Let’s Talk Teeth

Let’s talk teeth.  They are, after all, forefront on my mind since I had Number 10 pulled and the pain began the next day and never stopped.  I’ve had teeth pulled before and the pain generally stops once the offending tooth is removed.  This tooth was not in pain to start with, so I had gone into this with an inflated sense of confidence that everything would be easy.   I’ve been to the dentist five times this past week and a half.  Once to the oral surgeon who did the ever so gentle ‘yanking out’ of the tooth and four other times to my own dentist for follow-up or what we might call “why am I still in pain appointments”.

The politically correct term for the ‘yanking out’ of the tooth is extraction.  And to be honest, the oral surgeon was a nice lady and she did get it out in one piece with minimal stress.  Making the left turn out of her parking lot onto a very busy street was actually more stressful.  Yes, I broke my long-standing practice of avoiding left turns.  Left turns, in my opinion, tend to inconvenience others which attracts attention to me that I don’t want. Left turns take extra time while I wait for my ‘window’ of opportunity and create a situation where I could be hit by cars coming from either direction rather than just the one direction, resulting in an accident which would be more inconvenience.  I don’t care for inconvenience.  So unless there is a light with a left arrow, I avoid left turns.  Try moving about the planet with that mindset.  The alternative here was a right turn taking me into downtown and no one wants to do that if they do not have to.  Or is that just me?

So there I sat edging my way out onto Broad Street, four lanes wide, with a giant gauze blob sticking out of my mouth.  You see, prior to the extraction, the oral surgeon had to remove the temporary bridge I was wearing.  I call it the “Bridge of Dreams”.  It is what I always wanted my front teeth to look like. Like everyone else, straight, orderly, no giant gaps because of one tooth that opted to be shy and grow inward. She tried hard to hide the pair of pliers she used to pull the bridge out first but I saw them as well as the other tool for the extraction itself.  After the extraction and a single, ‘it will fall out on its own’ stitch, she replaced the bridge and gave me gauze to bite down on.

“Keep your mouth shut until you get to Dr. Thomas’s office,” were my instructions after writing the check for $275.00 and handing it over to the receptionist.  The gauze would help with the clotting and keep the bridge in place until Dr. Thomas could reset the temporary bridge.

I had asked the oral surgeon’s nurse prior to the procedure, “Could I have the tooth?  I’ve never asked for one before, but this one is symbolic,” I said.

Part of me was looking forward to this. It was a big step. She smiled politely and said yes. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

“So you want to put it under your pillow?”  the oral surgeon asked when I repeated the request. I wasn’t taking any chances that I hadn’t been heard.

“No,” I said, starting to get annoyed by the wait and now a silly question.  I had been a half hour early, typical me; they were running a half hour late, typical them and then no one could seem to unzip the email attachment with the tooth’s x-ray attached for their reference. I almost got up out of the chair to offer my help.  My sense of calm, which I had carefully prepared over the past month, was starting to wear thin now that ‘yanking’ of the tooth was eminent.

“It’s symbolic.” I said more to myself then to her.  I was not explaining this again. I was 55 years old and this tooth had been in my way for nearly my whole life, you do the math. I was ready, let’s do it.

My oldest brother had a similar tooth, but his grew outward.  I vividly remember the day we took him to an oral surgeon when I was around five, he ten.  I remember the waiting room was busy and my mother took us out in the hall to wait.  It was gray.  Everything, the walls, the floor, the ceiling.  At least in the waiting room there had been some children’s magazines – Highlights – I loved the hidden picture puzzles.  Why did we have to be pulled away from those?  We were milling around in the hall when we heard my brother screaming.  Not a normal shriek, but a bloody murder painful scream that lives in memories for a long time.  Apparently we’d gone to wait at the exact wrong end of the hall if my mother had been trying to protect us from anything scary.

We didn’t spend any extra time at dentists after that.  When my own wonky tooth came in, growing inward instead of outward as his did, it was decided that it could be left alone.  I used to try and try to push it outward with my tongue so that it was in the right place. So that I could smile and it would look like everyone else.  But had I been asked if I wanted it removed, I would have said a very definite “NO, Thank you,” remembering that scream and the condition of my brother after his appointment.

What about braces for me later?  While I know that the real issue was money, an equally large part of the issue was fear.  Fear and money probably keep people from doing a lot of things in their lives.

Braces would have costs thousands of dollars, even then.  It was the early seventies and my father was either on strike or laid off at least once every year for a period of several months.  My mother was already making what we had go as far as possible.  Not only would braces have been a large expense, but they would have meant endless extra visits to a dentist for adjustment.  My mother did not drive and the idea that my father would set aside this time was not an idea anyone would entertain.  It would have created inconvenience.  And then there was the potential for pain.  Braces are painful.  Painful to put in, painful to wear, painful to adjust.  Wires….those could not possibly be gentle in anyone’s mouth.  To have a child in pain, would have been a constant distraction from all of my mother’s daily chores and obligations taking care of a large family.

So braces had never been an option.  I was silent as a child for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was embarrassment over that tooth. I got the message.  Keep your mouth shut.  Don’t speak unless you are spoken to.  Don’t contradict an adult even when they are wrong.  Don’t be stupid. Don’t be smart.  Don’t be a smartass.  Do not question. In teaching me to not be outspoken, I was silenced. The tooth just created a physical reason to stay that way.

We did go for regular dental check-ups and once in a while I had cavities that had to be filled.  Dear old Dr. Herrmann was our regular dentist.  I am sure he only seemed old.  The office smelled of antiseptic, but as he got close all I smelled was cigarette smoke.  Later I heard he drank a lot at the office.  I never smelled that.  Considering all the drinkers in the family, I might have found the scent of whiskey comforting.  Even so, it was always more the fear of pain, then the actual pain that was the real issue.  It still is.  Imagination mixed with a little memory are powerfully dangerous in terms of my anticipation.

So why now, why at 55?  About four years ago, around the time I was changing, I was referred by a friend to my current dentist for a broken tooth.  I had the money that I had not had in the past and wanted to take care of a few other teeth as well.  I’d lived with that wayward tooth for my whole life. It had not crossed my mind that it, too, could be taken care of.  This was around the time I had stopped eating wheat and discovered I was a different person – I had less anxiety, less depression, was less withdrawn and less introverted.  It was at the beginning of the new me so why not a new mouth?  During one visit, while Dr. Thomas was joking and putting me at ease, I noticed that he had something in his hand.  He had taken a little bit of putty they use and fashioned a tiny tooth.

“I’ve been thinking about something,” he said, “Open and I’ll show you.”  I opened.  He tucked the little tooth into the gap created by Number 10 hiding mostly behind where it should be.  Laura, the tech that supported him smiled and handed me a mirror.

“Have a look,” he said.  “What do you think?”

What could I think?  Wow!  WOW!  It fit right in, it made my front teeth look….normal for the first time in my life.

“That’s cool,” I said, “But…”  There were always ‘buts’.

“We have a plan, remember, and there are a lot of other teeth to take care of first.  It’s just something for you to think about.  First you should talk to others about options.  I would make you a bridge, but an orthodontist can tell you if braces are an option and I have someone you can speak to about implants to see if those options are something you want to pursue.  We will work on our plan and you can start doing your research.”

It was something to think about.  And it was pretty much all I could think about.  I used to get bored with work and Photoshop a tooth into that spot on my picture just to remind myself what he had shown me. I wanted that tooth.  I wanted it right away.  But we had a plan, so other work was done first.  And there was the money.  I would have the money but it needed to be spread out over the next several years.

I visited three different orthodontists about braces.  The first was a younger doctor who took one look in my mouth and at me.  I suppose I looked to him an unattractive, overweight older woman with some sort of vanity issue.

“It’s not going to make any difference in your life to have this fixed,” he informed me.   I heard the words “so why bother” after.   I cried for three days and did not see the next orthodontist for six months.

The next one ran what appeared to me clearly a “braces mill”.  It was an extremely busy office with an open floorplan exam area.  It had a trendy feel with one high-tech chair after another lined up like a hair salon with sparkling mouthed teenagers streaming in and out.  To their mind everyone should have braces and their expensive equipment and fancy cars in the parking lot supported that.

The third and final orthodontist was a very down to earth older fellow who spent a lot of time gently measuring my mouth.

“Wow, your mouth opens really wide,”  he announced putting his ruler away.

“Are you trying to tell me I have a big mouth?” I asked.

“I don’t really know you well enough to make that judgment.”

We had a nice rapport quickly.  If I wanted braces, yes, there would be discomfort, yes, it would take years, but, yes this tooth could be brought into line with the others over time.  It was the no bullshit approach to which I responded well.  If I had opted for the braces route, you know which I would have picked no doubt?

I visited one specialist about implants.  As she drove a metal pick into my mouth repeatedly making me squirm and cry out, I had images of doctors in death camps torturing prisoners.  She was very German and very cold.  Wait a sec, I’m German!

So for years, we’ve worked our plan.   A repaired root canal here, new root canal and a bridge there with time in between to heal and forget any “discomfort”.  My dentist knows how to make me comfortable.  He and his staff have taught me it is okay to be honest and to speak.  I can ask for a neck pillow.  I can request to wear the lead vest even when I am not getting x-rays (try it, it is super comforting).  And the best part.

“Here’s your puzzle for the day,”

My dentist will enter and tape a post-it to the light over my head.  I started that when I was trying to distract myself from my anxiety during one of my early visits and I noticed a company name inside that bright light over my head.  I started to list words in my head using the letters of that company’s name. Of course, I had rules. I always have rules.  No words under three letters, no proper names, etc.  I found 45 words.  It had great vowels. He caught on that I was doing something and asked.  Now, every appointment, he adds a new word on a post-it to that light so I have a new game to play.  He has tried to give me logic puzzles and number puzzles but nothing works as well as a word puzzle for me in that situation.

During this week of pain that would not stop.  I called his office.  I texted him at home.  He always says come in.  There is never any hesitation and no issue that I do not have an appointment.  First we removed the ‘it will dissolve on its own’ stitch.  It was under the bridge and perhaps rubbing it the wrong way.  It looked like a huge rope!  I was sure that was the culprit.  It wasn’t.  I went back.  They squeezed me in again.  I was concerned I was wearing out my welcome.

Dr. Thomas tried to remove the temporary bridge that had been removed several times that week.  This one time, I nearly jumped out of the chair.  Bring on the Novacain.  Dr. Thomas went to check on a patient with an appointment while the drug took affect.   Very quickly my upper lip felt as though it expanded several feet out from my face and then deflated into a cold, unfeeling, fleshy fold over my teeth.  Laura left the room for a moment and I happened to reach up and touch my nose. That was a huge mistake.

I couldn’t feel my nose.  “Oh my God,” I thought,  “I am alone here and I am going to suffocate to death!”  Some rational part of my mind that I am not generally in touch with took over, “You can breathe through your nose even without feeling your nose,” it said.  Then it repeated it over and over again.  After a number of repetitions, I stopped believing it.  Laura returned to the room just as I was about to panic out loud.

“Oh dear,” she said in a tone worthy of a nurse in a mental ward, “I left you along too long.”  And look what I’ve gone and done. I’ve gotten myself into a state.

She made me take deep breaths and let them out slowly.  I was okay around the fourth breath, but she went on to seven.  It was exhausting. The bridge was removed and shaved down inside and replaced.  When the Novocain wore off that day, I had the strangest feeling.  I felt normal. There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  It was as though the tooth had not even been extracted.  My tongue knew it had, because it keeps checking.  It wasn’t there.

(I know….ewww)

After all, I had it in an envelope.  My first impression of it, laying there in my hand, was that it was smaller than I’d imagined.  It had seemed so large and out of place in my mouth all those years. But it was, in reality, so small.  The tip was bent.  It probably should not have come out so easily or in one piece.  But it did, and I have it.  It is, after all, symbolic.

In a few months, the permanent bridge will be placed.  The plan will be complete.  This year is the year.

Falling Into Now

I am pretty certain that there was a thud.  There must have been.  I didn’t hear it.  I was eyeballing the mauve carpet strands just an inch or so from my nose.

“I should vacuum more often,” I thought.  That thought faded quickly as thoughts of vacuuming often do.  More important thoughts were running through my mind.  I landed on my shoulder when I fell, that much was successful.

Just a minute or two earlier I had been sitting on the couch putting on my shoes and getting ready to leave for the day.  I had not wanted to forget the camera again, so I had put the camera bag right there on the floor to the left so that I wouldn’t miss it.  Lately I’d been forgetting things – at least one thing every time I left the house.  Sometimes it was my notebook, sometimes it was the tablet, sometimes it was my ear muffs or my extra set of keys.  The odd thing for me to forget was my camera.  It is the one thing other than my cell phone that I could always count on being there in my hand. But that too had been missing several times during the past week. This particular morning, I did not want that to happen.  I was going to be on top of things.

I stood up to go to the kitchen and I stepped over the camera bag with my right foot. As soon as the toe of my right shoe was tangled in the strap and handle from the camera bag, I knew.  I could hear a very calm voice in my head, which was nothing compared to the angry and annoyed voice that came afterward.

The calm voice said, “We’re going down. We’re going down.”  We… we who… it was just me there.  In a rush I knew a multitude of things that were instantly important.  I needed to fall in a way that did not cause major injury.  “Don’t put your hands out, keep your arms in!”  The voice instructed.  There would be no broken bones.  I needed to not hit the coffee table or the treadmill, both of which had hard unforgiving edges.  There would be no concussion.  I had to hit the carpet in between the two and I had to hit on my right shoulder.  Why?  Why was that important?  I think because it was already injured in the last fall and rather than injure the other, it seemed prudent to just add on additional pain to the right.

In the process of falling, I was far too focused on my shoulder because my left knee became twisted and rammed hard against the heavy tread on the bottom of my right boot still tangled up in the camera bag.  That hurt the most.

There were some tears.  Mostly angry ones.  This was not even remotely convenient.  I needed to get to an appointment.  I needed to not be in pain. I took inventory as I laid there noticing how pink the carpet was.  The shoulder had been driven into it. But it didn’t seem upset.  I pulled my legs apart and stretched them out, untangled.  I pushed myself up on my knees…that was a mistake but how else would I stand?  There would be no kneeling in my immediate future.  Sorry God.  The right knee had been injured Christmas Eve in a fall on the black ice in a friend’s driveway.  Now this fall had taken out the left.  They weren’t broken, and neither had hit on the knee cap so there would not be fluid building up underneath.  But the bruising seemed to leave behind a tenderness that made kneeling extremely difficult even long after the bruises faded.  It could have been a lot worse.

I rearranged myself, my hair, my clothing and my mind.  I could not remember why I’d gotten up and stepped over the camera bag to start with.  It was time to go.  I was fine.  I needed to get on with the day.

After the fall at Christmas, I remember telling the chiropractor, “I used to fall better.”   He said, “we all used to fall better.  When we get older, the tuck and roll doesn’t come as naturally.”  No kidding. And the older you get, it seems, the more you fall.

I feel as though I remember every time I have ever fallen in my life.  That could be because I haven’t fallen often, but it is more likely because when I fall, I fall hard.  I fell hard down the steps in school in the sixth grade -which I blame on the trendy huge bell bottoms and platform shoes. Middle school stairs are made of granite or some other very unforgiving material. It was only about four steps to the landing.  Prior to being launched into the air, I had been quite proud of myself for balancing on those shoes.  Afterward, as I was picking up my scattered text books and folders, I was not.  In true Middle School fashion in which everything you do is embarrassing, I managed to fall down the steps in full view of the entire cafeteria. Thankfully, the bruises lasted longer than the embarrassment.

I fell hard down the steps to my apartment building one Saturday morning after a freezing rain. Five concrete steps to the landing where I sat and cried from the pain that the brick steps had inflicted upon my back.  I regrouped.  A nice lady in the ground floor apartment came out to make sure I was okay.  I was basically okay.  She indicated I had not been the first.  She couldn’t come help me up because, well, it was really slippery.  I scooted down the rest of the steps on my bum.  Two days later I had to explain the bruises to the gynecologist and several nurses who were certain, in far too enthusiastic a manner, that I was a battered woman.  They did not believe me.

I fell on an icy trail in the woods and went flying down a frozen embankment.  Just before the fall, in a magically flash of intuition, I remember looking down and thinking, “this looks slippery, I should slow down.”  I magically stopped the downward slide by catching one foot around a small tree like a hook.  Yes, that’s twisted. I had managed to hold on to my hiking stick with one hand and my camera with the other.  But I dislocated my shoulder. When I fall, I fall hard.

If you have ever fallen hard, tripping over your own wonderful feet or tripping over something in the dark, the fall is out of control and the landing is so sudden after which the silence of it so deafening – it is a shock.  Like a slap in the face, it successfully makes you stop and pay attention to what has happened.

Now that I think of it I have only ever been slapped in the face one time.  In the tenth grade we were practicing our routines on the balance beam in gym class and little Laura Petit was nervous.  I thought making her laugh would ease some of the tension.  Well she lost balance and had to teeter off the beam.  She turned around and slapped me right across the face.  That was a shock for both of us.  She wasn’t the type of girl to slap.  And I wasn’t the type of girl to get slapped.  But it was followed by more laughter so it was fine.  There is very little laughter when I fall these days.

It is as though I haven’t only fallen down to the ground, a short few feet, or down a few brick steps, a few more feet.  It is as though I’ve somehow fallen through a period of frozen time only to find myself breathless on the ground. So breathless that the force brings me right into the present moment more successfully than all my meditation tricks put together.  And that current moment seems frozen as well – not for long, but long enough to separate all the thoughts before the fall from all the thoughts after.  It is the strangest moment of clarity I’ve ever felt.  It is that moment in between your inhale and your exhale.

Then it is over and I am annoyed with my klutzy self and mad because I know I will be aching for days, possibly limping and unable to hide it.  I am embarrassed even though there is no one to see it.  And for goodness sake, it hurts and I want my mommy.  You never get too old to want your mommy.

But that moment of silent clarity – what is that?  How do I get it back?  Is there something in it I need to see?  Is that why I fall?

No, I fall because I am not paying attention, if that moment of silent clarity is trying to tell me anything, it is trying to tell me to slow down, take a breath…be here…right now.

Which Type?

“Can you do one more thing for me before you go?”  I put down my jacket and went to where my client was standing in a small nook off the main reception area in her office.  There was a huge, seriously huge, electric typewriter stationed at a side table.  I think it is safe to call any typewriter vintage at this point in time.  It was vintage IBM.

“Do you think you can put this ribbon in?”  She handed me a box and I look at it and at the ribbon that was installed in the machine.  The box seemed about half the size it should be, I thought, but did not want to say anything.

“Oh, this is the corrective ribbon,” I said, looking at the manual she had already taken out and had turned to the correct page right there waiting for me on the table.  “Not the ink ribbon.”

“Oh dear,” she said, “they said it was the ribbon.  It isn’t working and the lady I spoke with on the phone suggested a new ribbon.”  She didn’t realize there were two ribbons.

“Okay,” I said,  “Let’s see.”  In this case the corrective ribbon was attached to the main ribbon cartridge a lot like a baby in one of those papoose carriers is attached to a mother’s chest.  I took off the combined cartridge and separated the two.  It has been at least twenty years since I’ve touched on of these machines.  To me it appeared that both the ribbon cartridge and the corrective cartridge were full but I put the new one on anyway.  I was able to advance both ribbons with the gear on the side of the housing.

I reinstalled it and tried to type.  It was faint and growing more faint.  Hmmm.  “The ink tape isn’t advancing as I type,” I announced.  “I do think there is enough of it, but it is not moving along.”  I removed it from the typewriter and looked at it.  If you have ever looked inside an electric typewriter, there is a system of gears.  As you type, gears inside the machine begin to rotate and in turn rotate the ink tape so that each letter gets a fresh spot on the ink tape from the cartridge.  “I don’t think the gears are turning or catching on this,” I mumbled out loud.

There were at least four electrical connections with coated wiring running back and forth right there underneath where the ink cartridge rests. I started to reach inside and then realized it was still turned on.  I was very proud of my brain that a voice inside my head said, “hey, let’s shut off the power first.”  I have a history of getting shocked.  I shut off the power, poked at the gears I could see and I pushed each tiny electrical plug into its connection to make sure each was tight.  I did not know what I was doing. I was just doing what seemed to make sense.  At the back of my mind I am thinking she will need to call someone or replace the monster of a machine with something less vintage. I put the ink cartridge back in, closed the top and turned it on.

I typed “how does this look”.  It was perfect.  It worked.  The ribbon was moving along with each letter. The type was dark and definite.

“What did you do?”  She asked.

“I’m not really sure,” I shrugged, “I just made sure all the connections were tight.  Maybe the vibrations when it is on loosened them.  You are good to go.”   I wanted to ask what on earth she used it for, but decided I did not want to be late for my next appointment.  She was thrilled.  It was one less stress for her day.  It was as though I’d performed a miracle that saved her time, money and more.  I was kind of impressed myself, but I didn’t say.

It was great just using a typewriter again.

My mother was a very fast typist.  She would work as a temp during those weeks or months when my Dad was laid off or when his union sent the employees out on strike. In a one paycheck home, an interruption such as a strike was a serious hindrance to paying bills and buying groceries. With five small children, Mom used her skills to help out.  In addition to temping, she took in typing at home as well to do in the evenings for extra money.  She had a Royal Quiet De Luxe manual typewriter.

image from ias Vintage shop on etsy

‘image from ias Vintage shop on etsy’

I suspect it was a prized possession in addition to being a valuable tool. It weighed a ton! It was tricky to wind the ribbon which was a lot like threading a sewing machine since there were no convenient ribbon cartridges then, but it sung as she typed.  We were always fascinated by how fast she could type.  When she earned enough money she got us a used copy of the Gregg Typing Manual and a small portable manual typewriter.  It had a plastic case and was a pretty baby blue color.  When she was working in the evening, to keep us out of her hair, we would take turns sitting at the other end of the table learning the Qwerty system from the Manual which was bound uniquely to stand up on its own like an easel next to the typewriter.


It did not take long for my brothers to lose interest and abandon the pretty blue machine.  I enjoyed it. It was almost like learning a new language understanding which fingers were responsible for which letters of the alphabet.  At some point I got good enough to use Mom’s Royal typewriter.  It felt so much more impressive.  It was heavier, solid.  When you reached up and swung the arm back to advance to the next line of type, it felt like you were doing something with great authority.  And it also rang and clacked, creating a wonderful rhythm and music.

When I reach the end of a line and had more to include, there was that handy Margin Release key:  MAR REL.  I quickly learned how to foresee the need to hyphenate or hit that key and add a few more letters.  It was about looking ahead, being aware. There was no correction tape in the old manual typewriters.  We had white out but it was often dried out and somewhat gummy to use if you put it on too thick.  Later we had small pieces of correction tape that seemed to give a cleaner correction.  They weren’t really lifting off the incorrect letter so much as covering it up in white so that you could type over it and it was not terribly noticeable.

I always wrote my stories in long hand and then would sit at her typewriter to type them out.  When you stop to think on a manual typewriter there is silence, complete silence until you begin to type again.  Later when using an IBM Selectric for the same purpose, there was a nagging, almost taunting hum if you paused to think.  It was waiting.  It was waiting.  Come on, type something, it seemed to demand.  It was not a supportive writing companion like the manual typewriter was, waiting ibm-selectricpatiently in complete respectful silence.  With electricity had come impatience.

I learned the IBM Selectric in high school typing class.  We were first taught the Qwerty keyboard which I’d known for a number of years, but the practice was more formal and I was able to pick up a great deal more speed on the electric.  On Mom’s manual typewriter, each keystroke popped up a single arm with the letter on it and raised the ribbon up for the key to strike against it onto the paper making its mark.  If I were typing too fast, several of these arms would get caught up in each selectric-font-ballother and I would have to stop and pick them apart and restart.  I always ended up with little ink letters on my fingers. The new electric had all the letters on a tiny little ball that popped up, spun and danced like R2D2. The new electrics also did not have the arm for the return.  It was a simple button, automatic upon arrival at the end of the line.

It was less physical, less emphatic.  Still my keys never got stuck together as my fingers sped along adding text to the page. It never slowed me down.  There were two font choices then, two balls of type that you could easily swap in and out of the housing.  Pica and Elite seemed to be the most popular.  Font size was more about the spacing of the letters on the line than the size of type.  Later there were many more choices and built-in corrective tape.  It was a heavy machine, hard to lift and move, so you didn’t.  It always had its own stand, usually on wheels so you could move it somewhere convenient to work.

I avoided using a computer for many years having entered college just before they became widespread in use.  When I did start, I was ahead of the game, having learned the Qwerty keyboard as a child.  The speed potential on the computer was stunning.  I loved it.  I could type as fast as I could think and the keys never stuck.  There was less humming at me during the pauses, but the cursor was always there blinking, waiting, not impatient but a persistent reminder that something comes next.  What is that?

I left my client’s office feeling quite pleased, not that I had fixed her machine, but that I had gotten to type on it.  Even just a few short sentences had reminded me how good that felt.  There is a hum and rhythm to the old typing sessions that people do not get to experience on today’s computer keyboards.  And there was a physicality to writing with a typewriter that I am doubtful can even be described to people who have never experienced a manual or even an older model electric typewriter.  I miss that.  I might have to go find myself a typewriter.

Statute of Limitations on Grief

I moved away from home late in life.  I knew I needed the distance or I would suffocate.  I needed a chance to see who I might be without all of “Them”.  I recall planning it.  I pinpointed three or four places I thought I would apply for jobs and see which came up with the best options.  I interviewed by phone.  I got a job and I moved.  It’s been 16 or 17 years now.

Prior to moving my mother gave me all the genealogy work she had accumulated and boxes of old photos.  Not the immediate family albums, though, those were on a shelf in the living room and she and my father looked at them frequently.  The ones with pictures of me, I did not get even after they passed.  The people who emptied the house either have them or relocated them to dumpsters. While I was not fond of my immediate family a large part of my life was invested in them. They are after all part of the genealogy. We have a connection.

This past weekend I was working on some of the hints at Ancestry.com where I put the tree and every couple of years spend time on it.  You hit a wall, you get busy with work, you let it go for a while.  Around the holidays, it always seems to rise up and demand some attention.  So I attend to it.  I added a bunch of scanned images to the profiles at various levels.  Then I started to go through the hints.

There are more divorce and obituary records available now than there were before.  Recent records that while they do not include a lot of specifics and documents, do include dates and some links to memorials on other sites.  This holiday I discovered that some not at all distant relatives had died, a first cousin and his wife.  One in 2010 and one in 2012.  They were only slightly older than I was. I remembered how my cousin used to come to our family picnics. He always made me laugh.  He was a good guy.

It made me sad that I did not know at the time. No one called.  No one emailed.  I did not see it on Facebook. I am not an avid reader of the obituaries back home.  Perhaps I should be.   Would I have made the trip for a funeral?  Probably not.  So what right do I have being sad?  They were related.  I did know them.  I did like them.  I had enjoyed family picnics with them. I had been at their wedding.  I guess it is a sadness slightly removed.  And it was years ago, so why be sad now?  The statue of limitations on some crimes starts only when the crime is remembered by the victim.  I say that it is the same for grief, it is a fresh grief the first time you hear it even if the actual death was years earlier.  Perhaps not as “fresh” as with someone you are with at the time of their death, but still new in the heart regardless of time.

My emotions, my rules.




#grief #sadness #genealogy

Two Libraries and a Book Nook

I remember two libraries from my childhood.  The first was our local library.  It was a small town so it was a small one room library, a branch of the library from a larger city nearby.  That one room, opened the year I turned seven (1968), was roughly 12 by 20 feet contained old wood shelving that soared over my head.  The shelves were shiny with varnish and worn smooth from years of books leaving and returning.  I wondered if the books came back and discussed the families they’d been to visit.

There were just two shelves I was allowed to draw from.  Two shelves for my age.  Two thirty inch long spaces with hardcover books that contained the potential to take me to other places, other countries, other worlds.  When I was older, there were more shelves for me.  I quickly read through all that was available to me.  Then I read them again.  And again.  There was always something more to discover in the words, the language, the imagery.  This must be where my acceptance of reruns on television arose.  Just as I read and reread books, I will watch and watch again movies and shows that catch my attention.  The characters become friends, family, company.  The locations become familiar as if from actual memories of having been there.

I can still feel the dusty road underneath my bare feet from a story I read as a child.  I can still smell the fried chicken and biscuits from fairground festivities in another.  I can hear the winding down of the music from an orchestra as we wandered home in the dark in another.  I read the books available to me so many times that I lived them.  The memories of the characters in those books are my memories.

I lived on My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, struggling through that harsh first winter of learning how to adapt to not only the cold, but the hunger and the loneliness.  I rubbed my fingers raw on the abalone shells on The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.  I laughed and worried when Mrs. Coverlet went away and left the Percival children alone – oh the antics they and their tortoise shell cat got up to.  I solved many mysteries with the Boxcar Children and the Happy Hollisters and some with Nancy Drew, but she just didn’t appeal to me as much as others.  Things came to her too easily.  I didn’t respect that.

I sprouted wings in Black and Blue Magic and learned what my strengths were.  You have to grow into your strengths you know.  Sometimes it requires that you fall down wish a painful crash.  And get back up.  And fly.

When I was about ten, the little one room library doubled in size.  They’d built on an entire room just for the children’s section.  That was like the most amazing gift ever.  Every shelf was mine, all mine.  It was like visiting old friends.  I would even spend a moment or two making sure some of the ones that were too young for me were still there.  Just checking in on them before checking out a stack of new things to read and some repeats.

As I grew up, there was a need for a library with books I could use for homework in addition to recreational reading.  What the heck is that anyway?  Recreational reading- all reading is knowledge and exploration and growth.  It just seems that to call it recreational is to cheapen it.  A larger library in the small city next to our town was our next regular stop.  Other than its size there was one major difference.  The librarians there were frightening.  Children there clearly should be seen and not heard even in the children’s department on the second floor.  I would have to contain any excitement or joy for fear I would be banished.  This was not what I was used to.

On the first floor was the adult section and a reading area where adults sat like statues reading current magazine issues and local newspapers.  The shelving was metal and far too easy to accidentally make noise if books fell over while I was gingerly trying to pull out the one I wanted.  It had a basement where squirrelled away were all the old items, back issues of magazines bound into large heavy books, newspapers on microfilm and other research items that all required special supervision.  Even though secluded, talking was low and at a minimum down there.

Old school library behavior required.  No one wanted to attract the attention of the librarians.  No one wanted to be shushed.  Everyone would look.  To keep a book overdue required an apology and a nickel.  After all you kept that book from someone else who might have wanted to read it also.  Going there was formal, less fun.  But there were so many more books to disappear into.  I was thankful for that.  And the smell was the same – that wonderful smell of cloth bound, well loved, many times read books.

FavoritesIn addition to the two libraries was another very special place – a tiny used bookstore called the Book Nook.  There shelves were unfinished, raw and sometimes splintered wood.  But who cared – it was about the books.  Used books lined every available inch of space, wall to wall, floor to ceiling.  The best part was I could buy them and bring the books home and keep them!  Or exchange them back later.  Once a month they had a day where you could fill a bag with paperbacks for a buck. A paper grocery bag – they were bigger in those days then they are now. Better than Christmas that was.   I still have some of those books.

That first library moved into a shiny new open concept space of its own just after I graduated from College in 1984.  My mother had been part of the “friends” group that staged fund raisers and ice cream socials year after year to make that happen.  I never felt as drawn to the new building as I did that original little single room. It wasn’t as warm and welcoming as that first space, my introduction to reading, was.  The old building became first rented to accountants, then a lawyer, then was torn down.  It was, after all, prime real estate in what had over time become a small bustling city instead of a town.  It was sort of hallowed ground to me.  Like moving a cemetery, it seemed wrong to me to tear it down, destroy a monument to something so beautiful as reading.  It was an ugly little plain cinderblock building with space to park maybe three cars, my monument to reading.

I lived there and still do in every story I have read and have yet to read.  I should frequent my local library now more than I do.


#shoutaboutbooks #readingisfun #readtome #readaloud #memories