindergarten, he, my third child, and I was reluctant to walk back into the house not yet accepting my ‘baby’ was now a school boy. When he began university education in another part of the state, I started teaching college English Composition having planned ahead for that change.
Relationships, for me, need to be ‘real’ with the ability to speak thoughts without ridicule, not be judged nor judgmental, ‘be there’ emotionally. And his aha-moment about actual endings silently also spoke about aging.
The daring teen who swam across Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks while in summer camp, climbed many of the High Peaks in the same mountains (including the Highest), was beginning to experience some physical limitations as yearly calendars were tossed. Running in a sponsored road race no longer had his name as a contestant. He was reluctant to speak about mortality as something real and not just a word used by poets or philosophy professors. So I did:
‘Nothing you feel is ever 'less' because someone has it 'worse'. What you are feeling is important to us. Getting older on the outside and still being young inside your head is a constant adjustment. Who else can better understand you than us who have loved you since you came into this world, and could once run and tumble without getting too injured and now knows an injury may heal or leave permanent residue. And to not share your feelings because our lives are almost over is one dumb reason. We hate that life ends! Allow us to tell you that. No, it won't prepare you for your anger about life and death when you've fewer possible years ahead than what's behind, but it might help that you know we, right now, don't understand we 'won't be' and there's so much still we want to see with our own eyes, and touch with our own hands. If you weren't angry about aging alterations and that you'll never be who you once were physically, then there'd be something wrong with you. Allow us to comfort you. We can't kiss and make better, but we can kiss and make 'easier' to deal with. We have spent much of your life living only a few miles from you and being part of the everyday. We want to hear about your upset and never ever be 'fair weather parents' and it does help to let go of the 'damn it' stuff, and that is good for our relationship. Were we supposed to not hear your "I'm scared" before a surgery? Weren’t you scared, as a little boy, before your tonsils came out even though your sister was going to have it done on the very same day? You were both not at home in bed, but in a hospital! We want to help you through anything. Let us. We can't change who we are just because we're old on the outside. Inside, we're still young parents remembering digging holes with you in beach sand, playing tennis and golf with determination with you, roasting marshmallows with your family in an area of your backyard you created for such, round-robin ping pong games.........”
How do years dissolve as quickly as if putting an ice cube into hot water! Time gone can never be regained. All these months of isolation from physical contacts, familiar activities, going outside during this Pandemic of 2020 wearing a necessary face-mask, using Zoom to participate in religious services or graduations or just family sharing is a daily reminder of lost hours. What does not ever have to be ‘lost’ is communication, caring, sharing, exchanging feelings, listening. And as long as we’re able, my husband and I will try and help loved ones through their life cycles and allow them, as well, to hear our own whispers of aging with some role-reversal that we don’t like to accept. We’ve been using two wax numbers, with wicks ready for a match to light, as adornment on our annual cakes. It’s actually quite a privilege to be old enough to notice our offspring have this kind of dilemma.
My sister, Joy, ran her fingers along the tops of the copper horse statues on my maple dresser. One horse had a broken leg but managed to stand on the three remaining; a tiny shield on the saddle's side read Bear Mt..
"Does Bear Mountain have trees?" Joy played with the rough metal where the leg was broken.
"What is it?" I looked up from polishing my thirteen year old toenails. The bottle of clear liquid was balanced on my radio.
"Bear Mountain. Why hasn't it trees?" Joy spoke again.
"It has trees." I resumed polishing. “It’s up the Hudson River.”
"If it has trees, why's it bare?" The horse was replaced next to the others.
"It has bears there. Bears. Animals. Growling. Not barren." I shrugged my shoulders. "You're nine. Haven't you studied homonyms?"
"Oh." Joy wiggled one foot in embarrassment.
"That's okay. You're not dumb. At least you only have me here. When I was about eight, we were learning, in school, about colonial life, and I brought in a book about a colonel thinking it was about colonial; the teacher laughed at me in front of the entire class. Words sort of looked the same to me, and I didn't know how to spell the way I now do. 'Course the teacher didn't have to shame me." I shoved more cotton wads between my toes to keep fresh polish from sticking.
"I'm going to Bear Mountain. Sleeping at Rhoda's; her brother is away and I'll sleep in his room. Rhoda's mom is going with the Brownies. Lois," Joy paused, "don't laugh at me but I need, really really need, to ask you this."
"Well, I've never slept in a boy's bed and," Joy paused, "and, and..."
"Get on with it, Joy."
"If I fall asleep in it, will I wake up a boy? I don't want to, Lois. I don't want to be a boy. Will I?" Joy's voice was anxious.
Careful, I thought. Don't get giggling over this crazy question which, obviously, isn't crazy to Joy. Aloud, I answered in a flippant way, "Nope. You're a girl for life. You can stand in front of a toilet all day and still not pee like a boy, dry yourself with daddy's towel and not grow hair on your chest, wear bluejeans that button up the front and not grow a 'thing'. Okay?" I was glad I didn't giggle.
"Okay. You're sure. Really, really sure."
"Really, really. Cross my heart, and no fingers or toes are crossed behind my back or anything. No fooling. You'll stay a girl." I responded casually.
Joy, relieved, squat next to me and hugged me hard. "You are the best sister ever. You are."
"Shoo," I said feeling pleased with myself," I've got to finish this before Mom catches me."
"She can't see the clear stuff."
"She can if the bottle's sitting here and I've cotton between my toes."
"Oh yeah." Joy nodded with understanding.
"And you better not let her hear you saying 'yeah'," I reminded.
"Is it nice there?" Joy started with questions again.
"Sure. But it's a long boat ride. Better take jacks, or coloring stuff, or a book or something to do. After awhile, all the water gets boring and once you've seen the engines going you really won't know what else to do. Coming back you can watch people necking under blankets." I let myself finally giggle.
"Will you be mad if I buy a horse?" Joy looked again at the collection.
"Course not, silly. But don't get me a new one. I'm going to keep these forever and ever, even the one with a leg broken. I love them. You can't just replace something you love; it's `it' you love and not a newer or shinier one." I sounded philosophical like Dad.
"Like the Deanna Durbin doll from Grandpa that had a broken body but you wanted the broken body one 'cause that was given to you." Joy spoke in one breath, then gasped for air.
"Would you have sent her back for a new one after being given her? I didn't know the wood was cracked until I took off the satin ball gown. She was already mine." I was annoyed. No one ever understood why I told Grandpa not to exchange the gift for an identical one. It could never be identical, only another that appeared the same. I think Dad understood.
"I don't know. Probably I'd want the same thing without the big crack. Nope. I don't think I'd've kept Deanna Durbin broken. Grandpa promised it'd be the very same doll."
Realizing that few would accept my stubborn refusal to trade-in or part with any of the things I loved once they were mine, broken or damaged or whole or soiled, I changed the subject. "Pull off your shoes and socks, Joy. I'll paint your nails."
21st century: Pink polish. Nail enamel glides on and dries almost instantly
I glanced at a mirror. “Still stubborn, aren’t you, Lois. You replaced the hammers on your childhood piano and wouldn’t let the technician touch the strip of worn-out felt that lines above all the keys. Broken, damaged, soiled, whatever, the cosmetic piece is part of...” I giggled at my soliloquy. “Just because I’m so much older,” I continued talking to myself, “doesn’t mean I changed personalities!”
Turning from my reflection, I thought about a granddaughter who took my copper horse statues. At age nine, when she collected sea-world stuffed toys and miniature wooden animals, she wanted those rigid horses unchanged by multiple decades of display. Did she somehow understand my childhood refusal to exchange or discard a damaged toy? Will she put them on her daughter’s dresser, the very same one now on its third generation? Might I ever polish that little girl’s toenails and speak about sister Joy's innocent question, Bear Mountain, my Deanna Durbin doll, and those copper horses?
Published October 1999 “Rochester Shorts”
“Here’s my penny,” I placed it on the glass counter after selecting one strip of Candy Dots suspended from a metal rack.
The man by the cash register nodded to me.
“My allowance went up to ten whole cents!” I said with excitement. “So you’ll see me every day on my way back after lunch!”
Since the walk to elementary school meant seven blocks uphill there, seven blocks downhill home for lunch, seven blocks back to classes, and seven blocks again to my house, and I had to do this five days a week for eight whole years, a candy store nearby the all-brick education building was quite perfect. (Oh, kindergarten was walking-walking also but I didn’t count that as wasn’t really like learning.) Visual of colored circles of sugar, plus carefully pulling each one from paper without disturbing the others, was something I really enjoyed. Now, with a bigger weekly allowance, I could actually have ten of these a week instead of only five.
School buses didn’t exist in the community, nor did lunch rooms on site until 9th grade which had its own building and was from 9th through 12th. ‘Middle school’ hadn’t been developed even as a concept yet. For high school, one could walk really long distances or wait for city busses on regular routes. Crowded with too many students, plus passengers traveling to specific destinations, walking, for me, was definitely preferable no matter what the weather conditions. Same temperature circumstances existed for the first 8 years of learning so I was used to dealing with cold or rain or snow. Sunshine and warm was as much a treat as thinking about Candy Dots!
War Identification Cards were issued, and I was also given a plastic disc (suspended from a chain) to wear around my neck. It said: Lois Greene, New York City. But I lived where Long Island began, so why did the tag say where all the skyscrapers were! Well, the special necklace seemed fun and grown up, but my fingerprints were done in that candy store! How could government people, or something like that, make my fingers inky and then stick them on a piece of paper when it was a CANDY store! I looked at the display of Sugar Dots to concentrate on something pretty that I so liked in my mouth, how my fingers enjoyed peeling dots from the paper, anything so I wouldn’t have to watch dirty fingers being smushed on paper for some government reason I didn’t understand anyway.
When my allowance rose to 25-cents a week, I could still ‘feel’ inky stuff each time I walked through the wood door and saw the shop’s owner. I began to buy gummy dots, neatly boxed, since delight with my sugar-on–paper had been dampened by wartime government-decree to have my digits filed. A teacher said if a bomb fell, and we couldn’t be recognized, those prints and dog tag would be identifiers. I had to look that word up in the dictionary. I know who I am, so why was some proof needed?
My uncles came back from places across the ocean, a female cousin returned from being in the army of women, my mom no longer had ration books, my dad could get gasoline and use the car. The Uncle Sam Wants You signs began to disappear, and I tucked the two identification items into a satin hankie case.
Well, wars didn’t stop as I was an undergrad during the Korean fighting. No one, again, had such ID tags except soldiers, I guess, and tiny candy stores slowly vanished. The elementary school building seemed small and dated when I registered, at age 21, in that facility so I could vote in American elections.
Adulthood. Marriage. Families. My older sister lived 3,000 miles away, and, before our current technology, telephone communication was costly; we used regular mail. When she was terminally ill, she told me to anticipate a present. Wrapped in layers of tissue paper for protection, in a normal envelope, was a strip of paper with tiny-tiny sugar candy dots affixed. Tears tumbled as I peeled away the first pink one.
number one, number two.... counting
“Five and a half, not just five.” “Almost sixteen.” “I’ll be twenty-one next week.” Can’t wait to be older! Then, quietly, it’s fifty, and almost with disbelief, many prefer not to answer if questioned after sixty. A Medicare Card, proclaiming one is sixty-five, screams old-age rather than eligible for Social Security payments.
Is completing another year a celebration or a reminder that an invisible cycle is causing creases in facial skin, muscles to weaken, joints to ache, hearing to be difficult at certain decibels?
The Pandemic has a number for the virus Covid: 19. Songwriter, Luke Combs, is promoting his new work titled “Six Feet Apart” regarding the current separation of people for alleged safety from contagion. I heard his lyrics, “And there will be light after dark Someday when we aren't six feet apart”. I realized that graves are dug at that footage.
Suddenly ‘six feet’ became a selection: good height for an adult male, depth of a grave, safe separation of people during Covid 19. As a young girl, I’d read “Now We Are Six” by A. A. Milne. I enjoyed the poem “Us Two” and its sing-song lines such as: “Wherever I am, there's always Pooh, There's always Pooh and Me.” "I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he, "I'm never afraid with you." Again, the digit six! But “Us Two” signified, to me, that being with and loved by another can make scary stuff less so.
Sestet is a six line poem. There may be a sixth sense for those who are clairvoyant. A national theme park is called Six Flags. Numerology considers six to be a compassionate caretaker. In both Judaism (with its six-pointed Star of David) and Christianity, the six might mean imperfection or connection. The Hebrew version notes both six days of creation and work. Wikipedia indicates: “Six is the only number that is both the sum and the product of three consecutive positive numbers.” “Genesis chapter 6 the word “man” appears six times; the sixth book of the bible is the name of a man; Joshua: (6 letters).” Six years was the term for a Hebrew slave to serve, and the time allowed for fertile land to be used before resting it. The New Testament’s Book of Revelations notes that three sixes is the mark of the beast (the Devil).
Superstition slipped into action when President Ronald Reagan and his wife, after leaving office and moving to Los Angeles, changed the original address of their home from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668 St. Cloud Road.
History records specific plagues and flus with their epidemics, pandemics, and many of the methods tried to halt destruction of human life plus society. Eventually, survivors will hug again, share celebrations in person, witness rites of passage, join hands, select items from supermarket shelves, book a cruise or a flight abroad, for examples. Birthday candles will be extinguished with a push of a breath, live theatre will transport us to another place for a couple of hours as we sit among strangers sharing the experience.
When? Our timetable doesn’t yet have a punch date to click as conductors once, long ago, did with a passenger’s ticket and the metal punch had a distinct sound. But man will figure out how to eliminate fears from this newest deadly virus, control it, and possibly eradicate it. Yes, another might develop before the century closes, and the process will go on again. Nature cycles. So what can we do with numbers right now? Possibly be grateful we are still counting them and hope the shovel for that specific six doesn’t happen until much-much later.
‘Buy your tickets for the shuttle to the moon.’ Sounds laughable to consider being a tourist in outer space. What kind of fool would consider that a travel destination.
Robert Browning wrote in his poem, Andrea del Sarto, published in 1855, “A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?" Easier to understand his philosophy if you only read to the ‘comma’: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp.” Is being inquisitive important?
Imagine you are living in a log cabin with wood-burning fireplace for both heat and cooking; an outhouse serves as your bathroom. A well holds your cold water supply. Flaps cover your windows as glass panes have not yet been introduced. You’ve all seen films depicting life in such time periods. Can you hear the laughter if someone declared one-day there would be a house with heat from a power source, and toilets inside the home, and, maybe, an inside well? Such chuckles could come from considering a way, during rain, to keep the daylight without shuttering the window cut-outs.
Imagine you are sitting in an open buggy, horses pulling it, happy you are not riding the horse. It’s cold and a hand-made afghan covers you, but rain or snow begins to fall. There are miles to go on the uneven dirt path and the buggy wobbles through the ruts. Who could consider that there’d be an automobile to make the journey quicker, much less one with a closed top?
My parents went to silent movies; the wonder of ‘talkies’ was amazing. They lived in apartment houses without elevators, and coin-operated heat for the rooms, and the individual units had no bathrooms. A common bathroom was at the end of each floor for tenants on that level. Bendix hadn’t yet invented the washing machine that could also wring out clothes in a spin cycle. 78 rpm records with a brief playing span seemed magical.
Man’s reach gave us inventions that had seemed impossible: light bulb; climate controlled houses and offices; propellor through jet airplanes; automobiles that have heat/cold air/voices telling destinations and how to reach them, telephones, for starters. Our first tv entered our house in May 1948 with a test-pattern showing most of the day, yet we sat in front of that fascinated. Automatic transmission was coming out for cars when I was a new driver but I learned on manual, which, today, is given a sporty name of stick-shift. Steering was hard as there was no assisted power, and to make a turn the window had to be opened by the driver and the hand position indicated left or right turning. During World War II, I warmed my clothing on a space heater, portable, that I shared with my sisters as we moved it from room to room; fuel for homes was in short supply. Weekly, after I married, I also chiseled frost from the refrigerator, hand washed dishes; in 1961 I had a frost-free appliance and a portable dishwasher and couldn’t believe the wonder of such. Soon after there appeared color-tv, automatic garage door openers, cassette tapes... incredible.
Minds have to discard the ‘known’ and reach for ‘unknown’, accept ridicule as Wright Brothers, Edison, and others must have dealt with, realizing that what we don’t yet ‘know’ is valuable. The cumbersome Stromberg Carlson telephone tied to a wall is a smartphone now. A pile of shellac 78rpm records went the route to vinyl, LP’s, tapes, CD’s to fitting thousands of songs into an i-pod that itself is now obsolete. A weighty Remington Rand portable typewriter, for me, was wonderfully replaced by an electric typewriter; in 1981 I bought one of the first IBM PC computers with the 5+” floppies, and even though few knew how to operate it I was determined to teach myself. In 1988 Windows made the process easier, and floppies held more yet were reduced in size and not ‘floppy’ anymore. Who could have imagined smartwatches, tablets, for example.
Without “A man's reach should exceed his grasp” quietly telling the satisfied that ‘more’ is the goal, and to never-ever be complacent, my offspring might have feared polio, newborns with problems would have died before sophisticated NICU’s, outer space would be only for star-gazers, even a suitcase would have no wheels.