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Terreson Profile
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Another memorial service


Katfriend's courage in telling her memorial service story incites me to tell one too. (Funny how it always seems to be a woman's courage to show the chancey way.) But my own courage may falter and I may choose to delete the post or abort in progress. The story is a true story. I know it is a true story because my imagination is not rich enough to make such a story up.

My mother died in August of '85. She was my only parent, so I was luckier than many people who have to go through two parental losses. In some ways, however, a single parent loss might be hard too, since, the sense of abandonment is one time perfect and complete and forever. There are no dress rehearsals.

At that age I was even crazier than I am now. My single mode of transportation was a ninja bike, the kind of bike that can take you from zero to death in point seven seconds. I was living thirty miles up the coast from her home, the house of my childhood, the house in which she insisted on dying, and that day it was raining hard, too hard for a bike. Also, when I got the word, I was told that Aunt H. was coming to pick me up and bring me home. I was afraid of Aunt H. Her idea of consoling and comforting her nephews involved way too much flesh and heavy scents. So I borrowed a car from a friend, a tiny little Ford, and made my way down A1A, a two lane coastal highway.

I don't know if I've ever seen as much rain before or since that August day. The car was hydro-planing and so was I. I picked up a bottle of Irish whiskey in route. There wasn't much road to speak of. To the left were sand dunes and beach and ocean. To the right was palmetto scrub and tidal marsh. In front there was the black top, only it wasn't black top. It was silver with rain. And the frogs. There must have been tens of thousands of frogs on the road, reaching for higher land, coming out of the marsh, trying to keep from drowning in the hardest rain I've ever seen. I hate to think how many frogs I killed that day in a tiny little Ford.

By the time I got to my mother's house it was late in the afternoon. My little brother and his wife and family were there, but only because they were squatters. My oldest sister was there. Aunt H. would soon show. But my mother's body had already been taken away to a funeral home. I think we all talked for awhile, saying the things people say when they are already starting to pose in the face of death. Then everyone went to bed. So many rooms my mother's house had. So many beds. But I didn't go to bed. I walked the old neighborhood. Down Esperanza St. Up Van Ave. Down Lantana St. Sitting in the swings at the neighborhood park. Going down to the beach because I needed the sounds I first remember, the sounds of the surf. And finally sitting out the last of the night up in the highest branches of an ornamental cherry tree my mother had planted some thirty years before. That finally made sense to me. To sit out the night in the crow's nest of the cherry tree my mother had planted some thirty years before. The whiskey also made sense.

In the morning I was still awake and alert. I needed to get back to my town up the highway because I needed to get back to work. I stopped by the funeral home holding my mother's body. I insisted on seeing her. She would not have approved because the brain tumor and the chemo had pretty much ravaged her. She was always so persnickety about appearances. What did I say when I kissed her forehead? What does it matter when you say the thing to your mother you should have said every day before she dies? That you understand, that you get how beautiful she is even in the face of everything in life looking to pull down beautiful souls.

That was August of '85. In October another brother and sister came down to Florida from their homes in the Pacific Northwest. It was time for all of us to get our mother's body, by then a cardboard box of ashes, out of hock. So we converged on our mother's house. We bought back our mother from the funeral home. There were arrears in her death cost. That day was so cold, Florida cold nobody can understand who hasn't felt the kind of chill that comes over Florida in a night's breath.

That day we complied with our mother's wishes. She wanted her ashes spread, strewn, thrown over Ponce Inlet, the southern most reach of Daytona's peninsula. Somehow it happened I became our mother's carrier. So we drove down A1A to the inlet. We get to road's end We get out of the car. We walk over the dunes. We come in to where there is inlet of water communicating between ocean and tidal river. We disturb a great blue heron. She flies up and away and back behind the dunes. I am holding this cardboard box holding the ashes of one fiery matriarch. My brothers, one of my sisters, and a favorite niece are taking handfuls of ashes, walking down to the waterline and throwing ashes up into water and wind. The wind that day was strong and an easterly, coming off the ocean. So I figure our mother's ashes seeded the marsh in the way she loved her own body, in the way she wanted a man, once in her life, to love her own body.

When the ritual was complete, the cardboard box was empty, we turned back to leave. It was coral dusk going on gray blue. As we were walking back to cross over the dunes I saw a great blue heron coming from behind the dunes. She was so beautiful against the sky. I said, "LOOK." And we all watched as that bird flew over, glided in, landed exactly where we had disturbed her, exactly where we had stood in ceremony.

It is a true story. Just a field note.

Tere
Jan/1/2009, 8:15 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Patricia Jones Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Thank you for this, Tere and Kaitlin.

I have sat through these holidays with my son's ashes in his grandmother's beautiful old wooden sewing box close by my evening chair and just behind his favorite seat on the sofa while all in the family have speculated on where he would wish to have his ashes scattered. Late Christmas Eve, all but me asleep, I suddenly realized they are exactly where he'd want them to be now. With us, near his favorite spot where he watched the ocean, waited for the heron to arrive, listened to his scanner/music while he took inventory of all his "stuff and could look up for a wink, an "I love you" sign or a reassuring smile now and then.

No one who knew him, loved him could argue that it wasn't his favorite place to be.

Pat

Last edited by Patricia Jones, Jan/2/2009, 2:58 am


---
"Don't you worry--I ain't evil, I'm just bad".
~Chris Smither~
Jan/2/2009, 12:45 am Link to this post Send Email to Patricia Jones   Send PM to Patricia Jones
 
GaryBFitzgerald Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Thank you, Tere and Pat.

Last edited by GaryBFitzgerald, Jan/4/2009, 3:06 pm
Jan/2/2009, 9:03 pm Link to this post Send Email to GaryBFitzgerald   Send PM to GaryBFitzgerald
 
Dragon59 Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Right by the big window, yup. I think he's happy to be there.

---
www.arthurdurkee.net
lcgallery.tv
artdurkee.blogspot.com
ruralplainsgay.blogspot.com
Jan/2/2009, 9:50 pm Link to this post Send Email to Dragon59   Send PM to Dragon59
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


This is a fine field note, Tere. Moving and honest. I like your painstaking attention to detail, both the inner and the outer, the mysterious and the mundane. This piece contains many lovely images and hardfelt observations. So many personal and family secrets revealed, to humanizing effect.

This puts me in mind of the adage: "A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost." This is a piece I can, and will, return to. Thanks for sharing it.
Jan/3/2009, 12:07 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Thanks all for reading. And thanks, Katfriend, for your straight words. The coda to my story is this. My siblings are not much given to expressions of religious feeling, being practical and solidly pragmatic people. Certainly not given to wondering over synchronistic events. But to this day, with something of a hush, they will mention that great blue heron's appearance and her exactly timed reappearance when she came back from behind the wall of dunes.

Tere
Jan/3/2009, 3:15 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Dragon59 Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


I'm sorry if you felt your thread had been hijacked; I see you deleted your previous comment along those lines.

All I can say about your memorial experience is that the heron's moment was sublime. I guess I've seen things like that happen so often that I don't mark them as special anymore. Significant, surely, and meaningful, but not unique. I guess I didn't feel it necessary in this company to remark on that, since we're all so used to ordinary magic at this point. My apologies for reading but not saying so.

---
www.arthurdurkee.net
lcgallery.tv
artdurkee.blogspot.com
ruralplainsgay.blogspot.com
Jan/4/2009, 1:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to Dragon59   Send PM to Dragon59
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Thanks, Dragonman.

Tere
Jan/4/2009, 5:40 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
MsParataxis Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


This may be apocryphal - most of our family stories are. My great-grandfather, George L. Berg, was a painter - a plein air painter - who started life as a cowboy and ended up an artist. Who got tired of his father's beatings at 16, finally felt tall enough at 6 ' 5" to stand up to the old man, landed one to his father's jaw and left home for good. Who later wrestled a grizzly bear into submission - by reaching into his mouth and grabbing his tongue - a story we say we can verify because we hear tell it's in the archives of the Crescent City paper. I've heard my father describe the scars he saw on his grandfather's arm, but Dad's been known to fill in missing details to keep his audience's attention. But this story isn't one of daring-do, it's one of practicality in hard time.

George L. Berg lived his last years in Los Gatos, south of San Mateo where his daughter, my grandmother, and my grandfather lived. My grandfather was a physician who had patients from south of San Mateo up into Marin county and in those days, doctors made house calls. My grandfather liked to see where his patients lived, what their circumstances were. He felt he gave better care knowing more about the people he was treating. Imagine that.

George Berg died in 1941 and was cremated and his wishes were that his ashes be scattered in the Pacific. My grandparents didn't get around to that right away; I don't know why, they just didn't, so George's ashes rolled around in their container in the back of my grandfather's trunk, next to his black doctor's bag, for some time. Probably not years, but certainly for weeks or months.

One night, Granddad was driving home from a house call in Marin County - about three in the morning. His was one of the few cars on the bridge at that time of night in those lean pre-war years. And perhaps gas-rationing had thinned out the three a.m. drivers on the bridge. Who knows. But the bridge was pretty empty.

"Seems as good a place as any," my incredibly practical grandfather said. "This is, after all, the Pacific." He pulled his car over, got George's ashes out of the trunk, opened the container, said a prayer, leaned over the railing and dispatched my great-grandfather into the Pacific. Done. Drove home and told my grandmother he'd taken care of George. And she, being an equally practical sort of person, probably rolled over and went promptly back to sleep but not before asking my grandfather how his patient was doing.
Apr/17/2010, 1:36 pm Link to this post Send Email to MsParataxis   Send PM to MsParataxis
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


What a cleanly told story, Ms. P. A field note in the best sense too. (I see you quickly get the forum's idea. I can also see how it might be the right kind of medium for you.) And doesn't the note resonate on several different levels. The familial. The stuff of family history, what is always partly truth and partly fiction. The character portrayls brought out. Even the Robinson Jeffers sense of a west coast before it got domesticated. Or was it raped?

Thanks for resurrecting the thread. I had forgotten about it. Oh. Something else comes to mind. Sir Kenneth Clark, the old art historian, said something about Titian that struck me as huge. He said that the Venetian had a capacity for, what he called, detached involvement. In the same paragraph he said that the capacity amounts to a species of genius, and that it characterizes, sets off, the artistic personality from all other types. What I take Clark to mean is that the artist is capable of immediate involvement in her subject while a part of her keeps detached, an observer. You reckon your writing possesses the same capacity?

Tere
Apr/17/2010, 2:14 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
MsParataxis Profile
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Whooeeee does this resonate. Without any pretense towards, or assumptions about, being an artist, I will just address the instinct, the need to observe and report or re-convey. Some folks have the gift of being IN life completely. Others need to step out, either out of habit, forced from circumstance, which is, it seems, not always initially a happy circumstance. We do watch from the edge because something put us there. I don't know if it's curiosity, a need to locate oneself, or a need to somehow, redeem that turns this vantage point into the need to create. I suspect it's different for everyone.

I have moments where I do feel I am, where I'm relaxed or consumed enough to be _now_ and not feel the need to make anything from it. But if there's a 'maker' anywhere on the planet who never found him-or her- self on the edge of two things: the life around him or her (let's call it A) and the interior life, which we'll call "B" who then felt the need to live out the Venn diagram where A is also B as the place of art -- well, I've never known of such a maker. What an awful sentence; I apologize.

Makers also tend to have temporal lobe issues where we conflate disparate elements, where we 'see' sound and taste colors, which makes correspondences much more likely. Need a metaphor? No problem, let me just tell you about the ovoid shape in my brain that's the calendar year. When we die, if someone looked into our brains, they'd see a place where R's were 2's, where beige had a moral value and where low notes were, simply, bigger.

And suddenly I'm curious as hell to know what other makers conflate. Are sevens black for you? Is flute music yellow? Do you see the year?
Apr/17/2010, 2:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to MsParataxis   Send PM to MsParataxis
 
MsParataxis Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


We're just back from a memorial service - our second in as many weeks. At this last service, I asked my seven-year-old niece what she would remember about her grandfather. Without hesitation she said: "Don't suck your fingers, you're not a baby." The pain of the child's memory was palpable. Then she said, as if she had already heard somewhere in her future that we should love our characters in life as well as in fiction: "I liked to dance when he played the banjo."
Apr/20/2010, 6:23 pm Link to this post Send Email to MsParataxis   Send PM to MsParataxis
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Ouch, Ms. P. It's always a hard and unforgiving moment. I'm seriously considering boycotting all further such services, which is a resolution, of course, I'll not keep to, except in the case of my own.

Tere
Apr/20/2010, 6:55 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


I hope this doesn't take the thread too far off-topic, but Ms. P's mention of her great-grandfather George L. Berg standing up to his dad put me in mind of something I wrote about my mother:

Corporal Punishment

In 5th grade my teacher was a man with a wooden paddle, which he kept hanging on a hook at the front of the room. The paddle had holes drilled into it--some said this design made the whacks hurt more. After Mr. T hit someone--always a boy--he made the bad boy sign the paddle, which was like some sort of personal trophy and a monument to corporal punishment.

All these years later, I can still recall the day he took one big, red-haired boy out into the hall to paddle him. Since Mr. T left the classroom door open during these punishments and since I sat in the back of the room near the door, I was in a good position to be an ear witness to the event. I sat frozen in my seat and felt myself go numb inside. When the punishment was complete, Mr. T and the student, whose name I don’t recall, returned immediately to the room. The boy’s face was bright red, but he did not cry and neither did I.

My mother kept a small wooden paddle in the top left-hand drawer of the hutch in the dining room. The paddle had once been part of a toy—the kind that has a small ball attached to a paddle by an elastic rubber string. I still wonder what made my mother think to utilize that old and broken toy in such a way. She didn’t always use the paddle on us. Mostly she used her hand. I had three siblings, and as a kid I remember being grateful that I did not sit right next to her at the dinner table because that meant she couldn’t just up and smack me during a meal. She had to get up and walk around the table to reach me, so I had a few seconds to prepare myself.

One day when I was 16 and my mother slapped me across the face, I surprised us both by suddenly raising my right arm and slapping her back. I was taller than she was by then, and we both stood there staring at each other for a moment in disbelief before she turned and walked away. She never hit me again, but I felt guilty about what I had done. Years later I told my younger brother about what had happened and about my remorse. He said that something similar had happened to him. He had just gotten his driver’s license and was taking my mother somewhere. She hit him on the side of the face while he was driving, so he pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, turned to her and said, “Don’t you ever, ever, hit me again.” She never did.


Last edited by Katlin, Apr/23/2010, 9:53 am
Apr/22/2010, 5:41 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Another memorial service


Good story, Kat. While maybe a small digression it seems fitting to the theme. I am good with it if everyone else is.

It is a damn near universal story, isn't it, involving children of abusive parents who one day break the pattern. I remember just such a day too. The only thing that kept me from hitting back was a geis (old Irish for injunction) against hitting a woman. I clearly remember the lady's look of terror with my fists inches from her face. Instead I walked the beach for ten miles. It never happened again, the physical violence and the harrangue. Well, in part because I left home at 16. And I have an Iranian-American friend. Fini is a one armed man. He was born that way. Some sort of deformity. His father beat him mercilessly from the time he can remember. The day came when he took the stick, bat, or tree limb away from his father and beat the man until he couldn't stand up.

Anybody remember James Joyce's short story involving child abuse by a parent?

Memorial services indeed.

Tere
Apr/22/2010, 7:03 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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