Category Archives: Childhood

Of Death and Dying

My mother-in-law passed a few nights ago, and when the news came my wife, daughter, and I huddled together by the bed and said little. We had been expecting her death day after day, night after night, and now that it was over we waited silently in the finality of that knowledge.

It was raining that night, and when I went alone later to the main part of our house, the sound of the rain drumming on our metal roof seemed especially melancholic, and I instinctively went to a window for its rare comfort: the sadness,  the melancholy, my mother-in-law’s last years with dementia, my Mennonite backstory, the cold fact of death and dying…

And this, too, a memory:

How once in Pennsylvania when I was very young and playing by the creek that curved through our farm, I spotted a fish. It was on the surface of the water and close to the bank, and I could see its eye. Knelling down on my hands and knees, I reached into the water for the fish and hooked it to the line of my homemade  fishing pole. And then, the fish dangling in front of me, I raced up to the house to show someone. Walking directly into the kitchen, I called out the news:

Look! I caught a fish!

My mother, turning to learn my meaning, stopped what she was doing and immediately started laughing. She had both hands at her waist, elbows out.

I caught it, I said. A fish.

But Wilmer, she said.

What?

You caught it by the tail. Are you sure you didn’t catch it dead?

I caught it in the creek, I said.

Yes, but…

But she was laughing and smiling and I, suddenly understanding everything, rushed out from the kitchen for the creek, where I unhooked the fish, threw it into the water, and watched it float away upside and dead. When I reached the willow tree where I often played, I squeezed through to its dark open cavity and beat my fists in the darkness. And wept. And said those words the hired men sometimes said.

Pig Skull (again)

Quetzal showed up yesterday (I don’t know why) with a skull we found years ago somewhere on the farm. I remembered later that I had written about it, had posted it on some rendition of this blog, went digging to see if I still had the writing, found it, and so here it is, its second life.


Pig Skull

A skull turned up one morning at our house during an extended Sunday brunch we were hosting for our neighbors. Dave, who lives on the next farm over, had taken the kids for a walk in the woods, and when they returned, they had a skull, a medium-sized, off-white, animal skull that, while broken distinctly into three pieces (cranium, mandible, and single tooth), fit together perfectly.

For awhile the skull was the kids’ thing. They chased each with the point of the tooth; they tricked it out in my new Tingly hat; they pretended to make the jaw bone talk; they bickered over basic holding rights. Continue reading

Pity Me For Not Doing Likewise

I have the good fortune of living with a girl who acts out this kind of thing every day of her life: hanging upside down, jumping into ponds, slack-dressing the cat, hiding under the bed with a flashlight and two hamsters.

Pity me for not doing likewise.

So how is it that we come to filter our lives of every shade of upside-downness? Of trading in every free-form energy for some saltless formality?  No undies showing, no bare feet, no dirty knees…

It’s a universal loss for all of us, I’d say, what with these 50 years living by rote and dreaming of riches, of sitting on our asses fattening.  Far better to hang upside down and shout at a right-side up pig. Continue reading

On Mother’s Day

1.

I wish I could say straightaway that my mother was an original, that she had remarkable insight into the issues of her day, that she served in the Peace Corps and loved to snowshoe, that she once toured the country as a green-eyed ballerina.

But I can’t. My mother was not an original. She was born and she grew up. She married, loved her husband, had children, loved her children, grew ill, grew old, died. There is a story in this sequence of events, a worthy and beautiful story, to be sure, but in large part it’s the old and often-told story of reflection. For to see my mother was to see who or what she stood next to. Invisibility was my mother’s gift. She was a natural. She disappeared as her personality and life journey dictated almost every day of her life. Continue reading

Lest We Forget

Here’s a quick meditation on work,  success, childhood, schooling, parenting,   American culture….  8 minutes.