So, today is the Autumnal Equinox, the official beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.
Which usually feels much more momentous to me, but time has become a fog since the pandemic. I’ve been working from home full time since mid-February, and I have a very difficult time remembering what day of the week it is. The year seems to be whizzing by at breakneck speed, while individual workweeks drag like molasses in a Winnipeg winter storm.
Seriously, every Tuesday or Wednesday by midday I feel mentally exhausted as if I’d enduring ten days of overtime with no days off. It’s just weird.
Autumn (also known as Fall) has long been my favorite time of year. The coming of Autumn always makes me think of new projects or breathing new life into old projects. I assume the pattern was set by my years as a kid where Autumn meant the beginning of a new school year. But it might also be the fact that I have never been comfortable in warm weather, and the coming of cooler (but not yet cold) days after a sometimes grueling summer felt like another kind of renewal.
I had Monday off again (work has made changes to vacation policy forcing many of us to use some of it up or lose it). I had intended to use the day to sweep and tidy up the veranda, finally plant the spot color flowers I picked up just as the air quality was taking a turn for the worse, and try to get some writing done. I did basic sweeping, got the flowers planted, and working on this blog post. Only a subset of the goals, but progress is progress, right?
Now the smoke has cleared and it is raining again, I hope that it will start feeling like Autumn to me and will trigger some creative energy, because it’s been very difficult to muster any for some time now.
More recently I was explaining about something my husband and I had been talking about, and a different friend said, “That’s practically a recipe blog!” Since I was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask what he meant. Turns out that it’s a joke which has spawned an entire genre of memes out there I’d never seen. The idea is you search for a recipe on line, but several of the hits are long, rambling blog posts about the day that the blogger first encountered this dish, and all the things about the experience that have remained important in their life, only to finally, deliver a very short (and sometimes not all that helpful) recipe.
I felt attacked.
Of course, I have just committed that kind of Recipe Blog, in that I have shared not one, but two anecdotes about the topic I intend to write this post about, without having yet gotten to the point.
On the other hand, several years ago after I had brought a casserole I call “Great Grandma’s Chicken Noodle” to a social event, a bunch of people asked for the recipe. Which wasn’t easy for me to share, because I had learned to make as a child by helping one of my great-grandmothers in the kitchen. At no time had I ever had a list of ingredients and the exact measures, because that’s not how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked. So I spent an afternoon making the dish again, writing things down as I went along, and then converted my notes into a long post. I did include the approximate measurements of all the ingredients I used, but I also explained how substitutions could be made. And a lot of the process of the recipe were steps like, “stir the ingredients that are currently in a pan furiously until all the chicken pieces are white and the is a smooth, thick consistency–if your arm isn’t sore, you probably haven’t stirred long enough.”
After I posted it, more than one person who read it commented that never in their life had they been able to successfully follow a traditional recipe, because the writer assumed a lot of skills they didn’t have, but they felt this kind of recipe might be something they could do. One reported two weeks later they had followed my super-verbose recipe and it had tasted delicious.
Particularly if the subject I’m writing about is political or social commentary, I start with the anecdote because:
- It provides some context for my perspective, which may make it easier from someone who disagrees when I get to the point to at least see why I feel that way,
- It pre-empts accusations that I’m talking about something that never happens (a frequent tactic of bad faith trolls),
- It demonstrates that I have some experience with the topic under discussion,
- It helps to establish and nurture social glue.
Humans are social beings. We build trust and understanding through, among other things, sharing truths about ourselves. The more we know about someone, the more we feel we understand them. A blog is a type of social media (even if the long form that I am writing here has mostly been supplanted by tweets, instagram posts, and the like), so some social interaction is implied.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means that humans are social animals. It doesn’t just mean that we like to hang out together. Being social is a major survival trait of our species. We instinctively form communities, friendships, and so one, and we take care of each other. A lot of people think that taking care of each other is just about personal favors and charity. But it’s a lot more than that. All sorts of social customs, many of our ethical rules, and so forth, form an involuntary system of caretaking, as well. We punish individuals who do things that harm or imperil others–sometimes that punishment is formal, such as through the justice system, but far more of the punishments are informal and manifest in various social ways.
And we forget that notions such as private property, capital, and money as a means of regulating the exchange of goods and services are all artificial, and relatively recent inventions. Don’t confuse private property with personal property, those are vary different things. There is evidence that even before humans arose 200,000 years ago, some of our ancestral hominids had a concept of personal property: this sharpened stone tool I have made and use for various thing is my tool, that wooden carving I made with it and gave to the child of my sister is the child’s figurine.
Private Property is stuff such as Real Estate–specifically the notion that every square inch of the surface of the planet is available to be declared the private property of a specific person. There have been many human civilizations that existed for thousands of years that held as a basic concept that contrary idea that much of the land is common, rather than private, and if it belongs to anyone, it belongs collectively to the community. There are other types of metaphorical property that were also thought of as held in commons, that we have metaphorically fenced off and now require most people to pay for its use.
We have organized modern society so that most individuals must sacrifice a lot of their labor, time, and even their health merely to survive, while a smaller number are allowed to do way more than survive without expending the same amount of labor, time or health. The idea of taxation was originally an extension of those instinctive societal norms to keep us taking care of each other, but we’ve weaponized them in a way that instead allows some people to not just avoid doing their fair share, but to exploit that rest.
It can be argued (and has been) that the modern artificial notion of private property isn’t merely a bad idea, it is a deadly idea–for the majority of people. It is mathematically impossible for someone to become fabulously wealthy without exploiting and effectively stealing the value generated by hundred, thousands, or more individuals. And the system that has created that wealth is built on the notion that the wealth of those who have it must constantly expand, which means more and more exploitation of everyone else, which eventually means killing everyone else… and when there is no one left to exploit, the whole thing will collapse.
We have got to figure out how to unweaponize these systems, and make the parasites stop leeching off of everyone else, and actually pay their fair share to their fellow humans. Ignoring the problem is a recipe fo extinction.
And no one wants extinction for breakfast.
August is almost over and I’m trying not to freak out at how fast the year has gone. Along with trying to maintain a reasonable level of anxiety (rather than completely falling about) as the political situation and the related pandemic and civil situations continue to get worse, dealing with the stresses at work, and so on. I keep meaning to write about things more mundane and personal that all the news related and sci fi related stuff that has been dominating this blog for the last many weeks. Let’s see if I can pull that off!
One of the challenges of me working from home every work day (and because of being in a high risk group the current guidelines are that I try to avoid going shopping et cetera more than once a week) has been just trying to keep track of what day of the week it is and what time it is and what I’m supposed to be doing on particular days.
Being home constantly does strange things to my notions of housework, as well.
For instance, I was finding myself getting more and more annoyed at how cluttered two parts of the kitchen counter were all the time. It was on either side of the sink, making it difficult to deal with dishes and the dishwasher, because there was always the chore of assessing and dealing with the clutter before I could get to the chore I had gone into the kitchen to do in the first place. And given how easily I distract myself and go down metaphorical rabbits holes and forget why I went into a particular room in the best of circumstances, this was getting much worse.
One day I made myself stop and look at all the clutter and ask myself why it was there. A small part of it is that both my husband and I have a habit of drinking multiple glasses of water a day, and so each of us has a glass or mug that sits next to the sink to be reused through out the day, then put in the dishwasher and a new one is used the next day.
But that was a miniscule part of the problem. A lot of the clutter were things that aren’t dishwasher safe. We have a rather lot of those. And what I realized was happening day after day was that I’d notice several of them beside the sink, and then not be certain if they had been washed out or not, so I would wash it out, and since and then I would sit it on the counter to dry… and later in the day Michael might to exactly the same thing, so I was come in and notice that one of the plastic water pitchers, for instance, which I thought I’d washed in the morning, is wet again. So I’d leave it. But then the next day I would find myself worrying that maybe I was mixing up a time it had been rinsed and waiting to dry a week ago, so I’d wash it again.
Several other things were items that don’t normally go in the cabinet after being washed, but instead have a spot in the pantry, which is slightly more work to get into, and so they were stuck in a similar cycle. And I realized there was a simple solution that we just hadn’t thought to put in place. So I bought one of those folder bamboo dish racks, cleaned everything and towel dried some things and put everything away.
The rack takes up one of the two places that used to be filled with random clutter all the time, but not the space is serving a purpose. If something in the rack and is dry, neither of us has to worry that it hasn’t been cleaned. We put it away, hand wash anything else that is on the other side of the sink, put in in the rack, and the rest of the counter is available for whatever.
It shouldn’t have taken me several months of being frustrated to think of that, I know.
So, we have replaced a bad habit with a more useful one, which is good. But I noticed a little wrinkle that has developed since. Every Sunday I put all the parts of the coffee maker that are dishwasher safe in the dishwasher and run in. I get down one of the antique bone china tea cups (which belonged to my late first husband’s grandmother), a saucer, and my infusing pot, and I drink tea all day instead of coffee.
At the end of the day I wash out the teacup and saucer and put them on the rack to dry, right? And the pot goes into the dishwahser when the coffee maker (and other cleaned dishes) come out. Throughout the week my husband and I wash other things, take dried items from the rack and them away… except we both keep leaving the teacup and saucer in the rack all week.
Most Sundays when I get ready to make tea, I put the teacup and saucer that have been sitting in the rack all week in the cupboard, each on the bottom of their respective stacks, and take another from the top of the stacks down to make tea. The latter part because I’m justifying hanging on to these small number of specialized dishes for all the years since Ray died by making sure I rotate so that all of them get used regularly.
Now, where I keep the teacups and saucers is on a high shelf in one of the higher cabinets precisely because unlike many other dishes and utensils they aren’t used every day. So I suspect I’m not putting them away sooner is because it’s fractionally more work. And I strong suspect Michael doesn’t want to put them away for fear that he’ll mess up my rotation system.
And it’s not really a conscious decision. At some point after we’d had the rack for a couple of weeks, I just started putting away everything on the rack except the cup and saucer, and now it’s like my brain literally doesn’t perceive them as being a separate object from the rack itself until the day that I go to make a cup of tea.
I know that it’s a very minor glitch in our improved habits on this issue. It just… when I notice that my brain isn’t doing what I want it to do, I get tetchy.
I am continually amused at how strangely our minds work. For example, a few weeks ago a friend was talking about crime being up in his neighborhood. I expressed surprise and mentioned that just the day before I had listened to a story on NPR about how overall crime has gone down quite a bit during the pandemic, with a few specific exceptions, such as property crimes in commercial building that are mostly deserted because so many white color workers are working from home.
This prompted the friend to specify that by crime what he meant was specifically people breaking into cars. Which of course is precisely the type of crime that the NPR story said was the exception: property crimes that are less risky than usual because people are staying inside. It took me a minute of thinking to realize that car prowls would also be up, during which time I rambled more about the overall crime rates being down, and how I would only use the phrase “crime is up” if it were multiple categories of crime—but then I am rather pedantic.
The next morning I was getting a cup of coffee while my work laptop was booting up in the other room, and as has become my habit, I paused at the dining room window to look down and confirm that our car was still parked in our spot, windows intact and so on.
Which is when I had to laugh at myself.
See, that specific habit started back in late March when I read a news story that the local police departments had found a number of abandoned cars that the owners hadn’t even realized at been stolen because people were staying home and many couldn’t see their driveway from most windows in their home. Which is when I started the habit of every morning looking out the window to confirm our car was there.
Checking the car every morning had become such a habit that the reason had fallen off the normal shelves of memory and then sunk into the mist in the back of my mind. Such that even when my friend had mentioned car prowls being on the increase, it didn’t remind me of that news story. You would think that one’s memory would correlate such things. But apparently not.
This made me think about something I was reading on an acquaintance’s blog recently. A couple weeks ago we learned that people in the White House made the explicit decision (and documented the discussion) that since the early COVID outbreaks were in Blue States, that the Feds didn’t need to do anything. All the people dying would be in states that will never vote for Trump, anyway, and Trump could blame the democratic governors of those states.
That’s genocide. That is a war crime. That is a decision to let voters you perceive as not yours die from a preventable cause.
And the President only changed his tune and started urging people to at least wear masks when the virus spread to Red States. There was even a graphic that showed that the highest COVID deaths were happening in districts that previously voted for him.
And while several of us commented on that at the time (some of us with great outrage…) it barely lasted as a blip in the national media consciousness. Let alone most of the public. Because since Day One this administration has done many illegal and immoral and outrageous things. Those of us who care literally can’t keep up. How do we expect people who aren’t already news junkies to keep up?
The outrage and the illegality became this constant stream and eventually all of it fades to just being white noise. Crap is pushed from our collective consciousness by the ever-growing stream of more crap.
And I wish I had a solution or an answer to this problem. I just feel like the person implied in the meme I attached above: laying on the ground damaged from the fall, looking up at the cats how pushed me, stunned and unsure how to proceed.
Register to vote.
If you think you are already registered to vote, check to make sure. In many states voter suppression tactics include deregistering voters.
Vote in every election and for every race.
Vote as if your life depends on it (it does). Vote as if your life, your community, and your country depends on it (they do).
Make sure you’re registered. Don’t let them prevent you from voting!
The clip wasn’t a parody, let’s make that clear.
Most of the people who were shocked were either too young to have been alive in the 1960s, or too young to remember that time. At the time blatantly racist beliefs were considered not just a legitimate opinion to hold, but was largely accepted as reasonable interpretation of reality. Now, there were always people who thought those beliefs were wrong, but they were still very much in the minority when this particular show was recorded.
That minority was growing. Over the next many years more and more people came to the conclusion that not only were those racist beliefs factually incorrect, but that adhering to them was seen as immoral. A tipping point was reached, and there was a wave in which a number of conservative pundits and opinion columnists and such found themselves being dropped by mainstream news organizations.
And they freaked out a bit.
The freak out is understandable. For example, a particular columnist got fired by the New York Times, I think it was, after writing a column criticizing busing (where students were bused to schools further from their neighborhood in order to try to achieve racial balance in public schools). And it wasn’t the criticism of bussing itself that got him fired, it was the fact that one of the reasons he said desegregation of schools was bad was because the white students would be held back by the Black and Latino students because the latter were obviously less intelligent. It was an assertion the columnist had made many times in editorials before this one, so you can understand why he thought it was still a legitimate argument.
The expectations of polite society had shifted around him, and he had failed to keep up. A year earlier, it was still socially acceptable to believe white people were inherently mentally superior to people of other ethnicities. You could express that belief in print and in person and still be welcome at people’s parties and so forth. Many might disagree with him a year or more earlier, but they still viewed it as a topic upon which reasonable people could disagree. And then, you couldn’t any longer.
Racism didn’t end. What changes was how blatantly racist someone could be and still get accepted in polite society.
Plenty of conservatives adapted. They figured out ways to continue making arguments for their positions using euphemisms and dog whistles. Maybe even a small number saw the light, somewhat, and recognized that systemic social and economic biases were what caused the disparities they saw between the races. But it was almost certainly an extremely small number.
I bring this long anecdote up to set some context to a much more recent hot topic. Changing social norms of what expressions of bigotry are considered acceptable isn’t something new. It is an ongoing thing. And while it is a gradual thing, these tipping point moments can catch some privileged people by surprise. It seems sudden and even disconcerting to them, in part because they usually go through much of live in a bubble of privilege.
And to clarify, I don’t mean that only rich people live in these bubbles. Privilege takes many forms. One of those forms is that people who disagree often don’t feel safe (physically, socially, financially) to express their disagreement. People who stand up for themselves or challenge certain kinds of comments in various social or work situations are perceived as “making waves” or “creating unnecessary conflict” and “not being a team player.” So, speaking up when a co-worker makes a misogynist or homophobic or transphobic joke carries a risk of everything from not being considered for promotion to being let go.
So people who are offended, feel attacked, or otherwise disagree with the sentiments—whether expressed explicitly or implied—learn to laugh nervously and change the topic, or otherwise not rock the boat. This perpetuates the mistaken belief of the bigot that what they said is perfectly reasonable. Some people laughed, right?
And it isn’t just the workplace where these bubbles happen.
The bubbles can insulate people holding those bigoted views right up until that tipping point is reached.
The recent flurries of pushback from the bigots has been to try to appeal to free speech and to bemoan so-called cancel culture. There are two problems here: you can’t make a free speech argument when you are specifically trying to silence your critics. And marginalized people have been “canceled”—losing jobs, entire careers—for years. When I mentioned above about losing one’s job for speaking up? That’s something that happens to women, people of color, queer people, trans people, and so forth all the time.
The reason these guys are upset is because it’s happening to them instead of to us. More of us feel we can speak up about other people’s bigotry, and we are. They were perfectly happy to live in the bubble and watch others miss out on promotions, lose their jobs, sometimes get driven out of neighborhoods, et cetera. But suddenly some people are actually subjecting them to (in most cases) mild consequences, and suddenly they think they are the victims.
No. They have been the privileged aggressors acting like jerks to other people. It’s not that suddenly people are offended by things that used to be just fine. Those those were always offensive. All that’s happened is that far fewer people are willing to give these jerks a free pass.
‟Speech without consequence isn’t free, it’s privilege. And more and more, we are using free expression and digital tools to fight back against harassment that has always been there—but for which it’s never been the harassers’ problem to deal with.
And if these hypersensitive men can’t deal with responses to their abusive behavior online, maybe the Internet isn’t for them.”
But it is still Pride Day, even if we’re all social distancing and meeting virtually. It’s a day to commemorate the time that a bunch of queers got fed up with police brutality and decided to fight back.It was the night that Marsha P. Johnson hurled a shot glass at a cop when they began their usual routine of lining up everyone in the gay bar, then singling out all the trans and gender-non-conforming people to arrest. Marsha wasn’t the only trans person of color to fight back that night, and she wasn’t the only one to keep fighting for queer rights, helping to found several of the organizations who took the fight to both the streets and the halls of government. When you hoist that rainbow flag, remember to thank those trans women of color who started it all.
Pride Day Links:
Every year Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God.com reposted the complete text of the very condescending story that the New York Daily News ran shortly after the original Stonewall uprising. I think it’s good to remember how people saw (and many still do) our community and concerns: LGBTQ History: “The Foot Wore A Spiked Heel”.
President Barack Obama Celebrates LGBTQ+ Equality (Clip) | Logo TV:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Black Trans Lives Matter | Full Frontal on TBS:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
The Kinsey Sicks: The Sound of Sirens (Simon & Garfunkel Parody):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Show Me Your Pride – By Miss Coco Peru – OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
This Is Me | Boston Gay Men’s Chorus:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I had several ideas for today’s post, but the craziness of fitting a week’s worth of work into four days so I could take Friday off got in the way.
So I decided maybe I should just repost this, originally posted on 21 June, 2018.
Pride means love and survival—confessions of a joyful fairy
I’ve been to a lot of Pride parades and festivals since attending my first in 1990. One year I participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade one weekend, flew back home to Seattle where I marched in our parade the following week, and then in August I found myself in Vancouver, British Columbia where I hadn’t realized it was going to be their Pride Parade. San Francisco’s was like so gigantically larger and brasher than any other I had ever seen, while Vancouver’s was small but very enthusiastic.
The reason for the parade, ultimately, is to declare our existence–our survival in a society that is less than welcoming. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious creatures lurking in seedy clubs–we’re the guy sitting across from you on the bus reading a book, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the pair of guys in the grocery store discussing how many hot dogs to buy for the cookout, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks, or that gal a couple table over at the same coffee shop laughing at something on her computer.
We’re real, we’re everywhere, and we have hopes and dreams and worries just like you. We’re not asking for special rights, we’re asking for the same rights you take for granted. We’re asking to live our lives as openly as you live yours.
I enjoy watching the parade to acknowledge that survival. I cheer while watching the parade to express my admiration, support, and love for all of these survivors.
I cheer for people who are being brave and marching in their first parade; we see you and welcome you to the tribe.
I cheer and applaud so that those whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now.
I cheer so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, lesbian, and trans friends) will get the recognition they deserve.
I cheer the older couples walking together holding hands; we see your love and we celebrate how long you and your love had endured.
I cheer the younger couples walking hand in hand; I wish I had felt free to do that at their age, but I hope they have a bright future.
I applaud and cheer so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters.
I cry when I see those who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one; we see your loved one and share your grief.
I cheer for PFLAG so that straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.
I clap and cheer and laugh and cry as the parade goes on and on showing how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.
The very first Liberation Day Parade in New York City, was a protest march on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first Pride was a riot). People were afraid of what would happen at the first march. Only a couple dozen people showed up at the starting point, with their protest signs. But they marched. And all along the announced route of the march, the sidewalks were lined with people. Street queens, and trans people, and gay men and lesbians and queers of many other stripes.
And then completely unplanned thing happened. As the small group of marchers went by, queer people and supporters started stepping off the curb and joining. By the time the marchers reached the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, the crowd numbered in the thousands.
It has been a tradition of Pride Parades ever since, that spectators step off the curb and join the march.
So when I march, there comes a point where I do that. I have cheered and applauded and made sure that others were seen. I have witnessed their love and courage and unique style. Until it is my turn to join the march. To be visible. To declare by my presence in that throng that I am queer. I’m here. And I will never go back into the closet.
If you aren’t sure what to say today, NPR has some suggestions: Don’t Say ‘Thank You For Your Service’ This Monday.
The other set of feelings I get revolve around the revisionist history everyone publishes about the history of Memorial Day. Memorial Day didn’t become an official holiday until the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. You’ll find scores of articles and web pages telling how the Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day (true), which was first celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 (false). Decoration Day was celebrated in several parts of the country, mostly in the South, long before the Civil War.
Leading up to Decoration Day, volunteers from the community would cut the grass in the cemetery and pull up weeds and generally do maintenance. In modern times, city and county governments take care of cemeteries that are not maintained by a company or a religious organization, so we don’t think about things like the grass and weeds around grave. Then come Sunday was the day to bring flowers to put on the graves, have family reunions, and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members. My Grandmother observed that version faithfully her whole life. ‘Decoration Day’: The South Honors Its Dead.
“…on that day, everybody who’s connected to each other and to the people underground convene and have in effect a religious service in the cemetery.”
—Alan Jabbour, the author of the book Decoration Day in the Mountains
As I said, Grandma celebrated the old version her whole life, and she was literally in the process of placing a silk flower arrangement on the grave of Great-aunt Maude (and pulling up some crab grass that was obscuring the marker) when she died. So you may understand while I have strong feelings about the missing history of Decoration Day.
Anyway, for Grandma (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):
Memorial, part 2Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.
I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.
Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.
She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day, 2007 when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.
One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t grandpa’s grave nearby?”
Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.
Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.
Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.
The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.
Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.
We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.
I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.
Grandma’s been gone for more than 10 years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter
And if you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that we also put flowers on my Grandpa’s grave. Grandpa served in WWII in Italy. He didn’t drive a tank, he drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. And this post is also dedicated to his memory.
Three years ago we moved from where we had been living in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle to this place just north of Seattle. While we had use of two flower beds and part of the yard at the old place, there hadn’t been a good spot to put up a bird feeder. Here, we don’t have a yard, but we have our “veranda” a deck 38’ long and 5’ wide, shaded by tall pine trees, and three stories above the ground. I supplemented out less-than a dozen flower pots with a bunch more pots and planters, so I have plenty of flowers… and I got a bird feeder to hang from the eave of the veranda.
I’ve been watching the birds ever since.
Before the current situation, I was only home during the daytime when I could see the birds three or four days out of most weeks. But since February I have been here every day. And the birds and squirrels have just gotten more interesting.
I no longer have just one bird feeder. I have the big seed feeder, a suet cage, a hummingbird feeder, and a squirrel feeder.
The squirrel feeder is attached at floor level, as it were, and is almost always stocked with dried pumpkin seeds (which are more nutritionally useful for squirrels than either birdseed or peanuts). The squirrel feeder has a hinged lid system that is supposed to thwart crows and jays and the like. So far I’ve never seen those birds at the feeder.
Part of the purpose of the separate squirrel feeder is to give the squirrels something easier to get to than the seed feeder, to keep them from spilling half the seed out of the feeder to get the few bits they are actually interested in. It mostly works.
I have gotten used to both the sounds of the many chickadees, juncos, sparrows, and the occasional finches at the feeder. The one or two crows that are too big for the feeder but like to forage on the deck under the feeder, and the sound of the lid of the squirrel feeder opening and closing.
There are at least three squirrels that regularly come to our deck. I know this because sometimes all three are here at the same time. The very fluffy tailed squirrels I can’t tell from each other. But one squirrel—the troublemaker I named Ivan back when he was terrorizing the Cooper’s Hawk that decided to hang out and eat the smaller birds for a month autumn before last—is easy to distinguish if you can see his tail, because it is the most bedraggled excuse for a squirrel tail you will ever see.
One morning earlier this week I was working, only passingly aware of the chirping of some birds outside and the irregular sound of the squirrel feeder lid going up and down. Suddenly, I heard some rapid and unfamiliar animal/bird sounds. I looked up in time to see the chickadees and juncos that had been at the feeder and under the deck fleeing. An millisecond later I saw one of the squirrels leap from the deck to a branch, followed by a crow that appeared to be trying to eat the squirrel!?
The crow was so closely chasing the squirrel that I couldn’t see the tail and identify whether it was Ivan or one of the others. Whichever squirrel it was, they fled into the pine needles up the branch. The crow swooped away, flying high in the sky, but then seconds later it dove back at the spot on the branch the squirrel had been at a moment before. It didn’t catch the squirrel, but swooped away and looped up to land on some branches above.
The squirrel is nowhere to be seen.
By this point I have set my work laptop aside and I’m standing at the window, trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
A few seconds later the squirrel’s head peeked out of dense cluster of sub-branches on another branch. Crow is still hopping between a few bare branches, head snapping back and forth as if scanning.
The squirrel remains motionless.
After a minute, the crow flies off. Squirrel doesn’t move for a bit, then pulls back and vanishes into the green. I shrug and go back to work.
About five minutes later I hear the tell-tale sound of the squirrel feeder lid—except much quieter than normal. So I stand up to look again. Ivan (I can clearly see his tail, now) is sitting by the feeder eating a pumpkin seed. When he finishes, he very slowly pushes the lid open, sticks his head in to get another seed, and then even more slowly pulls back, so the lid closes so gently that it makes a much softer sound than I’ve ever heard it.
I watch him repeat this careful, more quiet eating process for a minute, then I go back to work.
Later, I happen to look up and see Ivan the rail. I notice that when Ivan moves along the rail, he hobbles on three legs, holding is left forepaw up as if injured. He later makes a leap into the tree all right. I see him throughout the rest of the day poking about on the deck, sometimes using all four legs, but often limping.
I have no idea what was going on. The crow’s trajectory definitely started on the deck near the squirrel feeder, which is up against the wall. So the crow had to be walking around on the deck when whatever happened, happened.
So far since the incident, Ivan continues to open and closer the feeder very slowly, so clearly he’s trying to be quiet in hopes the crow won’t come back.
Edited to Add: So I went to check something else on my blog, and I saw the first draft of this post was what was showing, not the final with the meme… I had to restore a saved copy to get the post back. I reposted it… but a DIFFERENT draft was what was visible after that. So, I’m trying re-posted the whole thing as a new post, and if that works, will edit the other one…