Friday, June 18, 2021


 When Gertrude was 16 her maternal grandmother gave her a sardonyx ring.  Sardonyx was her ‘birthstone’. Why couldn’t it have been a sapphire or diamond or ruby?  Sardonyx was just a brown stone, usually with little streaks of white (the onyx). Yuck.  Still, she loved her grandmother, and the stone was set in a delicate framework of different shades of gold. So, she kept it and wore it (especially when her grandmother visited). 

That was more than sixty years ago.  Some wisp of memory prompted Gertrude to fish it out of the small bowl where she kept her rings. It felt a little loose when she put it on.  Maybe her finger had shrunk. The rest of her had (at least vertically) . She used to be five feet two inches. Now she was just five feet none.  Twisting it around her finger, she smiled at memories of her grandmother, Olive Jenkins Walker, aka Nana. They were buddies, sharing giggles over stories about Gertrude’s mom and conspiring to have secret adventures. This was easier because she and Nana were about the same height, literally seeing things eye to eye. They shared many stories and sort-of secrets.  She died when Gertrude was twenty-five, a year after her first child was born. Gertrude had a photograph of Nana holding her infant son.  Both of them looked awestruck.

Now that son was grown up and lived a thousand miles away.

Now Gertrude had a computer through which she can follow any train of thought to myriad destinations.

She began by looking up birthstones. It turned out that the concept of birthstones evolved sometime in the 15th or 16th  century in Poland or Germany as a sort of derivative of Arabian astrology. Or something. There were even some biblical implications . . . in Revelations! Gertrude did not dwell on these. She was more interested in learning that people born in August could have three ‘birthstones’. She could choose between peridot, spinel, and sardonyx.  Why hadn’t her grandmother known that? And choose one of the others, both of which looked prettier than sardonyx. 

Sixty years later, that point was moot. She had a sardonyx ring. Period. So, Gertrude hopped on another train of thought.

Sardonyx seemed phonically related to sardonic. So, Gertrude looked that up, then wandered around in virtual comparisons between the words sardonic and sarcastic. It turns out that sarcastic is meaner.

Her father was sarcastic. Most people who knew him would never think of him as mean but both Gertrude and her younger brother bore the psychological scars of his scathing remarks. For her dad, stupidity and laziness were cardinal sins. He often pronounced them guilty of these, making them feel inadequate. To this day, Gertrude became inordinately defensive if someone suggested that something she did or said was stupid.

It was an unfortunate heritage. Eventually, she was able to realize when this verbal trigger had been pulled and to reduce her defensiveness. She became a little better at accepting criticism without crumbling … dissolving into  mea culpa.

But remnants of those early harsh judgements clung to her psyche.  When she was overly tired or overwhelmed by a whirlwind of events or an avalanche of bills and obligations, she could slip into her soul dungeon, smothered in dark layers of self-proclaimed inadequacy. 

Salvation, in the form of common sense and memories of her grandmother’s love and laughter could lift her out of despond.

She decided to wear the ring more often.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

An Acknowlegement

It may well be Aunt Zoe’s fault. My little family used to visit her in Laguna Beach, California back when people could still afford to live there. She was my father’s father’s sister… a fervent Protestant Republican school teacher who never married. She scared me because she was loud and opinionated. She had rules and brooked no transgressions, but her affection was as voluminous as her anatomy. Everyone loved her. Neighbors, students, church members, strangers at the grocery store … all who fell within her orbit stayed within her orbit, smiling. 
    One day, returning from an afternoon at the beach, I sat at her desk and wrote about the waves marching to the shore in endless synchronicity. Aunt Zoe said it was brilliant and that I would obviously become a great writer. And I, who was barely seven at the time, believed her. Thereafter, I turned to writing whenever I found myself in new or uncomfortable territory. 
    When we moved from southern California to eastern Ohio, I forged a niche in my new world by writing for the junior high paper, then the high school paper, then, later for the college paper. Then, after graduation, for an actual newspaper. 
     When my marriage became untenable, I wrote a collection of poems and verse that became a program I presented to women’s groups. That helped. For a while. After divorce, I found a job … writing. When my employer decided to move to its offices from Chicago to Tampa, I found another writing job in the Chicago area– one that eventually gave me the opportunity to travel to other countries [Canada, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, England, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Australia, Republic of China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, The People’s Republic of China, Switzerland, and France. When that job fizzled, I quit and got another job … writing… that took me to South Africa (and Zimbabwe and Namibia]. And when that job disappeared, I quit and moved to Colorado to work on writing for myself. So far, two books.     
    I am working on a modest collection of essays but not with the discipline Aunt Zoe would have preferred. She was a great believer in discipline (and honesty and temperance). Actually, there might be much about my life that would generate her disapproval. Still, I know that nothing makes me feel more alive than when I am sitting in front of my computer letting the words accumulate in a fashion that makes some kind of sense, or point. Or both. Every time my dad pulled up in front of Aunt Zoe’s house, he would comment on the state of the hibiscus plant by her front door. I have my own garden now (in Colorado). Recently, I planted my own hibiscus. The flowers are my private memorial to Aunt Zoe in gratitude for her encouragement in a craft that has sustained me my whole life. And pulled me around the world.