Peeps and Pictures

My husband’s youngest brother, Ken, passed away last September in Kansas. The New York memorial service was held this past Friday.

Bud’s sister, Jeannie, gave a eulogy. It reminded me a little of my own words about my brother Stewart — how we all carry pieces of our loved ones with us.

In her eulogy, Jeannie said, “[Ken] was the kind of person who would buy a huge roll of paper, paint, a palette, and not brushes, but Marshmallow Peeps for his kids to paint with for Easter.” I loved that image of Ken — fun, creative, involved with his kids.

The day after Ken’s memorial service, we had a Zaengle family reunion. Bud is number two of thirteen children — plus a cousin came to live with them when her mother died.

So Bud’s parents raised fourteen children.

In a tiny house.

With one bathroom.

But I digress.

His father passed away over 10 years. Bud’s brother, Jack, passed away in 2007, and then Ken in 2017.

On Saturday I tried to sneak a photo while a real photographer was taking a group picture of the remaining nuclear family. Clearly, I am NOT a photographer — Tom’s face is hidden behind Jeannie’s pink hat, Don is half hidden by Joe, and Mary is all but obliterated by Anne. But here they are:


Maybe when the big group pictures are available, I’ll post one here.

I left the party early on Saturday to bring Mary to a “thing.” (Trust me, there WILL be a post about that at a future time.)

The next morning, Bud was telling me about what I missed in the evening.

“Ellie did the cutest thing,” he said. Ellie is Ken’s daughter.

Ellie

Bud said, “She had a box full of little squares of yellow paper. She had drawn a picture on each one, and the picture told a story. She was handing them out and I got one of the last ones.”

He pulled it out of his pocket to show me.

“The person on the right,” Bud explained, “loves candy. He’s standing outside a candy store and looking in the window at all the candy. And he’s drooling because he wants to eat it all.”

I laughed.

And looked for the Peeps in the candy display.

Clearly, Peeps would not be found in the candy store though. They would be in the art store. With all the brushes.

I could see Ken in Ellie and in her picture.

Thank you, Jeannie, for that reminder to look for Ken. It’s a beautiful way to remember those who have gone before.

Dr. Purple’s Fall

Those who know me well know that I have spent hours researching Dr. William Purple from Greene. He was a fascinating man who lived a long life in service to his family, his community, and his profession.

The following story is based in fact; I’ve tried to tell it with Dr. Purple’s voice.

William D. Purple lived from 1802 to 1886. He and his wife, Julia, had four children: Julia, Agnes, William, and Mary.


October 4, 1864

Ah, William. You are my Icarus. How I longed to see you fly to safety!

When you registered for the Civil War draft in June of 1863, my heart nigh burst with pride and broke for sorrow. And when your name was called to serve, you readied yourself.

But you began a cough. With the date fast approaching for the regiment to leave, your cough grew worse. When I saw the blood in your sputum, I knew.

Consumption.

I had heard of soldiers leaving for the war and being sent home with consumption, but far more tales were of young soldiers who died away from home from that dread disease. I wanted to be sure of your care.

We scraped together the $300 to pay the commutation fee and release you from service. $300, dear Icarus, for wax and feathers, and, through friends, a bank job in the north, where the air is fresh and clean and curative. I had hoped that you would carve a place for yourself in the banking world.

You had not the heedless hubris of the ancient Icarus. What did Mr. Averell, the bank president say in his letter? “William was a man of great simplicity of character, purity of purpose, confiding and generous in his feelings. He will be missed.”

Yes, you will be missed by no one more than me. I missed you the moment I put you on the stage for Canton, daring to hope that it would not be the last time I would see you alive. Yet, one year later those waxen wings, the escape that I, your Daedalus had planned for you, dipped you toward the netherworld before allowing you to soar to Heaven itself.

I walked last night as if in a dream. It was a moonless night and I had not brought a lantern. As I passed the open doors of  the Chenango House, light streamed out. I could hear laughter and music within. Once passed, I walked in darkness and all I could hear was the flowing water of the Chenango River. It beckoned me, like the Icarian Sea.

“Come,” it said, “I can reunite you with your William, your Icarus.” I walked toward it, my thoughts lost in heavy grief. “Come,” whispered the river.

I remember approaching the bridge. The night was cool and I hadn’t worn an overcoat.

The next thing I remember was August Willard kneeling over me, his lantern held aloft by my Mary. My left arm, cold and wet, draped into the river. My feet felt tangled, and rested up the steep embankment that was strewn with leftover canal stone dumped there years ago. My head ached; the rocky pillow upon which it rested was coarse, cold, and damp.

“William,” August said, whilst shaking my shoulders, “Julia is so worried. We must get you home.”

Mary set the lantern on a rock and assisted August in getting me upright and to level ground. I leaned heavily on the two of them as we slowly made our way home. My whole body was bruised, but my left side – my shoulder, arm, hip and leg – was badly abraded as well. Blood from a gash in my head continued to trickle down my cheek as we walked. Julia paled as she saw us enter the house.

“I’ve been so frightened for you, William,” she cried, gently placing her hand on my bloody cheek before hurrying into my office for some medical supplies.

The story unfolded to me as August tended my wounds. I had been gone for hours. Julia had sent Mary across the street to August’s house. She roused him and he willingly searched for me. But, how long had I lain below the bridge? That was a mystery.

Had I accidentally stumbled?

The night was so very dark, and my thoughts occupied by one thing, my only son’s death.

Or, had I heeded the river’s call?

“Come, Daedalus. I will give you wings to fly to your son.”


The Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus can be read here: Icarus and Daedalus

Consumption is better known as tuberculosis. During the Civil War, an estimated 14,000 soldiers died from tuberculosis. In the Union camps, it was treated with “fresh air” and lung surgery. Outside the war, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the 19th century.

It’s November 3rd, That’s Why

Two years ago this — Helen and I kept vigil through the night with my mother. Helen had snapped this picture while I was dozing.

Three generations of hands

I went home in the wee hours, grabbed a little sleep, then went back to the hospital to relieve Helen.

After struggling so much the day before, making terrible gurgling sounds as she tried to breathe, my mother finally slept peacefully. I think the atropine helped.

Atropine gets its name from Atropos, one of the Fates, the one who chooses the mechanism of death and ends a mortal’s life. I find that both strange and interesting.

But my mother slept.

And we took turns sleeping.

At the end, Helen was sleeping when my mother passed away. My siblings were all there, but Helen, who had been so close to my mom, so faithful and present in so many ways, was not. In retrospect, I should have called her. But I didn’t know when the thread of life would finally be severed. None of us really do.

November 3rd feels heavy, like a weight on my heart.

My friend, Michael McNevin, wrote a song we play every November 4. The first few lines run through my mind unbidden.

Thinking of the cold to come…

It was 61° this morning — not very cold, but I shivered anyway. Today my father goes for a physical as a step toward entering an adult home. I am so unsettled with this decision. Ah, the cold to come.

From what I hear it will make me numb…

I remember the numbness after my mother died. I don’t want to feel that again, and yet, it is inevitable. My father walks more slowly now, shuffling along with his walker. His pacemaker paces 90% of the time. His thinking is muddled at an unquantifiable percentage.

Two of his peers took him to lunch the other day. When his friend brought him home, he pulled me aside. “Your father really couldn’t follow any of the conversation today,” he said, “And he fixated on one small thing. That was all he could talk about.”

Yes, I’ve noticed that, too. It makes me sad.

Look at how the wind goes by…

A breeze refreshes, but the wind is the wind. It blows through our lives – pushing us along, trying to hold us back, knocking dead branches out of trees, grabbing loose items and skittering them away.

Two years ago my mother died on a cold November day.

I can remember walking up the hill to the hospital that last time when she was still alive. It was still dark, maybe 5 AM. I wanted to give Helen a chance to sleep. The wind blew tiny raindrops against my cheeks — portending tears to come.

It’s November 3rd, that’s why.

 

Mr. Hanson

Image from ALLOTSEGO.com from Veteran’s day 2016 — Mr. Hanson on the right

I don’t think he was there the first time we visited the Methodist Church a few  years ago, but he was the second or third time we went back.

“Sally,” he said to me in his strong deep voice. I was flattered that he remembered me. It had been 40-some years since I sat in his 7th grade math class.

“Hi, Mr. Hanson,” I replied.

“You can call me Dick, you know,” he said, smiling. “You’re an adult now.”

“I don’t think I can,” I said to him.

Teachers, especially good ones, have a special status. When I hear kids today calling teachers by their first name, or, worse, just their last name, I cringe a little inside.

Sunday after Sunday he would engulf my hand in his while he greeted me. If I called him Mr. Hanson, he would give me a look and then say, “Dick, please,” so I took to calling him nothing.

“Good morning!” “Good to see you today!” “Merry Christmas!” I avoided the naming, and he allowed me to, until one Sunday, he said, “C’mon. You can say it.” He held my hand and waited.

I took a deep breath, and said, “Dick?” in the smallest of voices, and quickly followed it with “I don’t think I can.”

He looked at me a long time, then let go of my hand. “Okay,” he said, and he smiled at me but never mentioned the name thing again.

Mr. Hanson was one of those larger than life teachers. A former marine. Physically a big guy. A booming voice. A great smile.

I said something to another woman at church who had had him as a teacher. “I just can’t call him anything but Mr. Hanson,” I told her.

“I know,” she said, ” but let me tell you something about him. Do you remember when I was in the hospital?”

I did. When we were in school, she had been in a tobogganing accident that resulted in a broken neck, broken jaw, and months in the hospital. I spent many afternoons sitting in her room with her. Her jaw was wired shut. A device that resembled tongs attached to her skull and held her neck in traction via weights that hung down over the end of the bed.

“My mother was taking a mandatory First Aid class for teachers on Monday nights,” she said, “and she must have mentioned something about it to Mr. Hanson because he started showing up in my hospital room on Monday nights to visit. He never said anything to her about it, and it took me a long time to figure it out, but on the one night she couldn’t be with me, he came by.”

I wondered how many other Mr. Hanson stories are out there.

Therein is greatness.

Not doing big things that draw attention and bring accolades, but in doing the small things, unnoticed and unseen, but not unimportant.

Mr. Hanson died last week.

I’m sorry (not sorry) that I could never bring myself to call him Dick. I’ll miss his strong handshake, resonant voice, and warm smile. I’ll miss his presence.

Rest in peace, sir.

For Ken

The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Like starting in the middle of a book
Unaware of what will be and what has been

This brotherhood — primarily of gene
Familiarity that never took
The weight off being youngest of thirteen

Age differences far outside the mean
Busy lives — too oft we overlook
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Roads diverge — picture, please, the scene
We traipse along and nary take a look
At the weight of being youngest of thirteen

Checking in — “Hey! How’ve you been?”
Connections never made and never took
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Substance solace sought when still a teen
Became a gap impossible to brook
The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Unaware of what will be and what has been


My husband’s youngest brother passed away last week, and I’ve really struggled to find words for my feelings.

When I met Ken he was two years old and running naked through the yard, laughing. Bud caught him, scooped him up, and in a move that amazed me at the time, still amazes me today, and told me that Bud would be a great dad someday,  put child and diaper back together in a fraction of a second.

Over the next few years, I played countless games of Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City with Ken and his sister, Jeannie. Like every 3 or 4 year old, he cheated to win, because he understood that the point of the game was to get to the Strawberry House, but he didn’t necessarily understand that there were rules involved.

Zaengle family walk — 1984 — Ken on a bike in front

Bud and I married, moved away, started our own family, came back again, and Ken was school age.

By the time he was a teen, our family had expanded and kept expanding. When Kenny made some poor choices, Bud tried to be involved with getting him on the right track — but a 23 year age difference doesn’t make for an ideal brotherly relationship. Lord knows, though, they tried.

And life goes on.

Every family has struggles. And splinters. Ours was no different.

We lost touch.

No, I’ll say it — I blocked him on Facebook because I couldn’t handle the weight of his struggles along with the weight of my own. Does that make me a terrible person? Probably.

But it doesn’t change the fact that we loved him — even though we didn’t know the right way to go about showing it.

I’m sad that Kenny’s gone.

And I’ll treasure the memory of that little boy laughing in the front yard — back when demons weren’t chasing him, only big brothers with diapers.

My sympathy goes to Sarah, Oden, Ellie, and Evan.

Lessons from Tuga

“I suppose I should take a picture of you,” I said to Tuga, pulling him out of my pocket yesterday while I walked around town.

He said nothing, which felt almost like a dare. I dare you to take pictures of a plastic rabbit. Won’t you look foolish!

Ah, but I knew better. I was on the last leg of my walk, going down the path. Nobody walks on the path, especially after it rains because of the mud and it had just rained. I doubted anyone would see me photographing my plastic bunny.

I set him in a dry patch of grass.
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He laid his ears back and didn’t look happy.

Oh, wait, his ears are always back.

He’s not supposed to be happy.

“Tuga,” I said, “you’re supposed to teach me something this Lent.”

I was hoping for a little more cooperation.

“How about you look out at the river?” I said, moving him a little and stepping back. I was thinking of the scene from Watershed Down where the rabbits must escape across the river.

But the blue sky with its big puffy clouds reflected so beautifully in the water that I took another step back to include it. Tuga, my little sorrowing bunny, all but got lost in the shot.

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It struck me — isn’t that the way it is with sorrow? In the bigness and busy-ness of life, the sorrowing one can get lost.

I picked him up and tucked him in pocket, knowing I would have to ponder that a little more.

When I reached the stone bridge, I set Tuga on a parapet.img_1301

He looked rather lost in there, too. So small.

That’s when I saw the man on the stone bridge talking on his cell phone. We briefly made eye contact before I grabbed Tuga and stuffed him in my pocket again, hurrying on down the path.

Once again, I was struck by the picture of sorrow. How often do sorrowing people stuff their emotions away because they’re embarrassed or self-conscious?

If nothing else, Tuga is teaching me an awareness for the sorrowful. In my own busyness, I may pass them by, or, in their self-consciousness, they may hide their feelings.

Lord, make me more aware!

 

Shadow and Light

I rotated the ivy the other day.  It was reaching for the window and had turned all its leaves to the sun.

Sometimes I think we’re like plants — craving light, seeking light, pursuing light.

The shadows are okay, though. I’m learning to lean in.

I looked through old pictures for shadow shots. This one caught my eye. The shadow tells us something the shot otherwise wouldn’t reveal.

frame-09-02-2017-08-26-09

These simply accentuate the beauty of the building, especially its columns.

Summer day

Summer day

village-hall

Winter evening

I liked the shadows from the old bridge.

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And the long leg shadows in a late afternoon sun.img_0736

I was happily looking through lots of old pictures.  Then, I stopped.

In the pictures below, you won’t see the shadows, but I do.

On New Year’s Eve 2004, we played a family game of Scattergories. My brother, Stewart, was there. I could hear his voice, his laugh. He always loved games.

Stewart

Stewart

I felt a lump in my throat looking at Stewart’s picture. We’ll never play games with him again.

Then I saw this — my mother and father consulting on Scattergories.100_1930

They made a good team.grammie-laughing

And had a lot of fun.

That lump in my throat grew.

I miss those days.

But they’re just a shadow now.

Like my ivy, it’s time to turn back to the light.