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Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Thanksgiving

I'm ready to do my shopping, which is going to be rather a quiet business, almost all of it online, with a minimum of wrapping and fuss. I said the tree should be at the kids' house this year, but Beloved is one of those major traditionalists, carols, cards all over, Advent candles, Advent calendars, tree, trimmings, fir and holly branches along the mantel, glittering packages, cranberry sauce. On our schedule, we'll see how much of it really happens this year.

Neighbors have lights up all over their yards and houses already, including the icicle lights along the eaves, which really brings out the bah humbug in me, underscored by the self-righteousness of my trying not to use power needlessly. Humph, I say to myself, rumbling past in my hydrocarbons-emitting Saturn wagon. It has 179,000 miles on it and can no longer boast 43 miles/gallon highway. Needs clutch, brakes, and an engine seal, too. But at least it's paid for.

Because the Portland tribe could not be here today (Thanksgiving), we had ours last weekend. They placed their order in advance (Ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, pickles, olives, bubbly cider, three kinds of pie) and drove down, about 130 miles. Middle Brother and Daughter also came over. They're both vegetarians, so the gravy Beloved made used no drippings. I fixed a salad with walnuts and tangerines in it, and fed the bread machine a recipe of walnut-apple juice-three-grain bread.

I don't bake in the machine; I pretty much use it as a mixer only, then turn out the dough and finish kneading and shaping it by hand. My trademark loaf is round, about ten inches in diameter and five inches high in the middle, with three slices across the top. The dough was apt to rise slowly in such a chilly house early in the day, so it occurred to me to leave it in the squarish bread-machine mixer and hang the mixer from a hook in the ceiling above the wood stove. This did the trick, and there was a finished loaf in time to send the young people home with it.

We gathered around the dining room table, which is known as the High Table because Beloved is rather tall and I built it to her specifications, and sang grace and dug in. We placed Oldest Local Boy, who is twenty-six, at the head of the table because he was the oldest guy present, I told him that if his Atlanta brother had come, who's thirty-six, that would be who would be sitting there. "Yep," he said, nodding. He's active in the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is socially very feudal, and traditions of rank and precedence mean a lot to him. I could feel it in his reply, and could sense the rightness of this for him as he took his place at the head of the table.

Presently, I rose from my seat and held aloft my glass of apple juice, and the others raised their glasses as well, nine at table, including my oldest granddaughter, now six. By way of a toast, I sang them a toned-down version of the drinking song from Die Fledermaus. Only Beloved had ever heard this before.

Happy days,
Here's to all the happy days.
No more sorrows, no more care,
For the ones you love are there.

Happy days,
Here's to all the happy days.
No more sorrows, no more care,
For the ones you love are there.


It's actually a kind of a round, but as no one knew that (they all love rounds), it was a solo. We clinked glasses.

I spent a lot of time playing with Granddaughter on the floor, using toy dishes and plastic food to create a Thanksgiving feast for the dolls.

Daughter and a daughter-in-law drifted into my room and pawed through my jewelry box. They found some old-fashioned enameled dogwood blossom earrings, of the snap-on kind, and put it on Daughter's ear at the top, like a Tahitian bloom tucked behind the ear. She came running out. "Mommies! Check this out!"

Outside, a glister of grey rain and fog. The geese had gone south, the birds that remained to check out our bird feeder looked like wet dishrags; the clouds scudded low along the narrow valley, cutting off the mountaintops on either hand, and cars trundled desultorily along our country lane, wipers stuttering on their slowest settings.

Granddaughter insisted on a tour of the soggy garden. I re-dressed and, taking a small basket, swished with her through the wet and tangled grass past the grape arbor to the circle defined by new spears of elephant garlic, within which stood random stalks of derelict summer vegetables. The mulch squished and squeaked under our boots.

We found that one variety of tomatoes, akin to roma, were actually in good shape, and collected a few of them from the frost-blackened branches. The cabbages were all in good form, but we didn't need them. Beloved and I had been derelict in getting in the winter squash, all of which, acorn squashes and spaghettis, had come through the one freeze unburnt, so, after greeting the bedraggled sunflowers that she herself had planted, Granddaughter set about gathering the squashes and carrying them up to the house. I showed her how to snap them off a couple of inches from the end, to make them last longer. While she marched back and forth with her treasures, I snapped off some celery to bring in. The rain increased.

Hand in hand we headed for house and woodstove.

It was a very successful day.

Making sure the young people got most of the leftovers, Beloved and I sent them all home and cleaned house, which took relatively little time. We sat by the last of the fire as the darkness looked in at the windows.

As we were going to bed, the phone rang. Oldest Local had left his cell phone and would like to pick it up. "Tonight?" "Yes, there's someone I have to come back to Eugene to take to Portland, so I could come by, about midnight?" "Uh, Ok. Be careful."

We left the phone and a few more things, including an acorn squash for Granddaughter, on the freezer in the mudroom, turned on the porch light, dove into the quilts, and snoozed, legs and arms tangled.

Sometime in the night, footsteps went into the bathroom, checked the refrigerator one more time, gathered the oddments from the top of the freezer, and turned off the porch light on the way out.

He knows his way around the house in the dark, having grown up in it.

-- risa b

Friday, November 18, 2005

Day of remembrance

I'm very, very tired just now.

My grant money has just about run out, so I'm spending more and more time, including weekends and evenings, getting as much done as possible before submitting the final report. There will be a home page with at least three and at most fourteen newspaper titles, searchable, and more than a million records. Since the final publication date is set for September 2006 I'm not too worried about the 130,000 records we haven't done yet. I should be able to fit that into my regular budget as a project for my reference and shelving workers, which is how we did the 102,000 records of the student newspaper index.

I'll be throwing a pizza party today for my student workers in honor of their 700,000th record on the Oregonian index, so I stopped at the country grocery store on the way in to town to pick up some 2-liter pops and chips. The last time I was in there, I was read as a guy with pink fingernails. "My son does that, too," confided the cashier.

This time I was all me, and the manager rang me up himself, chatting self-consciously in the way that older guys do when they think a lady's attractive.

Well, okay ... I suppose I shouldn't disagree with him!

The way to carry this off, unless you insist on either being a martyr or a hellion, is to walk like a countess. Head up, shoulders back, proud, offer thanks in your best voice, and tip generously where tipping is indicated.

:::

I have attended my first women's support group! It's called, aptly enough, "Women in Transition," and is for women over 55 who are experiencing things like "empty nest" or being newly retired. It was a potluck, and I didn't have the time to put anything together as I was coming from work, but earlier in the day I had provided snacks for an event and so I brought the leftovers, some of which we actually used.

There were nine of us. After dinner, we sat in a circle in the living room, introduced ourselves, talked about where we are in our lives. Where I am in mine, I think, is mostly realizing the unintended yet very real harm I have done over the years.

When a six-year-old transsexual gets it that he or she (or she or he) can be humiliated, ostracized, punished, or even killed for showing her/his true nature, there's a shuffling of the deck, a desperate search for the cards that can actually be played. I can do this, but not that. I can say this, but never that. The self disappears from public view, and is replaced by a constructed persona. To make this persona work consistently, one must believe in it oneself. So, later, the coming out is such a shock to those who thought they knew someone, or even loved someone, who in a sense never existed.

For them it's not a birth, it's a death.

A sudden death, as when a car strikes a bridge abutment, and they realize with horror, while hearing about it on the evening news, that they're talking about someone they know -- or, rather, knew.

Once you have opted to cast aside that persona, one after another of your family, friends and associates has to come to a decision whether to acknowledge the "new" you as you. You don't get to transition alone; everyone gets to do it with you.

Or not.

Like my dad.

And over the decades, the inconsistencies, the panic-driven behaviors, have left a visible trail of damage across one's personal history, even if one never does come out. What price survival?

:::

We held our Day of Remembrance Tuesday the 15th, so that local folks could go to the one in Portland on the weekend. We couldn't get anything reserved but the University's cavernous ballroom, in which our small crowd of under a hundred people seemed a bit lost. As people came in, they were given either a pink or blue balloon, and during the presentations, "gender police" would bust people they regarded as not having the right balloon, a well-done little performance piece. "Allies" that were non-trans stood up to the "police," making a useful point. Something loud was going on in the next room, unfortunately, so I couldn't really hear the speakers, but they were well received. Then we all trooped out onto the terrace to hold a short vigil in the cold, damp night.

We set up 24 tea lights along a wall, and a friend of mine and I lit them one by one as the names of this year's victims were read. When the period of silence ended, I extinguished each candle, slowly, almost ritually, one by one, and was definitely tearful by the time this was done. I looked up, and saw that others were similarly affected.

Too much blood.

-- risa b

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Barbershop quartet

The stormy weather has hit. The coots are rafting together on the reservoir, the blue heron's hunching her narrow shoulders, and people are -- the word I'm looking for is scurrying -- about under a wide variety of umbrellas, some of which are blown inside out already.

I called the cat, Gracie, as I came home and unlocked the door, but she didn't come out from under the house. I built the fire and had dinner, and after awhile Beloved came home and had dinner as well. We just do our own when we are this low-energy. Mine, this time, was a wheat-tortilla burrito filled with diced tomato, bell pepper, tofu, Chinese cabbage and pepper jack, with salsa, made in four minutes on a George Foreman grill. Hers looked like oatmeal; I didn't feel nosy enough to ask. We gave each other the scant news of our lives -- which are so busy, we might as well "text" each other: ruok? imok, lol. ttyl. Or whatever it is the young people are saying to one another with their thumbs on the keyboards of their postage-stamp sized phones as they run from class to class.

"I think Gracie died today," I add.

She nods, almost absent-mindedly, then remembers to look sad. No, that's not fair. She is sad, but she's almost too tired to show it.

"I think," I said, glancing up at the clock and the calendar both, "that I will go look for her now and wrap her up in something nice, and do the funeral tomorrow after work when there's enough light to dig properly."

"OK. I won't be able to make it."

"That's all right. I don't think she's bothered about it one way or another."

I changed from my work dress into jeans and a jacket, tied a bandanna around my head, and walked around the outside of the house with a flashlight in one coat pocket and a lovely old shawl in the other. Kneeling in the wet grass, I pulled open the hatch to the crawl space and shone the light inside. Shreds of fiberglass hung everywhere; cobwebs covered everything; the height of the space was about eighteen inches throughout. A tighter squeeze than hands-and-knees. More like snake-on-belly. And Gracie would be on the other side of the partition, meaning it would be about sixty feet to her and sixty back again.

The last time I went in here I was a guy. I recognized a new feeling; as in yuck -- new to me in this kind of situation; I used to revel in crawl spaces and mucking about with plumbing and the like. Would have made a good sewer rat. Not any more.

I worked my way to the partition gap and shone the light around the corner. She was there, stretched out and very still, right where I expected her to be. It took me awhile to negotiate the corner and get to her body, which was unexpectedly long and heavy, after so much of her had melted away in the last month. I stroked the grey and white fur along her left side, and began crying ... such a beautiful cat ... who would start a universe and put such stunning creatures in it, only to let them shrivel away into nothingness?

The evangelicals deny a soul to cats, but Gracie had looked into my eyes, demanding an explanation. Only my equal before any gods that might be could do this as she did.

If we have souls, then so do the animals. If they do not, we do not.

I wrapped her in the shawl and crawled away with her from her last lonely hiding place.

:::

Two days later, Beloved and I attended a gathering to which we had been invited in a very small town nearby. They had successfully raised quite a lot of money to relocate their all-volunteer library and hire a real librarian, and were celebrating with a community feed, concert and book talk.

I had a moment of alarm on entering the community hall; there were close to a hundred people, only about three of whom I knew, and they were almost all what might be called the Grange type. Beefy guys in NFL caps who drive tractors and trucks all day, and nervous, skinny wives trying to control their kids' desserts and laugh at their husbands' jokes at the same time.

We are a de facto lesbian couple, new enough at this not to be good at avoiding "public displays of affection," and we weren't about to sit apart, even in this roomful of Winchester® belt buckles and keepsake bracelets. And I'm still in the dark, a bit, as to how well I can pass in this kind of setting.

Not to worry.

The wives pulled me into line, chatted me up, filled my plate and Styrofoam cup, made room for me at the long tables, and traded admiring looks at pictures of children and grandchildren with me. Old Home Week. Beloved squeezed my hand under the table, pleased to see that it was working for me.

I went for a coffee refill for us both, and a huge jolly looking white-haired man, who clearly didn't see me, cut right in front of me at the urn, talking over my head to a man behind me. I waited patiently, and he almost backed over me as he turned, never skipping a conversational beat. I got my refill and then Beloved's -- she uses twice the sugar and cream that I do -- and as I stepped away to return to the tables, Mr. Big began to back over me again, from yet another direction. I was saved by the man he was talking to, who grabbed him and hauled him out of my path. In all this time, he never knew I was there.

I found a word rolling around in my mouth, as if I had never tasted it before: boorish.

So present to the wives, so invisible to the husbands! "Welcome to our world," I have been told more than once.

As I got back to our seats, miraculously not spilling, I heard the emcee introduce "the musical event of the evening, some sweet and crazy guys who need no introduction." To wild acclaim, four men, as unlike one another in looks and build as could be imagined, wearing red blazers, ascended to the stage. I recognized my heavy-set nemesis among them.

They were the local barbershop quartet, and I could see from the faces around me that they were highly regarded.

After regaling us with some doubtful but gently tolerated humor, they launched into "My Home Town," with marvelously tight harmonies. My Santa look-alike turned out to be the tenor, and a remarkably talented one at that. We all erupted into applause. The smallest of the four, the lead singer, with a boyish face and smooth, ruddy cheeks belying his sparse white hair, stepped forward.

"Now, all you ladies out there worked really hard to bring us all together this evening, and we fellas want to show our appreciation, so we are dedicating this next song to you."

He stepped back into line, and the baritone reached into his pocket, brought out a tuning pipe, and blew a short note. "Hmmmm ..." went the four of them. The lead began, and one line at a time, each of the others joined in, as when singing a round.

If you listen I'll sing you a sweet little song
Of a flower that's now dropt and dead,
Yet dearer to me, yes than all of its mates,
Though each holds aloft its proud head.
Twas given to me by a girl that I know,
Since we've met, faith I've known no repose.
She is dearer by far than the world's brightest star,
And I call her my wild Irish Rose.

My wild Irish Rose, the sweetest flower that grows.
You may search everywhere, but none can compare
with my wild Irish Rose.
My wild Irish Rose, the dearest flower that grows,
And some day for my sake, she may let me take
the bloom
from my wild Irish Rose.

They may sing of their roses, which by other names,
Would smell just as sweetly, they say.
But I know that my Rose would never consent
To have that sweet name taken away.
Her glances are shy when e'er I pass by
The bower where my true love grows,
And my one wish has been that some day I may win
The heart of my wild Irish Rose.

My wild Irish Rose, the sweetest flower that grows.
You may search everywhere, but none can compare
with my wild Irish Rose.
My wild Irish Rose, the dearest flower that grows,
And some day for my sake, she may let me take
the bloom
from my wild Irish Rose.


The effect, on me at least, was electric. I found myself sitting up straighter, proud to have a song dedicated to me, even if I did come late to the party. Around me were women who had made more than 40,000 beds; perhaps that had indeed taken the bloom from them, in a manner of speaking, but you could see they regarded it as having been, in a way that has been important for thousands of years, an honor.

I don't think I was the only lady present who reached for her handkerchief.

-- risa b

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