Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Last Rose of Summer

Right before the Fall began this year, my Grandpa passed away just after he turned 90 years old. I wasn’t there with him in the moment that he died, but I saw him in the hospital near the end. He went to the hospital first because he fell, but then improved significantly and was about to be discharged to go home. The day before they let him go, though, his body suddenly turned against him. He was unable to breathe on his own or open his eyes or talk. They worried that he would never be able to breathe on his own ever again. Although we hoped he would pull through like usual (his medical history has been fraught with hospital stays and difficult diseases), a part of each of us knew instinctively that this was it. He was getting tired of fighting, it seemed, even though he wasted no opportunity to try and tear the tubes away from his body. He pulled again and again on his restraints (meant to keep him from hurting himself), but would exhaust himself with the effort. As we hovered around the hospital bed, my family and I joked that we would know he had gotten better if he were to start swearing in German. He had been doing that when he was about to be discharged–cussing at the tubes connected to him, the restraints around his arms, and the nurses for putting those things on him. Then he went quiet, and left this world even more quietly.

Or so I understand. I wasn’t there. My mom, dad, and brother were there with him. I don’t think that I regret that too much, because I’m not sure about how I would have handled this if I had actually been in the room with him when the heart monitor flatlined. I’m content to be removed from that so that I have the freedom to face this without having to keep the visual image reel of the moment of his death on replay in my head. As it is, I already have a description of the scene to feed my blessed/cursed imagination: who was holding whose hand, the tubes removed, tears, swear words, beep, beep…beep…beeeeeeeep.

Grandpa’s other name was Trouble (with a capital “T”) for lots of reasons. Too many to name here, really, but I’ll name a couple. He used to pull on my pony tails and react with mock surprise when I whirled around with a furrowed brow to tell him to stop that (“But…isn’t that what pony tails are for?”). He would try to catch my toes with his cane by lightly pounding the ground around my feet with it (“Well! Isn’t that what canes are for?”).

He also loved Mickey Mouse. My Grandma (who is an amazing quilter) made him his own Mickey Mouse-themed wall hanging which hung in his den next to the rifle cabinet. He also had this great figurine of Mickey Mouse riding a propeller plane with frightened Goofy hanging out of the bottom. He made a special wooden stand just for that figurine so that it could be placed on a shelf in his den.
Grandpa was good at making things, too. He made things like tables and chairs, but also stories and poems. He taught my brother and I to do small jobs in his workshop and tested us on our ability to successfully hammer nails into leftover blocks of wood. And as a writer and an artist himself, he recognized my inclination to be those things as well. He made and gave me a lap desk and an enormous drawing desk to complete my projects on.

Grandpa had also been in World War II. He shared stories from his army days and passed on some of the training books he had kept from his enlistment. He gave my brother his old army-issue toolbox. After his death, it was decided that this very box would bear his ashes to the ground.

Finally, my Grandfather was a Master Gardener. A degree-holding Master Gardener who never actually retrieved his diploma because he didn’t need it. “I don’t need that piece of paper,” he said. And the matter was closed. The knowledge he had gained through the classes was already enough for him, I think, because he found no value in the physical object which declared that he knew those things. (Maybe I get my love of learning from him.) His own garden in the backyard was featured in the newspaper, though, and a clipping of his Press Gazette debut was framed and hung in the hallway of his house. Many people remember him for his love for and vast knowledge of roses. Every kind of rose. They were all beautiful.

This is why he reminds me of a charcter in a book I was reading shortly before he passed, which was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. In the book, theere is a character named Sergeant Cuff who is the detictive hired to come to the Verinder residence to attempt the discovery of the fate of the famed Moonstone. He’s a patient guy, but he’s a little manipulative and very sure of his conviction of Rachel Verinder upon finishing his investigation at the Verinder household. The connection I draw between my Grandfather and Sergeant Cuff is their love of roses. Both of them would be willing to drop everything at any time to discuss breeds of roses, growing conditions, grafting, etc. That sounds like Grandpa.

Sergeant Cuff is also the reason that this post is named “The Last Rose of Summer.” Throughout the book, he whistles or hums the tune to that song whenever he’s thinking. That wasn’t a habit of my Grandfather’s at all, but the title of the song and Sergeant Cuff’s habit of singing it makes me think of him because Grandpa died a few days before the official end of summer.

Originally a poem written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, the text personifies the rose as a feminine object whose experience reflects upon the anticipation and possible loneliness felt in the approach of death. It reads as follows:

‘Tis the last rose of summer

  Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

  Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred, 5

  No rosebud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes,

  To give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!

  To pine on the stem; 10

Since the lovely are sleeping,

  Go, sleep thou with them.

Thus kindly I scatter

  Thy leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden 15

  Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

  When friendships decay,

And from Love’s shining circle

  The gems drop away. 20

When true hearts lie withered

  And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

  This bleak world alone?

Poem from: http://www.bartleby.com/41/487.html

Song version: Celtic Woman, Laura Wright

I have been wondering if he thought things like this while he tended to his rose garden and put it to rest at the end of the growing season. Please forgive my romanticism–I know that I’m probably putting thoughts into his mind that may not have been here. However, I wonder how he could have tended to his lovely roses for so long without considering something like that.

When we buried my grandfather,

There was moss on the ground,

grasshoppers flinging through the grass,

and a toolbox-shaped hole in the soil

with prayers lining the bottom.

We thought of roses and swear words auf Deutsch.

Two sets of daughters’ hands lay memories in the box,

three sets of grandchildren’s hands lay the box in the hole,

One set of pastor’s hands bless the soil and prayers

which blanket the toolbox.

Gone were the tool-torn hands which buttoned uniforms before inspection

and guided pens across paper with thorn-pricked fingertips.

Once specked with sawdust, now ashes.

Grass will reclaim the soil in front of the tombstone with two names

and grasshoppers will return to dash above the moss,

after the roses have finished weeping for their last rose of summer.

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What’s wrong now?

Tell me.

I’m having problems, but not problems like the people in the movie Biutiful, which I just watched last night.

Ok. What are your problems?

I’m not doing well enough. At anything.

What things?

My jobs. My social life. Communication. Family. Planning ahead. Saying the right thing. Staying awake when I’m supposed to be awake. My classes. Everything.

Oh? This is…quite serious. It sounds like you’re…

…human.

What? But really. My own inadequacy is overwhelming.

Says who?

Me.

So no one came out and told you that. Interesting. Do you suspect that everyone else is better?

Yes.

Why?

They just…are?

Nope.

But I think they are.

Stop. They’re not. You’re struggling along amidst a group of millions of people who are struggling along and their impressions of their interactions with you (if there are any) will not be enough to make them really notice or shun you for these things. You can’t compare yourself to them because you’re not them and they’re not you. They probably think the same about their own problems most of the time. They just generally hide it from the public like you do. Some of them may even think that you’re the one who has it all together.

Well. They’re crazy if they think that. It’s just…

Stop being a perfectionist. Be comfortable with the struggle. Do your best. Carry on along with the rest of the other humans, have confidence in what you do, and forgive yourself for not being next-to-God perfection (read: get over yourself).

…ugh. Fine.

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String of Pearl Plant…Finally!

I have been waiting for MONTHS for my local plant shop to have these babies in stock. I didn’t want to try to order them online, because I feared they wouldn’t make the trip. Instead, I kept visiting the shop, checking to see if they were in or not. Last week, they were! I couldn’t wait to plant this darling, so when I did I spammed my Facebook feed with pictures of the finished product (I was SO excited). This is the string of pearls plant (Senecio rowleyanus), and it’s one of the most unique specimens I’ve ever seen in real life. You can see why I was so pumped for it:

  
It’s a succulent, so I layered the glass bowl with pea gravel, charcoal, and succulent/cacti soil (I did not have any moss, but I just couldn’t wait any more).

  
I thought about purchasing a bigger glass container to make it into a full-fledged terrarium, but I decided against it in favor of allowing the delicate little tendrils fall over the edge of the containter.

I’m so, SO happy with how it turned out, and I’ll be looking to add to my collection soon!

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Rivulet: A Word Study

RIVULET

noun (riv-yuh-lit)

A small stream; streamlet; brook

Origin: 1580-90; earlier rivolet < Italian rivoletto, diminutive of rivolo < Latin rivulus (small stream); French rivulet; English “riveret”

Examples:

  • Rivulets of rain gliding down the window pane
  • Ivory creamer cascading in rivulets to the bottom of a clear mug of ebony coffee
  • She cried in small rivulets down her cheeks
  • A blue rivulet in the forest that (when he left his feet in the water) hugged his toes for in consolation for something unknown

I am fascinated by this word today because “rivulet” sounds like its definition: the “r” is a rounded consonant that emulates the curled head of a wave of water, and the following “-iv-u-let” has three bouncing syllables that sound like that wavering wake of a rush of liquid, curling again with the “l” in the final syllable. When I hear this word, my mind’s eye sees lolling, gentle streams of water for me, which is calming. I also like to say this word out loud to feel it on my lips.

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(Definition courtesy of Dictionary.com)

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Dear Peaceful Purple Lady at the Airport

Dear Peaceful Purple Lady at the Airport,

You possess a peace within you, I can tell. It makes you glow while you float around here in a purple and white haze with a slight grin on your face, like you’re happy to be here. Glad to be here, of all places, at the airport. Among people hustling and shuffling with furrowed brows and sweat slipping down the sides of their faces. I am one of these people who can’t stand the loud voices and idiosyncrasies of all the other humans today. You have a peace which I have not got at the moment. I am deeply annoyed at the inner workings of the airport, even though I fully understand that this is what airports do. I am repulsed by all the other burdened travelers, even though I know that they’re just trying to get somewhere too. And I only barely manage not to begrudge the airline employees, even though they’re pretty kind for people who work a thankless job. I feel bad for not being able to tolerate this, because it is no one’s fault, really. But you are apparently unfazed. You stopped at my side while we were boarding, your black coat with magenta flowers brushing against my grey one, and asked, “You’re Zone Two?” I was so exhausted that I just nodded feeling like a big tired pool of blue. You grinned a little more and then left me, sensing that there was no more conversation to be had there. You were right, but I was glad to meet you anyway. Now here you are, past the worst frustration storm of baggage claim, already having magically claimed your luggage. While the creases in my forehead are beginning to look permanent, you stand there beaming gently at someone you’re talking to. Lucky person. Someday, I will float like you. But not today. Today, I just want to go home and have a nap and be done with this.
Have a great weekend, Peaceful Purple Lady.

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Trained to Look Both Ways

One of the scariest moments in my life was during a normal drive home in the evening. I think about it a lot, and it’s been on my mind lately since I’ve been home visiting. I thought I’d write about it!

I was in the car by myself and I was approaching the railroad tracks I must cross every day, which are generally unoccupied. Just before the tracks were marshes of tall grass which obstructed the view of the tracks, making it a bit more problematic to see what was coming over them. Since I had only been a licensed driver for about a year, I had just begun to relax on some of the things that perfect drivers are supposed to do on their driving tests, such as taking obvious glances to both sides upon approaching railroad tracks (if it didn’t look like you were looking, points were taken off of your final grade). I just flitted my eyes to either side of the road and saw only grass and pussywillows. But as I got closer, I saw a bright light on the ground, coming from…where? Not the lamp posts…and the Rail Road Crossing lights aren’t blinking and there isn’t a bar in my way, so it must be ok…

And just as my car was halfway over the tracks, I turned my head completely to the right to meet the blinding headlights of a train, not more than twenty feet from the car. It was just like the cinematic approaches to car crashes: time stops and slows, and the driver stares helplessly into oncoming headlights right before the first window shatters and the metal of the door cringes. My heart halted and sunk, and I felt the blood rush from my face. It felt like ages before I was out of the headlights

My car was still moving, though, so I was really out of the way in less than a second. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw nothing but the lit ground again. The train hadn’t been moving at all. It was just parked there to terrorize oncoming traffic and perhaps make repairs. I looked back ahead of me and started to hyperventilate as the shock wore off. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I managed to get home and park the car (I wasn’t very far), but I sat in the driveway to let myself calm down. I went inside after a few minutes but didn’t tell anyone that it had happened because I didn’t want them to think I was a bad driver already.

After this incident, I vowed to ALWAYS look both ways properly…even though nothing really happened. May you, dear reader, never get caught unexpectedly in the headlights of a train.

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MUSHROOMS

Today, I am writing a post about mushrooms, because I think they’re fascinating. I especially love watching the time lapse videos and GIFs cataloging their growth. See below:

Mushrooms are not only good to watch and to eat! They have many more medicinal and earth-friendly uses. See this article by Kenneth Miller about How Mushrooms Can Save the World.

And great for cooking:

JAPANESE MUSHROOM RECIPES

Aside from being generally awesome and fun to observe, they’re nature’s recyclers, which is definitely something to applaud.

Maybe it’s just the shape that I like: jellyfish are also things I love to look at:

I don’t have anything really productive to say about these beautiful organisms today. I’m just professing my love for them. But really, how cool is all that?

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