Featured

Outhouse Lady

Photograph courtesy of D. W. Andrus

Just when you think something is over and done with, just when you’re beginning to relax in the belief that you have fixed the problem, stemmed the tide, mended the fence, changed the subject, finalized the divorce, ended the occupation, switched the gears or slain the dragon… your cousin Don surprises you. Well, what ever did I expect, anyway? Don is a wizard too, and – as you must know – wizards never tire of having fun, so why was I surprised to receive a book of poetry entitled, “Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse?”

You see, my mother was known by many as “The Outhouse Lady.” She was an artist, and her gimmick (the thing that caught the eye of potential buyers of her more serious work) was her display of small outhouse paintings accompanied by a sign which read: Hang an outhouse in your bathroom and count your blessings! $5 She would paint the stand of hollyhocks next to each privy to match the colors of the buyer’s powder room. People loved them, and my mother’s newfound notoriety solved the birthday and Christmas gift-giving problem for all the relatives: They gave my mother’s outhouses to their friends; they gave my mother everything ever produced that immortalized the outhouse.

I thought that part of my life was behind me…

Outhouse Lady (for Don)

She went out back in younger days
The Sears and Roebuck book to read,
Passed some time (if nothing else)
Seated by hollyhocks grown up from seed.

In later years she’d paint that place,
(Not the interior walls as you might assume),
But tiny pictures for five bucks apiece
To hang in modern indoor rooms.

She was dubbed “The Outhouse Lady”
And was known both far and wide;
Her children suffered embarrassment,
As from her fame they tried to hide.

Gifts would come at Christmas
From the painter’s nephews and cousins:
Calendars, puzzles, books of rhyme;
Outhouse pictures by the dozens.

The family bathroom became the repository
For this mounting pile of privy lore,
Until it became so full it was impossible
To use the place for what it was intended for…

What to do? And where to go?
Asked her desperate kids and spouse –
The solution (thanks to Port-a-potty)
Was a modern out-back house!

Through wind and snow we then took the path
To the new bathroom way out back,
(At least there was Scott tissue
Replacing that damned old almanac).

Years later we lost our privy painter,
And her “collection” was garage-saled away,
The bathroom was clear and clean once more –
‘Till your gift arrived today!

How important the inheritance
Of family lore and memories,
But I must scratch my head and wonder
How this mantle has passed to me?!?!

A Fisher Story

It was a warm and sunny day in early summer about 20 years ago. Some of our woods roads were still blocked by trees and tree tops felled by the great ice storm of 1998, and we had worked for several hours, cutting up and removing the debris from one of those roads. 

Sitting on the large trunk of one such tree for a lunch break, we heard the sounds of animals “crashing” through the forest undergrowth and heading our way. As we watched, two young fishers romped into the clearing where we sat. Seconds later, they spied us.

One turned tail and raced back into the woods, but the other climbed a nearby tree that had lost probably half of it’s height to the ice storm – a sort of 20′ tall stump. It was soon pretty obvious that he had never climbed a tree before! We watched the mother pace back and forth in the woods, hissing and snarling at him, the translation of which was something like, “You damned fool child! Just wait until your father gets home and hears about this! Get down from that tree this instant!!!”

The poor little guy was scared out of his wits. He tried starting down head-first but quickly turned about and hung on by his claws. He tried backwards. He tried head-first again, and all the while his mother paced and snarled. It was such a treat to watch them.

Eventually – and gradually – the little guy made it to earth, and the trio exited Stage Left as we laughed and marveled at what we had been witness to.

Gramma Grew Up

Sarah Maud Pomeroy was born in 1884 in a small village in Ontario, Canada. Her parents were Henry Pomeroy and his wife Sarah Ann Webb.

When Maud was in her teens, her mother contracted Tuberculosis and died, leaving 14 year-old Maud to raise her younger siblings, 10 year-old Jessie and 3 year-old Grace. Her two brothers were “farmed out” to another family.

Maud contracted the TB and overheard the doctor tell her father that she, too, would probably die. Determined NOT to die, Maud moved her bed out onto the porch and spent as much time outdoors as she could, breathing the fresh air in deep breaths. She arrested the disease. (Lucky for me, eh?)

The brothers were unhappy in the family they had gone to live with, so one Sunday morning when the rest of that family had gone to church, Maud “kidnapped” her brother Harry and one other brother [although I can’t verify which brother that would have been, because the other boys were older than Maud] and brought them home.

Their father did not remarry, and Maud’s childhood came to an end before her 15th birthday. She raised her younger siblings and took over the household chores, but it certainly never dampened her sense of humor or love of a prank!

The Train

My grandmother, Sarah Maud Andrus, was widowed in 1945, two months after I was born. My parents and I were living in an apartment that had been created in the 2nd floor of my grandparents’ house. We continued to live there until our purchase of a house and 2 acres of land in a small town just east of Rochester, and when we moved there in 1950, Gramma came with us.

It wasn’t long before she was the most sought-after babysitter in the area. Kids loved her, parents loved her,and she drove herself to and from each job.  

On New Year’s Eve in 1958, on her way to a sitting job, Gramma’s car was struck by a freight train and dragged some distance down the tracks. The policeman who arrived on the scene took one look and concluded that there could be no survivors in the car – but when he ran a check of the license plate number, he realized that he knew Maud, and he made the extra effort it took to pry open one door of the car. There, crushed down under the passenger-side dashboard, was my grandmother.    

She was rushed to the nearest hospital, and despite breaking many bones – including many bones in her hands and fingers – and suffering a severe concussion, Maud lived to walk and laugh again.    A few years later, I would practice my driving skills in preparation for the licensing test by driving Maud and a couple of her friends around the countryside east of Rochester. She never drove a car again, but she maintained her sense of humor and was mentally keen until her death in 1966.

Tuberculosis

Recently I told the story of my great grandmother dying of tuberculosis, my grandmother catching it but “curing” herself by moving her bed out onto the porch and taking frequent deep breaths of the fresh air. Grandma survived TB, but if you survived it in those days, you would always be a carrier of the disease.
 
In 1974, my mother became ill. She was exhausted and became weak, yet she showed no other symptoms of anything until she began to run a fever.
 
Eventually she was admitted to Genesee Hospital in Rochester, her illness “TUO” – Temperature of Unknown Origin. Tests of all kinds were administered over the next three weeks, yet none showed any cause for her illness, and as she continued to get weaker and run a higher temperature, a specialist in infectious diseases was called in from Strong Memorial Hospital.
 
Her suspicion was that my mother had tuberculosis that was not in her lungs. Liver, bone, lymph – you name the organ, and they tested it for TB, yet all results were negative. Finally, without any obvious disease to cure, the specialist said, essentially, “If it walks like a duck and if it quacks like a duck, it has to be a duck,” and they decided to treat for TB. The test was to last a week.
 
After six days and no change in my mother’s temperature or overall state, her doc confided in me that if it were up to him, they would stop the TB drugs that night because they weren’t helping, but he couldn’t do that – he would have to wait until the specialist came in the next morning, because only she could order it stopped.
 
That night – and never again for nearly six weeks thereafter – my mother’s temperature dropped to NORMAL for several hours. The specialist concluded that perhaps they were on the right track and ordered the treatment continued.
 
A month after her admission to the hospital, my mother was discharged to go home and continue the treatment for TB, twelve months of taking a combination of powerful drugs. She was finally given a definite diagnosis of TB when, months later, her eyes showed the telltale markings of the disease. She lived another 23 years.
 
Grandma had lived with us until I was in my late teens, so I, like my mother, have been well exposed. So far, so good, with me, but at least I know what could happen.

I Think that I Shall Never See A Blog as Lovely as a Tree…

“Camperdown Elm” by Jacques Hnizdovsky

Mutants have caught my attention lately. Little Things have also made me take note. (I don’t think I ever mentioned my 43 spider bites). Well, here’s a happier story that combines mutants and little things.

Once upon a time (in the late 1830s), the head forester for the Earl of Camperdown discovered a mutant contorted branch growing along the ground in the forest at Camperdown House, in Dundee, Scotland. For reasons lost to history, the fellow grafted it to the trunk of a Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra), and henceforth every “Camperdown Elm” in the world sprouts from a cutting taken from that original mutant cutting, which is then grafted on a 1.5-2 meter Wych Elm trunk.

“So what,” you say, but this wizard says “Wow! What a cool tree!” (I had seen its picture).

Prospect Park is a 585 acre public park in Brooklyn, NY, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux after they completed Manhattan’s Central Park. It’s a wonderful oasis of meadows, forests, ponds and small brooks. I know, because when I come out of the woods and visit New York City, I am drawn to such places – even when I could as easily be tromping in Times Square – and this Thanksgiving I wanted to see the Camperdown Elm.

In 1872 it was planted near the Boat House, and in recent years it has been lovingly tended by The Friends of Prospect Park (a non-profit, volunteer organization). It is considered the outstanding specimen tree in Prospect Park, but rather than towering high above the others, this oddity looks like an oversized bonsai. And a wizard’s tree it is: gnarly, arms outstretched and reaching, wizened by time, wonderful.

Time Recaptured

Friends in early childhood were situational, and they weren’t really friends; you met them in the park or in other places your parents took you. Eventually you were old enough to venture out on your own, and then you could “make friends” with other kids in your neighborhood (this was before the world was such a scary place that real play was replaced by parentally arranged “play dates”). Again, initially you had location in common – which, as I think about it, has always been necessary to starting a friendship.

Eventually you were discerning and actually chose your friends. In your teens they were kids you “fit with,” people like yourself; later perhaps you became friends with someone because you admired them and in some way perhaps you and the friend enhanced each other. Lovers and friends were more distinguishable then than in this generation, although throughout history and even in my youth (when the earth was still cooling) it was wise for lovers to also be friends.

Friendships most often seem to be killed by distance and time, or rather, the lack of time.

Lately I’ve been making friends from a distance. The Internet has removed that once-essential first step of friendship, Location. The irony of this is that while I have made a number of new virtual friends (some of whom I eventually got to know personally), the Internet has also reconnected me with a number of far-flung old friends from various periods in my life, friends who had been “lost.” Yesterday I received these wonderful lines from one of them:

I’ve never felt pressured to write
By anything you’ve said or implied.
But yes, there is an urgency about it,
Brought on, no doubt, by my own sense
That time has been lost
And that writing is the only way
To try to make up for it.
It’s simple – the more I send,
The more I get back.
And therein lies the time recaptured.

Well said, old friend. How delicious is the recapturing!