Archive for August, 2008

Here is one of the ghost stories my Grammy told me.  It’s a family story; I was surprised that I hadn’t heard it before now.  But then again, I am easily frightened, and internalize stories, and certainly did as a child…so perhaps they were keeping it from me all these years.

When my Grammy was young, she lived with my Aunt Pat.  Pat was my Grandfather’s sister–Pat and my Grammy were college-aged roommates before Grammy married Pat’s brother.  The shared an attic room.

Once, Pat was studying alone at her desk.  She suddenly felt keenly that someone was in the room with her, watching her.  She looked up from her papers, and saw a little girl staring at her.

The girl wore a long red dress, some sort of gingham, and had long brown hair.  She stared right at Pat, and her expression was–malevolent.  As Pat apparently put it, “not kind.”  As Pat looked her up and down, she noticed that she had no feet–where her feet should have been, her legs sort of trailed off, or disappeared.

Pat said, “What do you want?”  And the girl disappeared.  

The girl appeared again, at least a few times, before the last time Pat saw her.  On the final occasion that she saw her, she, my Grammy, and my Grandfather were all coming up into the room.  Pat came in first, and there was the girl.  When my Grandfather came into the room, Pat was white as a sheet and looked sick, and weak.  My Grandfather said, “Pat, what’s wrong?”  She answered, “I’m so glad you’re here–that little girl was here again.”

Finally, she told them about the girl, and how she had been appearing to her, what she looked like, how she stared–the whole story.

After that, Pat never saw the girl again.

Years later, Pat had married, and was living with her husband in a huge house in Sau Paolo, Brazil.  They had many servants, many of whom were young women.  Some of the women practiced a native kind of religion, with burning and plants, and Pat would often find ashes in the bathtub.  

She had a problem keeping help, though: servants would only stay a few weeks, or a month or two, before leaving to find another job.  Her turnover rate was so high, and she was constantly frustrated trying to replace her staff.

Finally, when several women came to her to tell her they were leaving, she asked, “Can you tell me–can you help me understand why I can’t keep any of you?  Why is it that none of you stay?”

The women looked at one another, and the ground, and Pat, nervously.  At last, one spoke up.  She told Pat, “We don’t like the little girl in red that follows you around.”


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Last Friday, I spent the night with my Grammy, in rural Illinois.  We stayed up ’til past midnight; she told me so many stories.  The story of her courtship with my Grandfather, stories about her parents, her favorite Aunt Lena, visiting the big city, her siblings, and my dad and his siblings.  She also told me ghost stories, including a particularly terrible true one about a little girl with no feet who haunted my Great Aunt Pat for a lifetime.

(I’ll share the ghost story later.  It’s really good, and scary.)

But since my plane touched down here in the Middle West, I’ve been having the longest, most vivid, upsetting dreams.  Not upsetting like angry-making, but upsetting in that they linger with me throughout the day, they begin to influence what I’m thinking about as I drive around, and how I consider what it means to be me, here at home.

I think it’s weird that when I’m in the city, I think of myself one way, and tend to separate myself (day to day) from this older landscape.  But here, it all comes flooding back.  For example,  I was sitting outside today, by the Missouri River; it’s unusually cool for August, and there was a strong breeze.  Something about the smell of the air brought back a sudden, overtaking memory:

When I was young, and growing up with my cousins, we often were piled in the back of a pick-up truck to drive the backroads from town out to my grandparents’ farm.  I guess we took the backroads because it is ostensibly illegal to drive on the highway with a truck bed full of kids.  Often, we would have apples with us.  If we stopped by the package store (liquor store) on the way (at the county line, as it was a dry county), we might also have bottles of Yoo-hoo.  But it’s apples I’m thinking remembering.

I can remember the frustration of trying to eat my apple when the wind was blowing my hair around the face.  My hair would fly into my mouth, or stick to the apple.  I couldn’t keep it out of my face long enough to get a bite.  An off-shoot of this memory is remembering eating apples–in the same situation–without front teeth.  I can feel the ridged metal of the truck cab against my back, and hear/feel the rushing wind around us.  I can remember my bare feet and bug-bitten legs, and wanting to sit up on the humps that cover the tires, to see out.  Without front teeth, I’d eat the apple with my side-back teeth.  The apple would be against my cheek, and the side of my mouth.  My cheek would be covered with apple juice, sticky, and it would run down my chin.  I felt sort of dirty, and awkward, but I wanted the apple, so I persisted.

The first bite was the hardest, getting a tear in the surface of the apple with my side teeth.  Then, I would push whatever edge stuck out the most up into the side of my mouth, and tear/pull a bite off.  Messy.

And when I finished, I would throw the core, as hard as I could, into a ditch.  Twenty years later or more, all of this comes back to me.  There are breezes in New York, but for some reason they don’t make me remember things like this.

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I read this two days ago, and can’t stop thinking about it.  (I’m quoting directly from Broadsheet, on Salon.com):

“Preteen bikini waxing helps save money for college! According to Wanda’s European Skin Care Center’s Web site, ‘Virgin hair can be waxed so successfully that growth can be permanently stopped in just 2 to 6 sessions. Save your child a lifetime of waxing … and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!'”

So, we have learned that

1) Preteens also need/want/should have bikini waxes.  I cannot believe where they might have seen or have heard of that idea.  Not to be gross, but is a wax even waranted at that age?

2) Mothers should begin doing it as soon as possible, because the earlier one starts, the less hair one will end up with–with this logic, a girl could come to adolescence and womanhood hairless–with none of the secondary characteristics of female maturity.

3) Doing so is as responsible as saving for college.

I can’t get this story out of my mind.  Who are these potential customers, mothers, decision-makers?  How do you tell your ten-year-old about this, how do you pitch it to her, convince her, that it’s a wonderful thing–how do you influence her vanity and growing sense of self-confidence to make her want it?  And if you did these things, wouldn’t you, in reality, be diminishing who your daughter is in the world?  Wouldn’t you be perverting her own God-given sense of strength and beauty?

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This past week, I did a drama camp for kids at one of my churches.  It was outrageous, wild, messy, and fun.  Exhausting for me.  Great for them.  And I got goosebumps (from experiencing stories from the Bible in their eyes) at least once a day.  So, great for me, too.

On Tuesday, the kids were shrieking before I could get into the playground.

The playground is small, and smashed between the back of our church and the housing project behind the church.  It has its fair share of condom wrappers, never-clever grafitti, and trash, but it’s perfect for right after lunch, when I need to let the kids get their wiggles out.

On Tuesday, a dying pigeon flopped at the foot of the playground equipment-piece. (A hybrid, with ramp, slide, and bridge, but no swings.)  The bird’s neck had a deep gash, and so twisted to one side.  It’s wings couldn’t help it fly, but shook uselessly, randomly, violently.  The children were, of course, captivated.  I could not cajole them to “Go play.”  

They needed so say aloud every thing about the pigeon.  

Its beak was opening and shutting.  Its eyes were shiny.  It did not blink.  It was dying.  It was sick.  It’s wings were shaking!  It could not fly!  It is sick.  It feels bad.  Something is wrong with it’s neck.  What is wrong with it’s neck?  Where is it’s mom?   It’s dead.  Look at it!  It’s shaking!

It really was ugly. I can’t imagine how it cut its neck like that.  Had I a stick, or a ditch, I could have somehow scooted it off of the playground.  We talked about it; on Kai’s suggestion, I said we would pray for it.  Eventually, the bird drug itself to a puddle, and pathetically sipped some water.  I said it probably felt better.  Kai said, “You’re probably going to think about it tonight, won’t you?”  I said I would.  She said, “Me too.”

Wednesday, there was no sign of the bird.  Thursday, it was officially dying, clearly worse, and back to the foot of the play equipment.  For the first ten minutes of play time, the kids were in a tight knot around the bird, scooting closer until I asked them to take baby steps back (because of germs).

Twice, its wings flustered.  Its eyes never did blink.  Occasionally, its beak would move.  One boy threw leaves at it, until the disapproval of the group checked his behavior.  They were pretty quiet, and really didn’t have many questions.  Nya noticed that in the tree above, and all along the gutter, dozens of pigeons perched, apparently watching.  She said, “It’s his family, it’s a funeral.”

The bird did die.  It was so filthy; its wings were all matted together, its neck wound terribly black and greasy-looking.  Odd angles.  A few asked about prayer.

We made a ring around the bird, holding hands.  Caroline didn’t say she wouldn’t hold Tula’s hand.  They didn’t even scuffle for position. They just held hands.  I kept my eyes open, because I wanted to keep looking at the bird. I suspect they did as well.  

As I prayed aloud, I could see the shadow of Caroline’s braids, and the one barrette left at the end of one.  I could see the shadow of Tula’s curls, and my skirt, and Ryan’s fidgeting.  I could see the shadow of our ring, of the tree branches.  The playground surface was stained, the bird’s eyes were still open, the occasional siren or taxi horn played behind us.

We said, “Amen,” and lined up near the wall to leave.  As soon as we were in line, a uniformed park worker walked right up to the bird, picked it up with gloved hand, and put it into a trash bag.  She carried it away.  We were astonished.  I wouldn’t have imagined picking it up so matter-of-factly.  The kids couldn’t believe it just went in a bag like that.  Ryan ran after the worker, and said, “Why did you do that?  Where are you taking it?”  I couldn’t hear what she said.

So: prayer and everyday cleaning, moments apart.  The sublime and the profane, right after lunch.  I guess the bird went in the trash.  In the prayer, I said that although we didn’t know God’s plan for birds, we prayed for it to find bird peace and everything else good for it.

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A Greek city

How appropriate that as soon as Greek was finished, I would travel to Philadelphia.

It was so good to be in the home of one of my former roommates, and her lovely family.  I feasted on Indian food, heard many, many religious stories (and had a great idea for a paper on stories from Christianity and Islam), and had serious girlfriend with my dear friend.  We traveled South Street, bought vintage handbags, visited coffeeshops and an oh-so-cute bakery, straightened our hair and got pedicures.  We stayed up chatting late into the night, and compared ideas for our upcoming weddings.  We watched three movies, an episode of _Lost_, and looked at lots of bridesmaids’ dresses and photos.  Goodness.

I didn’t realize until mid-way through my trip how much I needed a break.  Even though it’s summer, I was taking my class and working two of my three jobs.  I’ve also been fretting about my upcoming thesis (my second in two years) and finished a huge move into our new apartment. I try to remind myself that even good stress is still stress.  It’s been a lot to take in.

Lounging, watching movies in midday, and wandering wherever we like was balm to my “monkey-mind.”  I often feel guilty if I’m not doing something productive, but somehow it’s easier to be free with a dear friend.

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