Rising to the Occasion
Marathon Visiting (Tuesday, 1 June 1993) Lauren’s been on the visiting circuit lately. Not long ago, she was hesitant to spend the night away from home. She’s making up for it now. She slept over at Claire’s several nights ago, then both girls went to Roanoke and spent the night at Rose’s. They came back from Rose’s yesterday and spent last night here. Today they’re off to Claire’s again. While we’re happy to see her so at ease socially, we do miss having her around. A little taste of what’s in store for us down the road a ways.
Tom’s Note (Monday, 7 June 1993) I left a copy of the Spring edition of The Lofty Chronicles in the community shelter last night for folks to look at. I found a note from Tom on it this morning: “Many thanks for sharing the attached. They are wonder-filled and I can well imagine that a young lady will one day enjoy them time and again–just as she now does [the] Star Wars, etc. etc.”
And just as she now enjoys pulling down and studying the two-volume album of her “baby pictures.” That’s my primary motivation for keeping this going. In addition to bridging some of the geographical distances between Lauren and her grandparents, aunts and uncles, I want her to be able to have a collection of verbal vignettes from her childhood. Hopefully she’ll find a few clues here as she grows into a deeper exploration of who she is and what her gifts are.
[And when you reach this part of the story, sweetheart, your dad sends hugs and kisses and wishes you well.]
Homework (Monday, 7 June 1993) Lauren came home the other day from playing at Claire’s, who still has another week or so of school before summer vacation begins. Today Lauren asks Joyce for some math homework. Joyce looks surprised. She complies, however, and writes out a page of problems. Lauren works on them for a few minutes. Then, shoving the sheet aside, she announces, “I hate homework.” Joyce and I grin. It is pretty apparent that Lauren had listened to Claire’s complaints about homework and wanted to try the words and the feeling on for size. But before she could denounce homework, she had to manifest some.
Baseball Practice (Monday, 7 June 1993) A nice pattern has been evolving lately on Sunday mornings. Ron’s younger brother Curty, who lives down the road, is a big sports fan and likes to coach kids. He spends a lot of time practicing with his nephew, Peter. He has also coached several school teams.
Ron asked Curty if he wanted to come over for pancakes now and then on Sunday mornings and, after breakfast, give Lauren and Sage some baseball practice. Curty liked the idea. So the two kids have been getting some good coaching once a week.
The Ear Ache (Thursday, 17 June 1993) Early Sunday morning, Lauren woke us up in tears, saying that one of her teeth was hurting her real bad and that her ear was aching, too. The tooth was a loose one that we’ve been trying to encourage to come out for several weeks, ever since the orthodontist told us that its removal would make room for a permanent tooth that’s needing to come in.
We assumed that, as happened once before, the old tooth had hung in there too long and was starting to abscess, causing the pain. So we immediately started feeding her garlic, as a natural antibiotic, and dabbed some clove oil on her gums, around the loose tooth, to help with the pain.
The pain persisted, however, and we reluctantly shifted to kids’ Tylenol. We don’t like to use it, and have only had to do so once before. By masking the pain, it disrupts two important feedback mechanisms–the pain itself, plus the body’s temperature–making it more difficult to monitor what’s going on. But it’s also hard to see one’s child suffering. So we gave her a few tablets and she was eventually able to fall back to sleep.
After breakfast, I called Eric, our dentist. He had previously given us his home phone number and had told us he’d be glad to meet us at his office any time we had a dental emergency. There was no answer, however. Nor were we able to reach him all day. Turns out he was away for the weekend…
[A note added later–Events outpaced my willingness or ability to keep up with them. To make a long story short, we finally got Lauren to the dentist Monday morning, after the repeated and generally successful use of hot vinegar compresses on her ear. Eric said that it was likely a viral infection which was causing the ear ache, rather than her loose tooth.
The pain persisted, so we called Luther, Lauren’s pediatrician. He was out of town for the week. So with some trepidation–Luther is aware of our non-traditional approach to medical treatment and is fairly supportive of it–we called the back-up pediatrician. She was very nice and surprisingly receptive to our concerns about antibiotics. Most of the parents she talks to are coming from the other side: wanting to get a prescription immediately, whether or not it’s medically necessary. Being a mother herself, she shares our concerns about the down-side of antibiotics and only uses them on her own children as a last resort, when, she added, they can be a blessing.
She listened carefully to my description of the symptoms and how the ear ache was responding to what we were doing. I told her I didn’t want to risk a ruptured ear drum and potential hearing loss, and would turn to antibiotics reluctantly, if it became necessary. She suggested that we continue what we were doing for another day or two, monitor the ear carefully, and get back to her soon.
We re-doubled our various prayers and therapies, and the next day the infection backed off. Lauren couldn’t hear out of that ear very well for several days, which made us nervous. But the doctor said that was to be expected following an ear infection and that the hearing would shortly return to normal. Which it did.]
Rising to the Occasion (Sunday, 27 June 1993) We had a strange “chance encounter” this evening, on our way home from celebrating the tenth anniversary of Zephyr, a nearby intentional community. It has been a two-day affair and Lauren has thoroughly enjoyed herself–playing exuberantly with some of her friends, swimming in the pond, and occasionally joining us for a round or two of sweats in the sauna.
Now, as we pass Smith’s Store and turn off Route 221 at dusk, on the last leg of our homeward journey, we are feeling clear and mellow and happy to be close to home. Descending the steep hill, we notice that a car has gone off the road on the other side. It’s part way down a steep embankment, on its side, pinned against a tree. The driver, a woman, is struggling to get out of the car.
We brake to a stop, jump out of the van and run across the street and down the embankment. The woman is probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s. Says her name is Regina. She is uninjured, but very disoriented. And very drunk.
She asks me to help pull her car back onto the road. Taking a quick look at how the car is wedged against the tree, I tell her that the only way her car is going to get back on the road is with the help of a tow truck. This really seems to frighten her, but seeing no other alternative, she asks us to call for one. She also wants me to call a friend of hers in Roanoke.
I go to a house beside the road and place the calls. By the time I return, several other neighbors are standing by the roadside. Someone tells Regina that Amos, who mans the tow truck at Reeds Garage, will be obligated to report the accident to the State Police. She panics.
“Who has a screwdriver?” she demands.
No one has one, so she scrambles drunkenly down the bank to the back of her car. When Amos pulls up, she is frantically using her keys in a vain attempt to remove the license plate from the car. Amos looks at her, listens to her slurred request that he get her car out of the ditch (“Right now!”) and tells her that he’d have to inform the police first.
When her pleadings fail to sway him, Regina tells him to get lost. Amos nods impassively, raises his eyebrows slightly to the neighbors, and drives away. Regina clambers back up to the road and watches him go, her frantic activity suddenly collapsing into a fierce despair.
“I’ll just have to walk back to Roanoke, then,” she says.
“If you walk along 221 at this time of night,” someone offers, “you’re likely to get yourself killed. No one’s going to be able to see you.”
“So what?!” she shoots back.
“Listen, Regina,” I say. “Your friend’s on his way up here. He can take you home.”
“I don’t have a home any more. I don’t have anything any more. It’s too late for that.”
And turning her back on us, she heads toward 221, striding up the hill somewhat erratically, but with surprising speed and determination.
Joyce and I look at each other wordlessly, get back into the van with Lauren, turn it around, and go after Regina. We stop her twice to try to talk her into coming home with us and waiting there for the arrival of her friend. She fluctuates wildly between expressing heartfelt appreciation for our caring about her and telling us, in no uncertain terms, to stay the hell out of her life.
On the third try, Joyce jumps out of the van, grabs hold off of Regina and says, “Listen, you turkey. I don’t care whether or not this is our business or whether we’re butting into your life. We’re not about to let you stagger drunkenly down 221 and get creamed by some car doing 60 mph. So shut up and get your ass into the van.”
And she pulls open the sliding side door.
Regina stares at her, wide-eyed and irate. She opens her mouth to get off a stinging retort, looks at Joyce again, then closes her mouth and climbs meekly into the van. Joyce closes the door, locks it, and climbs into the passenger’s seat.
“Let’s go home,” she says.
On the way to Light Morning, Regina’s mood continues to fluctuate wildly–self-pity one moment, vituperative anger the next, and insightful lucidity the next. I keep a constant eye on the rear-view mirror, more than a little apprehensive about having this distraught and perhaps dangerously unbalanced woman sitting next to Lauren in the back seat. But Lauren rises to the occasion, calmly consoling Regina and telling her that everything’s going to be all right. Gradually, the gentle concern coming from the child next to her begins to soften some of her sharp edges.
During her lucid intervals, Regina tells us about having lost her job, her house, most of her family and friends, and now her car and her hope. She had driven up to Twin Falls this afternoon, walked across the treacherously slippery creek just above the falls (a crossing that has cost more than a few careless hikers their lives), and then prayed to God for something, anything, to turn her life around and give her a reason to keep on living.
She had brought along a bottle of something to deaden her pain. But this had only caused her, upon leaving Twin Falls, to lose control of her car. And so we had found her struggling in her car at dusk–trapped, dazed and desperate.
Listening to her speak, as we near Light Morning, I recall my fire experience and Ron’s Christmas experience–people reaching the end of their tether, the pressures becoming too intense, the cultural and psychological binding spells fraying, and then the swift, sudden descent into the maelstrom of what is commonly called a “nervous breakdown.” And yet, along with the blithering idiocy, the emotional roller-coaster ride, and the incoherent psychic turbulence, can also come unexpected and very precious gifts of self-awareness and renewal.
I don’t know if Regina’s crisis will bless her in this way. We pull the van to a stop above Ron and Marlene’s house. Ron comes out and helps her inside. Marlene offers her a cigarette, several cups of coffee, and a listening ear. An hour later her friend Donny arrives, thanks us, and takes Regina home. And our long weekend at last draws to a close.
Rabbit, Rabbit (Saturday, 3 July 1993) Lauren has just suffered a big loss. She’s been eagerly anticipating spending a week with Joyce at the Augusta Folk Life Center in West Virginia, where Joyce has been an assistant calligraphy instructor for quite a few years. This would have been the third time that Lauren’s accompanied her. Lauren loves it there and had an especially wonderful time last year–the friends and the food, the music and the dancing.
This year, however, not quite enough students signed up for the calligraphy course to justify the expense of an assistant instructor during these tight economic times. Even though Lauren had been forewarned that this might happen, she was still devastated when the letter arrived and Joyce had to break the news to her.
Joyce’s own disappointment was tempered by the relief of not having to expend the significant amount of time and energy needed to pull off such a trip. Lauren’s misery, however, is unmitigated.
On the morning of July 1st she had made a valiant and successful effort to remember to say “Rabbit, Rabbit” immediately upon awakening. Superstition has it that if these are the first words uttered on the first day of a new month it will bring a person good luck.
Lauren had followed this magical ritual faithfully, praying for the trip to Augusta to come through. But both the universe and her personal good luck charm had failed her. Now she stands before me, her eyes filled with tears.
“I am never, ever,” she says passionately, “going to say ‘Rabbit, Rabbit’ again.”
Then all the pain and disappointment come pouring out and she sobs in my arms.
Thanks, Dad (Saturday, 10 July 1993) Lauren’s been away on overnight visits at friends’ houses for the past three nights. This afternoon, while I’m up at the community shelter, she comes back from Claire’s, breathlessly wanting to extend the streak to four.
I look at her. The enthusiasm seems a bit strained. She looks wired. Over-extended.
“No,” I reply. “Three nights away is plenty.”
She begs and pleads and rants and sulks for a few minutes. Then, seeming to sense that her unusual reaction is only reinforcing my feeling of “no,” she pouts off down to the house.
Half an hour later, I go to the house myself to package calligraphy. Lauren is cuddled up in an arm chair, a book in one hand, a rice cake in the other. She looks up from her book. With clear eyes and a calm voice, she says, “Thanks, Dad, for making me stay home. I guess this is where I really wanted to be.”
I hug her and turn toward the calligraphy.
Joyce and I generally give Lauren plenty of leeway when it comes to choosing what she wants to do and where she wants to go. This time my flexibility (in being willing to shift to a more traditional “father knows best” mode) and Lauren’s flexibility (in being able to acknowledge her true needs) both felt good.
Julius Caesar (Sunday, 11 July 1993) “Hey, Dad. Where did the name ‘July’ come from?”
We’re in the kitchen. Lauren’s helping me prepare a meal.
“When they re-worked the calendar a long time ago,” I reply, “they named July in honor of a Roman emperor named Julius Caesar. July comes from his name, Julius.”
“Is he related to Little Caesar’s, that pizza place in Roanoke?”
“Well, sort of,” I say, chuckling to myself. “Pizza is supposedly an Italian food, even though I seem to recall hearing that it was first served in this country, and Rome, which is the capital of Italy, used to be the capital of the Roman Empire and is where the Roman emperors, including Julius Caesar, lived.”
“Did they live in Caesar’s Palace?”
I steal a quick glance in her direction to see if she’s pulling my leg. Her face, however, says the question is genuine.
“I think Caesar’s Palace is a gambling casino in Las Vegas,” I reply. “It’s just a catchy name.”
This seems to satisfy her for the moment because the questions stop. I continue cutting onions for the spaghetti sauce, wondering about home education, and the differences between education and schooling, and what cultural literacy means, and how the inner geography of the mind takes magical shape as we grow through childhood, becoming a blending of what’s impressed upon us from the outside and what’s already there (intrinsic, inherent, unique) prior to the receipt of any impressions.