Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves…. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. ~Baha'i
The tune for this blog name goes along with the fine and impressive aria O sole mio.
As a token of my appreciation of the new ear worm in my head, I give you, for three minutes and twenty one seconds, Signor Luciano Pavarotti, no twiggy build himself.
My unexpected area of focus on the day of my breast cancer surgery (June 13) was — embarrassingly — my weight. A scale in the surgical prep area was the first one in a dozen years that I’ve been able to stand on, crutches and braces along for the ride. It had a broad, non wobbly base and a strong railing around it.
My moments on the device disclosed that I am some twenty pounds heavier than I thought I was. Er… pretended I thought I was, if we are being honest. And what would be the point of fibbing to my blog?
Photos taken of me on such occasions as my daughter’s wedding and a pleasant trip to Fresno’s Japanese Garden gave me to speculate that I might be reaching more of a barrel shape than the woman shape I previously thought I had. The surface mind poo poo-ed the notion that these images depicted the actual Emily.
The Inner Emily, nonetheless, was deep into panic mode. Because, well, how DOES one shed weight when so many hours a day are spent in a lovely power wheelchair?
Here, for your studious picturing of me lounging around in my upcoming new, attitude-laden wheelchair is the manufacturer’s image of it and its capabilities:
Twenty pounds is a great deal of extra personal real estate for a very short person to cart around.
Thus about the time I groggily noticed that the world was still there as the anesthesia wore off my mind began plotting means of dropping the excess Me.
The problem has not been that I eat too much. My vegetarian diet has included almost no refined grains, little fat or sugar, lots of fruit and veggies, for years. So maybe there’s been rather too much cheese, but who was counting?
Never slim because that’s not my body type, with or without the polio, my okay weight began shifting into bad three and a half years ago when my shoulders started with severe issues. The doctor thought this would be either rotator cuff injuries or the wear and tear of walking around with wooden crutches for sixty five years. Or both. Didn’t make any difference to me what the cause was — I was, due to the incapacitated shoulders, quite unable to push myself up into the cab of my faithful pickup truck and get myself to an Albuquerque medical center for an MRI.
So I pampered the shoulders for a few months until they stopped with the hurting. However, once recovered they were weak and unable to bear much weight. Or allow me to walk around for long before my arms would start to go numb.
That sort of thing took away much of my ability to do things like yard work that had once given me pretty good workouts. Less walking around is an obvious calorie enhancing activity.
So here I am.
For now I am doing the Dr. Fuhrman Eat to Live diet, which helped in the past when I also wasn’t equal to much exercise. It’s vegan, with very little fat or sugar, tons of veggies fresh and cooked, plenty of fruit. Legumes, a few nuts and such are encouraged.
I’ve been at it for over a week now and my clothes feel slightly looser. Wahoo!
Meantime, Fresno temperatures have been in the range of 108º for days, rather quelling even the dogs’ enthusiasm for outdoor exercise. But we have managed to record a few of the lovely flowers and trees around us. Very healing enhancing, these lovely things are.
108º heat keeps the dogs in the shade on their mid day walks
Silk tree flower in the neighborhood. AKA mimosa tree. Photo by my daughter, Jericha Rendon.
~Something Wild, Andrew McMahon and Lindsey Stirling
“You’re stronger than you know.”
Good to be thinking.
I’ve generally enjoyed making changes in my life, despite being a methodical person who depends on regular little daily sub-schedules, on things staying in their assigned places so I don’t need to spend time hunting for them. As a handicapped individual with mobility challenges this aspect of organization serves me well.
Sometimes a whole lot of changes show up in a short period… and I do feel something beyond simply dizzy.
Such as now.
Only last June Elf, Opus and I found ourselves squeezed into a rental Ford Taurus that had hand controls different enough from those I’d been using in other vehicles that I barely managed to brake in time to avoid T-boning a big white panel truck. We were accompanied from our long time home in the middle of New Mexico by an enormous rent-a-truck jammed to capacity with three generations of family belongings. Headed for California’s gorgeous Bay Area. Which in short order I learned to love for its glorious trees, land, mountains and salt water, for the tech companies all around, the whizz-bang techie culture, the marked diversity amongst the humans, plus many other things.
Maybe a tad less the super laid-back vineyard-visiting, fine wine cultures that can … once in a while … feel … a bit … removed from normal American life. But hey, I’ve been a middle class person mainly, without time for too much laying back.
Now we are preparing to leave this pleasant, if costly region for the more normal all-American mid-section of California known as the Central Valley. That’s the place where corporate farmers struggle for water to continue growing nut and fruit trees and where over half the fruit, nuts and vegetables in the US have been grown — despite a severe five year drought that depletes ground water supplies alarmingly. Cities are sinking as the water level drops, along with farming acreage.
It’s a place where big issues will continue playing out for a long time regarding global warming, the difficult and sometimes awful choices to be made about what lives and what dies. Endangered salmon versus thirsty almonds.
Occupying a huge section of California between the coast and the mountains just before Nevada, this valley starts around Bakersfield in the south, ends was up around Redding in the north. In the middle near Yosemite, Fresno, at something over half a million people, is its largest city.
My own preparations for this next move began with acquiring my first wheelchair van, a 2010 Dodge Caravan with some 76,000 miles on it. Time to knock off denial of my gradual physical deterioration. My dream was to whizz around in a gorgeous new little Tesla, but the reality is that electric vehicles aren’t ready to provide power for the ramps nor the space that wheelchairs need. Soooo….
Meet the van, which goes under the working nickname WV (Wheelchair Van) for now.
Elf and Opus meeting the Dodge wheelchair van for the first time, in our condo garage.
Here I am, headed up the ramp, with roommate Shirley looking on.
At first HRH Elf was … reluctant … (royals are never recalcitrant!) about going up the ramp into the Dodge.
The locking system that holds my heavy power wheelchair in place while I drive. There’s a pin under the chair that links into the groove, a metal piece that slides into the balance bar in front of the lock.
The waiting area at MobilityWorks in Santa Clara where I hung out while the van was being equipped. I had not been with so many other wheelchair users before. We had fun exchanging tips and tales.
I’ve had it three weeks today, and as of next Monday it will (hopefully) be registered with the DMV and I’ll have my California driver’s license. Such is the busy-ness of the state’s motor vehicle division that it takes that long to get the necessary done, by appointment.
Getting WV all set up with the kind of chair anchoring system you need in order to drive from your wheelchair rather than the usual seat took the entire Thanksgiving week, and then some. Then began two serious learning curves of wheelchair driving — one, figuring out how to position the wheelchair into the lock so that the mechanism would agree to unlock and let me out when I needed it to. Still working on that, though things are improving. The actual driving, if one has been doing it for over forty years, comes back even after six months of inactivity. The second adjustment — for me, anyhow — is adjusting to Google Maps on my iPhone, which must sit in the cup holder just under the right wheelchair arm.
Either Apple makes getting proper directions a bumpy process where its arch rival in smartphones is concerned, or I’m missing something.
My first trips alone in WV were up and down 101, sort of — because Maps would send me off or away from the highway and into useless little residential regions of Silicon Valley. Where I experienced the dull thud mentality of passing streets with names like Semiconductor Way near Texas Instruments in… well, I don’t actually know if that was Santa Clara, Sunnyvale or what.
Alone I also indulged my love of watching salt water riffle in the wind out near the western bottom of San Francisco Bay. Seabirds wove their powerful way through air currents on business only they can understand, sailboats bobbed as pines along the shore bowed to air power. The kind of cool, windy day in the Bay Area that makes me glad to be observing the outdoors from inside a warmish vehicle.
Last weekend my daughter, Elf, Opus and I took our respective spots in WV for an apartment-hunting expedition 160 miles southeast in Fresno. That’s a place, in the midst of the San Joaquin Valley, I had not visited in the past, so it was with keen interest that I took stock of subtle changes in geography as we left the green coastal areas, crossed the Coastal Range east of Gilroy in the rain, to flatten out in what looked just about perfect for New Mexico. Scraggly batches of trees crowded together in corners between tracts of land here and there. Sky, sky, high and all around, so much vaster than what lies below the atmosphere with its burden of carbon, methane and other abnormal quantities of chemicals. It presses down on the endless fields.
At first we were in another natural New Mexico landscape — sheep country. Except here, rather than out with Navajo sheepherders and their dogs in rough chapparal or mountainous terrain the woolies grazed in large, flat, empty-ish square areas. All sorts of sheep in various colors and sizes, with and without horns and black faces. Despite the vast surrounding lots, true to their nature as herd animals the sheep clustered together.
After some miles of them, up popped a few red country billboards. Make America Great Again, some alluding to a contentious water bill then moving through the US Congress — Is Politics More Important Than Food?
For those of you who care about the environment and/or the food grown here for so much of the country (and world) — the bill passed a few days ago. Pitting California’s two long-serving women senators against one another. One favored holding enough water to protect endangered species of fish and other creatures further north, the other was intent on striking a balance — of sorts— between the environment she also has long fought for, and the interests of Big Agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. The latter was what passed in the bill this week. (And I have much simplified what is in its complexity.)
All of that latter matter served to make getting acquainted with a special Baha’i woman near where I now live all the more inspiring this week. She, too, is deeply concerned with sustainability and other environmental questions, and has come to champion no till farming as an emerging method that does the earth good with every crop. A question perhaps for a different blog, no till or carbon farming has chiefly been adopted by farmers in Great Plains states — notably a “red” region of the USA. Which serves to bring people of differing political persuasions into collaboration when it comes to things so basic to life as agriculture and maintaining a healthy earth.
If I’d thought the acreage around the lovely Gilroy area was spread out enough to be “Big Ag”, my daughter had scoffed at me. As we got closer and closer to Fresno I could see what she meant. That acreage goes on till the earth curves in the distance. Often in all directions. Never saw anything quite like it before, in person. All in a zone of semi desert.
We will be moving to lovely Fresno within the next month. Once landed there we met up with Paco, my soon-to-be son-in-law, to visit a couple of apartment complexes, lunch with Elf and Opus at tables outside a Subway, admire a lot full of Christmas trees sprayed with fake snow, chase the dogs away from an encroaching rat, then to experience a medium-heavy rainfall that discouraged further apartment checking for that day. After a lovely dinner at Paco’s off we rolled into the night, where there was only music to muse about amidst the blackness of scenery during our return trip. The wistful, rhythmic violin of Lindsey Stirling with various pop singers kept us awake.
Altogether it feels like WV and I will get along, assuming that Paco doesn’t mind keeping the removable, substantial driver’s seat in his garage.
With the wedding a mere month away we now begin that awful process known as Packing the Boxes. Moving them south bit by bit. Sorting through furniture and other things with an eye to parting with as much as we can.
Oh — and planning the wedding, creating the decorations that Jericha wants to fill the hall they are renting.
Not dizzy much, me, till I start thinking of moving and marrying at the same time. Thank heaven that it is my daughter and not myself doing the marrying!
And that’s the reason for the song up at the top. When life makes me woozy it’s the Something Wild that restores my belief in the goodness of being alive.
Down time beyond the next month I will love looking back at our days and friends here in Silicon Valley, at the wonderful wedding, at our WV journeys, the discovery of another new home area. While I’m rattled those wild places do, indeed call me home even more powerfully than usual.
Moving involves a fair amount of self re-creation and may bring into play the re-discovery of potentials we once glimpsed, only to let slip away.
You think you are a country person, and here you are, by your own choice, in a city. You used to roll your badass power wheelchair around quiet village streets, now your daughter bumps you along crowded sidewalks in a rickety little manual wheelchair, your two small dogs attached to your waist by a bungee coupler — hoping they don’t wrap themselves around a pole, or the legs of that umpteenth geeky guy striding eagerly towards you as he listens so intently to something on his smart phone that you are sure he thinks he’s the only person for miles.
Who would expect, though, that little city trees in somebody’s yard would produce wonderful lemons the size of grapefruits, that you could make the best lemon-honey tea ever from? Things like that, visits and dinners with good friends, provide some golden times here.
Life in California’s Silicon Valley is pretty much what you expected, except you did not anticipate that upon your arrival in this quirkily fascinating place between techie mountains named Google, Apple and Facebook, your wheelchair batteries would go south and your leg brace would pop a rivet. Again. And when you discovered that these medical mishaps were occurring, you sure didn’t expect to find yourself sobbing loudly because you knew you were about to be grounded in your apartment for months. Three of them, anyhow.
Had you foreseen how extraordinarily slow this process is right here, you would still be wailing. Happily these misfortunes are not revealed to us all at once. A series of small wails is more bearable than one big heart-busting fit of doom.
This is thanks to Medicare, the system which distrusts power wheelchair users so profoundly that it takes a few months to get authorizations for emergency repairs. At least it does whenever you get into a new system, or need an especially expensive repair, or a new chair.
It was particularly galling to learn that I cannot even BUY a set of batteries privately. “We need to wait for Medicare’s first refusal,” was the airy response to my stunned reaction at this piece of information.
So I’m grounded, other than when the aforementioned daughter manages to squeeze time in for a roll around the neighborhood one evening, or a weekend afternoon trip to pick up a friend in Salinas, where you get to see the sign — whoo hoo! — for the John Steinbeck museum, and wish you were free to visit it. Salinas, an old, established place, is well worth a look around, anyway. So different from Mountain View, where we now live, where today’s vacant half lot is tomorrow’s newest spot for apartment development. They squeeze these complexes into unimaginable spots… This place, at least the section where we are, is wall to wall apartment complexes of different styles and ages. Mountain View took off with early semiconductor companies in the 1950s, and growth has accelerated steadily ever since.
And you sure didn’t foresee not having a vehicle of your own for the first time since you turned twenty two. That was forty six years back. A good long time to thumb my self-reliant nose at anyone who insisted I stay put when I was not so inclined.
To be fair, you suspected but were still stunned to discover that the cost of a decent used wheelchair mini van is around $35,000. Not real feasible to somebody intending to survive on Social Security in the most expensive housing market in the USA.
So here I be, observing progress of balcony repairs and restorations in this and nearby buildings. Of roof repairs on condos on the other side. Lots of time to think about how lovely my two dear roommates (and faithful dog walkers) are, how grand that I noticed a tiny hummingbird mom checking over our balcony plants one day, and was able to get a feeder up promptly for her. How lovely that she came back with a friend or six.
Lots of time to muse over spending more time cultivating my neglected bonsai trees, over investing funds from the sale of my New Mexico home, becoming more of a non-consumer, lessening my carbon footprint, figuring out the best way to use Mountain View’s free ride service. Time to catch up on reading, binge watch Netflix (of which I weary easily), and to blog. Time to figure out how to get over to the bay just east of here to check out the birdlife, to visit the Googleplex on the way by. To view progress on the Apple Donut going up in Cupertino nearby.
These days, rather than doing my daily meditations in my enclosed back yard, I sit in our second floor living room while the roomies are at work, facing the balcony. Our newly resurfaced balcony, now that the Spanish speaking fellows have finished their work. I find myself missing their rapid fire conversations, the lilt in Spanish that makes me smile. They are nice guys, even moving the bonsai and other large plants into our living room during the resurfacing project. Later they returned to put the plants back outside.
What worldly news there is lately to run through my mind is…. Just awful. So many police officers have been shooting more black people than ever, especially young, or youngish, men, there’s no surprise when a veteran, probably black, has made a stand and shot a lot of white police officers in Dallas. We are a racist society, definitely, and it’s time to bring that right out into the light.
Justice. We must create that together, or perish apart.
News of the presidential campaign as it is gradually shaping up is fully as divisive and dismal as news of the shootings. News from abroad is — well, should I be surprised or just shrug my shoulders — also very divisive.
How is the human race ever to get past glaring accusingly at one another’s differences if we keep focusing down on our otherness-es?
This stuff has snowballed to the point where it’s only too easy to miss the good news that is whispered as the rest is screamed.
Several quotations run through my mind of late:
…”for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness.”
“When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.“ ~Baha’i
One cannot meditate constantly, however homebound they may be. Time to bring back other pastimes, other ways of moving the mind outward, away from that scared, shivering little self not wishing to be hemmed in by a broken down wheelchair and fading strength.
Lately I’ve been remembering scenes that flew by us as my daughter and I drove here from my former home in New Mexico, followed by two friends driving a rental truck with my excessive belongings in it. I love my friends a lot, but once I got here and realized the extent of size difference between my old house and my new rented condo I … almost … wished the truck had rolled over a cliff while my friends were out of it for a few minutes.
Fitting into a different space, that’s a story for some other time. Today I am writing about mind space, adaptability, life’s inevitable changes, attitude towards that.
Part of the adaptation process has taken the form of me drawing on my iPad, using the Procreate app. Since it wasn’t possible to take photos while driving — we were in quite a rush —I fixed a couple of scenes inwardly. Keep it in mind that I make no pretense of being a painter or of being able to draw. I’m a wood carver, a three dimensional artist, turned two dimensional of necessity. These drawings are my way of exploring things I’ve seen, stripping away the irrelevant bits.
Here from my hours of enforced sitting arounded-ness, are two sketches I did this week. One, below, is a wisp of memory from something I’d passed a number of times on I-40 headed west, in New Mexico. It’s a Navajo type outfit, with a small ranch house, a hogan and a corral with an earth colored horse in it, set against towering cliffs. I simplified it in my artist mind. It wouldn’t take much to visualize this place in Tony Hillerman stories.
The other, above, is of the spooky looking wind towers sticking every which way out of miles of mountains around Temecula, California, It (als0) wouldn’t take much to imagine these great hulks waving their flexible blades around way up there, chatting with ET. Waves of future energy, menace to birds, bats and who-knows-what-else?
Oh, science, why is its growth so poky?
…To me growth is so likely when we focus on the good, and so slow or non existent when instead we choose to look at things we hate. To act rather than react, that is the big question.
Here is a prayer for America written in the early 1900s, more about what we can be than the way things are just now:
O God, Almighty Protector! O Thou Who art the confirmer of every just power and equitable empire in eternal glory, everlasting power, continuance and greatness! Strengthen with the abundance of Thy mercy every government which acts with equity towards its subjects, and every dominion under whose flag the poor and weak find protection.
We ask Thee by Thy holiness and bounty to pour out Thy blessing upon this government which has stretched its tent over citizens from every land, that its inhabitants, its industries, its territories may be penetrated by justice.
O God! Strengthen its executives, give authority and influence to its word and utterance, protect its territories and dominions, guard its reputation, make its ideals to echo throughout the world, reveal its traces and exalt its principles by Thy conquering power and wonderful might throughout the kingdoms of creation.
Thou art the confirmer of whomsoever Thou willest. Verily, Thou art the powerful and the mighty! ~Baha’i
Hurry up and wait. That’s an expression I grew up with, and lately it’s been coming back to me. With a vengeance.
Today I was intending to be writing from south of San Francisco, dogs in the park, bonsai relocated to a second floor condo balcony. My daughter and another roommate nearby. Green, green, everywhere! So different from the dry brown desert that’s been my home since 1994.
But… life proceeds in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?
Trying out Apple Music, I discovered that I rather like Mary Chapin Carpenter. That a couple of lines from her song The Age of Miracles could be my theme for this little epoch in my life:
If I’m just standing still
One day I’ll get up that hill
In the age of miracles, is one on the way…
Several times now a closing date for the sale of my house has loomed large — tickets have even been bought by my California helpers — only to be moved back a week or ten days. Right now it looks as though it will be either the end of this week or the first part of next. Then, bizarrely, it will take three days for the buyer’s loan to be funded. Hence, I must wait an extra three days to have the money to pay for my wheelchair van, which will be sent from near Atlanta. I’ll be lucky to be in residence near the deep blue sea as the second week in June begins.
But who really knows what the timeframe will turn out to be?
My belongings are as packed as I can get them without a) help, and b) missing things I really do need on a regular basis.
The default state of my mind of late is in a proper dither, half here and half at my new digs in the Silicon Valley. Concentration comes and goes — causing me to do some really, really dumb things.
For instance, today I was out in the backyard in the warm early morning sun, doing a bit of weed whacking with my ancient rechargeable whacker that’s about ready for the great tool cemetery in the sky.
A tiny spider parachuted down onto the wheelchair footrest. Reaching towards the ground for a small stick to encourage Spidey to climb aboard for relocation, I was not mindful that one foot was on the edge of the footrest and …. out of the chair I more or less rolled, splat onto the ground.
Spidey now owned my wheelchair, and there was no way in the world I could get myself back up. My arms no longer have the sort of strength for that.
My house is, unfortunately, a locked fortress, so even if I could think of a friend or neighbor not at work to call for help they wouldn’t be able to reach me.
Leaving that one unthinkable choice.
There was I, under the awfully hot sun, pushing my butt along, across the yard, the wide concrete area in front of the garage, through the garage — why in heaven’s name didn’t I sweep this place out??? — up the ramp and through the backdoor, down the corridor and into my bedroom. There I have the means of getting my aged frame up off the floor.
The process requires getting out of my leg braces, using an ottoman, an old metal bath stool and my manual wheelchair to haul myself up. Onto the ottoman, and eventually into the manual wheelchair.
From there I can get dressed again.
This was another one of those accidents in life that I had promised myself would not happen to me. Just wouldn’t, because it would be impossible to get through it . Another such event I wrote about recently — when my wheelchair stopped dead in the middle of the street, leaving me stranded with two bags of groceries on my lap.
Coming at me kinda fast, wouldn’t you say, Self? Universe sending me a message or something? That I sit here in my den, dogs by my side, writing this is proof that we can, indeed, get through things no matter how much time we once spent worrying about them.
This whole process of falling generally provokes anger in me, as it does feel rather excessive to go through these things that I dread so much, when for one reason or another there is no one who can help. So I said a special prayer, known to Baha’is as the Remover of Difficulties as I hitched myself along, inch my inch.
Is there any remover of difficulties save God? Say, praised be God, He is God, all are His servants and all abide by His bidding.
I put that in so that, if you are so minded, you can use it for help when you need it.
Elf stuck close to me, as she does when I’m in trouble. Here she is, showing off recently with her jolly ball, in the general area where gravity had its way with me today:
It had taken me forty minutes to get from the ground back onto my feet. By then I was shaking like a leaf in a breeze.
Thanks to the shaking I couldn’t get down the ramp into the garage on my feet — for fear I would lose my balance and have to start all over again. So I made my way back through the house and out through the laundry room door, plodding ever so slowly along the gravel driveway to where I’d parked the wheelchair in the shade.
I hoped Spidey had vacated to live out her life in the backyard where she belongs. But I didn’t spend much time looking for the tiny creature.
Instead I went in, got thoroughly washed, realized that the slip-sliding across the concrete and rocky areas had ripped great holes in my favorite pants AND my favorite Chuck Taylor sneakers.
I was so mad that I immediately went to Converse online and replaced the shoes with something similar.
My new braces now have serious scratch marks in the plastic backs below the knees. Oh, well, they weren’t going to stay new looking for long, were they?
To keep myself from reflecting too profoundly on how stupid it was to reach for something on the ground without being firmly in control of gravity I picked up my Apple pencil and small iPad Pro with a sudden vision in my head. Fortified by a cup of tea and a pear.
A couple of years ago there was an unbelievable sunset over the west mesa. The colors, the blaze of the sun — and four or five of the strangest clouds I have ever seen. Unable to get a photo, I have tried many times to capture the essence of that sunset.
Today I found a way to get it in such a way that at least I recognize what I had seen. Not much of an artist when the surfaces I create on are flat, the thing has its lacks. I left out the clutter of buildings and trees between me and the mesa, too. The mesa goes on for scores of miles, has roads, business areas and some homes hidden along its barren, heavily eroded slopes.
New Mexico is known as The Land of Enchantment. Truth is, it has a lot of utterly surreal, nearly unbelievable visual effects. If you don’t believe me google up the Bisti Badlands sometime and just look at the images. Georgia O’Keeffe wasn’t making things up in those famous paintings half as much as people think she was. Those visions are THERE, once a person becomes imbued with the New Mexico spirit.
This image I did my best to sketch rudiment-ally is a vision that I will long carry with me… Yes, it is hard in some ways to leave this place I have loved for so long. But … I still can’t wait for that closing day to finally get here. Then three more days after that… Then: GREEN!
I carved this turtle out of a piece of cedar firewood my Aunt Harriett had given me back in 1990. She thought the wood had better potential than providing twenty minutes of warmth via her fireplace
I hung onto the fragrant cedar with its strong demarcation between the red and the lighter wood within it, until one day I saw a turtle there. Not just any turtle, but one that would speak to getting around the world all ahoo, as a handicapped individual. Legs in braces and long wooden crutches not always working together for smooth, comfortable ambulation.
One of my turtle’s front legs was twisted, so she walked with her foot turned backwards.
Turtles, to me, appear to radiate patience in their slow plodding along, crossing meadows, making their arduous way up out of water onto good deadwood or rocks for sunning. Sadly, getting run down on roads because they can’t move fast enough to get out of the way. Tucking into their strong shells preserves the turtles from many perils, but not from those unkind persons who think it fun to deliberately run over them.
Me, I’ve never been that patient about the enforced slowness and awkwardness of my condition, but in the determination to get where I want to be, to shut out who and what would make life more difficult, maybe I can channel a turtle. Maybe. Keep on moving forward, put my energy into the process of the journey.
At last a turtle reaches a pleasant sunning spot where it is isolated from the rest of the world by a span of water or a particularly high rock. I, too, have need for good space in which to be away from parts the world that stares at me, that categorizes me as someone not quite a full person, A place to simply Be Me, relating to the great and mysterious forces of life on this planet and beyond without consideration for the reactions of anyone else of the human variety.
You don’t grow well when forced to be in defensive mode too much. You need a good space in which to be away from that persistent self that would spend its time thumbing its nose at difficulties. You need the space to put the forces of life into the kind of order you need to smile as you move forward, however that is.
Her shell, you can see, isn’t large enough for her to retract into it completely. That’s because she needed all her energy to face the world, not to hide from it.
So here is my old turtle, saved from the fire to live out her life as my testament to persistence, patience and the good sunning spaces of life.
The changeable weather typical of early spring in the middle of New Mexico of late reminds me of the confusing alterations in life that tossed me this way and that during the several years of my childhood between major hospitalizations. To me living in a spacious western state is as far as it was convenient to get from the crowded environment of the east coast where the polio forced itself on me and my family.
With mighty whoops of glee Elf and Opus, the dogs of today, have flown in and out of their small dog door in the laundry room for the past ten days. It has been warm enough to coax early buds onto bare tree limbs and entice a few bees to buzz around as though there were some place to go.
Then yesterday, back to colder temperatures, higher winds, a bit of blowing snow. People coming and going to see our home, which is for sale … Dogs zonked out on their soft beds, snoring noticeably.
The first year or two after Children’s Hospital released me, a recent paraplegic, into the big world of people with “normal” legs and effortless ambulation were not emotionally painful. The family support team was strong and capable, eager to further my efforts to get around as though not much had happened to me. The few people who didn’t know what exactly polio was — and so feared my presence amongst them — were eventually brought around to grokking the lack of risk a polio survivor like me was to their children in school.
My big challenges involved working out ways to get around, driven as I was to go on doing the things I loved and paralysis be … overlooked.
Lest anyone think that I and my family were out of kilter in striving to reduce the importance of major paralysis, I should point out that in the mid 1950s polio survivors often were pushed by medical people urging families and patients to keep on going, with the goal of living a fulfilling and capable life. Over six decades later it is apparent that a great many of us did, in fact, become pretty tough. Just possibly this was the best thing (after keeping us alive) to come out of the medical system of those days.
This approach had the advantage of drawing all sorts of good people with skills into creative adaptations that helped us get around, long before the days when health insurance stepped in to take over so many aspects of life.
Several helpful events supported my return to the regular world:
—A carpenter friend of my mother’s built a small set of stairs, with railings, on top on the front porch steps, so I could whiz in and out of the house effortlessly.
—A wealthy great aunt passed on, leaving my mother with some English antiques and enough funds to buy a lovely new four-door Buick, in which I, riding in the back seat where I did not get carsick, felt like the new, young Queen of England when my mother drove me to school, friends’ houses, Campfire Girls meetings and for swims in local ponds. The distribution of Dr. Jonas Salk’s new polio vaccine less than a year after my illness was just beginning to quell summer polio epidemics. People were back to fresh water swimming in droves, which wasn’t really wise. In 1955 there came yet another polio epidemic, which struck a little girl down the street from us. From what I later heard, that girl never emerged from institutions.
—The same great aunt’s bequest enabled my mother to remodel a downstairs pantry into a bathroom, which made a huge difference to me. Since I had grown too big to be carried upstairs to the bathroom a few times a day, somebody had gifted us with an old fashioned bedside commode. I loathed it as an emblem of my non-normal state.
I had adopted the lifestyle encouraged by my old Children’s Hospital doctor, Fuzzy Wuzzy. AKA Dr. David Grice. He insisted to my mother that the fewest possible number of special adaptations would get me to “back to normal-as-can-be life” as fast as possible.
That thinking caused me denial of a wheelchair, so anytime I needed to move around when I didn’t have my leg braces on I had to stick my feet awkwardly into the shoes attached to the bottoms of the long braces, tie the shoes, then to do up a dozen leather straps before I could “jump up” and get to wherever I wanted to be.
That taught me the value of advance planning. I liked my braces very well for giving me back the ability to walk, yet they were uncomfortable, pinchy things that were hot in summer and icy cold in winter. Sometimes they rubbed my skin raw. It was nice to shuck them off to sit in the grass or on a soft carpet by a fire.
Fuzzy Wuzzy was right about a lot of things — I did grow up tough and determined to be myself in a strange, strange world that did not always welcome me. But he was dead wrong about one thing — it is not a good idea to walk around on your crutches and braces with your head held high at all times. That proud head and all that is attached below tend to end up flat on the ground when you don’t keep an eye on potential hazards down below. Slippery things like water or grease, cellophane or talcum powder on a floor, ice and holes in the ground outdoors were responsible for way too many concussions, among lesser injuries.
—My parents had my IQ tested for whatever reason that seemed necessary. They were a bit awed by the result. Then, concerned that I would puff up about it, they began alluding to people with impossibly vast brain power. Like Einstein.
—Feeling a bit more empowered to exercise my wits, nevertheless, I finessed my brother and his friends to help me back into the world of outdoor adventure. The first winter after my return home we had lots of snow and for Christmas Donny and I got a round metal, saucer shaped sled alternative called a Doodly Hoop. The boys were persuaded to haul me in that up the hill behind our house, Then to give me a flying shove down the slope — a big thrill for my newly slowed down self. Till the day I crashed into cedar tree, hurting a finger and breaking in half the stone in a special ring my mother let me wear.
Less exciting was the necessity of fairness, to disembark and sit in the cold snow while the boys took their turns. There were more of them than there was of me, so a cold backside got to be the normal thing when we went sliding. It was well worth it, though.
That thrill of slippery DH rides took a bit of a blow one icy evening when the boys agreed to haul me down the street so we could watch the moon rise. Our country road had so little traffic that we hadn’t thought it necessary to mention our plans to any parents. Off we walked and slid, pausing now and then to eat left over Halloween candy we’d stuffed into our pockets.
About the same time that my hands and feet were beginning to feel really, really cold — I was separated from the snow and ice by nothing but a thin sheet of curved aluminum — we heard the distant rumble of a car coming around a bend.
My willing haulers held a conference amongst themselves before unanimously voting to obey that useful parental rule about not standing in the middle of the street when there were cars around. Off they shot — leaving me sitting, in my dark coat and hat, in the DH, pretty much where the line would have been painted in the middle of the street, which was too narrow to merit a line.
The sun was well down as I watched the big grill coming closer and closer. So cold had I grown that it was difficult to get my arms up and waving, but eventually I did, the driver spotted the animated dark splotch against the white snow, got out and pulled me and the DH back to my house.
Once inside my mother subjected my frostbitten hands and feet to a soaking in cold water. It felt like fire. Meanwhile, into my psyche she burned every word of a ferocious lecture about not going anywhere near the road in a Doodly Hoop ever again. This, I thought, was pretty odd coming from her, who as a child with her two daredevil brothers used to sled down a steep hill in front of their home. That was fine till the hill ended and the road began. Along that road one day she and her sled shot straight beneath the wheels of a car, causing considerable ankle damage. In some maternal concern about not filling me with fears, I don’t believe she’d ever mentioned that part of the story before.
The second half of the “free” time I had between hospitalizations got me more away from home and into the sparsely populated community around us.
There were the second and third grades, where the only really difficult work was getting up from my desk fast enough to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of the class each morning. For the fourth grade I was present for just a couple of fall months before fate whisked me off for horrible encounters of the doctor kind, which is a different story.
Donny and I were allowed to invite a friend each for a trip to Boston, where we saw a movie that I have forgotten, apart from its strangely brilliant, distorted colors, walked around the downtown and Chinatown areas, and ended up eating the first pizza we’d encountered. In Chinatown. I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever tasted — except turnip — but the disappointment was tempered by the pleasure of having actually walked so far earlier without wearing out.
Back at home I began visiting my great aunt and uncle, a fairly short walk away along a busy highway. Mainly, besides Auntie’s home made cream puffs and her lessons on separating cream from fresh milk, I loved hanging out in their large barn, watching draft horses come in after their day of hauling logs from forest to the sawmill my great uncle owned.
I loved those gigantic creatures. They moved slowly and deliberately, went sensibly into their stalls after pausing for deep drinks at the water trough, and then began munching, with satisfactory sounds, on hay filling the mangers in each stall. When nobody but Donny was looking I would try to sneak inside a stall till this was discovered by a stablehand. He pitched a fit about how a horse had the habit of leaning his hip against the wall and if I was standing by him there’d be nothing left of me but a messy pancake.
I sniffled for about two seconds — then beamed radiantly, to be scolded like that. For once an adult was treating me like any seven year old kid with a penchant for acting first and thinking later.
Being around the work horses soon made me want to try riding one. Even without the leg braces the idea would have been ludicrous for anyone of my size, but my resourceful mother, who had been a horse woman herself, befriended a neighbor who raised standardbreds for harness racing. Leo Boyle and his wife had daughters close to Donny’s and my ages, and it was not long before we were attending one another’s birthday parties.
For Halloween the year when I was eight the Boyle family had a party where we bobbed for apples, wore bizarre homemade costumes that generally required further information in order to be recognized, and then, wonderfully, were all invited outside to where a pony stood saddled, western, ready to give us rides.
“You, too, Emmy,” they told me. Beside that magnificent being, the pony, I stood up as straight as I could, longing to be in that beautifully tooled western saddle just like Dale Evans on television. Up I was hoisted by Mr. Boyle, very, very carefully. Perched in the saddle, feeling as though I’d ascended a mountain instead of a little pony, I breathed in the scents of the animal and leather polish.
I didn’t particularly notice that I was listing to one side. My mind squawked at me to squeeze with my legs, but the legs weren’t paying attention. The saddle horn helped, but still I slid.
Happily, Mr. Boyle held onto me, and off that horse of my dreams I was pulled.
Soon my sketching began to feature horses equipped with the kind of howdah that elephants carry people around in. This was the product of me, daydreaming, not with the idea that anyone would ever act on it.
Thus I was not disappointed when my mother did not pursue my idea. Something else was on her mind by the time she found my sketches.
She had become deeply depressed, my poor mother, by the apparent suicide of her own mother, to whom she referred, all her life, as “the best person I’ve ever known”. After mentioning to someone offhandedly that she did not want to be a burden to her family in her old age, Grammie ran in front of a car one night.
As that happened my brother and I were sleeping soundly in our downstairs bedrooms. Upstairs, our mother sat up in bed to find herself singing the Star Spangled Banner. Since she was not particularly patriotic, and never could sing, the strangeness of the urge to do this rather struck her. She did it anyhow. Then she remembered just having a dream in which the Shrine of the Bab, a major Baha’i memorial in Haifa, Israel, slowly turned upside down.
A few minutes after she stopped singing people came to tell her that her mother was dead. Her beloved mother, whom she had supported for some years after my grandfather — an aristocratic dreamer who felt working for a living was beneath him — divorced her in favor of younger women. Her mother, tiny in stature, large in personality, a woman who never seemed to look on the dark side of life, a suicide.
Families have times of being shaken up completely, and this began one of those periods for us. We kids didn’t know it, but our parents had begun arguing after Grammy’s death, as my mother resented that my father, whose family home we had moved into, did not want her mother to live with us. Instead, my Uncle George had built her a beautiful little pine cabin behind his home a quarter mile from us.
Grammy seemed happy there, frequently entertaining visitors from far and wide. She traveled to Wilmette, Illinois to visit the beautiful Baha’i Temple on the shores of Lake Michigan, stopping here and there to visit old friends. At home she made and sold loaves of whole wheat bread as part of her life long drive to encourage people to eat healthy food, and took care of us a few times a week to relieve Mother. Besides belonging to something called the Eastern States Farmers Exchange, she joined the local Grange and, as a retired public health nurse, frequently visited ailing people in their homes. So it was a shock in the family that she was considering herself to be a potential burden.
Her death at the age of 78 was the event in our collective lives that at last overshadowed my polio, for which I found myself somewhat relieved.
For a very short time.
My mother, under strains I could not begin to understand then, may have simply decided that she needed to be free of caring for me for a while. Possibly she felt she could spend more time with Donny — who very much needed special attention at that time — if I was sent away, and possibly she simply wasn’t thinking clearly. What I discovered, only too abruptly, was that she had been consulting with a well known orthopedic surgeon. His Eminence, as I called him privately, never saw me before she and he made plans to have me admitted to a state hospital. There I would undergo a series of orthopedic surgeries that required me to lie in bed in body casts from head to foot for six months at a stretch. Several times.
And so, just before my birthday in early January of 1958, she packed a few of my belongings, ordered me into the back seat of the Buick for the last time I ever saw it, and drove me off to the Massachusetts Hospital School for Crippled Children in Canton. That place was my home for the next two and a half years.
The Massachusetts Hospital School for Crippled Children was certainly the reason why I identified powerfully with Jane Eyre, when I read Charlotte Bronte’s eponymous book a few years later.
Easter Seals from the 1930s, long before I was born
When Boston’s Children’s Hospital deposited me and my small bag of belongings onto the sidewalk with my mother I was about to leave a place where all the other kids had handicaps like mine, and the adults had the job of equipping us to get around in our new state of paralysis.
Nobody asked questions about “What happened to you?” or “How come you can’t walk right?” Everybody knew and everybody had their own stories. We were equal opportunity story tellers.
These were pre-highway days, when this thirty mile trip was bumpy and twisty — perfect conditions to induce car sickness. As my mother piloted our way home in an old black Pontiac through Boston’s twisty streets, then out onto state roads where the speed limit was no more than 40 mph, I sat beside her, being not-so-quietly upset. In between bouts of retching I looked at the various homes and small businesses we passed, feeling entirely ready to set out on my own changed terms. If my stomach would just behave with all the stops and starts, my mother’s uneven foot on the gas pedal.
Too bad I couldn’t get into the back seat of the two-door sedan. I would have been less carsick there. And too bad for my hungry mother, who had missed breakfast and wanted to stop at a shiny silver diner for a tuna sandwich. “No, NO!” I screeched at the sight of the parking lot. The thought of food smells was intolerable. The poor woman went on with her long fast a good while more.
Now the memory is almost surreal. Us in the ancient two door Pontiac, Mother bravely coaxing the best performance out of it that she could, this tiny, noisy me beside her clutching a bowl to my chest. It should have been a joyful occasion. Maybe it was, on some level, but her nervous driving and hungry, brain fogged condition coupled with my stomach upset and imperious behavior suggest, now, several excellent reasons why she was so happy once I’d grown up.
In looking back I’m struck by how different a six-year-old’s views are from those of my current age group — the folks with silvery hair and lots of crinkles in their faces. Or maybe not so different for some of us. The only thing I feared then was getting carsick again. Now I’d probably fuss about how people would react to my new status as a mobility challenged individual. Or — more likely — I’d just want lunch. Having conquered car sickness.
It wasn’t long before I learned the respect of dry, dust free floors, how much safer they were for wooden crutches than floors with slippery things on them. It wasn’t long before I learned how to pick myself up via chairs with my new, rigid legs in the metal braces that you couldn’t bend when you were standing, or trying to. And it wasn’t long before I got tired of displaying my latest black and blues from my various splats to the floor.
For outdoor exercise it was now my job to plod, in a wobbly way, down the street where I had formerly flown, leaving my slower grandmother behind. Now she was speeding ahead of me, frequently pausing to let me catch up. Donny simply ran circles around and around us. Back and forth, ahead and behind. Up and down the hilly spots — daring me to follow him.
Barking dogs and vicious ones were something I had to learn to handle, there was no getting away from them. Somebody’s big grey goose waddled through a fence to bite me.
I took the whole thing as it came, figuring that I just had to get the walking thing under control and the good adventures would recommence. Don’t look at the dogs, keep plodding. Imagine fresh goose eggs, or roast goose for dinner…
Happen they did, speedily, since the hospital had released me soon before I was due to start first grade in the town’s elementary school. And there lay the place where my rubber met everyone else’s road.
I became the novelty in short order when my mother chauffeured me to the school that her architect father had designed. The teacher, Mrs. Hastings, was aware that I was coming, that special adaptations would become necessary, and she had gathered the entire class in the parking lot to greet me. It was quite something for me to see how perfect they were, no crutches or wheelchairs, legs moving, standing on their own. To them I was a wonder in leg irons and Buster Brown shoes. What I remember is smiling at them all with true bliss because I was thrilled to be back in the “real” world once again. The fellow handicapped children recently so close receded. This, before me, was the world I had been so much longer accustomed to, what I had been longing for over the past year spent mainly in hospitals.
Yet it wasn’t long before I was rather missing my peers at Children’s Hospital, wondering how they were getting along.
At first I was to be allowed only half days on the grounds that it was fairly difficult to get up and down from the hard little wooden chairs in the classroom, and that using the bathroom — nothing was handicap friendly back then — took about fifteen minutes and a great deal of effort. A room “mother” had to stay with me.
The thing about leg braces when your legs are paralyzed is that you can’t bend your knees in getting up and down — or you will simply go down all the way to the floor — so you wind up shoving up hard with your arms. This takes not only practice, but developing serious arm muscles in a hurry — and my arms had also been paralyzed for a while, and were slowly regaining to near normal. You also need to fine tune your sense of balance, to keep your mind on it a whole lot more than you did before.
Recess was the highlight of my time in the first grade. It was fun to leave the stuffy classroom in favor of brilliant autumn days, to share stories with a few friendly kids, and wonder why it was that some others were careful to keep as far away from me as possible.
And so my re-introduction to “normal” people and places became gradual rather than sudden immersion. My time in school was cut short that first year. For the reasons above, as well as for frequent trips back to Boston for checkups that took entire days out of my learning schedule. Plus I was growing fast enough to need new braces and crutches, and that process also took much time.
A couple of experimentally minded doctors decided to invent a back brace, and I became an early guinea pig. I was duly suspended by the neck from a hospital ceiling to be casted, then a couple of weeks later presented with a hideous wrap around of solid brown material that covered my hips, had rods with screws to adjust their length running up from that lower piece to two arms that wrapped around my ribs. Tightly, very tightly. Sitting down in that thing was well nigh impossible.
That back brace squashed my rib cage for life. Its purpose was to prevent later scoliosis that would result from the few working abdominal muscles being stronger on one side than the other. The brace failed miserably in that respect.
Back to the beginnings of my bizarre elementary school education: The school principal, an old family friend, volunteered to come to our house a few days a week to tutor me.
These arrangements were fine with me. Nobody was bringing me flowers and toys any more, my brother was happier and it was awfully good to be home again. Miss Lillian Dunn was lively and fun when she would look at the work I’d done for her, and she never got tired of answering my endless questions about anything from hand writing to how tadpoles shed their tails and where were the stars, really?
But her endless patience could be hard on her — once or twice she passed out during our sessions in the living room. Miss Dunn had diabetes and she did not always remember to eat something before heading to our house. I have memories of my mother rushing in with glasses of orange juice for her.
Which all was of much interest to me — adults also have trouble with physical challenges, and they don’t all show.
By the time second grade began I was more than ready for the school’s physical challenges, and had been brought up to speed about why it was that some of the kids had been avoiding me. They were being firmly indoctrinated by parents in the imaginary perils of being around someone who had had polio. They thought I would give them the disease.
My mother, the public health nurse, had spent quite a bit of time, while I was at home during the first grade, in contacting and visiting some of the families who thought I was still contagious, explaining how once a person had gone through the acute stage of polio the virus became inactive, and would remain so.
For my part I adored hearing the stories she brought back from some of these visits. Never a gossip or a bit malicious, my mother shared key explanations of people’s backgrounds, what contributed to their misunderstandings. And no doubt to other things they thought. She had compassion for those who had little education and a lot of hard work in their lives.
And then there was the German woman, who had a daughter in my class. I will call her Mrs. J… My mother merely noted that Mrs. J had once “taken care of the German soldiers during their off time.” And let drop the fact that, in company with a German officer or two, she had gone skinny dipping in the Rhine during Allied bombing — glasses of champagne at the ready.
I wondered what kind of care of soldiers that was, exactly, but Mother never answered with more than a glare. It was obvious that science was not something that mattered to Mrs. J, and that was the reason for her daughter giving me a very wide berth at school.
Decades later, when I had my first newspaper job, some long-time fire fighters told me about how visitors to the J family home were sometimes shocked on approaching to see a bare butt sticking out of a kitchen window, the owner doing her business. That was, evidently, Mrs. J.
What a crazy town I was trying to re-integrate into! It’s a good thing that I didn’t know the half of it at the time.
Life of a Family Dairy Farm. Senior aged husband and wife. The good, bad and ugly of the business. We love it and will try to present an ongoing tale of what happens here. Meet some of our animals and characters born here. Enjoy!