Category Archives: memories

C H R I S T M A S T I D E

A Merry Christmas
Cleone’s favorite holiday song was Joy To The World directed by the Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She’d begin playing it as a daybreak reveille on December 12th and continued through the morning of her birthday, December 27th. We were reminded of the fifteen day musical salute while driving Elizabeth’s mother back to Arkansas in November 1990.
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“How come I don’t remember this tradition, Mom?”

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“You’re never home for the holidays more than a day or two, Elizabeth Ann. Besides, your daddy and I only began it after you left home.”

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During those long gone 30 years, Elizabeth’s father died and Cleone remarried several times. As a southern lady born and bred in Montgomery, Alabama, she was raised to believe a woman’s life wasn’t complete without a man in hand. Her current husband, Bill, was confined to a nursing home, diagnosed with violent hysterical dementia. He hadn’t recognized her (or anyone) for six months and never would again, but that didn’t stop Cleone from visiting him daily, ignoring his foul-mouthed curses and dodging food flung in her direction.

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We promised to stay with her through Thanksgiving, but those plans changed after she asked me to sort through stacks of personal papers to determine if any needed keeping.

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The first item of interest I came across was Bill’s membership in a local white supremacist group. He kept propaganda, recruitment paraphernalia and a loaded .38 in his desk drawer next to a box of hollow point bullets. I immediately disposed of everything burnable and buried the gun in his asparagus garden. Other discoveries were as serious.
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“Mom,” I tiptoed, “it says here Bill used your Certificates of Deposit and savings as collateral to purchase this house.”
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“He promised they’d be safe until the house is paid off.”
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“You’re 83 and he’s older. The mortgage is for 30 years.”
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“I guess.”
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“Who pays the mortgage?”
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“It’s automatically deducted from my social security check each month.”
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“You have your own direct deposit checking account?”
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“Yes. Mine pays the car loan, utilities, and property taxes, too.”
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Why isn’t it all deducted from his account?”
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“He pays the insurance, charge cards, grocery account, and incidentals.” I hesitated just long enough for her to ask, “Why?”
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“Well, what’s important is, I can tell you how to fix what I’ve found, so there’s nothing for you to get upset about. Since you have his health proxy and financial power of attorney — over his very sizable bank accounts, I must say — it’s merely a matter of shuffling funds.”
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“Meaning?”
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“You have the authority to write checks.”
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By then both Cleone and Elizabeth were eager for details and had pulled chairs up to the table where I was working.
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“Mom, your name isn’t on the mortgage, deed to the house, or car title. If Bill should suddenly die, the house and car go directly to his son. His Will leaves his savings and all his belongings to his son. The executor to his estate is his son. His life insurance policy names only his son.”
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“What about me?” Cleone asked, matter-of-factly.
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“He made no provisions for you, Mom.”
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“Do you think his son knows any of this?”
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“According to these letters, he does.”
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I let that sink in between mother and daughter while I ran some figures and finalized a plan.
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After breakfast, the three of us dressed for success in matching hot pink sweatsuits and strings of vintage pearls before descending on the bank where Cleone paid off the mortgage and car loan from Bill’s savings account. Once her CD’s were released and there was no longer a lien on her savings, she transferred all automatic deductions from her checking account to his. Finally, she removed his name as survivor from her checking and savings accounts and left the bank, unencumbered.
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“How do you feel, Mom?” Elizabeth asked.
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“Free,” she answered.
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We stayed on until the 9th of December, gadding about town, buying and wrapping Christmas presents, lighting her ceramic tree, delivering frosted cookies, addressing cards, and confirming plans for Cleone’s move to Florida to forever share our home after the first of the year.
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“Are you sure you don’t want to drive back with us now,” Elizabeth hoped.
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“No, dear. I want to spend the holidays here with my Bridge club and church group. It gives me time to say a more leisurely goodbye.”
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“Are you okay?”
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“Better than okay, Elizabeth. I’m having fun.”
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It took us three days to drive home. We arrived on Cleone’s birthday to a cheerful message from her, left on our answering machine. I immediately dialed her up, putting the phone on speaker.
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Cleone’s next door neighbor answered.
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“Your mom called for an ambulance. The driver swore he got here within a minute. He knew her from church and around town. Everyone loved your mom.”
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Knew.
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Loved.
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We sped back to Arkansas, arranged for her funeral, and hosted a large reception before having Cleone’s casket returned to Montgomery where a second funeral was attended by 135 of her friends and remaining relatives. Internment was next to Elizabeth’s father in a small, historic burial ground where all their ancestors also rested. A second reception followed.
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The next morning, Elizabeth and I returned to the cemetery a final time.
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It was a quiet, cool, sunny December day with no breeze blowing nor snow on the ground. We marveled at the height and width of a mountain of fresh flowers left on Cleone’s grave, in stark contrast to the other 300 tombstones, void of any signs of recent visitors, decorated with weatherworn plastic plants, faded flags, or no remembrance at all.
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Instinctively, we began to take fresh flowers from her mother’s final resting place to adorn surrounding graves, one-by-one, until every site in the cemetery had a bouquet.
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Then we rolled down all the windows in the car, popped in a cassette, pumped up the volume to maximum, and slowly drove up and down each pathway playing — and replaying —

Joy To The World.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
Friend her of Facebook. Find her on Amazon. Follow her here.
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Thank you for reading CHRISTMASTIDE
by Marguerite Quantaine © 2018.
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WITH GRACE AND GRATITUDE

Won't You Be My Honey

The first time I spotted the alligator in the murky waters of a man-made lake framing luxurious condos on one side and a city park on the other, I worried aloud for the safety of the mallards, Muscovy, and white, waddling ducks, the snapping turtles, giant goldfish, flock of pristine egrets, and wading blue heron, making their homes in the marshes there.

“And, the kids who play in this park,” my sweetheart added.

I didn’t respond. Not that I would ever want a person of any age to be harmed by an alligator, but there was no imminent danger in that. Only the nature-preying-nature lurked.

The lake is more for show and tell by realtors looking to justify pricey units with a view. There’s no swimming allowed, and since it’s illegal to feed wildlife in Florida outside of a reserve, observing nature in this park is mostly done from a deck built 15 feet above, and stretching 20 feet out over the water, where picnic tables are placed for brown baggers wondering what so many thieving sea gulls are doing there, some sixty miles inland.

At first, all I saw were the mammoth marble shaped alligator eyes, trolling the lake’s surface, leaving innocent ripples of water in his wake.

“Or,” she said when I pointed out the marauding eyeballs, “it’s a submarine.”

“No, hon, I’m pretty certain it’s an alligator.”

“But, I’m thinking…”

“It’s a gator, okay?”

“I’m just saying what it could be,” she persists, as the tire-like tracks on it’s back emerges. “Or, maybe one in camouflage to look like an alligator, so no one would suspect.”

Really, who am I to say otherwise? I thought.

We only visit this particular park once a year, in September or October, depending on what date the High Holy Days fall.

I won’t expound on the significance of these 10 days for those of you who aren’t Jewish, but I will share the custom of casting bread upon the water (tashlikh) as a symbol of one’s transgressions being disposed of. Unlike other religions, Jews don’t believe in original sin. Instead, we’re born pure, acquiring our indiscretions with age, intent, or ignorance along the way.

But, if we’re sincere in saying “I’m sorry” to those we’ve wronged, and have done good without expectation in return, and made an earnest effort to mend fences, the sin slate gets wiped clean on Yom Kippur, giving each of us another chance to get life right, and do it better.

The disclaimer appears in the setting of the sun, symbolizing the closing of the Book of Life, when even skeptics (secretly) want their names, and those of their loved ones inscribed therein — although no one learns who makes the cut until the High Holy Days roll around again the following year. (Because only those remaining in the here and now know if they were inscribed back in the then and there.)

For the record, I’m very disorganized about organized religion, to the point of anti-it.

But I do like everything about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the culmination of 10 days of introspection, taking stock of one’s life, offering amends, being grateful for whatever cards have been dealt, making promises and looking forward while witnessing the sun sink behind the trees, or beneath the ocean, or into the hills.

Of course, I’m pulling for more than family and friends. I want my pets to be included in that Book of Life, too, and mercy shown for all the animals on earth. I want children to be protected, and hurts healed. I want every woman to fall in love with the person who has fallen in love with her. My list is long. I ask a lot. It takes me the full 10 days to catalog all the hope in my heart.

“Watch out,” we were warned by a couple dawdling nearby. “The flora and fauna police are on duty.”

I glance over at the retiree in khaki shirt and shorts, feeling powerful on his unpaid patrol.

“I’m prepared,” I assured them. “I filled my pocket with stale bread, pre-pulverized in my Cuisinart to melt any evidence upon impact. Would you like a some?”

They showed me their cut up crusts of kosher rye. “No thanks. We’re good.”

As the sun began its steady decline, I confidently hurled a handful of crumbs to flutter like tiny confetti into the water below — forgetting that the brass ring  containing the keys to the car, our home, my sister’s home, the metal license tags of our dogs, and a silver kitty charm carried for good luck was also in that pocket.

It went with.

“I’ll be,” she said, looking down at the unintended snack. “It is an alligator!”

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To paraphrase a verse in a song from the original, Broadway cast album of The Unsinkable Molly Brown: Your prayer was answered, the answer was ‘no’ — She heard you all right.

Most of you who follow me here, or are a friend to me on Facebook know that I lost my kid sister in May of 2015, 77 days after she was first diagnosed with everywhere-cancer.

What I haven’t shared as much is, in that brief period (and since) I’ve also lost both of my dogs, Buzzbee and Sparky, and a Russian Blue, tamed-to-my-touch, feral cat, Sneaky, twin brother to Pete.

When the last loss happened, I recalled the words attributed to Virginia Woolf upon being asked by her niece why the bird she’d found had to die. Woolf answered, “To make us appreciate life more.”

I’m not sure I concur. I don’t think I could appreciate life any more than I do.  My gratitude is fierce and deep and never falters — even when the answer is, indeed, ‘no’.

Because I see, and hear, and recognize the loss most others endure, daily, is so much greater than my own; the worldwide despair and hunger of millions in the dark of every night, the destruction of homes by flood and fire, the assault on nature by ignorance and greed, the ongoing slaughter of innocent and innocence, the intentional harm inflicted on the undeserving.

It doesn’t lessen the depth of loss I feel, but it does lessen the length of time I spend, struggling.

The High Holy Days come earlier this year and I’m on tenterhooks about it, to the point of being mindful of the fact that the ritual of tashlikh is to happen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, not on Yom Kippur as I’ve always chosen to observe it.

We’ll be returning to the man-made lake, regardless — this time with an entire loaf of challah for the alligator.

We hope the reptile was written into the Book of Life.

We hope we all were.

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This essay was first published entitled See Ya Later Alligator in 2015 and continues to be revisited each year at this time in memory of those who have passed, and with hopes we all continue to be written into The Book of Life. ~ 

Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.  Copyright, © 2015-2018

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I’m all eyes and heart.

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