Mourning, Memories, Story, and Reflection

Between extra work, mourning, and a new project, I am wiped out. My cats have sad faces and obviously miss Mac. Felix, my big tabby, hid under the bed during a thunderstorm–something he’s never done before. He’s frightened not to have Mac around to protect him.

Grief has an insidious way about it. There is the past and then there are the stories we create about the past and our reflection upon them.

I’m still trying to rise out of the swamp around me.

To that end, along with Marie from 1WriteWay (yay!), I’m taking a four week course from Apiary Lit in “Flash Essay on the Edge.” You’re right: the title is perfect for me right now.  I’ll keep you posted. When we’re done, Marie and I will review the course.

Have a wonderful fourth of July. When I was a kid, I used to spend it on the lake with my father.

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Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

My Own Cat Hero, or A Loss Upon a Loss

I’ve witnessed a spin of  the circle of life again.

Mourning upon mourning

My dear darling oldest cat Mac passed away yesterday morning. He had been battling a congenital heart problem, diabetes, and chronic kidney failure for a long time and suddenly he took a turn for the worse. He refused food and water, and hubby and I could see it was his time. I sang to him for awhile, mainly nursery songs like “Billy Boy,” “The Riddle Song,” and “Tumbalalaika.” Then we took him to the vet. I held him, bundled in a beach towel, in my arms while he passed over the Rainbow Bridge.

Mac had a huge personality. He put everyone he met under his hypnotic spell. I don’t know how he did it, but it was simply from the force of that dynamic and powerful personality. I am too sad to do much except clean up the house from the effects of his recent illness, but I will post a few pix, along with a story about him that I wrote a few years ago.

My friend, Barbara Tapp, a talented artist, made this picture for me of Mac:

As you probably know by now, my father passed away in May, so this is another blow.

Here is the story of how Mac came to be part of our family.

Our new house came with a stray cat, but we did not realize this until after we closed on the property.  Apparently the previous owners had been feeding this predominantly white calico female in the backyard for quite some time, but when they moved, they didn’t mention the cat to us.  Our new next door neighbor told us he was going to “shoot that damn cat next time it comes around here.”  I wondered if he would pry that beer can out of his hand long enough to do so, but I suppose there are some people who are great shots even while drinking.

Though I came to the house for two weeks to feed her every day, one day the calico just disappeared.   I felt a twinge of relief because she seemed to be half feral and would not make a house cat and then sadness welled up in me.  Although it’s unlikely my neighbor actually killed her, I grew furious with him.

We needed to remodel the house before we moved in.  The workers ripped off the façade of the house on the side where a new room would go.  This left a large gap behind the bathtub.  One day the workers were framing as we gardened, when I heard a yell from Brad, one of the workers.  He told us he saw an orange and white tabby kitten pop its head out from behind the tub to look.  We ran over there and found three kittens: the orange kitten, a calico, and a black and cream tabby with fur almost as long as a long haired cat.  Brad explained that he had seen the kittens the other day and was sure that they no longer had a mother.  The orange and white kitten, still so young he had blue eyes, walked boldly out and looked at us with curiosity.  He was followed by the calico, and then the long haired tabby crept out bashfully.  Those two seemed to be following the orange kitty.

My daughter was ten and had grown up with two dogs in the family.  The preciousness of a furry kitten appealed to her and she began a fierce campaign to keep one of the kittens.

He said he hated cats!

Hubby said, “I hate cats.”  Those big blue eyes peering out of the tiny furry face forced me to argue with him, “You just don’t know cats since you’ve never had one.”  I told him how beautiful my childhood cat had been.

Finally, hubby relented and agreed that we could select one kitten, but we had to “take the rest to the shelter.”

I took the friendly orange kitty on my lap and dialed my vet’s office.  I talked to Jan, the tech.  Jan told me to choose the orange tabby because they are friendlier and more dog-like.  As she well knew, I was very used to dogs.  This viewpoint was confirmed for me because the other two cats were meeker than the orange; he was already melting into my lap as though he belonged there.  Jan encouraged me to bring in the cat I was going to keep for a thorough exam and vaccinations, but she issued one caveat; under no circumstances was I to bring in the other two cats because the office already had a litter of kittens they were trying to find homes for.

DON’T BRING THOSE OTHER CATS IN HERE!

When I got off the phone my friend, a veterinarian who worked at the vet’s office, called and told me to choose a boy: “they are more outgoing and friendly.”  She said she’d run over and look at them real quick on her way to an appointment, so I tried to ignore the sexism in her statement.  She examined each kitten in turn and declared them all boys.  Years later, I read that most calicos are girls, so I still wonder if that boy was really a girl or a rare cat.

I found one big cardboard box in the garage and put all three kittens into it on an old garage blanket which sported pieces of dried leaves clinging to it and which I covered with a clean towel.  I drove the kittens immediately to my vet’s office.  I know, I know.  But I didn’t know what else to do with the other two kittens.

I heaved the box up onto the counter in front of Jan.  She couldn’t resist the temptation and peered inside.  “You brought all three; I TOLD you not to!! “  She grimaced.  “Aren’t they cute though?!”

A woman and her elderly mother peered into the box.  The younger woman oohed over the kittens, asking me what I was planning to do with them.

Without missing a beat, I said, “I’m keeping the orange one and taking the other two to the shelter!”  My words had the desired effect of horrifying and motivating her.  The woman told me she would give them a home if I liked.

Conferring with Jan in private, I discovered that the woman was there with an injured squirrel, so I figured we had a winner.   I offered to pay for the neutering, but the woman told me she would take care of that herself.

My new kitten was examined and vaccinated and declared a fine, healthy specimen.  I brought him home to our “old house” to meet our two dogs, Oliver and Sandy.

Before we let the dogs see the kitty, I put him in my daughter’s bedroom because it was connected to the Jack and Jill bathroom she shared with her brother and it had a little walk in closet.  The room was small at 10×10 feet, but with the closet and the bathroom, it was the perfect size for such a young cat.  While the kitty got used to the bedroom, my daughter and I went to PetSmart and bought supplies, including a plastic carrying kennel.

Later that night, we put the kitty in the kennel and introduced the dogs.  Sandy began to growl and yip at the cage, but Oliver took one look at the tiny cat and barked a sharp order at Sandy.  Sandy never bothered the cat again.  I wondered if animals teach each other in the same way that people often teach one another.  When our first dog Muffin was alive, Oliver was dog number two, and Sandy was not yet part of the family.  On the rare occasion that Oliver would get a little testy with the children when they were quite young, Muffin would bark at him exactly the same way.  It’s as if the older dog warns the younger dog to be careful of the youngsters, no matter what species the youngsters are.

Very quickly, Mac and Sandy became best friends.

 

Mac with Sandy

Mac with Sandy

Now there was only one other family member to win over and that was hubby.

I had named our new cat Macavity, after the T.S. Eliot cat known as the “hidden paw.”  I should have known better because Mac lived up to his name, hiding as many of hubby’s belongings (keys, notes, ring) as he could tote off.  He didn’t try to win over the husband.

But one day I came home and Mac was curled up around hubby’s head as he lay on the couch watching TV.  And from then on, they were great friends.  Mac never stole another object belonging to my husband.  He started a campaign to reduce my earring collection by 50% by stealing one earring from each set. All these years later, we’ve never found the earrings.

That’s how Mac-the-cat (one of his nicknames) became part of our family

Another nickname is Monkeybunnyratowlpig.

Eventually we accumulated three other cats that are still part of the family. But it was Mac who persuaded hubby that cats are pretty cool people. It’s because of Mac that we both volunteer at the shelter with the kitties. And it’s because of Mac that hubby and I have been crying.

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

Cat Heroes

Two weeks ago, I finished reading two memoirs about cats: Homer’s Odyssey, by Gwen Cooper, and A Street Cat Named Bob, by James Bowen (and Garry Jenkins). They are similar to a book I read a few years ago, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron (and Bret Witter).

All three books feature special pet cats (that happen to be male) and were written by the pet owners. Two of the books were either ghost written or written along with the cat owner. Only Gwen Cooper is a writer, and her book shows it as it’s the most well written of the three.

In Homer’s Odyssey, the reader meets Homer, a tiny blind kitten when Cooper first took him home. I think Homer’s narrative is perhaps innately the “weakest” for memoir structure, based as it is only on Homer’s disability and his life with Cooper, but Cooper’s beautiful writing shapes a well-crafted story that begins when Cooper herself was young and underemployed. Later, when Homer and his two sister cats were home alone during the 911 tower attack and Cooper couldn’t get home to them for days, my heart was thudding for the poor cats because I’d fallen in love with Homer, as well as Scarlett and Vashti, thanks to Cooper’s writing.

In A Street Cat Named Bob, Bob is a street cat who lives with a street musician in London and becomes famous online for sitting very calmly while Bowen plays his guitar or, later, sells magazines. Bowen was a recovering drug addict who was able to pull his life together when he began to focus on making a better life for Bob. Although Bowen claims not to follow a 12 step program, it’s clear that Bob becomes Bowen’s “higher power.” The story is engaging because Bob is such a larger than life figure as seen through Bowen’s eyes. Although the book was written with a professional writer, the book is the least well written of the three and needs editing. I even found at least one run-together sentence. The story didn’t move quickly enough in a few places, but I enjoyed it and would love to meet Bob and James. Most important, it’s rewarding to see a man turn his life around because of his love for an animal.

Dewey is a library cat who saves the town library. In Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, Vicki the librarian meets Dewey when she finds the kitten who had been thrown into a frozen book chute overnight. Because the book begins with the tiny kitten saved from a horrific fate, I am immediately drawn in and engaged with the story. This is also true of Homer whose original owners wanted to euthanize him because he was blind. Bowen met Bob when Bob was already an adult cat, out on the street, so he’s never an adorable kitten in the story. But Bowen’s growing attachment to Bob is what hooks the reader.

Are these books about cats or about humans? Are they memoirs of the humans or biographies of the cats?

All three books have been successful.

Nevertheless, a few of the reviews on Goodreads didn’t like the feel good nature of the books–i.e., that a stray becomes an important part of keeping the library alive in small town America. I say those reviewers have hard hearts.

Some reviewers criticize these books for being memoirs about the writers’ lives.  Ahem. All three books are memoirs about the pet owners, although the focus is on the cat and the owner’s relationship with the cat. Well, a memoir by its definition is written by a human being about an aspect or time period of his or her life. When we write about someone else’s life and not our own, it’s a biography.

Why are these books not just biographies of cats? Why are they also memoirs by and about the humans? I feel that this is the way these books work best and someone who wants a pure story of an  animal should go read Bambi, which is an amazing orphan tale about a wild animal who doesn’t live with a human (although the original and non-Disney version does show what happens when one deer is taken in by humans).

Adult animal lovers enjoy memoirs such as the three I read because of the relationship between the animal and the human. It’s the human (sometimes humans) who grows and learns during the course of each story. The cats are amazing catalysts (sorry for the pun), muses, inspirations, and higher powers. But their ability to inspire the reader is innate to the animals. The story has to come from what the human learns from the cat. This is what makes a memoir like these more than merely a children’s story about a child thinly disguised as an animal, such as the Olivia (the pig) books. More than a biography of an animal, such as Smokey the Bear.

Or am I wrong? Is there a successful adult story about a real life animal where the plot is completely focused on the animal and not a human? I don’t mean a political satire like Animal Farm. 

The success of these books stems, in part, from the marriage of memoirs and feel-good animal stories.

One last thought about the reviews of these books. The reviewers who criticize these books for being about the lives of the pet owners tend to be very judgmental about the writers. They find them to be whiny or self-absorbed or boring–or a combination. I suspect that these complaints are because they don’t want the human intruding on the story of the animal or because they only see the story through their own narrow, darkly filtered lenses (their own self-image and their own lives). These reviews are more revealing of the reviewers than of the books or the writers, to my way of thinking. They also don’t understand that the books are structured this way because that is the way you tell a story and sell a book. There has to be conflict and resolution. There has to be suspense and pacing. I found myself getting angry at these reviewers.

What does that reveal about me ;)?

***

On a completely unrelated note, I am bummed about Doll God sales, but for a weird reason. The number of people who have told me that they have bought it (including multiple quantities) is in no way reflected by the actual total the publisher tells me that have been sold. Maybe half? So are half the people who have said they bought it not telling the truth? Is Amazon not sending correct reports to the publisher? The publisher provided me with a royalty update, so the problem isn’t with her. Any thoughts?

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Filed under Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Children's Literature, Doll God, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Poetry book, Publishing, Reading, Writing

An Overheated Incubator

Last week was very hot in Phoenix. A couple of days were 115 degrees and all days were well over 100. Earlier this spring the weather was beautiful, which motivated some birds into filling their nests with eggs a second time. But now that we have a very hot June, the heat has taken its toll on the inhabitants of our outdoor nursery.

It’s way too hot for baby birds.

Thursday afternoon we found a baby bird (starling? sparrow?) that had fallen from a very high nest. He wasn’t quite a full fledgling yet, and he fell onto our upper deck, which was not a good place for Mama to take care of him. We ended up having to take him to the wildlife rehabilitation facility. Friday morning, his sister found herself in the same situation. She was taken to stay with her brother.

Saturday morning, hubby found a baby that was still a nestling, on the ground. Many baby birds do fall out of the nest before they fly, but he was clearly not ready and looked as if he were dying. I rushed him over to the caring rehabilitation and they administered fluids right away.

Humans have to be careful taking baby birds away from their mothers who may be nearby and feeding them. But in these cases, the heat was going to kill the birds first. Baby birds need some heat to thrive, but too much heat is deadly.

So you might be wondering how the hummingbird babies are doing.

On Saturday, almost exactly a month since the first 2015 batch of hummingbirds left the nest, the second batch followed their siblings out into the big world–or, at least, our neighborhood.

In preparation, Mama fed both babies, as she had been doing since they hatched from their eggs.

Although my videos aren’t very good, they will lead you to quality hummingbird videos posted by other people.

The larger, stronger, bolder brother (they could be sisters or a brother and a sister, but I think they are brothers)began flapping his wings, testing them out, and he gave encouragement to his brother. Then, on Saturday, he flew out of the nest, while Mama and brother watched.

He landed on a rock of our fountain, where he stayed for a few minutes until he got his courage. During that time, Mama flew back and forth between the nest and the rock.

After he flew off to explore, Mama spent several hours coaxing the skinnier, more timid baby from the nest. She fed him a few more times and even groomed him just a bit, as if to say, “I want you to look presentable out there in the world. Appearances matter. Show our predators that you are confident and know how to take care of yourself.” In this photo, she has turned her back on him momentarily, maybe to rest?

I was so impressed that Mama spent so much time with her offspring. She showed him what to do by flying out of the nest and returning to him repeatedly.

Eventually it worked and he flew off when Mama was out of the nest.

When I saw the empty nest I was a little sad, but wait: he came back several times, resting on the edge of the nest.

Saturday night and Sunday he didn’t come back. He’s off discovering his world, too.

All four hummingbirds that were raised in this nest have, no doubt, found the world to be a bit different from that of his siblings. I hope they all find it a pleasant place where they are rewarded for their hard work and don’t find any predators that can’t be avoided.

That’s it now for hummingbirds. It’s too hot to be creative here, but I am going to jumpstart the creativity by taking an online course in “flash essays.” I am hoping to learn how to write in a more cutting edge style. And I think I’m going to need the structure as I can see the summer melting away.

What are your summer plans?

 

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Filed under Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Inspiration, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing goals, Writing Tips and Habits

Book Promoting ;)

I took my car to the dealer for service yesterday. My dealer, like many, hires seniors to drive customers to and fro in company shuttles. (No, I’m not in that senior group yet. Maybe we should have Sr. Seniors and Jr. Seniors).

My shuttle driver was an elderly man with gray hair in need of a cut. After the initial silence (of about 45 seconds), we began to talk at the same time. He won that battle.

He told me his story the whole way home. At one point, I inserted a comment, but he glanced at me as if he’d seen a tree speak, so I shut up.

He told me the story of how he, an ambitionless twenty-something, had become a successful Flying Tiger and commercial airline pilot. He’d had no college, was deaf in one ear, and was approaching 30 years old when he started learning to fly.

Pretty interesting story. Then he explained that although he didn’t have any college (a requirement for being a commercial pilot), he had learned on his own by way of his family’s encyclopedia.

By the time I was 20 I’d read all the books of the encyclopedia, only skipping medicine, music, and poetry.  I hate the pus and blood of medicine, I’m lousy at music, and poetry–well, I think poetry is for dreamers, not doers.

Oh man. In my mind, I was envisioning Doll God

floating off into the clouds.

Where do people get the idea that poetry is from Dreamland? It’s grounded in absolute reality. In fact, it has more reality to it than real life. By that I mean that in real life we ignore a lot around us as we struggle just to live our lives day by day. But poetry can’t ignore that stuff. It has to dig right in.

Back to Joe. As I was unfolding myself from the van, he told me about his book on Amazon and that I ought to look it up.

I almost said, “My poetry book is on Amazon, too.”

But I didn’t. Either it was because I’m too kind and didn’t want to embarrass him or it was because I’m a coward and didn’t want to get the trees-have-voices! stare again. Maybe it was a little of both.

Do you agree with me about poetry or do you like to think of it as a dreamer’s refuge?

P.S. I did look up his book and it looks good. If you’re interested in a true adventure (and to find out how he was accepted with all those negatives against him), email me for the book title. I’d like this post to remain a bit anonymous ;).

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Filed under Arizona, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Doll God, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

Loves and Hates, But No List

A few people have asked me if I’m planning to do a 10 things I love/ 10 things I hate post. As I begin writing this post, I have no idea. It seems daunting to me to narrow in on 10 of each. And so many bloggers described some of my own loves and hates so beautifully.

How do I decide if I want to use foods or actions or sensory moments? And how many of each–in what proportion? For each one I write I’d be forgetting 10 (or 100) others that I might love more. Or hate more.

Then there is the notion of starting with loves and endings with hates. I don’t want to leave you with the negative. So I think I’d start with what I hate just so that I can end with what I love. But if I do that, readers might get saddened or burned out too quickly and not read far enough to get to the loves!

Probably the biggest thing holding me back is that it’s so tempting to go with the “small” or “local.” The pet peeves. The comfort foods. But what about world peace? An end to all war, to poverty, to famine?

Ay Yi Yi! Oy! Holy crap!

So I’ll just sprinkle a few out here that come to my mind at this instant.

I hate that a lady dumped her kitty at the no-kill shelter I volunteer at because she was moving in with her son. For months, the stressed out cat won’t leave the door of the cat room. We’ve set up her bed, food, and water on a stand next to the door so she can live there. When other cats jump up on the stand, she hisses until they jump back down. Last week hubby and I discovered the poor kitty is THIRTEEN YEARS OLD. She still thinks her “Mom” is coming back for her, but her dear mother hasn’t even checked on her. Abby’s story isn’t that unusual, but for Abby it’s her whole life that’s at stake. And her life is miserable. If my oldest cat wasn’t in stage 4 kidney failure (with diabetes and a bad heart) I would persuade hubby that she’s our next rescue, but it’s not possible right now. And so Abby waits. At the door. For her missing mother.

See what I mean? You want to read 10 of those? Heartbreaking.

I love that I get to work at the shelter, cleaning, scooping, feeding, reading to, and loving cats in need. I love their sweet open hearts. And I love how my heart has swelled to a larger size so that it encompasses as many cats as necessary.  The heart is an organ of infinite size in a finite body.

Randomly, I also love the old pop song that is known in the U.S. as “Sukiyaki” and sung by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto. There is no music more beautiful than this song.

After I listen to the song 9 or 10 times, hubby shrieks (yes, shrieks) at me to turn it off.  I never get tired of it. There are other versions, such as by A Taste of Honey, but Sakamoto’s is my favorite. He’s got a gorgeous crooner voice.

I also love pan fried zucchini, fresh raspberries, the smell of a rain-soaked landscape. But those aren’t as important as my family, my cats, my books, and my memories.

How do you approach the loves and hates list? Feel free to post a link to your love/hate post in the comments!

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Beauty Addiction

On Monday I mentioned that I would tell you about The Doll Empress who I met quite a few years ago. She must not be confused with The Doll Lady. I have changed her name here for reasons you will see when you read the following story.

I call her Bitzi because she did go by a cute nickname, but there was nothing Bitzi about her love for dolls.

###

The directions to her house were wrong—I knew that when she gave them to me, but she sounded fragile or confused enough that I thought I’d wing it and see if I could find her place myself.  All I need is the address, I thought.  I ended up driving back and forth on her rural street until I noticed a dirt road which seemed to disappear into the horizon.  I figured I’d try driving down that path since she had mentioned a dirt road.

Sure enough it turned into a sort of primitive cul-de-sac, ending at a gray barn, flanked by houses, trailers, and outbuildings.  She had told me to honk when I got there because her dog would greet me barking.  So I did honk.  The big piebald dog was there almost immediately, barking on schedule.  I waited quite some time for her to appear, but I ended up honking again before she finally came out.

When she approached my car I realized why it took her so long. She was walking very, very slowly.  Her face was remarkably unwrinkled for 75, her eyebrows jet black, and her gray hair unnaturally robust. It didn’t occur to me until later that her hair might be a wig.

Her greeting was taciturn at best.  I followed her into the house, taking a last look for the moment at her property which I mentally labeled “hillbilly compound” (judge me kindly, please). The county dump was neater and less overrun by sad-looking objects.

We entered the house by the cluttered kitchen and through the dining room while I heard about her three cats and three husbands.  Later I learned about her three religions. We entered the front room.  The one main wall of the room had been outfitted with a wooden shelving unit, fronted by Plexiglas.

When I read about Bitzi in the local paper, the reporter described her place as a doll museum.  Museums conjure up organized collections, patterns of objects, on shelves.  But these shelves were hardly organized.  Perhaps at one time she had tried to organize because I did see small groupings of Kewpies, of Barbies, of baby dolls; but at some point she must have given up re-arranging and had resorted to tucking dolls into cases somewhat randomly.

I had sought out Bitzi when I realized that my own doll collection had defined itself into specific types of dolls. I was here because Bitzi said she had a huge Red Riding Hood collection and was interested in selling some. She also claimed to have a lot of Korean dolls, something I really wanted to see.

Red Riding Hoods

My Red Riding Hood dolls

We leisurely strolled through the front room, admiring dolls along the way. I thought of it as a “front room” instead of a living room because surely no one could actually live in a room walled by pairs of staring eyes. Next, we entered a side room with doll cases, a bedroom walled with what she called “boys’ toys” (confiding that this was her 2nd husband’s collection), and then eventually back across the house to what must have been her own bedroom.

By this point it was obvious to me that the only living spaces in the house were the tiny kitchen and the bed. Her 3rd husband must have spent most of his time outside.

I felt uncomfortable pressed between the doll case and her partially-made bed.  The room smelled musty–like bedding or clothes not washed often enough.  Some of her dolls were beautiful, some in bad condition, and most from the 20th century.  I realized we had spent at least an hour in her house, but I had not seen one sign of a Red Riding Hood or Korean doll. Still, I’d seen hundreds and hundreds of dolls and some pretty cool toy trucks and cars.

Was this it then? Maybe she was lonely, so had told me she had dolls she didn’t really own. We walked back outside, crossing the porch area in front.  I counted six small refrigerators stacked on the porch, along with numerous other appliances, tools, and junk.  A sweet-looking black and white cat followed us briefly, while a gray cat sat licking its hindquarters on top of one of the refrigerators.

We went around to the other side of the house to what Bitzi referred to as the sun porch.  She started to stumble on the high steps as one foot slipped out of the men’s corduroy bedroom slippers she was wearing.  Once inside she showed me how they had walled up the sun porch from the rest of the house because the cats kept coming in.  The plywood was unadorned.

The sun porch was one long room with perhaps one small window, hardly a “porch” of any kind.  Near the entrance she had a diorama of witches, fairies, and other woodland creatures, created by a man she described as a hermit who lives in the mountains near Idyllwild.  She also had a few of his magnificent dolls which looked like Queen Elizabeth clones.

The same shelves as in the house lined the walls of the tunnel-like porch, floor to ceiling, and dolls overwhelmed the shelves.  She had lots of Ginnys, little fashionable dolls from the 1950s with movable arms and legs.  One unit was stacked with Ginnys in boxes from floor to ceiling.  Who could be enjoying dolls which were stacked in dust-covered boxes?  She explained that the boxes didn’t have windows.  I guessed that meant that sunlight couldn’t damage the dolls or their outfits. Almost every Madame Alexander doll ever made was on display in this area.

Bitzi asked me some personal questions such as did I have a job, what does my husband do, and she apologized for being so nosy.  She talked about her life and herself.  A self-confessed OCD “beauty addict,” she admitted that she couldn’t be “allowed out of the house” or she would buy whatever she liked.

By now I’d been nervously checking my watch every so often because I had to pick my kids up for after-school activities. I’d been with Bitzi over two hours. Finally, we were at the end of the porch. I sighed with relief and followed her outside. The fresh air was good when I inhaled deeply. The porch air had been stale and dusty.

“Well, thank you so much,” I said.

Bitzi threw her arm out and spun it, vaguely pointing to the barn and all the other outbuildings, as she did so. “Aren’t you going to see the rest of my dolls? We haven’t gotten to the Red Riding Hoods and the Korean dolls yet.”

Well, dear readers, I moved swiftly through the barn for the next hour, eventually buying a couple of dolls from my childhood era. In one room of the barn, 19th century oak furniture pieces were crammed together and every drawer was overflowing with doll parts. In one dresser, each drawer held legs, arranged by size by drawer. Another chest held arms and another heads. If only I’d had an iPhone in those days–and the nerve to snap some shots!

By now I knew my kids would be beside themselves and I absolutely had to leave. I promised Bitzi I’d be back another day to see the dolls in the other buildings–and particularly the Red Riding Hoods and the Korean dolls.

But I never went back. I never wanted to go back.

Unlike Bitzi, I can say no to dolls. I can set a boundary and usually stick to it. But something about witnessing the results of her passion obsession made me feel queasy. I want to always remember to know when enough is enough–of dolls and cats. Of anything. If I can’t say no to myself, how can I say no to anybody else when they ask for something unreasonable?

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A few years later, Bitzi contacted me by letter, asking if I would be interested in buying parts of her collection as she was moving in with her children. I didn’t respond. I still feel like a heel about that.

More recently, I discovered that Bitzi was a famous doll collector. Her collection was eventually auctioned off by Theriault’s in 2008. Some of the dolls sold for thousands of dollars each. But what I saw that day at Bitzi’s was that she loved all the dolls equally: the $20 dolls and the $4,000 ones.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Dolls, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

Dolls in Our Family

When I was in Michigan for my father’s funeral and to spend time with my mother, I organized the family photo albums and loose photos so that Mom could find her way in the basement. I took a couple albums home with me to digitize for her.

The first one I worked on is an album that my mother put together when she was 10 years old, so the photos are all from the 1940s.

I love to see that the kids had dolls. In this one, my aunt is holding her two Christmas dolls. This would be about 1946 or 47.

Here my mother and her siblings are with a couple of cousins. My mom is the tallest girl because she was the oldest of all the cousins. I don’t think my uncle is holding a doll. What IS that he’s got? A bow?

I love that crocheted shade pull you can see hanging in the window. Just another little touch that was part of my young life and slowly disappeared over the years.

Given a little time, I can probably figure out what dolls most of these are. Surprisingly, none of them look like Shirley Temple dolls–and those would have been very popular.

In this last photo (actually there are a few more, but the dolls and stuffed animals aren’t as visible), my aunt (age 6) is sitting with Pat (age 7), one of their cousins. Pat is the larger girl. Pat has a very important surgery coming up next month. If you are a praying sort, please put her on your prayer list.

Notice the wagon handle off to the side, showing they are sitting in a little red wagon. And the leather sandals and saddles shoes with the stretched out saggy socks. Sometimes I think there was more in common between my childhood and my mother’s than between mine and my kids’!

I’m not sure if all the girl cousins loved dolls, but the ones in these pictures seem to have enjoyed them.

Do you have any old photos of family members with dolls? Over on Pinterest I have a board of photos (particularly vintage and antique) of children with dolls.

I don’t intend to natter on about dolls all the time, but on Thursday I think I will share with you a doll story you might find interesting. Actually it’s about The Doll Empress. You thought The Doll Lady overdid the dolls in her house? Hah, she is nothing compared with The Doll Empress.

 

 

 

 

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The Doll Lady

The Doll Lady had a storefront business selling and repairing dolls, but a few years ago she moved her dolls into her house and closed her store. Now her living room is heavily populated with dolls and headless doll torsos. Even her kitchen has curio cabinets stocked with dolls.

Last September I dropped off my grandmother’s German Kestner doll for The Doll Lady to repair the holes in her kid (a type of leather) body where sawdust was coming out. She said she could re-set her wig, as well. That was, as I said, September.

I started getting anxious by February. I began to request to pick up my doll every couple of weeks, but The Doll Lady couldn’t seem to understand why I wanted her back now, finished or not. When my dad’s illness was diagnosed as terminal I became even more agitated that I might never get my doll back.

She had been my dad’s mother’s doll for decades–and my father gave her to me several years ago, as well as some clothing my grandmother had made for her. I’d admired her for much of my life, and it was thrilling to receive her, another link between my grandmother, my father, and me.

I wrote before about my grandmother’s doll and her beautiful clothes here. When I left her with The Doll Lady, I left her without clothing so that they wouldn’t get damaged. Finally, I was able to retrieve my doll on Sunday. Here she is with her new ringlets and same vintage steel hairpins. And the patches below her knees. What a beauty.

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And here is the “reverse” view:

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This doll is over 100 years ago. She might be from the 1890s.

As I waited in the living room of The Doll Lady for the paperwork to be completed I looking around and wondered how her husband enjoys living amongst all those dolls. I know that some people don’t even like to stay in my guest room where I keep my dolls because they don’t like all those eyes upon them. But how would it be to live  right in the midst of the dolls?

Does her identity slip away or does she feel like a Doll God?

 

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Bordering on Geek

Saturday night hubby and I went to see the musical Oliver, which was a collaboration between the Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre. I’d forgotten how much I love that show and how much I miss reading 19th century British literature like Charles Dickens novels.  What a treat. Acting, singing, and music were all fabulous.

But to get to Symphony Hall, we had to make our way through streets peopled by the denizens of Comicon. Think of it as a place, not an event that occurs inside the convention center and spills out onto the surrounding streets. Particularly, think of it as a place in the minds of these people.

Sometimes I think I would have more fun if I were more geeky than I am. I know I am more geeky than hubby. So maybe he’s the one holding me back. He would never appear in public in a costume, for instance. I have a Renaissance Faire outfit all ready to go, but I haven’t actually worn it because he would be embarrassed.

In fact, I wouldn’t have minded dressing up as a character out of Oliver.

But I know I am not as geeky as the people who seem to be having a lot of fun at Comicon. From the deck of Symphony Hall I took a few pics. They aren’t very good because the angle was wrong and the tree was in the way.

Just before dark when things started happening

Just before dark when things started happening

Wait, is this Mimi from the Drew Carey show? Or is it some character I’ve never heard of?

Mimi

Here are some others:

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My favorite costume was that of Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons (Game of Thrones). Oops, yes, I am a Game of Thrones geek. I loved seeing young women in strong, beautiful costumes like Daenerys.

However, I did notice quite a few groups of young females in costume (mainly long princessy gowns) who had frustrated and longing expressions on their faces. I suspect that they weren’t having any better time than when they go out en masse to a local club.

As my kids were growing up, they wore their share of costumes for school events. My daughter wore plenty of dance costumes and, later, play costumes (and still does). I dressed up sometimes for Halloween to pass out candy.

The last year I was allowed to Trick-or Treat (Mom thought kids got too big for going out begging for candy) I wore a real 1920s Flapper dress–silk with beading–that had belonged to an elderly relative. Of course, the dress was ruined by wearing it out like that–the fabric was 40 years old and very fragile. And I couldn’t think of anything to wear under the transparent dress but a PRINT shorts outfit my grandmother had sewn for me. Luanne Oct 31, 1967 last Halloween treat or treatTherese dress

The purse was also vintage, and I made the headband. Not sure about the earrings, but I know I loved them. I always loved long dangly earrings. Looking at this pic, I’m wondering how I ended up with a cool husband when I have always bordered on geek.

Are you a geek or are you cool?

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I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads until June 7. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD

 

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