Appalachian Rhapsody–God’s Comic Intervention

Out of the void of darkness came the Big Boom and another mountaintop in Appalachia tumbled down the mountainside, buried a graveyard, filled up a stream and killed a fish. The fish asked why but nobody answered. A small boy heard and looked up at the old man sitting on a cloud, coughing and waving away the coal dust. “Gee whiz, God,” said the boy, “Whatcha letting them do that for?”

And God laughed. “T’ain’t funny,” said the boy.

“Oh, yes it is,” said God, slapping his knee, almost choking on his laughter, “you’ll see.”

The boy grew up and became a man. He went to Detroit to work in the car factory. He sent money home to his maw to help care for the other youngins, and one of them even became a mining engineer and told the mountaintop removers where to set the charges. More Big Booms, more mountaintops crashing down into the valleys. Huge machines now did the work requiring fewer and fewer workers. While the valleys filled up with all this debris more and more people left the wrecked mountains and moved to the cities.

There they married people whose ancestors had left the mountains over the past two hundred years, generations that had mingled and merged with others throughout these United States. Whose genes had  grown weaker and weaker the further they had strayed from their source. Weak brains had become rampant in the populace, and it was the ones with weak brains who had plundered Mother Earth and destroyed the mountains. Others of the weak brain had stood by and watched the plight of the mountaineers with disinterest, even prejudice.

But with the new infusion of the blood of the mountain people who were forced to move to the cities, a new race was born. They came to be called the Neomelungeons.

“So you see,” said God to the boy who had become a man and was now a very old man. “By letting the weak-minded destroy the mountains, I brought forth a new race. The blood of your ancestors was kept sacrosanct behind your mountain walls, where they retired after your Revolution. In their blood lives on the history of America, forgotten by many whose blood has been diluted this past two hundred years. The mountain blood is that of the mixed races of all people, come together for a divine purpose: to help mankind evolve to the next stage of your journey on your return to the One True Reality. Your place of origin at my side.”

The old man said: “Well, pon my soul and honor!”

A Message From RFK: Fear Not the Path of Truth

There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. — Robert F. Kennedy, June 8, 1964

A thought keeps running through my mind like a moving line across the bottom of a television screen: we are all doing the best we can. I recognize enough truth in it not to yell delete! as I’m told my eldest brother always did when he had a thought he didn’t like, or to say erase! which I tend to do. It must be a family trait–I wonder what word my mother used? Probably balderdash! as she loved drama.

Yes, you did, Mom, I say over my right shoulder, and your wife told me so I say over the left. I know this is bizarre but every time I attribute something to one of them I feel they are complaining behind my back. Just one more proof that I’m crazy. However, I think I always suspect that people on the other side are listening when I talk about them because Mom always told me never to speak ill of the dead. If they couldn’t hear me, why would she think I should worry about it? Or was it just one of those what if things, like what if her deceased sister-in-law could hear her say what a bitch she was? Would she have enough pull in Heaven to get Mom thrown out? I’m sorry. I know that’s ridiculous. I really do have some wierd thoughts, but consider the source. Balderdash! That was mom.

Anyway, I really have tried to refrain from speaking ill of the dead, as I don’t want to offend them, but it’s getting to where too many people I know have passed on, which means I’m running out of ones I can speak ill of and muteness does not come natural to me. As for my mom and brother, I wasn’t actually saying anything bad about them, I was just commenting. You mean I can’t even comment? Jeez!

Well, back to the subject. The first reponse I had to the thought we are all doing the best we can is well, yeah, that’s true if you take into consideration their blah, blah, blahs–listing the perceived faults or handicaps of people I know who are still living. But at this I did yell erase!, knowing that is not what was meant at all.

Because that’s when it finally came to me that I’ve received another love message from the Universe; this one is meant for all the people out there who keep worrying about what’s going to happen to our country, and why things are in such an awful mess. The message is that we’ve just got to play out the hand we were dealt, and quit blaming ourselves for every rotten card that came out of the deck with the devil’s pawprint on it. Maybe someone stacked the deck, and heck, John Wayne could’ve found a way out of it. But since he’s not here we are all doing the best that we can, on Super Tuesday and every other day of the week.

Another message, this one from Bobby, runs across the bottom of my screen. It’s from his last speech on the night he was assassinated. Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it.

I’m trying, Bobby, but we sure do miss you.

 

 

 

The Human Condition: Poop Has Always Been With Us

Woe am I, the haunted, beset by fates unkind; blessed with a royal demeanor and cursed with a common behind – the human complaint

Not long after my first husband and I were married we found we both liked to read in bed. One night he was reading a history about ancient Rome and I was reading the latest Perry Mason mystery, which he had ridiculed as low-brow. Upon discovering a new word, something he enjoyed immensely, he stopped to tell it to me; tepidarium, he said, was a Roman word for bathhouse. 

Immediately, I picked up a notebook and pen from the nightstand, suddenly inspired to write a poem. Although at that time attempts at poetry was not my normal thing, the verses came flying out of the stratosphere (or scatological sphere?) so fast I had to hurry to get them down before they left again:

“If all men joined together on this earth in dreams of royal origin in their births, then each must blush for shame at his delirium when nature prompts him to the tepidarium.

“I wonder too, if kings join in the mirth when they bare their royal backsides to the earth, or do they dignify and grace their lonely station as they join the common herd in defecation.”

Now I don’t know where the words came from but there they were, and as far as I can tell, were original. However, later when I looked up tepidarium in the dictionary to see the definition for myself, I realized the poem had a fatal flaw. According to Websters Unabridged a tepidarium was described thus: “in the ancient Roman baths, the warm room, situated between the steam room and the cooling room.”

I had equated a Roman bathhouse with a modern day bathroom, which has both a bathtub and a toilet. But in Rome, bathhouses and latrines, where the defecating was done, were separate. And latrine does not rhyme with delirium. If you can think of an appropriate word that does, please let me know as it will make the poem salvageable. Although I doubt that anyone will ever want to publish it.

Actually, Rome was more like my early Appalachian home, the bathhouse being situated in a washtub that hung behind the kitchen stove and the latrine at the end of a path leading away from the house. An interesting difference though, was that the Romans, instead of using pages from a Sears catalogue as we did, since they didn’t have them, used a communal sponge on a stick–rinsing it out after each use.  Duh!

But it surprises me still that my intellectual husband, upon hearing the recitation of my poem, just stared at me without a comment, his mouth gaping open. Were he behaving normally, I would’ve expected him to show off his superior knowledge about bathhouses and latrines. I think my poem flushed the word tepidarium right out of his mind though. Or else he quickly decided, to paraphrase Aeschylus, that even if one is wise, he may sometimes deem it profitable to appear to be foolish.

Eight Days on Sand Key

Normally, when it’s zero degrees in Iowa and snow covers the ground I want nothing more than to hibernate indoors while admiring the winter wonderland through my frosty windows. However, during the recent cold spell, I received an invitation to spend eight days as a guest on Sand Key, compelling me to brave the frigid temperature on the way to the airport where I flew off to bask in the Florida sunshine.

After arriving at the condo with its security gates and different keys for entrances, exits, pool area and changing rooms, I was almost afraid to venture out for fear of not getting back in. My brother and sister-in-law had been granted vacation use of the condo by an employer and were allowed to have visitors so my older brother’s widow was also with them. Although the condo, beautiful and furnished tastefully, was evaluated at almost two million dollars, I was not overawed. It was simply more elegant living quarters than I was accustomed to.

I slept well in the king size bed although I missed Winston’s warm little body against my back and hoped he was behaving for my daughter. This was the first time I’d been away from him overnight in two and a half years, also the first time I had seen my relatives since that time. We had talked often on the phone though and I looked forward to reminiscing about the past.

Although we made small talk, shared meals and loaded the dishwasher together, and on the second day my widowed sister-in-law and I took the trolley to Clearwater to shop for things to take home from Florida, three days went by before we spoke of Kentucky.

It’s strange, but I learned for the first time that my brother, who was twelve when I was eight, did not remember that he was the one who woke me to tell me that morning that Daddy had died during the early morning hours. Yet that moment stands out in my mind as clearly as if it was yesterday.

In another instance my widowed sister-in-law said to me “Who would ever have thought it would be you, little Amanda Nell, who would do the family book. Who would have thought it!”

I have always had trouble interpreting the things people say, but what I learned from my brother and what my sister-in-law said seemed connected somehow. All those years ago my brother had left the room not knowing my body had turned to stone. I remember lying rigid in the bed with no feeling at all and yet I don’t remember getting up. Sometime later I stood in the doorway to the front room in our Appalachian home staring at my father’s body lying in the casket while relatives and neighbors sat in chairs around the room staring at me. I once said to my mother “It was really hard on me when Daddy died.”

“It was hard on all of us,” she said.

As I caught the plane home I had my brother and his wife drop me off early at the airport because I was halfway through an interesting novel and also because I knew the day was finally warm enough for them to play golf. We’d had a few cold, for Florida, blustery days.

But as I sat in the Tampa Airport, I remembered those days so long ago when my brother had shared such terrible news, news he doesn’t remember telling me. I thought of my sister-in-law saying “Who would ever have thought it” that I would be the one to do the family book.  But, I thought to myself, I had to.  Because nobody else did. And it was important to leave a written record for those who wanted to know what our small world was like during that place and time. 

Back in Cedar Rapids my daughter picked me up at the airport and I hugged her close, rejoicing to be back in this cozy place I’ve created for myself. When I awoke this morning the temperature was  nine below, but inside I felt a warm glow the frigid weather will never touch. 

Is Your Soul Stored in the Rafters?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited – whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution” – Albert Einstein

As a child I often imagined a door in my mind. Even though it was closed, from underneath it a golden light beckoned, trying to entice me to open it. But my heart would pound as I crept near, forcing me to stop in fear of what might lie behind the door. And even though the light glowed warmly from the crack along the bottom, for a long time I withheld my trust. Not long before this a terrible thing had happened in my life, something that had taken the innocence of my childhood and introduced me to death and poverty, and I had learned to be afraid. But in recent years I’ve likened that yellow light to a flow of inspiration and imagination that I gradually began to draw on during my lifelong search for meaning. I view it now as a spiritual gift from the Universe, which even during my childhood, saved me from despair.

As for the mundane things in life, I often had to struggle to understand them. I learned acceptable behavior for the most part by imitating others. Well, I thought, if this is how things are done, I guess I will do them–but why? The world made no sense to me, but I was stuck here so I made the best of it. And since the first step in learning how to be is through learning how to do, I learned how to do, although often getting it wrong. It took me many more years to learn how to be–and I’m still learning yet. I made a great leap forward when I was finally able to make my outside more closely match my inside, but it sometimes requires a conscious effort not to get distracted by too much of the deadening doses of what is often referred to as reality.

According to Carl Jung “All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy,” and Immanuel Kant said “Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.” I’ve heard people say they have no imagination but I think they mean by this the ability to create fiction. When they tell something they believe to be factually true they do not think they are using their imagination since the story they’re relating is “real”. I wonder how many of them limit themselves to the facts and miss out on the beauty of their own existence when their imagination is engaged? How many, like myself, have years of feelings stored in the rafters because they haven’t yet found the tools with which to express them?

King, Kennedy and the American Revolution

All of us, from the wealthiest and most powerful of men, to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession; the name American. — Robert F. Kennedy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bobby lately. In watching still another year end as I go further into my dotage, I’m reminded of other years from the past that cry out to be remembered, the year 1968 being among the most poignant. When the announcement came over the television set that Bobby Kennedy had died from the assassin’s bullet, I called my husband at work, tears streaming down my face. “Now they’ve killed Bobby,” I cried.

Who were “they”? I didn’t know, but like many Americans I felt the presence of evil. A black miasma skulked amongst us as if waiting to see what we held most dear as a people so “they” could take it away. The feeling had lingered since that shocking day four and a half years before, on November 22, 1963, when our beloved president was taken down by an assassin’s bullet. As a nation we had never recovered, the shock still reverberating throughout our psyche like a terrible wound that would not heal.

Then another wound, the assassination of our great Civil Rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of our fallen president was on his way to a planned campaign rally in his bid to get the 1968 Democratic nomination for President. Just after he arrived in Indianapolis, he was told of King’s death and advised by police not to make the campaign stop. It was in a part of the city considered to be a dangerous ghetto. But Kennedy insisted on going. He found the people in an upbeat mood and realized they didn’t know. In breaking the news of King’s death he referred to his own loss of his older brother and quoted from memory the Greek Poet, Aeschylus. “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Just two months later, on June 5, 1968, while celebrating his victory in the California primary Bobby said to his supporters only minutes before he, too, was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet. “I think we can end the divisions within the United States. (W)e can work together in the last analysis. . . We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”

Some say that in 1968 America came close to political disintegration. Millions of people opposed the war and the military announced in early 1968 that it would draft 300,000 more troops. Americans were dying in Vietnam by the hundreds and young people lost confidence in our leaders and in the official version of reality. There was a movement afloat, a revolution at hand before our beloved leaders who had brought hope to the country were cut down. Although the war was later ended and the troops brought home, after 1968 many of us detached ourselves from the painful public square and turned our attention on matters closer to home.

Surprisingly, though, we ended up rearing children who became educated, sensitized and responsive to their natural and political environments. Adult children who were able to agree or disagree without rioting in the streets, who also have inculcated and are passing down the dreams that King and Kennedy inspired in their lasting contribution to the ongoing American revolution.

The View From the Crypt

Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, it’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines – Miner’s song

I’m trying to find my sense of humor. I seem to lose it this time of year but I know it’s around here someplace, probably in the passage in my brain known as Places You don’t Want to Revisit. The last time I went there I was looking for a bit of macabre humor to support my latest thesis on What’s Wrong with the World in Five Hundred Words or Less.

Well, if that’s where it is, no wonder I lost it! That place was like a dungeon, like dark shafts in a coal mine. It was the pits. An utter nightmare that sent me running so fast I must’ve left my sense of humor biting the black coal dust behind me. But I have to go back in; I must find it. I know God does not expect me to live the rest of my life without my sense of humor. He gave it to me to help me through the travails of this world; without it I will flounder in a mass of black despair.

As I go in, I find the passage to the Places You don’t Want to Revisit and turn onto the Black Humor Trail. Since I am armed with resolve to find my sense of humor, I march forward firmly into the dark, into the place from which things have on occasion sneaked into my conscious awareness, providing me with chilling humor of the worst kind. Alongside the trail I spy an instance of macabre humor and feel compelled to stop. Since everything plays its part in the order of the Universe, I assume I am meant to pass this story along.

It is a thing that leaked out many years ago from the crypt of a widow I will call Mrs. Wallace, who lived near us in our old neighborhood. This was in the days of Beige and Butte Knits and Simplicity and the widow Wallace walked with an erect carriage in her proud clothes. I knew from another neighbor that Mrs. Wallace had gone to school with another old lady who lived across the street from her, a little old lady in a print housedress. But Mrs. Wallace had nothing to do with her former classmate because, she said, the woman had “no class”, referring to the print housedress and the gray, frizz-permed hair, I presume. Mrs. Wallace also had a sister who lived in town whom she never saw for the same reason. Her sister had “no class”, she said.

When Mrs. Wallace died I missed her funeral but another neighbor came over for coffee after I got off work to tell me about her view of the widow in her open casket. “I couldn’t believe she had that dress in her closet!” my neighbor said. She described the dress Mrs. Wallace was buried in as a print dress with huge red roses all over it. I looked at my neighbor for a moment, open mouthed. “She didn’t have it in her closet” I exclaimed. “Her sister bought her a new dress to bury her in.” Now, this might not strike some people as funny at all, but I found it so hilarious I couldn’t stop laughing.

That’s what I mean by my macabre sense of humor, you see.  Imagining this poor little old lady with “no class”, tears of grief running down her withered cheeks as she bought the pretty new dress to bury her sister in, and Mrs. Wallace in the open casket for all the world to see, trying to roll over so nobody would recognize her. Here she had all those classy clothes in her wardrobe and her sister had probably given them to Goodwill! I’m sure when Mrs. Wallace reached the pearly gates she apologized and explained to St. Peter about the dress, but I wonder what she thought of the robe. Or, for that matter, if St. Peter let her in.

The thing is–even though I’ve recovered my lost sense of humor, I find I am unable to wash away the black coal dust. My mind has become tainted with it.  It clings like bats to the walls of a dungeon.