Happy New Year, Iris Davis–whoever you are


My American grandmother’s journal is tiny (3” X 2”), her writing small, mostly household accounts and a record of her work days. I have three of these. One is from the year I was born but there is no mention of my birth. For a woman who had six children and, by this time, nine or ten grandchildren, I suppose birth was a routine event.
It’s been repaired with ancient tape and filled with tiny writing chronicling much of one year in a life that lasted 103 years. There is, however, scrawled across the page of March 25-30th,
“Dad had stroke
age 43—
died age 56, 1935”
The dates and ages don’t match but the numbers, originally written in pencil, are reinforced with pen. I take “dad” to be her husband as she was born in 1888 and I doubt her own father would have lived this long. 1888 was undoubtedly a lucky year for the Chinese because of the three 8’s. Alas, Gram was not Chinese and she was not lucky. Her ancestors came from cold northern European countries and she had a father so strict that she married at 18 to get out of the house. Women like her (poor, uneducated and guileless) had little recourse in those days. She raised six children on a tenant farm without modern conveniences, and baked bread to supplement their income. Her husband died when her three youngest children were still home and my mother, oldest of the three, had to quit school to help support the family.
On the page before (March 24-27), she wrote,
“Went to work Friday and resigned. drew my last pay. What a grand and glorious feeling—“
I believe this job was doing woman’s hair as she and my mother worked in a “beauty parlor” after her husband died and they had to leave the farm.
She didn’t stay retired, however. I remember her working until I was nearly a teenager. I thought it odd that she was a “companion to an old woman” as she herself was an old woman.
There’s a great deal of writing in the first part of the journal, work days recorded, men coming home from war (my father, neighbors, her youngest son), money loaned (mostly to Francis who is consistent in paying her back). There’s not much after March until the very end where she enters some addresses including “US Navy hospital, ward 14 in Portsmouth, VA.” Women are listed as Mrs…except for an Iris Davis (?).
Some of the days are only checked off (as in, got through it, on to the next).
I look for something revealing, shocking, inspiring. I find, “letter from Asa.” “7 dollars on food.” “Mrs. Worheim EM-9499.”
It’s my hope that we all find something revealing, shocking, and inspiring in 2019, and that we check off days only because they are the peaceful quiet ones that we savor for ourselves.

Dark Matters

A few weeks ago the subject of Dark Matter came up in a conversation among people who are much more intelligent than I am. I admitted that I didn’t understand what Dark Matter is and, because they’re very kind people, they assured me that I shouldn’t worry because no one knows. (I’ve wormed my way into the company of these people in the hope that their genius and creativity will rub off on me. Results pending.)
This weekend I took two of my grandchildren to the planetarium to see the show “Dark Universe.” I was excited to learn what science knows of this mysterious Dark component. Landon, who is eight, was entranced. However, I sat next to Nola who is six and had many burning questions: “Is that really the sky?” “Can we go back to the American Doll store?” “What are we going to have for lunch?” She complained that her neck hurt, her brother woke her up by pulling her hair, and she didn’t want to eat any more of the chicken soup I’d made for their visit. So I missed a bit of the lecture.
What I did learn was that Neil DeGrasse Tyson can express the most shocking concepts with complete dispassion. Examples: It’s Dark Energy that holds the universe together even though we don’t know how or what it is. Scientists have mapped the stars despite the fact that that what they’re seeing is distorted by gravitational lenses. And the ultimate appalling fact: the universe is expanding in an increasingly rapid rate. (This is one thing I can actually feel as I find it harder and harder to keep up.)
Various maps were projected on the ceiling in order to illustrate the prominence of Dark Matter and our place in the universe. Nola was not impressed. She prefers the “map” that came with a box of chocolates given to me the day before, a map that explains what’s in the chocolates without actually having to bite into them. (ie. the square with a spiral imprint is white chocolate with spicy cinnamon ganache, not a Nola recommendation)
Simple conclusion: Dark Matter and Dark Energy may be what holds the universe together but dark chocolate is infinitely easier to understand. Nola is not a fan of darkness in general (with the exception of chocolate). She chooses to defuse it with whimsical nightlights. Her universe is expanding rapidly but so far she is enjoying the ride.
I may never understand the concepts Neil DeGrasse Tyson is trying to explain, nor the dark turn the world has taken lately, as displayed in the daily bombardment of disheartening events. But I’m pleased to report that there are people and chocolate to provide light and the occasional whimsey in my corner of the universe.

Mother’s Day

My mother died on my birthday and in the weeks between Mother’s Day (the last time I saw her) and my birthday, she comes back to haunt me in the form of the Trickster. Things disappear; attention is diverted, plans thwarted. I trip over my own sense of reality and fall into a place beyond boundaries. My mother’s been dead for over twenty years so I’ve gotten used to this yearly disruption. I’m apprehensive but I look forward to it in a strange way.
My mother was very orderly and proper. There was no sign of the anarchist in her personality. But perhaps we never really know someone, no matter how much we think we do. Do we even know ourselves? The influence of a mother never ends. A bad influence can turn out good so don’t despair—I’ve seen it happen. A good influence (like my own) can expand to cosmic proportions. My mother has structured a season of mischief, but I never know what that mischief will consist of.
I live in a world of Uncertainty and Possibility. For this reason, I was never good at multiple choice, or true/false tests as a kid. Anything is possible in my world. There were times I thought I knew what the teacher wanted, but it seemed so dreary, so limited, so uninspiring. Give me an essay test (but don’t count off for misspelling) and I will soar. I think my mother checks in to remind me to get it together, that some control is necessary. One can’t take flight if they forget their wings. She reminds me of what real chaos is like.
Already clothes slide off their hooks and get lost in corners, hangers tangle, my bookmark slips out of place, and the good knife has run off with the teaspoons. Essential ingredients disappear and reappear after the dish has been improvised. I dodge phone trolls and there’s a glitch in our Netflix that causes it to flash onto a vintage Osmond concert just as the fiendish murderer is about to be revealed. Reality wavers.
Of course, these are little things that happen to everyone occasionally. But in these few weeks, they will come relentlessly for me. I hunker down and prepare to be embarrassed, frustrated, entertained and enlightened.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Oh, did I miss it?