Monthly Archives: April 2016

…And What Happened There

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Trying to get materials for our house, struggling to pay for things like septic system, plumbing and electricity, Terry and I both put in a lot of hours at work when we moved back to Beaver Island. At one point, in the first summer we were back, I was doing laundry at the Beaver Island Lodge, waiting tables at the Shamrock and helping with a small gallery on the harbor. Terry worked for Cashman, then took side jobs helping at Wojan’s Mill and left the island to work down state when the money was right. It would have worked, still, if we had worked as partners.

Our marriage was in a state of disrepair most of the time. Many times, Mary Therese would come up the stairs from the apartment below us, under the guise of asking for rent but generally because she heard our arguing. Terry was a big wall-pounder and door slammer; harder to admit is my own part in it. I was the worst-tempered of all my mother’s children. I thought I had out-grown it…but then we’d have an argument. Terry’s rages were fueled mainly by alcoholism, whether by drinking or wanting an excuse to drink. Mine were just meanness and self-righteous indignation.

In his defense, Terry was always one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever known. Now, sober for many years, he has a nice wife and a good life. He’s a devoted father to all of his children. Alcoholism is a disease that affected both of our families. Though my mother was a teetotaler and I have never been much of a drinker, I’m sure my reactions to Terry’s problem hurt more than it helped most of the time. I hesitate to bring up a past that can’t be altered…but this is my history, too.

The night I made these drawings of my girls, I was working the closing shift, from 8PM until 3AM. Terry was supposed to be home with the girls. He left them to come out to the bar. When he left there a few hours later, he assured me he was going home. At two in the morning, as I was locking the doors , a friend stopped in to tell me she had our car. Terry had driven it to the south end of the island for a house party. My friend lost her ride and wanted to get home. Terry told her to take the car.

I finished my closing duties and walked home. There were my girls, alone in the apartment as they had been all night. Jen was on the couch, Kate on the floor beside her, where they had fallen asleep in front of the television. Their sweet, innocence brought me to tears. What were we doing? Where was this leading? When did work and drink replace bedtime stories? These were the thoughts that filled my head and broke my heart as I wound down with a cup of tea while I sketched my precious daughters. Then I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to Terry telling the girls, “Do not – under any circumstances – wake up your mother!!” Then, under his breath as he went out the door, “I’ve gotta find the #@(%$!# car!”

The Apartment at McCafferty’s Hotel

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april2016 138When the hunters and others that paid the higher, seasonal rate were gone, my family was able to move in to an apartment in McCafferty’s Hotel for the rest of the winter. The hotel was a square building with two stories and wood siding stained golden brown.  At the intersection of the King’s Highway and Donegal Bay Road, it was a block from the school, a block from the road that ran along the harbor, walking distance to church, post office and the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, where I worked. The main door faced Donegal Bay Road. Inside, doors to the left or right led to downstairs apartments. The hall continued straight ahead to two other apartments at the rear. A stairway led upstairs to four more units. An outside stairway in the back led down to a laundry area.

Our apartment sat on the front corner of the upstairs. The door entered in to the living space, with the eat-in kitchen on the right, living room on the left, with large windows looking out over the treetops and the downtown area. At the back of that room, a short hallway led to two bedrooms and a bathroom. The walls were dark paneling. Floors were tile in the kitchen and bath, carpet in the other rooms. Furniture was already there. We added our own TV and stereo, a few books, photographs and pieces of art to make it feel like home. We were becoming pretty good at this gypsy lifestyle!

An elderly lady, the mother, perhaps, of “Bing” McCafferty, who had built the hotel, lived in one of the downstairs apartments. She’d had two husbands, and I can’t remember which one was last. She went by  either “Grandma Mooney” or “Grandma McCafferty.” She popped in to see us on our first day there. She didn’t knock before she came in.

“At my age, I go where I want, no matter what,” she explained.

She told my girls to call her “Grandma.”

“I’m old enough to be everyone’s Grandma!” she said, gleefully.

She presented us with a housewarming gift: a fat crocheted tube that was designed to hide a spare roll of toilet paper. It was made of a couple colors of variegated yarn with a fluffy pompom on top, and large shell stitches around the bottom. “This is so pretty,” we gushed as we thanked her for her thoughtfulness.

“Too pretty for the bathroom,” she agreed, “Keep it right there on that coffee table, where everyone can appreciate it.”

So it was that for the duration of the time that we lived in McCafferty’s Hotel, we listened closely for the sound of footsteps in the hall. We perfected a little relay. Whoever was closest to the bathroom grabbed the little crocheted toilet paper holder from the back of the stool, tossed it to the next person who tossed it to the next one who placed it back in its place of honor on the coffee table…before “Grandma” turned the knob and walked in without knocking.

Now that I’m older, I think of all the energy we spent being on constant alert and racing to get that little object in place. I don’t think I have changed enough to not care about her feelings. My timidity would probably still not allow me to refuse to display it. I think, today, I would simply leave it on the coffee table!

Not This Day

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Today I woke up with the same headache I went to sleep with last night.

This is also the day I spent several hours on mounds of book work and only completed some of it.

After extra days to get it done, this is the day I still had to resign myself to the fact that my taxes will not be filed on time.

This is the day I finally got through to my daughter, after several days of trying to call her. That call resulted in an argument that was sad and hurtful for both of us, and little accomplished anyway.

It is the day I opened a letter filled with well-meaning and fact-based, but devastating criticism of my work on the Beacon, with a suggestion that I give it up “before the contents become completely irrelevant.”

This is the day I invited company for dinner…and was unable to reach them to cancel, when I realized I was too frustrated and sad to be good company.

So, today, in spite of myself, I planned a dinner and went to the grocery store. I cleared the table by making one big pile (though I’d sworn I wouldn’t) on the desk out of the many small piles (tax stuff, Beacon stuff, blog stuff, correspondence and bills) that were taking up table space. This is the day I’ll cook a chicken and smile and make conversation.

This will not be the first day this year that I don’t publish a blog…because that would mean this day has won, and I don’t want that. Not this day.

 

The 52 Lists Project #16

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september2015 132List your essentials:

Well, I am – perhaps erroneously – taking this to mean the things I would need if stranded on a desert island, or stuck in a bomb shelter, prison cell or other such isolated environment. If that’s the case, here:

  • My eyeglasses.
  • Books. I’ll need some poetry: Emily Dickinson, Marge Piercy, Mary Oliver, e.e. cummings and Billy Collins should do. For prose to read and re-read, I want E.B. White, Maxine Hong Kingston, Evan S. Connell and Annie Dillard.
  • Paper and Pencils. Lots! And a pencil sharpener, because writing or drawing with a dull pencil gets tiresome very quickly.
  • A deck of cards. Or a handful of dice. Or both. I have seen myself through many lonely winter evenings playing solitaire, so it’s good to have them on hand.
  • A toothbrush. Plenty of dental floss. A good toenail clipper and a set of tweezers.
  • My little dog. If all contact with family and friends was lost, it would be especially  comforting to have Rosa Parks with me.

Now, if I am to consider that I’m not stranded somewhere, isolated from the world, then I will add:

  • A computer, for keeping in touch with friends and family (who, it goes without saying, are essential to my happiness), for online Scrabble, Google – for when my memory fails me – and all of the other wonderful things that a computer does.
  • Coffee. With cream. Because, boy, I have been suffering without it while stuck on that imaginary desert island!
  • Chocolate. Dark. With Almonds and Sea Salt. Or, just a dark chocolate Dove bar. Though I’m already wishing for those almonds…

Here’s the Thing

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This is just another Saturday.

Nothing momentous; nothing special.

This is the one-hundred and eighteenth day in a row that I have posted a blog. Now, I wish I’d thought to write about it when I could have said “100!” or that I could hold off until I could say “125!” But no, today is the day when I bring it up, because, frankly, I have little else to say.

I could, if I had more time, move on to the next address and tell about the apartment in McCafferty’s Hotel and all the things that happened there. It happens, though, that I have been very close to being on time to work for two days in a row now…and I’d like to make it three. If I take the time to find photos to scan and download, and start wading through old memories, I will surely be very late this morning. It can wait.

I could tell about all the frustrations that filled my day yesterday (don’t we all look forward to those conversations!) and how discouraged I was by the end of the day…how sad I felt, and how unable to make anything better. I should mention that a lovely, long talk with a friend helped to ease my discouragement and lifted my mood, so that my worries were eased by the time I went to bed.

I could go into detail – if there were more time – about the book I’m reading, and what a pleasure it is. I didn’t know much about Pat Conroy until after he died, but I’m learning a great deal about him now. Currently, his My Reading Life is entertaining me and hugely expanding my list of books I want to read, authors I want to know.

But it’s late. The remaining snow is diminishing every day, and will be gone before the week is out. Temperatures are mild. The sun shining in through the east window woke me up this morning, and made me think it was much later than it was. Sunshine, already over the treetops, at six forty-five! Trees are holding on to that special shade of green that they show only until the leaves open up. The floor of the woods is brightening with the wild onion-smelling ramps, trout lilies and tiny spring beauties. Tulips and daffodils are getting ready to bloom in my yard. The serviceberry bush and the forsythia are in bud. Lilac and snowball bush won’t be far behind.

This is Saturday.

Nothing momentous.

Everything special.

 

Lost Days

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A few days at home can really throw off the calendar. I got up yesterday morning early to do some bookkeeping so that I could go to the bank at lunchtime. Turns out, it wasn’t even bank day. Through the slow months of winter, we only have a bank on Tuesdays and Fridays, 9AM to 2PM. Yesterday was  only Thursday. Once I realized that, I realized it was “Timeout for Art Day” in blog land, and I wasn’t prepared for that either. Good thing I got up early!

Having gotten out of bed (that is – still – the mattress on the living room floor) at 4AM, I did manage to make it to my job at the hardware shockingly early: 8:10! That’s only ten minutes after we open! Which, I have to say, made it a very long day for me. I built shelves and rearranged drop cloths, shelf liner and contact paper, finished fine-tuning a large paint order, put away the last few boxes and totes of freight, filed the claims and defective goods paperwork, updated the discontinued products in the computer, started a new order, made a couple vet appointments, mixed paint, made keys, answered phones, took care of customers, and broke down the cardboard boxes. One customer called at 5:30 (closing time) and asked me to wait for him; I did. Another showed up just as I was pulling my car out of the parking place. I reopened for her, too. It was a beautiful day – customers kept telling me so – and I spent nine and a half hours of it inside.

Home, I greeted Rosa Parks, and we went for an exploratory walk. Three days ago, my garden was under a blanket of snow.

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Yesterday, it was bare! Impossible not to drop to my knees, to pull the dead stalks away from the new growth (Deep red globes that will be stalks and leaves of rhubarb! Bright green grass-like fronds that are the first showing of this year’s peonies!), to dig out the grasses, already taking hold. The ground is still cold and holding tightly to the roots; by the time I was ready to call it done for the day, my fingers were black, and sore from the effort. Nearby, Rosa Parks had also been digging and I noticed she was favoring one paw. I examined her for injury, and we continued at a slower pace around the yard. Daffodils are in bud, tulips are showing their leaves and the little Siberian scillia are in full bloom.

Inside, I had phone calls to make, then dinner for myself and my little dog. I had done enough! I was going to relax. “Shall we watch a movie?” I asked Rosa Parks. “Shall we go to bed early?” Before I settled in, though, to do nothing else for the night, I picked up my day book, to jot down my work hours and other accomplishments. That’s when I noticed the date: April 14th.

Here in the United States of America, income taxes have to be filed by April 15th to avoid penalty. I hadn’t even started that paperwork. Why had I not realized sooner?? How could I be so unprepared?? Unimportant, in comparison, are all my successes of the day. Out the window went all my plans for a relaxing evening and an early bedtime. It’s tax time!

Timeout for Art: Coming up Empty

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I am an artist.

It took me many long years to learn to use those words to describe what drives me, what my passions are. For a long while I felt unworthy of the title. I’d say, “I like art,” “I’m an art student,” “I play around in art,” or “I’m working in the arts.” All of these reflect interest, but none imply achievement. Finally, I got over that barrier. I say “I am an artist.” Not only that, when asked to describe myself, that is usually the first thing that comes to mind. It has become the way I think of myself, on equal footing with mother, walker, feminist and writer. It is a big part of my identity.

I am an artist.

It doesn’t go away. This identity was slow in attaching itself to me, but now that it’s here, it isn’t fickle. Even when long days and weeks go by without time in the studio, it hangs on. Though sometimes I feel I have nothing to express through my art anymore, it stays with me. That’s good…because sometimes I just can’t bring it. No time and no energy leads to no inspiration, because inspiration isn’t a gift from the heavens, but just a by-product of daily tending. If I don’t put in the time, I don’t reap the rewards. It’s every bit as simple as that.

Still, I am an artist.

Though my children are grown and long-gone from my household…though it’s a rare occasion that I can even slip in a piece of advice…though I can see them each straining to not roll their eyes when I try to relate how I handled things…still, I am a mother. It’s at the very core of my identity; it won’t go away.

I think I will always think of myself as a walker, though my distance is not as impressive as it once was, and I let many other things get in the way. It has to do with how I feel about walking and how I feel when I am walking that holds its place in my list of personal identifiers.

My life is crowded with things to do…many are less important to my spiritual growth and well being than art, but demand my time anyway. I can’t always choose which way to best direct my energy. I have to consider obligations, commitments and the earning power of any endeavor. It might always be like this, though I’m wishing for better. No matter what, I am an artist.

 

The Trailer on the Water

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Back to my many addresses.

I had almost forgotten  about the trailer on the water. We didn’t live there for long, and not much happened there.

When fall rolled around on Beaver Island, we had to move out of the farmhouse. Though it had been occupied in the wintertime when my Dad was growing up there, it was not insulated, and was very difficult to heat. Dad used to say they’d start the winter with a woodpile “as big as the house.” It was widely believed – even by us – that in trying to keep warm, we might accidentally burn the place down. Better to find another place to spend the winter!

Our own place was not even close to being ready to move into. The slab was poured. That was all. We were still waiting for the well to be completed; we had no structure in place.

We arranged to move into McCafferty’s Hotel for the winter. There were eight units in the building. They were like little apartments, with a living room, full kitchen and a bedroom or two. There were laundry facilities on the first floor. They rented by the week in the summer, but were available as monthly rentals in the off-season. Unfortunately, we couldn’t move in until the beginning of December, after all the hunters were gone.

We moved in to the trailer for about two months, until our apartment at the hotel opened up. The driveway was a long (almost a quarter-mile long!), curved two-track that turned off the East Side drive just before Welke’s Airport, and led all the way down to the south side of the harbor. There were two trailers there, angled along the shoreline. The view of Lake Michigan was spectacular. The wind off the water, though, would hit the broad side of the building, and never even slow down until it had passed all the way through the trailer. I was cold all the time that I lived there!

We knew we wouldn’t be there long; we only brought the bare necessities and never really settled in. That’s probably why I have so few memories of that place.

I had to work a short shift on Thanksgiving that year, as the Shamrock did a festive meal for those who didn’t have family on the island. I was finished early enough, though, to cook our dinner at home. “Topper” McDonough, an old family friend, came to have dinner with us.

One night, when the sky was especially clear, we all wrapped in blankets and walked to the shoreline to look at the stars.

One cold day, after many attempts to get the furnace working, my husband asked Darrell Butler Senior to come over to fix it. Darrell asked Terry if he had thought to hit the reset button.

“Yes,” was his answer.

“How many times?”

“Just once.”

“Once? you’re sure?”

“Yes. Once.”

At that point, Darrell struck a match. A huge BOOM sounded. A pause. Darrell peeked around the corner. His dark eyebrows were charred.

ONCE, you say??

“Well…once…twice…maybe a couple dozen times…I don’t remember.”

Those are my only memories of my short time at the trailer on the water.

 

One More Day

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I am definitely on the mend. I’ll be back at work tomorrow. Maybe not 100%, but good enough. That means today is my last day off for the week.

I have to admit that when Sue, at the Medical Center, told me I’d need two days at home to recuperate, I was a little giddy. I thought, “Finally, time to get all of the stuff done that has been piling up forever!” I had a long list that included bookkeeping, writing, editing and making phone calls for the Beacon,  about a million sorting, cleaning and organizing chores around my house, and a couple dozen projects in the studio.

In the back of my mind, I was cheering just a little bit about all the movies I could watch, and the reading and writing I could do, if I couldn’t do anything else…like an enforced vacation!

This is my fourth day at home, as the two I had to take off – Saturday and Sunday – ran up against Monday and Tuesday, my normal two days off. It didn’t quite work out as I’d planned.

I couldn’t lift much of anything, or move too quickly, or even stand or sit for more than a few minutes for the first 48 hours. Every single chore was a gargantuan effort, with back pain combined with medicines that made me groggy. I managed to put a couple movies in the DVD player, but fell asleep before they were over. I was too sleepy to read. I spent most of my time stretched out on a mattress on the floor. When awake, my biggest accomplishment was changing out the heat pack for the ice pack every ten minutes. Mostly, I dozed.

Yesterday, I was able to move around much more freely. I managed to get a little of the chores done around here, and some of the work for the Beacon. Today, I’m even better. Good thing! I’m going back to work tomorrow. Everything else I want to get done has to be done today.

It wasn’t much of a vacation, that’s for sure!

Camping

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It was my own fault.

I thought I was stronger than I am.

Or younger.

More able.

Or super-human.

A couple weeks ago, I spent several days organizing a corner of the basement at the hardware store. I needed to make room for the multitude of grills that my boss purchased at the trade show this year. Some were being stored in the lumber building; some were still due to be shipped. They were all going to have to fit in the basement. In addition, they all needed to be visible and accessible, so that they could be sold, pulled out and assembled. I decided to combine that task with some much-needed re-organization.

Knowing my age and physical limitations, and that of some of the other employees, I felt it was necessary to arrange the large buckets of drywall mud (weighing up to 65 pounds each), bags of ice melt and water-softener salt (40-50 pounds) and other things in such a way that a person would not have to climb over, shimmy through or reach and heft over other stuff in order to get any of it out. I arranged it in neat, accessible aisles that a hand cart would fit through, so there would also not be reason to carry anything long distance. I cleared the pathway in front of those aisles so that the large UPS cart could be pushed all the way to the back, to pick up automotive batteries, 5 gallon buckets of paint or bags of floor leveler.

The young guys moved the grills in to the spot I had opened up for them, one day while I minded the store upstairs. Then the ferry boat made its first run of the season on Wednesday, with a good load of freight for the hardware store…including another pallet full of grills.

It was in putting away that freight that I noticed  I had no space for the grills.  I couldn’t get down the pathway with the UPS cart. I know I said I wanted that space clear. I’m pretty sure I mentioned that I was going to make room for the other large items in the plumbing area. But no, in the space designated for grills – and blocking access to the back of the basement with a cart – were three large air conditioners and five hot water heaters.

That’s when I forgot I was not super-human.

That’s when I got the hand cart and single-handedly moved three large air conditioners and five hot water heaters to the plumbing area. Then I got the pallet jack and moved the pallet of grills to the spot where they belonged. John came to help me move the grills. Lifting together, we were moving the second one when my back went out.

John’s an old hand with back trouble. He ordered me to stop immediately. I half-walked,  half-crawled up the stairs and went directly to the phone to call the Medical Center. They got me in that same day. I left there with prescriptions for pain medicine and muscle relaxers, instructions to spend at least the next two days flat on my back, applying heat and ice alternately for ten minutes each.

Not being the best at following instructions, I finished out my day at work (though there was no more heavy lifting and moving) then went to the library to get a few movies. Home, there was one more thing I had to do before I dared stop. My bed is terrible when my back is out. It’s too soft, and the stairs are hard to navigate. The couch is better, but not for sleeping on my back. I dragged the twin bed mattress out of the attic and down the stairs. I laid it out on the living room floor, added sheets and comforter. I moved the lamp, TV and coffee table, so that I could access everything I might need. Only then did I take the prescribed medicine, which tends to knock me out.

I’m getting a little better each day. Rosa Parks is loving it. The entire living room is now covered with things she can sleep on. What seems like “sick bay” to me, to my little dog seems just like camping!