But First This News…

Yesterday I received an interesting piece of mail from my hairdresser. It began:

A person can hear,
But a friend listens for the meaning
A person can look,
But a friends sees the heart
A person can know
But a friend understands your path
Thanks for listening, seeing, and understanding!

Okay, so far so good. It then went on to say:

“[We] would like to take this opportunity to announce our success in our criminal trial in Chicago. We were exonerated and found not guilty on all counts, as well as announcing the complete eradication of the cancer that [one of us] was diagnosed with.”

“We will be pursuing civil suits against all of the people who were responsible for this gay hate crime, as well as the Archdiocese of Chicago, the individual police officers who lied and propagated this farce, the Oak Lawn Police Department for false imprisonment, the Oak Lawn Village Hall, and the State’s attorney’s office for malicious prosecution.”

“At this point in time we will be able to finally say Business As Usual and open our doors again regularly at our current location… Thank you for your patience, patronage, and cooperation during the past year and a half.”

Say what??? Am I so far out of the loop that I missed all this??? This guy is a prima dona, and – about a year ago – I went grumping off to another hairdresser because he was always rescheduling me. I hated to do it, because he’s as good as any big city stylist (a rare gem in this rural area filled with hair cutters who went to beauty school and learned the difference between a comb and a pair of scissors…) But is this for real? You have to admit it’s a unique way of saying you’re accepting clients. I think I need a haircut.

note: first published August 20, 2006

Death Be Not Proud

Last weekend the broken gravestone for “Elizabeth wife of Jonas Jones” was dug up by an assortment of wizards and clowns. It revealed a four-line verse, but unfortunately the break in the stone had occurred right through the final line, making it impossible to read.

We carefully brushed away the dirt, then smeared some in the inscription to facilitate our deciphering but still could only guess at the final words. Luckily Cousin Don, telegraphing from a train station somewhere in the Rockies, solved our mystery:

Wouldn’t you know… the punch line to the rhyme on the headstone might be the key to everything. Could it be:

Friends nor physician could not save,
This mortal body from the grave;
Nor can the grave confine it here,
She hated drinking, let’s all have a beer.


Thanks, Don! We needed that!



Some things run in families; things like male pattern baldness, red hair, insanity – those traits attributable to genetic make-up. In my family, you also inherit pie.

My mother was a great pie baker. Her apple pie was the best anyone anywhere ever made, followed (not necessarily in this order) by her strawberry, blueberry, lemon, chocolate, pineapple, grape, rhubarb, banana cream, and pecan pies. She must have learned about pie from her mother and her aunts.

Apple, rhubarb, grape and blueberry were “double crust,” the tops being decorated with a design resembling three shafts of grain. The design also vented the pie during baking. I’ve never seen her exact design on anyone else’s pies, so as I roll out my own crust, I am aware that I am probably perpetuating a little bit of artistry handed down many generations. I am a link in a chain of women, each one of us carefully adding some sweetness to the lives of loved ones.

As I cut this design of three curved lines decorated with small leaf-like slits, I wonder if my grandmother ever thought back to her mother and her grandmother as she made her pies and drew their design (a sort of homespun coat of arms) with her knife.

I place my pie in the oven. I think sweet thoughts.


Why is life so unfair? Why do some good people experience sadness, loss, frustration, illness – a litany of Wednesday’s Child’s woes – while others (some of whom are real rotters) – skip happily through life without a care? Yes, I know that books have been written on this subject, but I feel compelled to ask the question anyway.

Consider this: a toddler – barefoot, sweet, innocent, loving – sees a horse and runs to pet it. The horse is loose and grazing peacefully – facing away from the on-coming child. The unexpected touch startles the horse and it does what a horse is wont to do: kicks in reaction. The child’s skull is shattered; she lies unconscious.

How did this happen? A series of events occurred, and if any one of them had been ever so slightly changed, the outcome would have been different.

1. It is the end of August. The pasture is dry and over-grazed, so the horse is allowed to feed on the lawn. (This was a normal occurrence).

2. The grandmother and aunt sit beside a swimming pool up-hill from the horse. They can see the horse, but because of the rolling yard, they can not see the horse’s lower legs. A row of arborvitae trees stand between the house and the hill leading up to the pool, blocking the view of the horse from the driveway and house.

3. Two neighbor girls enter the yard and ask if they can pet the horse. The grandmother says no, they must never go near the horse because she is easily spooked and might kick them. (The words of this conversation described exactly what would happen moments later).

4. The grandfather returns from picking up the toddler and her mother. The round-trip has taken him about half an hour. (One more car at a stop-sign, one red light being green would have changed the outcome).

5. The mother, child and grandfather get out of the car. Mother heads toward the back of the house to get her bathing suit off the clothesline, and as she does, all three hear the telephone ringing. Thinking the toddler is with the other, both the mother and the grandfather run to answer the phone – the mother to the back door, the grandfather to the front. They meet in the kitchen at the phone, each asking the other where the toddler is. Mother answers the phone while grandfather runs back to find the child, but the child has disappeared.

6. The phone call is from a disabled aunt who has never phoned before. She called the mother’s apartment, getting no answer and apparently being determined to make a call, decided to try calling the grandparents home. The aunt had no particular reason to call, nor did she know the grandparents. The mother quickly says she can not talk right now and hurries outside to find the toddler. (What caused this person to make that pointless phone call? What sparked the idea to also try the grandparents’ house?)

7. Meanwhile, the grandmother and aunt see the horse jump and comment on how they had just warned the neighbor girls about such a thing. Although they had been watching the horse, the lay of the land blocked their view of the toddler approaching it. (Turn the horse so slightly so that the toddler’s approach was not a surprise…)

Seizures and paralysis followed, were treated, and the toddler regained her health and lives a normal life until thirty-six years later when she suffers a grand mal seizure, the apparent result of that long-ago head injury. Following a seizure, a person must not drive a car for six months; in a rural area, there is no mass transit. This grown-up toddler, now a home-health nurse and the mother of a 4-year-old, has suddenly lost the ability to go to work, to earn a living, to get to the grocery store, or to “drive my son to the beach.” She has done only good in this world. Why did this happen to her?

note:  originally published August 9, 2006

On My Nees

Men take their names for granted, and why shouldn’t they? They’re given a name at birth, and 99+% of them keep it until death. I have only known two men who changed the surname they were born with. The first was one whose grandfather had sired only female offspring. Realizing that his own family name was about to peter out (there’s an interestingly appropriate phrase…), this man asked one of his grandsons (who had a male offspring) to take the legal steps to assume that family name. The other name-changing man did what seemed to be quite a modern – and unique – take on marital name assumption: he and his wife combined their two surnames into a whole new spelling, the marriage creating a new identity for both.

The idea that a woman should “take her husband’s name” undoubtedly goes back to the fact that women have generally been considered the property of men: don’t let them own property (the first state granted women the right to hold property in their own name, with their husbands’ permission, in 1839), don’t let them vote (true in this country until 1920), and be sure they are labeled so that others may know which man makes their decisions for them (still true in too many cases!).

In 1967, in the style of countless brides before me, I marched down the matrimonial aisle, said I did, and signed my new name on the license. I was now Young Woman Jones, nee Wizard. Simple, no hassle identity change – or perhaps theft. It was accomplished by a minister, a minister who would later be thrown out of his church for his anti-Vietnam War views, not for legalizing a bad marriage.

Divorce followed, but even though I was single again, I remained Young Woman Jones, nee Wizard. Admittedly, Jones was easier to spell than Wizard had been.

I married again, this time quite happy to dump the Jones surname and take on the name of my beloved second husband: Young Woman Smith, nee Wizard. The marriage and the name stuck.

About five years ago, I became interested in tracing my ancestors. I realized how many things I had never asked my parents about their roots and set about trying to find the answers. It has been an interesting search, and it has led to an interesting result. As I uncovered more and more of the history of all the “greats” and “great-greats,” a sense of identity emerged. I am now Older Woman Smith, nee Wizard, but the name just isn’t who I really am.

My mother’s family had been early American colonists, Quakers who were banished to Canada in the late 1700s because they refused to bear arms during the Revolution; my paternal grandparents were Austro-Hungarian immigrants. I tried on various combinations of my parents’ surnames with my given name, first favoring the simpler-to-spell maternal name, but somehow that didn’t feel balanced. I divided a piece of paper with a vertical line, wrote my father’s surname at the top of the left-side column and my mother’s surname on the right side. Beneath the name on the left, I listed my traits, talents, abilities etc. reasonably attributable to my father; on the right, those things about me that seemed to have been inherited /learned from my mother. To my surprise, the lists were quite equally weighted. There was my answer: I would use my given name with both of my parents surnames, however clumsy and hard to spell it might be.

I tried it on, and it fit comfortably. That is who I am.  I still have not gone through all the legal steps to make the change official, but I am using my new “old” name. It feels really good to be off my nees.


Last weekend my daughter took a three-day break from her job as a home health-care nurse. She works hard, caring for a number of people who are almost invisible to the rest of us. They all have health problems far greater than our headaches and elevated blood pressure readings, scrapes and head-colds. To her family and friends, they are nameless and have no addresses, known only to us as “a client” in one town or another in this vast area we call The North Country. They must live in urban locales too, where city nurses change their dressings, give their daily enemas, administer their drugs and treatments and at times provide their one link to the world beyond a bedroom or hospital bed installed in a living room or den. She has kept them alive, and sometimes she has seen them die. She has seen the best and the worst of families, of humanity, and she must wonder at the unfairness of life.

My daughter took a three-day break from her job, and during what might have been a wonderful time with her son and companion, she suffered a medical calamity and was taken by local rescue squad to the nearest hospital. Preliminary tests are encouraging, but she doesn’t yet know how her life may be impacted by this illness.

My prayer for her is that the medical people treating her will be the kind of loving and caring doctors and nurses that she herself is. She deserves no less. And of course I want her to be all right. I love her very much.

note:  this was originally posted on August 1, 2006