Handkerchief Drawer

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror one Sunday morning, putting the finishing touches on my grooming for the day and the phone rang.  We were almost ready for church, our little family of five.  Nobody ever called on a Sunday morning.  Friends would be at church, and relatives knew we would be rushing out the door.

It was my mom.  “Daddy went into the hospital last night.”  My dad had a number of illnesses, was in his 80s, and any one of them could be acting up.  The news that he was in the hospital wasn’t all that surprising.  “He can’t pass urine.”  Oh…now, that was new.

“Should we drive up there after church?” I asked.  “No, there’s no need.  He’ll be home Thursday, the doctors say.”  I insisted that we should probably make the two-hour drive, and she insisted right back that there was nothing all that important going on.  After all, she’s the nurse; she began nurse’s training at age 16, took care of the six of us while we grew up, and worked as a nurse’s aide for 30 years at the local nursing home.  If anyone should know what’s going on, she should.

I went back to my bathroom mirror and cried.  Not too long before, I’d spent a good amount of time researching the family history.  I’d learned one pattern about our family:  when you can’t pass urine, you die.  There was no cure for the condition in horse-and-buggy days.  Great-uncles took themselves out to the horse trough and drowned themselves, it was so painful.  Families in the community knew about this and cautioned my mom not to marry into this family, because people turned crazy when they got old and committed suicide.

I thought about all that was wrong with my dad.  He had knees that rubbed bone on bone; there was no cartilage left to cushion the legs that jumped off tractors for eighty years.  He’d taught adult Sunday School class every Sunday from the age of 19, and now failed cataract surgeries prevented him from even reading the Bible.  He’d developed high blood pressure at age 50 and could never really get the medication right.  In his 70s he developed diabetes.  He had an enlarged heart.

“Daddy,” I said to the mirror, “if it’s your time, go.  You’re not happy here anymore.  You’re not comfortable.  I want you to be happy.  Go to where you’ll be happy.”  Then it was time for church, time for me to teach adult Sunday School class.  I couldn’t be late.

Mother seemed so confident and upbeat that Daddy would be just fine and he’d be home on Thursday that I didn’t even call back on Sunday afternoon, or even Monday.  On Monday we all went about our lives, the kids going to school, my husband going to work, me making the trek to the courtroom in Dayton, Ohio where I was a judge’s official court reporter.

My alarm didn’t have to ring on Tuesday morning like it usually did at 5 a.m.  I woke up fifteen minutes before the alarm with a vivid dream fading away.  In the dream my husband and I were singing bass and alto in a quartet at church with friends of ours who sang soprano and tenor, and the song came to an end and I looked at everyone and said “This would be a great song to sing at my dad’s funeral!  ‘When I Wake Up to Sleep No More’!”

Dream over; I woke up instantly, a little mind-fuzzed and groggy from the dream, thinking, “Daddy’s funeral?  There is no funeral.  Daddy is very much alive.”

At that instant the phone rang.  I jumped up out of bed and dashed downstairs.  It was my sister, calling from the hospital room.  “I wanted you to know; Daddy just passed.”

I kept moving.  The kids went to school, the husband went to work, and I drove to the courtroom in Dayton, where I was able to hold it together through the morning’s session.  At lunchtime I told the judge what was going on.  “Why are you still here?” he said.  “Go home!  Go be with your family.  Take the rest of the week and go be with your family.”  I stayed a little while longer until I saw clearly that staying at work was pointless.  He was right.

The next day I drove the two hours to be with my mom, who was now home alone for the first time since she was 16.  I came to help her get ready for the family who would be coming from far-away places.

She never cried.

This was my mom’s way.  She never cried.  She told me when I was younger that earlier in her life she cried over every little thing, and one day she decided she was done crying, and from that day forward, she never cried.  She told me this because I was the one who cried over every little thing, every big thing, every touching thing, every thing that should be cried over, every thing that you wouldn’t even think to cry over — I cried over it.  Obviously, my dad just died, and I was crying.

It was good to be there scrubbing the shower, fluffing the pillows on the sofa, vacuuming the floor, washing the dishes, sitting in the easy chair where just days before my dad sat, directing his world.  It took my mind off the crying for just a bit.

file000228664167I was in the new walk-in bathroom shower my dad had built for himself, with a sponge in my hand, and my mom came walking toward me with a puzzled look on her face.  “Have you been in my handkerchief drawer?”  No!  No one ever went into her bedroom.  It was off limits.  Even as an adult woman with three kids, I would never presume to go into her bedroom without her permission.  I didn’t know she even had a handkerchief drawer!

She showed me a frail white linen handkerchief, neatly stitched around the edges, yellowed with age, with my dad’s initials stitched carefully in one corner.  It looked like a home economics project an eighth-grade boy had to do for a grade in 1927.  “I’ve never seen this before,” she said.  “It was at the top of my handkerchief drawer.  I was thinking I might need a handkerchief tomorrow at the funeral home.”

“No, Mother.  It wasn’t me.”  I was the only other one there; no other family member had arrived yet.

She never did cry at the funeral home, or at the cemetery, or anytime after that, that I could tell.

I will always believe that my dad checked in on me that Tuesday morning to personally tell me that his spirit was now free.  I will also believe his spirit is the one who moved the handkerchief he himself had made long ago, up to the top of the drawer, suggesting to my mom that it was okay to cry — and here, you could use this.  I made it, just for you, just for this day.

Any Questions?

I was almost in the clear.  It was January of my third year and I would be graduating in May with a double major, after working so hard back to back for three years and taking summer classes, giving myself no time off from school.  I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light was graduation, and right behind graduation was my wedding day.  I was focused, man.

The only non-major class I allowed myself in my passion to finish my schooling as fast and as gloriously as possible was ceramics, as in stand-up-against-a-kickwheel, plop-that-ball-of-gray-clay-down-on-the-wheelhead, ceramics.

I still remember the first day of Ceramics 1 class.  We were all Very Good Students, lined up in the dusty pottery class, two rooms with half-finished pieces lining the shelves at the front glass window, having purchased and brought along all of the required tools:  a bucket, a plastic apron, the tools outlined in the course requirements, and the very expensive book that we never used.  And a notebook.  I remember the notebook.  I took one note that day, the first and last note of the entire semester.

Mr. Scott strode into class late and didn’t really look at any of us.  He disappeared into his private area, came back out to the classroom with a ball of clay, stood in front of the wedging board and ran his clay ball through the wire, bisecting it.  He slammed one slab of clay down on the canvas, and the other slab of clay down on top of that.  He did that several times without speaking a single word.

He walked over to one of the kickwheels, slapped the wedged clay down on top of the steel head and kicked until it was spinning pretty fast, ran a bit of water over the clay with his sea sponge, and we watched in amazement while the moistened ball of clay under his hands became dead still in the center of the spinning wheel.  He put his thumbs down inside, moved one hand here, squeezed a little there, and in about a minute there was a cylinder, perfectly formed, about a foot tall.  It didn’t wobble, there were no thick spaces and thin spaces; it was perfect.

And then, to everyone’s horror, he took his wire and cut it in half!  He wanted us to see how even the clay wall was, top to bottom.  It was perfect.

He looked at us over top of his glasses with an ornery grin and said “Any questions?”

We gasped.  We laughed.  Yes, we had questions.

“How you get an A at the end of this semester is by being able to throw an 18-inch cylinder.”

He didn’t care if we kept anything we made.  That was irrelevant.  What was relevant was whether we could center a ball of clay on a kickwheel and get it to 18 inches tall.

Through the next weeks of class we kind of drifted in at our own discretion.  He wasn’t real big on keeping attendance.  If we wanted to attend class, we would.  If we loved it like he loved it, we wouldn’t be able to stay away.  He was there to answer questions, but not to offer guidance or direction.  He did not hover.

I remember clearly one time a fellow student having the worst trouble doing … something.  She begged him to tell her the answer to her quandary.  “You think I’m going to just tell you that?  It took me 35 years to learn it for myself!” he said.  She was furious.

So here we were, January, and I was going to be graduating in May.  One day Mr. Scott looked at me and said “Why don’t you stay another year?  Get another major — in Art?”

Well, no, I couldn’t possibly do that.  I’d just had my wedding announcement picture taken!  It was published in the newspaper!  I’d arranged for the flowers, the cake, the photographer, and now it was just a matter of me getting out of school and then getting married.  Of course I couldn’t just put all that on pause and get a third major.  I couldn’t possibly make everybody wait another year, just for me.

“What are you going to do with your major?” he said.

I didn’t know, really.  Teach English, I guessed.  I really didn’t enjoy the student teaching, though.  Write?

“What will you write?”

I had no answer.

Now, going on forty years later, I wish I would have listened just a little more to the man with the wicked sense of humor and hands that made wet clay be still in the center while the wheel spun wildly underneath.AA031

Woman Made of Story

Woman Made of Story

Woman Made of Story
Woman Made of Earth
Woman Made of Fire, Water, Air
and Steel.
Woman made of Rock, River, tallest of the tall Redwoods
Woman made of Breath
“Breathe now”…“one more push”
Woman made of Sweat and Bone, Blood and stifled Scream
Woman brings you inside
Tells you the story
of everything
There is nothing of the sterile bought-from-a-catalog hang-it-on-the-wall here
let’s hang this picture here because it’s
Tells a story.

She begins you at the East
Face the east, she says, where the sun rises
as the stars fade and the night dark mutes
Here we have kittens, baby chicks, the garden
the baby calves needing tending
big red barn full of cows and tractors, brothers, sisters
walks to the creek
inspecting stones on the way
“This one? Granite,” he says. “Quartz. Shale. Limestone. Look up there,” he says. “Cirrus. Cumulus. Stratus.”
This is the place of the

electric fence.
This is the place of the
grandmother who taught her to tie shoes
who told her Jesus stories on her lap
who listened to her
held her, rocked her, loved her,
and died
under the frail green patchwork quilt made with such care
one very cold winter morning.
Woman Made of Tears was only three.
Woman Made of Goodbye did not get to tell her grandmother Goodbye.
“She’s only three.”
“She doesn’t understand.”
Woman Made of Understand

This is the place where
one must Behave
there’s the razor strop hanging from the radiator and the disgrace

not being able to swallow that big red pill
the razor strop came out. Right in front of everyone.

This is the place Woman Made of Story lost her voice.
Taking the beating
in the kitchen

panties down over Daddy’s knee right in front of everybody.

After the beating
and everyone’s eyes are averted
and the strop gets hung back in place masculine pride restored
everyone goes on with their business satisfied
that now
even though
the red pill is still not swallowed because it *can’t* be
but yet
victory is won

that’ll teach you to not listen to me little girl

after everyone walks away
what happens to
the beating?
Where does the beating go? Where does it reside in the body of Woman Made of Story?

is it still there?

On this particular night
one night in northwest Ohio circa 1962
it settled right in

at the throat
choking her
it settled right in at her heart
freezing her
it settled right in at her belly
erecting a big wall
if she hides behind this wall
maybe no one will see
maybe that strop will not come out again it settled in at the tear ducts
stopping them up
to let them out
only when
she was all alone
if she didn’t look frightened
didn’t act frightened
maybe no one would guess

This is when Woman Made of Story became Woman Made of Steel
Try as you may
you can’t break Steel

she said
to the man with the strop
I will defeat you
she said
to the man with the strop
you will not do this to me again she said
to the man with the strop.
I will see to it.

Woman Made of StoryScreen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.08.26 AM

stops the story.
Woman Made of Medicine goes to the place
where she stores sage, sweetgrass, cedar, tobacco, and a big shell bowl. Woman Made of Medicine
Woman Made of Story
Woman Made of Steel
it’s time for a smudging.
We must clear it out before we continue.

Face the south, she says.
We face the south.

You hear those sirens back there?
Sirens, ambulances, screaming in the distance?I did.

Woman Made of Steel says
Twice. In first grade. Those sirens almost came for me.
Both times on a bus. Both times, nothing happened. There were no sirens for me. But it was that close. Both times.
The man with the strop
decided it was time to move.
“We’ll put a tire swing for you under the tree,” he promised the Woman Made of Story.
“You’ll go to school in a new place. Not where your brothers and sisters went to school, but where I went to school.”

The man with the strop
piled cinders from the coal furnace
right under the tree
where he promised he’d hang a tire swing.

And never apologized.

No room for a tire swing.

Man with the strop, said the Woman Made of Story, do you realize how dangerous it is to lie to a Woman Made of Story? She’ll put you in a story. She will tell the truth about you. The bald-faced, Woman Made of Steel, cold hard facts truth about you.
And won’t apologize.

But, there was a bicycle. Blue. Girl’s. J.C. Penney.
Bought with all of the gift money ever given to her until she was eight. Kept in her mother’s purse until she was eight.
Woman Made of Earth wanted Red.
Woman Made of Story got Blue, and her big brother taught her to ride.

It took a while to learn how to navigate around those potholes filled in with coal furnace cinders. Don’t ride through them; the bike will throw you and you will get cinders in your knees, your arms, your elbows.
Woman Made of Story had plenty of cinders in her knees, her arms, her elbows, before she learned the art of balance.

And, there was the lane from the house to the woods.
Woman Made of Forest, Woman Made of Trees, Woman Made of River and Rock grew up sitting next to the little stream that dried up, mostly, in the summers. She swatted the mosquitoes and painted the sunrise, sitting on the big flat rock next to the tree.
Woman Made of Story imagined, sitting next to that tree. She imagined who she would be one day.

Writer, she always ended up being. Writer, artist, poet, watcher of stream, leaner of tree, sitter of rock, hunter of arrowhead.

Woman Made of History learned about the land.
Wyandot land.
Wyandot village not far from here.
Woman Made of Spirit wondered. Are they still here? Do they see me? Are they peeking out from behind this tree or that one? Is their village still inhabited? Do they still hunt the deer, grow their medicines, trade, make their deerskin clothing, drink the water from the stream, make pottery jars out of that nice clay bank in the field where Daddy gets the tractor wheels stuck every now and then?

Are they still here, now, alive, in another world that I can’t see?

Woman Made of Story read everything there was to read.
Woman Made of Story wanted to know how it all started.
Woman Made of Story asked the questions adults could not answer. When life got to be too much, Woman Made of Story became Woman Who Sits On A Rock and Leans On a Tree.

Face the west, says Woman Made of Story.
We turn. The sky is black.
Cumulonimbus, says Woman Made of Her Brother’s College Science Class.

There was the plane ride to Sioux Falls, the long drive across South Dakota, the Rosebud Reservation. Two women on a plane, two women in a car, not knowing, really, what they were doing. Two husbands and six children in the airport, waving, saying “come back, come back!”

Woman Made of Story came back.
But not really.

This is where Woman Made of Story began to learn the truth.

This is where Woman Made of Story began to hear the rumblings of her own Story within her.
Once Woman Made of Story crossed the Missouri River, heading west, everything changed.

Once Woman Made of Story placed her feet on the Rosebud Reservation, her bare feet on the ground inside the circle, under the arbor at the sundance, and the tears turned on like you’d turn on a faucet, she knew something was going on.
Woman Made of Native Blood began to wake up.

She had always been Woman Made of White Man. Here, on this native land, inside this native ceremony, with blazing hot sun, drumming, chanting, dancing, trees, pipe, sweatlodge, tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass, and fresh sage everywhere, she became Woman Made of Nonstop Crying A Bucket of Tears.
The tears flowed. She let them flow.
The healing ceremony fanned her off. All of the dancers fanned her off. She cried more.

She did go back to the land of the husband and the children.
And she went to the land beyond the Missouri again, and again, and again.
Each time it was now the day to face the east and drive back to the land of the courtroom and time clocks and deadlines and depositions and stern warnings to the defendant from the judge on the bench, Woman Made of Story tolerated it less and less.

How can you explain to a husband that you no longer feel at home until your feet touch the earth of the land west of the Missouri?

When you’ve never lived there?

In this lifetime?

Facing the west, facing the thundercloud, we are facing our fears. We are facing our conflicts. We are facing our very own Selves.

This is when Woman Made of Story

Woman Made of Stories.
Woman Made of Many Stories.

This is when Woman Made of Story chose.
Exactly at the point
Woman Made of Many Stories made herself known
is when
the husband
frightened of the Many Stories declared
he had married
just one Woman
with just one Story.

His story.

Woman Made of Story
Woman Made of Stories
Woman Made of Earth
Woman Made of Medicine
Woman Made of Forest, Trees and Rocks Woman Made of Tears to Fill A Bucket Woman Made of Native Blood

Woman Made of Spirit
Woman Who Sits On Rock and Leans On Tree

and all of the other Women
got together.
There were not enough rocks to sit on.
There were not enough trees to lean on.
There was not enough sage to smudge with.
There was not enough tobacco to place the agony into, and throw that into rushing rivers.

Walking one day in the forest
stopping on the bridge to drop tobacco into the little river rushing below Wolf
in spirit
stood next to Woman Made of Story.
Wolf spoke in her mind.
“The next few years are going to be tough. You don’t have to do this alone. We are here with you.”

Woman Made of Story had to stop.
“Who are you? What are you? Where do you come from?”
Wolf replied: “I am part of you.” And disappeared.

This is how Woman Made of Story
and all the other Women
and all the other Stories
faced the West.

They walked with Wolf.

Every fear that could be imagined
Every worst possible scenario that could be prognosticated

Woman Made of Story

Woman Made of Flesh and Bone
Woman Made of Fire and Breath, Granite and Coal and Diamond, stood there
facing the cumulonimbus.

Rain, hail, lightning strikes, tornadoes
lightning so close it almost caught her house on fire
tornado so close the sky turned orange
and toppled a tree on her neighbor’s truck
with her neighbors in the truck
escaping — a miracle! — unharmed
thunder so intense it shook the house
many times
Woman Made of Story said
“Bring it on! I came here for this. I’m not turning back now.”

Harder and harder the winds blacker and blacker the sky louder and louder the tornado the fears arose

Woman Made of Story and Wolf

faced the fears every one of them.

One morning
waking from a dream there was a word Haleakala.
Woman Made of Story knew that word.

It was a volcano, she was pretty sure. Hawai’i?

Woman Made of Haleakala

and made herself known.

Yes, we knew already about Woman Made of Poem
Woman Made of Medicine Woman Made of Buddha Woman Made of Drum
Woman Made of Pottery Woman Made of Music
Woman Made of Wandering Woman Made of Silence Woman Made of TeachingWoman Made of Enlightenment

We did not know about Woman Made of Haleakala.

Woman Made of Haleakala said
“Sit down right here and let me tell you my story.”
And the women listened.
“You wanted to know how it all started.
You wanted the story of how it all started.
I will tell you the story of the Kumulipo. It is my story. It is our story. But first, let us face the North.”

Here I am
sitting here
Woman Made of Story

not on a flat rock next to a stream
that mostly goes dry in the summer — that land belongs to someone else now.

Here I am
sitting here
Woman Made of North
not leaning against a tree
wondering, imagining, painting, drawing, sitting in the before-dawn waiting to paint the sunrise.

Woman Made of Story has made it all the way around the circle.
Woman Made of North has made it through the life cycle.
Facing the north is where we reflect on what we’ve learned along the way. We collect our wisdom, here.

The question is: can we look at the west? Can we face the west?
Can we face our Selves?
Do we run and hide?

Hide in the alcohol, the drugs, the gambling, the job, the relationship, the illness, the busy-ness, the not wanting to see things for what they really are?

Facing the west is where people get stuck.
Relationships get stuck there.
“I married the woman with one story. My story.”
And you do everything you can to stick to the story line.
“I don’t want to offend you.”
And you do everything you can to make the other one stick to the story line too.
“I don’t want to make you angry.”

And nothing is said. Nothing is done. We don’t realize
nobody tells us this

sticking to the one story sticking to the story line keeps us

If you get stuck in the west
you never get to the north.
And if you never get to the north you never learn what life is about.

Life is about the wheel. Life is the circle. The powwow dancer. The wheels on the bus. The potter’s wheel. The four medicines, the four directions, the four seasons. A seed is planted, grows, fruits, and is harvested.

Woman Made of Story
at the north
wearing hair streaked with white
powwow dancing under a shawl with the fringe splaying out
a shawl filled with a thousand stories
from just this one lifetime
a shawl that reaches into the place where the Wyandots still live
and still make pottery next to the little creek that dries up
every summer
a shawl that is warped and wefted with
breath, bone, earth, rock, river, scream, sweat, fire, air, water, fear, tornado, wind, lightning, thunder, Redwood, steel, tears, understanding, poem, medicine, spirit, Buddha, drum, pottery, music, silence, teaching, enlightenment
and Haleakala

Woman Made of Story with Wolf by her side walks in grace

and Knowing

“I brought it all to me,” she says.
“I wanted to know how it all began,” she says.
“I wanted the stories,” she says. “All of the stories,” she says. “I wanted the experience,” she says.
“I created it,” she says.

Woman Made of Story
Woman Made of Earth, Fire, Air, Water
and Steel
And Breath and Bone, Sun and Moon, Planet and Stars and Galaxies and Universe
Woman Made of Birthings
Woman Made of Endings
Woman Made of Thunderbeings
Woman Made of Prison Cells
Woman Made of Gatling Guns
Woman Made of Burial Grounds
Woman Made of Conflicts
Woman Made of Resolutions
Woman Made of All That Is
has one last thing to say.

“That. That sure was a good story. Let’s do it again.”