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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Convent, gone

All that remains. November 5, 2017. I never realized until I saw this rubble that the mortar used on these bricks was purple. Yellow bricks with purple mortar. All these years, and I never noticed that.


The former convent at the old St. Mary's school in Nanticoke has been torn down.

St. Mary's church (background), new rectory (left), convent (right), November 6, 2005 - twelve years less one day ago.

Perhaps some explanation is necessary. In the olden days, a Roman Catholic Parish consisted of several physical parts. Central, of course, was the church itself. This was the gathering place of the members of the parish for weekly attendance at Mass, and for special masses throughout the year. Next to the church was the rectory, the home of the parish priest - or, often, priests. This also served as an office for the priest, a place for him to meet with members of the parish for parish business or private conversations. Near to the church was the parish school. At one time, Catholic schools were the primary alternative to the public school system in many areas. These schools were small, but each parish usually had its own, and even in a small city like Nanticoke this meant multiple Catholic schools for the multiple parishes. Next to the school was a convent. The convent provided dormitory-like housing for the parish nuns, who also served as the primary teachers at the Catholic schools.

The whole system has been in decay since before I was born. My parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa (commonly called St. Mary's), had already combined its school system with that of crosstown parish St. Stanislaus. Kindergarten was at St. Mary's, as were first grade and all subsequent odd-numbered grades; even-numbered grades had classes at St. Stan's. This arrangement ended before I made it to sixth grade, at which point all classes were being held in St. Mary's. There just weren't enough students to sustain two schools.

"New" rectory, convent, and school, March 2005

There also weren't enough nuns to teach all the grades. Kindergarten was taught by a lay teacher, as were second and third grade. At least one other class was taught by a lay teacher - sixth grade, I believe. The nuns were getting older, and more of them went to the retirement home in Reading each year.

I graduated from eighth grade in 1981. Not long after, St. Mary's and St. Stan's combined their schools with the nearby Holy Trinity parish. (Another parish, St. Joseph's, had closed its school a few years earlier, sending its handful of students to St. Mary's.) All of the classes were held in Holy Trinity's school. St. Mary's school closed.

With the closing of each school, the associated convent became superfluous. While nuns provided other services in the parish, their primary role was educational. Without students and a school, the nuns were no longer needed. They moved out of the convents, which, like the schools, were either repurposed or left vacant.

And so the convent at St. Mary's has been vacant for over thirty years. Until this week, when it was torn down.

*********


The Nuns' Bridge, which allowed them to walk directly from the convent to the school. Below is the entrance where my mom and her fellow students would enter the convent to take shelter during air raids. The nearness of the buildings captured any wind and turned it into a raging vortex. Photo taken November 6, 2005.

My mom went to the same grade school as me. This is a strange thought, that she and I walked the same hallways, climbed the same stairs, sat in the same classrooms.

She has her own memories of the convent. For me it was a dark and forbidding place. I was only inside it a few times, and only to serve Mass, during the periodic but infrequent masses held inside the convent exclusively for the nuns. I remember nuns on kneelers, clutching rosaries.

I also remember the smell of baking coming from the basement of the convent sometimes. This was the basement that my mom remembered, the place that would serve as a shelter during air raid drills. She grew up during World War II. Air raids were a real concern.

I drove her past the rubble of the convent after Mass yesterday. Her breath caught as she remembered those long-ago days of seeking refuge in a place that is now no longer there.

Church and convent. The area where my mom and her classmates would take shelter during WWII air raid drills is in the foreground, now covered with creeping weeds.

The rubble that was once a convent.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Halloween 2017

I didn't intend to pass out candy last night, but I did.

I had bought rather a lot of candy to be passed out at work, as coworkers were allowed to bring their children in in costume. Despite generously doling out candy by the fistful and leaving a huge pile to be passed out by a coworker who would be there several hours past the end of my shift, I still brought home a fairly enormous amount of candy.

My shift ended at 2:30. As I drove home I noticed the woman in the car behind me was wearing some sort of Nefertiti headdress. I passed by a few kids and their parents at a Halloween event at the Red Cross. After taking my mom to All Saints' Day mass (which ended with the organist breaking into Bach's Toccata and Fuge in D Minor, the first time I ever heard it played live), we saw numerous groups of kids and parents getting out to an early start of Trick-or-Treating, and as we pulled in front of her house, the neighbor boy patiently waited on his front lawn for friends to arrive while dapperly dressed as Orson Krennic from Rogue One. I decided then that if all these people were putting effort into Halloween, I would pass out candy at my mom's house.

One of the front steps there needs repair - that's on my to-do list for my current staycation, brought on by having nearly two weeks of use-it-or-lose-it vacation time - so I didn't want to make the kiddies walk up the steps. Instead I fitted myself with winter gear - sweater, scarf, coat, gloves, over-the-ears hat - set a chair out at the bottom of the steps, turned on the porch light, and sat down under the fading twilight to await the Trick-or-Treaters.

There weren't many houses in the neighborhood passing out candy, but there were a few, so my night didn't just consist of seated stargazing. Kids came in groups, anywhere from two to seven. A few were alone, escorted by their parents. Most were younger, but young or old, everyone got candy. Quite a few people brought along their dogs in costume, but all I had for them were pets on the head, which they appreciated.

Most costumes were fairly generic, or at least had no discernible connection to any celebrity. I had a Batman, and a pretty elaborate Cleopatra, and only one Donald Trump - I only realized this after I noticed the orange makeup smeared over his face. No Fake Melanias, which would have been a pretty easy costume: a wig, big sunglasses, and a raincoat. (Note for future readers: Donald Trump recently did a speech where he pointed out, unnecessarily, that his wife Melania was standing right next to him. Melania, who was in fact standing next to him in a raincoat and oversized sunglasses, nodded slightly and turned her head almost mechanically. It was an odd thing, and immediately spawned tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theories that this was not in fact Melania but a hastily-put-together double. I really think of this as a companion piece to an event a month earlier when Trump apparently forgot that Melania was standing next to him at an event, and expressed regret that she couldn't be there.)

I had started handing out candy around 6:30, and decided to wrap things up at 8:00. My cousin brought her daughter (dressed as Rainbow Dash, not Rainbow Brite) over toward the end of the night. Shortly after that a young couple came past on the sidewalk, pulling a wagon with two little girls who were probably not much more than two years old. The parents asked the girls if they wanted to go to one last house, but they both said they were too tired. I jumped up and went to them, loading up the girls' bags with handfuls of candy. They were all very appreciative.

In the end I wound up with leftover candy. But I was glad I got to pass out what I did.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

BlueBear, April 2009 - October 20, 2017

Two of my friends lost their pet cats this week. In both cases the cats were quite sickly, facing many chronic health issues. One died on Wednesday, another on Thursday.

I didn't expect that BlueBear would be dead by Friday night.

BlueBear was one of a litter of feral kittens born in April of 2009. We took in his sister, Bowie, first, and then his brother, Thor. BlueBear we caught with a Havahart trap baited with garden netting. BlueBear loved to play in the garden netting, so I figured it would be an ideal thing to trap him with. It was.

BlueBear was the biggest of our cats, bigger than any cat since Ashes, and maybe bigger than him. He was one of two black cats in our house. I always felt very lucky to have two black cats in the house. "Miniature panthers," I called them.

BlueBear as a newly-caught kitten. The blue had mostly left his eyes.

BlueBear used to love to sit on the back of a chair and gently chew on my scalp. He would often hold my head in his paws to position it just right, and then extend his claws to make sure I stayed still. He didn't like when I let my hair grow long, but returned to this practice once it was short again.

I began a new shift a few weeks ago: Monday through Friday, 6:00 AM to 2:30 PM. This means that I need to be out of bed by 4:00 AM to do all that needs to be done, and also need to be in bed shortly after 9:00 PM. Fridays I can indulge myself a bit, staying up later than usual because I can sleep later than usual on Saturday. But this past Friday found me dozing in a chair while watching the news. Various cats were scattered around me. BlueBear was in the bow window in the front of the house, one of his favorite spots for sunning himself and watching the outside world. He, like the other cats, also has a habit of nibbling on the (non-toxic) houseplants in the window - and often throws up what he had eaten. So I didn't find it at all unusual when BlueBear began to make retching sounds like he was trying to cough up a hairball. He did this a few times, and then wandered off into the next room, creeping along with a wobbly gait. Bad hairball, I figured, and this thought was confirmed when I heard him give a brief yowl and another retch from the next room. I roused myself and went into that room to find him, but he scampered out into the room I had just come from. Fine, I thought. I had to write out a bill anyway. I would check on him after I was done.

[061109_Kittens.jpg]
BlueBear (top), Bowie (left), and Thor (right) as kittens

I wrote out that bill - the only one I still pay by mail - put a stamp on the envelope and sealed it up. I went to put it in the spot where I would remember to mail it the next day, and noticed a suspicious looking lump under a carpet. I nudged it with my foot, and BlueBear dashed out, to hide in one of his favorite hiding spots - inside the pedal chamber of a disused and depowered organ.

I returned to my bills and went through all the other bills I had, noting either each one had already been paid or the dates on which they were due. I marked the due dates in my ledger, sorted out the to-be-paid from the already-paid from the junk mail. I heard BlueBear yowl faintly from the other room, possibly from inside the organ. I sorted everything back together and put it on the organ bench, which serves as my mail sorting station.

Thor and Bluebear, October 27, 2009


Enough of this, I thought. I went down on my belly to pull BlueBear out from under the organ. I reached in and pulled out...another cat. Where is BlueBear?, I wondered. I looked around. I spotted him sprawled out under a coffee table, glaring at me.

I picked him up. He yowled again and struggled - with his forelimbs. His hindquarters were limp.

I took him off to a bathroom we use for cat isolation. I put him down and he proceeded to crawl away with his hindquarters dragging. I got my mom, let her know that there was a problem with BlueBear. Let her know that we would probably have to take him to the emergency vet.

I think we both knew that this would be a one-way trip.

We didn't know for sure what had happened. She speculated he had had a stroke, which didn't seem right. I have never heard of a stroke affecting only the lower half of the body, both legs and the tail. I speculated he had somehow broken his back, but there seemed to be no other sign of the sort of trauma that would accompany this.

We made it up to the emergency vet fairly quickly. BlueBear cried a bit going down to the car, but my mom was able to keep him calm during the ride. It was 8:00 when she was leaving messages for my sister and brother, letting her know where we were. Where we were going. What had happened.

Once there I quickly and succinctly explained his condition. They rushed him back immediately for an examination. We were directed to a nearby waiting area.

As we seated ourselves a young, athletic-looking woman approached us. She apologized for the intrusion, but said that she couldn't help but overhear our situation. And, she explained, she was here for exactly the same reason.

Now, her situation was not the same as ours. Her cat was 14 or 15, while ours was not yet nine. But her cat had experienced the same sudden onset of lower-body paralysis.

As we conversed, a young veterinarian came out and asked us to join him in a private room.

He took a quick history of BlueBear. Medicines, vaccinations, is he an outdoor cat? None of that, in retrospect, seems relevant to what he told us next. BlueBear had apparently experience a "saddle thrombus"

PetMD: Saddle Thrombus: Every Cat Owner's Worst Nightmare

Saddle thrombus is, basically, a blood clot that has traveled from the heart though the aorta and down into the area where the artery splits to feed blood to the lower parts of the cat's body. It has now created a blockage, and is denying - has been denying - blood flow to the lower half of the body. Treatment is possible, involving radical surgery, but the likelihood of recovery is close to zero - and the likelihood of death during or shortly after surgery is high.

We knew what the other option was. We knew what had to be done.

The doctor brought us back into the holding area where BlueBear was being kept in an oxygen-rich chamber.  He seemed distraught, but we were both able to put an arm through an access port and pet him, That calmed him a bit. I touched his back legs, and as the doctor had told us, they were cold. No blood flow.

We stayed with him for a while, but we knew that he was upset and confused and frightened and, I believe, in pain. We wanted to make that stop. Bowie had died in my arms. Nikki had died in my mother's. Both suffered a lot in the end, I think. We didn't want to put BlueBear - or ourselves - through that.

When we were ready, we were directed to another room. BlueBear was given sedation before he was brought to us. He lay on the blanket they had provided - the one we had brought him in on had become terribly soiled on the ride up - eyes open, but motionless. We were allowed a final few moments with him. Not long enough. Never long enough.

Then the doctor gave the two injections that rendered him insensate and did something else - stopped the brain directly, he told us. And then it was over. The time was about 9:15 PM - I didn't check it. BlueBear was dead. Another box to be added to the collection.


CODA 1: 

I had wanted to get to sleep early Friday night because I had two things planned for the next morning. I planned to take my mom up for blood work as early as possible, to allow me adequate time to get ready for my dental appointment at 11:00 AM. We still went up for blood work anyway, both shocked and shaken by the events of the previous night, and I had time to take a shower, change into fresh clothes, and brush my teeth thoroughly.

I was getting some work done around existing fillings, and it required a lot of novocaine. I wouldn't be able to eat or drink for a while afterwards, and my speech would be slurred until the numbing went away. That was OK: I planned to run up to The Lands at Hillside Farms, a nonprofit farm dedicated to preserving a place that might otherwise be destroyed by development, the dream of the late local veterinarian and founder of Blue Chip Animal Rescue Dr. Doug Ayers. I had a glass bottle from milk to return, something I had picked up last November, and I had just been planning to spend some time with the animals. Now I felt like I needed it more than ever.

I made the twenty-minute trip from Nanticoke to The Lands at Hillside Farms. I returned the bottle and was surprised to find that I had a two dollar deposit being refunded to me. I pocketed the two singles and headed out the back. As I had entered through the front door I had seen a sign about a current fundraiser to build a new dairy barn, but I didn't see anywhere to make a donation. I figured I would look for one as I wandered about.

My first visit was to the peacocks. Beautiful birds, two of them, a male and a female. I wondered how they would do over the coming winter. I had no such worry about the alpacas, who seemed quite ready for any weather that came their way. I wandered along the path and saw some goats begging for food - but on my way there I first stopped and said hi to a chicken who seemed to want something from me. Unfortunately, the nearby dispensers only provided goat feed, not chicken feed. I popped in some quarters and got three handfuls of the goat treats. I held out a hand to each of two nearby goats who were eagerly looking for handouts and let them each eat about half. Then I moved over to a more forlorn-looking fellow with his head stuck through a fence and let him have the rest.

I stopped in a barn to commune with some cows, first calling out to a surly-looking orange barn cat who had business to attend to, but I quickly moved into the calf stables. I don't remember the separate area for calves when I came on my first visit almost exactly three years ago. The girl I was with then was surprisingly willing to get her new pink sneakers dirty as we visited the cows, but she surely would not have passed up an opportunity to be with calves. I spotted two rocking chairs and a bookshelf in the back, and remembered reading about a call for volunteers to come read to the calves during cold winter nights. I thought about picking up a book, taking a seat, and reading to the eager and curious calves right then and there. As I was contemplating this, a family came in. The mother expressed wonderment at seeing cows, and the little daughter quickly responded that these weren't cows, though she couldn't explain what exactly they were. I mentioned to them about the rocking chairs and the books in the back, but with my half-numb mouth it sounded like I had had a stroke. I decided it would be best to talk as little as possible for the rest of the visit.

Reluctantly leaving the calves, I walked through an empty barn that, according to the signs on the stalls, housed some donkeys. The donkeys were wandering around a nearby enclosure that they shared with some pigs. One pig was wallowing in some mud in a connected enclosure, but the other pig, Otis, who had recently returned to the farm following a bout of rheumatoid arthritis, lay in the dirt near his little pig house.

"Hello, Otis," I said.

"Grunt," he responded. I interpreted this as "I wish I had some mud to roll in. That mud is too far away."

Our conversation went on like this for a while. Finally I had to go.

"Goodbye, Otis," I said. "Take care. I'll see you later."

"Grunt." ("Don't forget to stop back in the dairy shop and donate those two dollars. You saw the bit about the two-for-one match, didn't you?")

Indeed I had. I stopped in the shop and found my way to a checkout counter where I mumbled about making a donation. The girl eagerly took it, and offered to have me fill out a form so I could get on a thank-you list. I realized that the postage and overhead involved in such a thing would vastly reduce the impact of my meager donation, even with the two-for-one match by an anonymous benefactor increasing the value to six dollars. I demurred. Maybe some other time with some other donation.

My spirits were somewhat lifted as I left The Lands and meandered home.


CODA 2:

After we came home from the emergency vet's - without BlueBear - I sat down to finish working on my bills. I paid one after another, rapidly erasing the temporary windfall in my account produced by my biweekly paycheck. I checked my email and saw that I had received a coupon good for $5 off a $30 purchase at Pet Supplies Plus, good Friday through Sunday. I filed the coupon away for later.

Today was later.

I took my mom out for a ride. Today would have been my parents' sixty-second anniversary - my father died just a few months short of their fiftieth - so we stopped at his grave, where she left a single pink rosebud we had picked from one of my rosebushes. After a trip to refill the nearly-empty gas tank of the car, we headed out to Pet Supplies Plus. She didn't want to come in, so I left her in the car.

As usual I stopped first at the rescue pet they have available for adoption on a regular basis. Usually it's a cat, but not too long ago it was a rabbit. This time it was a cat, the same cat who had been there the last time I had stopped in. A big black cat of unknown age named Pa-Pa. Last time I had remarked that he was the spitting image of BlueBear, and now that reality hit me hard. Here, for a $70 adoption fee, was a cat nearly identical to the cat I had just lost. His face was not the same - Pa-Pa's eyes looked far more world-weary than BlueBear's - and his throat featured a patch of white far larger than BlueBear's. I opened the cage and pet the sleeping cat, who quickly roused and moved to exit the cage. I had to gently hold him back, but pet and cuddled him for a while until I had to move on with my shopping.

I quickly found some items that added up to more than $30 and which, with the coupon, would be much less expensive overall than I could get them elsewhere. I headed for the register and stopped to see Pa-Pa again. Opened the cage, pet him, cuddled him. Kissed him on the forehead and told him that someone would be there to adopt him soon.

I moved to the checkout and found myself telling the clerk about BlueBear, about saddle thrombus, about how much Pa-Pa looked like him, about how if I had an extra $70 I might just be taking him home today. Tomorrow the funds that I had transferred to my cards would be available. Maybe tomorrow.

I left the store, thinking about coming back tomorrow for Pa-Pa. As I loaded the cases of cat food into the car I mused that I would need to bring up a cat carrier to take him home - just like that couple walking into the store now.

They're returning the cat carrier, that's all, I thought. They bought it and it doesn't fit their needs, or it's defective in some way. Quality ain't what it used to be, amiright?, I mused as I pushed my cart through the parking lot, back into the store. No way could they have just shown up to adopt the cat that you had just started to try to convince yourself to adopt.

I entered the store, returned the cart. Got the customary "Thank you!" Saw the couple and their cat carrier next to Pa-Pa's now-open cage, playing with the cat they were about to take home. Another clerk was there, taking pictures with her cell phone.

I sidled up to them and intruded on their moment. Told them that the cat was the spitting image of a cat I had just lost Friday night. Told them how lucky they were to be taking home such a cat. Told them how I had thought about adopting him myself.

"See, Pa-Pa," I said. "I told you someone would adopt you soon."

I left the store, walked back to the car, and cried for my lost friend.


Monday, October 02, 2017

TWO blogging events on October 14!


When life hands you a scheduling conflict, turn around and declare it..synergy!

Shortly after last year's NEPA BlogCon, Northeastern Pennsylvania's blogging conference and convention, a date was set for the 2017 event. Arrangements were made, a venue was reserved, and sponsors and presenters were lined up. The 2017 NEPA BlogCon will be on Saturday, October 14 from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM at Penn State Worthington Scranton. (Get your free tickets soon - they're going fast!)

Meanwhile, Ben Hoon from Gort42 was hard at work making arrangements for the Fall 2017 edition of NEPA Blogfest, the region's long-running gathering of bloggers, politicians, political candidates, and others. After a long process of discussing schedules with politicians and candidates, a date emerged that would work the best, and the Fall 2017 NEPA Blogfest was set for October 14 at the River Grill in Plains from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

What to do? The two major blogging events in Northeastern Pennsylvania were now in conflict with each other! Sort of, kind of. NEPA BlogCon would end shortly before the NEPA Blogfest was set to begin. The two events were set to be taking place about twenty-two miles apart - a half-hour's drive under optimal conditions.

After some discussion, a solution was worked out: NEPA Blogfest would be the site of the official afterparty for NEPA BlogCon!

From the post on NEPA Blogs:

SAVE THE DATE: 10/14/17

Six years ago, NEPA BlogCon (NEPA's only blogging & social media conference) was born out of the informal gathering known as NEPA Blogfest. This year, we're happy to announce that we're coming back home to where it all began -- and you're invited! BlogCon's after party and NEPA Blogfest will join forces to bring you the bloggiest event this area has ever seen! Mark your calendars!!

NEPA Blogfest 2017 (Fall Edition)
10/14/17
5pm -- ???
The River Grille
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
RSVP on Facebook

Since its inception Blogfest has been described as the best non-political political event of the season. No speeches are allowed and the rule is to agree to disagree but don't be disagreeable. Many local and statewide candidates will be attending. All are welcome, and there is no charge for admission.

Since its revival in the Spring after a short hiatus people have been asking us to do it again. Started as an informal political mixer it became a networking event for bloggers, voters and political candidates.

This a joint venture of NEPA Blogs, The Lu Lac Political Letter and Gort42.

We hope to see you there!




Sunday, September 03, 2017

Bowie, April 2009 - June 17, 2017

Bowie, April 2009 - June 17, 2017

It seemed for a while my blog was just a series of obituaries for my animal friends. Hershey. Scooter. Nikki. Baby Boy. I wrote each one as quickly as I could.

Not this one. It has taken more than two and a half months to write Bowie's story.

Bowie came to us in May of 2009. As a young kitten, perhaps six weeks old, she crawled into our house through a hole torn in the screen of a basement window. The first time she did this, my mom was able to retrieve her and return her to her cat-mommy, who seemed indignant that we let such a thing happen. A week later she crawled in again. I heard  her meeping cries from another room. As I entered the room with the window, I saw her holding onto the screen for dear life. She let out a scream as she let go and fell nearly six feet to the concrete floor behind an old stove. I was able to retrieve her using a toy robot arm grabber from Cracker Barrel. We decided that since she was so determined to be in our house, we would keep her. We named her Bowie, since she was The Cat Who Fell to Earth.

Soon we took in Bowie's brothers BlueBear and Thor, and then assorted cousins, nieces, and nephews. Bowie was the first of the "new" cats, but she never really asserted he position in the pecking order. She was tiny and shy and preferred to spend her days hiding (she was an excellent hider), or alone in the upstairs bathroom, or with my mother. She was one of the "Superfriends" - Bowie, Homer, and Scooter - three tabbies who would sleep in the upstairs bathroom, which my mom would keep closed at night. This was mainly to keep Scooter in a known spot overnight. He was never a totally well cat, and we were always worried about something happening to him while no one was around. If Bowie happened to get locked out, she would scratch at my mother's door in the middle of the night until she got up and let her into the bathroom.

[061109_Kittens.jpg]
Clockwise from lower left: Bowie, BlueBear, Thor

And that was the situation for several years.

Last year Scooter died, and it was no longer really necessary for Homer and Bowie to sleep in the bathroom. But they had come to prefer it, so my mom kept them there at night. They were both very happy with the arrangement. They would both be there to greet my mom in the morning, and she liked that.

Bowie never really warmed to me. She never wanted me to pick her up. If I scratched her or petted her, she would make a querulous two-note cry that sounded like "Really?" (to which I would respond "Yes, really") and then run away just out of arm's reach. But then she would wait there, and allow me to approach her and scratch her again - on her terms.

She started to throw up everything she ate in mid-May.

Maybe not everything. She held down some stuff, sometimes. My mom was convinced she was dying. I thought she was overreacting, being overly dramatic. I figured she just had a hairball, maybe just an upset stomach.

After nearly two weeks of her eating sporadically and throwing up daily, I was convinced. We decided to take her in to the vet on my next day off, which happened to be May 31.

I drove. My mom sat in the back seat with Bowie. Bowie was in a pet carrier, padded by a blanket. My mom rode with her arm inside the carrier, petting Bowie. Bowie was extremely calm.

About a quarter of a mile from the vet's, we were rear-ended at a flashing crosswalk as we stopped to let a woman pushing a baby stroller cross.

The car was still drivable. We were both wearing seatbelts, unlike the idiot who crashed into us. I was OK, I guess. Bowie was fine. My mom's arm was bruised and cut from being pushed against the opening of the carrier. (The story of the car and its repair and the various cars I rented while it was in the shop will be the topic of another post, maybe.)

We got to the vet's about a half-hour late. He took Bowie right in, performed an examination. Told us she had a large mass in her abdomen. A tumor. He offered to put he down on the spot.

We refused. She was still being a cat. We would not kill her just because she might become inconvenient in the coming weeks. And, given her size and the size of the tumor, it seemed likely that she wouldn't live more than a few weeks.

The vet gave her emergency hydration. He gave us an appetite stimulant and some special cat food. The food could be mixed with water to make a paste which could be administered with a syringe.

For the next seventeen days I administered a daily regimen of pills, food, water, Pet Tinic - anything to keep her going. She gradually got weaker and thinner. She would sit with my mother, or lay on the floor, or sit by herself on a chair. Her spine became bonier and more prominent - one of the sure signs of failing health in a cat - but, paradoxically, her belly seemed soft and full. Maybe that was the tumor. Maybe that was where all the food and water I was giving her with the syringes was going.

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A few days before she died, I may have done the thing that killed her.

She never liked the syringes. But she wasn't taking anything on her own. The alternative was to just sit back and watch her die, or take her for a trip to the vet to have her put down. A friend who used to be a respiratory therapist always warned me about administering anything by mouth with a syringe. One wrong move could result in aspiration of the food or water, which could lead to pneumonia and death.

She would struggle against the food and the water. To her, it was the worst thing in the world. She would fight me, and then run away after I was done. As long as she could fight and run, I knew she had some fight left in her.

Five days before she died, as she was growing weaker and weaker, she reacted differently to the syringe. As I shot the quarter-teaspoon of liquefied food paste into her mouth, she snapped back and looked at me with a shocked expression, her mouth agape. A dribble of paste came out of her nostril.

I cleaned her up, as I always did after a syringe of paste, and worried about the paste in the nose. Had I just gotten it into her sinuses? Her lungs? I didn't know. I still don't.

Over the next few days I still gave her water and nourishment. Every morning I woke to expect to find her dead. But she was still alive. Each day my mom suggested that this was the day I should take her to be put to sleep before I went to work. But she would rouse, and run around, and jump on chairs, and fight me as I tried to give her food and water. As long as she could decide for herself where she wanted to be, what she wanted to be doing, I didn't want to have her put to sleep.

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June 16 was my last day of work before a week's vacation. My shift ran 11:00 AM to 7:30 PM. I called my mom throughout the day to check on Bowie. During my first break, when I called, she was sitting on my mom's lap. When I called, she jumped off. Perhaps that action dislodged something or did something to her fragile system. Whatever the case, she lay down after that, and never regained consciousness.

From my Facebook post the next morning:

Bowie died at 4:49 AM on June 17 while I held her.

She had been lucid and mobile until yesterday afternoon. Around 1:30 she jumped off my mom's lap, ran over to one of her favorite spots on the floor, next to my old Travelocity gnome, and curled up there. She never got up again. My mom picked her up and held her until I got home from work around 8:00, too late to take her to be euthanized. Her breathing was shallow and rapid, her heart was racing, her eyes open and fixed, and her pupils dilated and unresponsive. Her limbs were outstretched and her paws cold. I changed into nightclothes and took my mom's spot. I held Bowie all night long. After 4:30 AM she began to show changes, stretching her arms and neck to a new position, and I called my mom. Around 4:45 her breathing changed. Her heart stopped beating, and she took a few more spasmodic breaths, then curled herself into a more comfortable position and died.

We will take her up to be cremated this morning.

Coincidentally, our car, which was rear-ended as we took Bowie to the vet's for her diagnosis on May 31, is ready for pickup this morning at the body shop a block from the vet's.

And that was that. I picked up her ashes on June 22, after I recorded a bunch of episodes of the NEPA Blogs Blog of the Week at WBRE. Her little box is now stored with the boxes for all of her cat friends, and Hershey, and cats and dogs she had never met.

I miss her so much, even though I interacted with her so little. It hurts me to look at pictures of her pretty little face. She was so young. I thought we were going to have many more years together. But now I have written this, so that is one step taken in the process.

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I love you, little Bowie.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The speech Trump could have made (but didn't)

"My fellow Americans:

"Seventy-six years ago, our great nation went to war against Nazis and the forces of Fascism. Brave young men fought and died in Europe, in the South Pacific, and in many other theaters of war to stop this great evil from spreading across the face of the Earth. Men and women on the home front made significant sacrifices to support our armed forces in this effort.

"Seventy-two years ago this week, that war came to an end. The forces of Imperial Japan joined Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Fascist Italy in defeat. The notion of a 'master race' was consigned to the dustbin of history.

"A few hours ago we witnessed the shocking tragedy of a brutal and senseless attack on American soil. We now know the identities of the victim - and the perpetrator. The life of a beautiful young woman, a life full of both accomplishments and promise, was brought to an end by a self-proclaimed Nazi sympathizer who drove a car at a high rate of speed into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesters who had come out to take a stand against Nazis, Fascists, and white supremacists - the very same forces that our forefathers in The Greatest Generation fought against in World War II.

"Make no mistake about it: This was an act of terrorism. The tactic used was the same as we have seen used in Paris, in Germany, in Great Britain, and elsewhere, a tactic promoted by the terrorist group ISIS. This act of terrorism was carried out by someone looking to silence opposition to his own hateful political ideology.

"To the parents of Heather Heyer, the young woman murdered in this terrorist act, I make this pledge: The government of the United States of America will do everything in its power to see that your daughter's murderer is brought to justice. Her life and her work will not be forgotten.

"To the Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, and in dark basements and hidden places everywhere, I tell you this: There is no place for you in the United States of America. If you raise your hands against this great nation and its citizens, you will be defeated and utterly destroyed.

"To the people of America, I say this: Stay strong. Stay united. Stand against the forces of hate and division. Honor the sacrifices of our forefathers in the Greatest Generation. Do not let those sacrifices have been made in vain. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America."

Thursday, August 03, 2017

A dream of war

Had a war nightmare last night.

I was at work, we heard a loud noise, looked outside, and saw that the sky had turned black - or at least part of it had, since the sun was still shining and you could see edges to the black. I realized that this was a dust cloud, rapidly approaching, and I yelled for everyone to duck and cover.

What happened immediately afterwards I don't know, but I think all electronics were knocked out of commission - something I believe will be an opening gambit in any future international war, a ploy that would disable all modern communication and put us on an  even playing field with, say, North Korea. What I do remember is the practical upshot: your wealth, your ability to buy things - food, specifically, the only thing people were buying - was reduced to the amount of cash you had available to you. No credit cards, no ATMs, no way to get more money other than to take it from someone else. I was able to get groceries for a few days for myself and my mother, but beyond that, I had no idea what we could expect.

I woke up feeling uneasy. I wanted to write this down before I forgot.

(One other detail: the trading tables where people could hand over their cash for a box of oatmeal or some cans of food were, for some reason, set up in space commandeered in my house.)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poem: Double Dig

This is my second published work. It first appeared in the Spring-Summer 2017 edition of Word Fountain, the Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library (https://wordfountain.net/) Some thoughts and background follow the poem.

UPDATE, 7/5/2017: You can hear me read this poem on the Word Fountain site here.


Double Dig

Break the surface with the pitchfork
shave off the sod with the spade
Five feet wide, fifteen feet long

Dig out the first row
one foot down, one foot long
put it in the wheelbarrow

Add compost to the trench
loosen the soil with the fork
try not to think about you

Dig out the second row
toss it into the first trench
incorporate air into the bed
increase porosity, improve drainage
think about the work

and not about all those years
all those "I love you"s
work the soil
the roots will dig even deeper
the weeds will pull out easier
focus on the work

not on all those hours, all those nights
the long drives, the moving van
study sessions and open mics
the sun is hot, halfway done
keep the rows even or the last one will be too big

Keep digging. Keep moving.
There will be rest after the work is done
after the soil from the wheelbarrow is tipped into the last trench
after the excess air is squeezed out with the digging board

I remember every word of every story
every line of every poem

Tomorrow the seedlings will go in
the seeds will be planted
but now, dig the soil
double dig, two layers down

Dig the garden, and forget about you
there will be time for remembering later


*********************************

This was, in a sense, a poem that wrote itself.

I've long wanted to do a piece on the subject of gardening as violence. Gardening is an extremely violent act. To start a garden you must first kill whatever is already growing in the place you want to garden: cut down trees, tear out vines, rip up or smother sod. Then you break the soil and work it into a condition ready for planting. Sometimes this just involves digging or doing a double-dig, as described in the poem, a back-breaking but ultimately rewarding technique. Many times this is interrupted by the need to hack away at roots or pry out boulders. In addition to breaking the soil, you should also amend it by adding compost - dead and rotted once-living things. Once the garden is dug, the rest is fairly easy - for a vegetable garden, anyway. Whoever wrote "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden" must never have tried their hand at rose gardening, which involves all of the above plus flesh (and clothing) -ripping thorns.

I already had posted a poem of decomposition and decay making compost ("Coffee for Roses," here), so that was not eligible for submission. I decided to focus instead on the act of digging the garden. But then what? Would I use it as a metaphor for digging into the past to bring forth the future? Maybe a meditation on memories of past gardens conjured up? My grandmother's garden, or my first garden in Newark, Delaware? The garden I was digging as the siege at Waco was taking place? Or the one I was working on during the Oklahoma City Bombing?

I decided to do a poem about the things you think about when you are digging a garden. OK, fine, what are those? It was still too early to dig a garden, so I would have to imagine. I put myself in a meditative state and imagined all the actions needed to dig the garden: gather the tools, get the digging board., roll out the wheelbarrow, loosen the soil, begin the digging. The repetitive motions, always kept to a minimum to reduce exertion. Dig out the first row, move the soil to a wheelbarrow, loosen the second layer down, work in the compost. What am I thinking of?

Thoughts of past gardens, green beans in my grandmother's garden, a compound in flames, a building pancaking down on top of a nursery, her...

Wait, what?

Her. I was thinking of her.

Not mine. Never mine. But she was my muse. I loved her intensely, even though she never gave a damn about me, except for how she could use me, what I could do for her. Very nearly an imaginary creature from the first time I came across her personal ad online to the time that I met her in person, almost entirely by accident, a year later. She disappeared a year after that, and I brought her back a year later, and began two years of doing things together, of being there for her, until I outlived my usefulness.

No.

I had already written so much about her. For her. Inspired by her. Even inspired by the way she cut me off in the end. Couldn't I just write something that wasn't about her?

I tried to put her out of my mind. Refocus. What else would I be thinking about?

No good. Now I wasn't just thinking about her, I was thinking about not thinking about her, which was the same as thinking about thinking about her. The more I tried not to think about her, the more she intruded on my thoughts. Our entire history rolled past me, over and over again: that first glimpse of her in-between presentations on fiction and non-fiction writing, the study sessions at Starbucks, the open mics, driving a moving truck for her, hours spent shopping or just driving her around, holding her hand because someone had made her feel miserable, hours spent at the hospital as her mother lay dying, the way she ended it all, the way there had never really been anything to end all along.

So was the poem ruined? Was it a lost cause?

No. If she was the thing I was thinking about when I tried to imagine what I'd think about while gardening, then that's where the poem would go, too.

I wrote down the lines as quickly as I could, trying not to let the sense of intrusion on my thoughts slip away like a bad dream. I polished it and edited it, then submitted it for consideration. A few weeks later I learned it had been accepted.

Will this be the last poem about her, or inspired by her, or influenced by her? We'll see.

I really doubt it, though. 



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Cherries, 2017

First cherry fruits begin to ripen: June 1

All cherries stripped from tree by birds: Sometime after 10:35 AM, June 14

For the record, they were delicious.

NOTE FOR NEXT YEAR: Do not put out bird seed in second week of June, or toss out anything that will attract birds. Rather than satisfying the birds, such things only attract hordes of hungry birds.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blaze Roses and Lily of the Valley

As of May 24, the Blaze roses on the south side of the house are blooming. And for the first time in fifteen years, I have blossoms on my Lily of the Valley!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Thirteen years (and three days) a blogger

Just got a "Your Memories" post on Facebook from 2009(!) about how I had been a blogger for five years. My actual Blogiversary is May 14, so I'm a little late. Thirteen years since I heard a report on NPR's Morning Edition about how Google had bought Blogger and was hoping to increase the number of people with blogs by providing a simple, user-friendly platform. I had been following several blogs at that point and had been thinking about starting one myself. This is technically my second post - my first one just had the words "Coming soon!" and existed from the time I put it up before work that day to the time I came back and replaced it with my "official" first post.

It's really been quite a thirteen year stretch - much of it documented right here on my blog. Here's to another thirteen years!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lilacs in bloom, rhododendrons still on deck

I assumed that I had missed the lilacs this year, but they are in fact just coming into bloom on May 10.

Rhododendron blossoms are swollen, and some are already opening.

Azaleas are nearly spent.

Roses are mostly leafed out, and some buds are swelling.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Azaleas blossoming, rhododendrons on deck

No photos, just a garden note: I noticed azaleas in full bloom on the way home today. Ours are just starting to blossom, but will likely be in full bloom in a day or two.

Rhododendron blossoms are swelling, but no blooms yet.

Monday, May 01, 2017

NEPA BlogFest returns!

After a two year hiatus, BlogFest is back! This is an informal gathering of bloggers and politicians from throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. The Spring 2017 edition will be held at Ole Tyme Charley's Restaurant & Pub, 31 South River Street in Plains on Saturday, May 6, 2017. The event will coincide with the running of the Kentucky Derby, so if you want to see a bunch of people get very interested in horse racing for about two minutes, that's the place to be!

You can read more about BlogFest here.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Poetry Month: Writing Groups, Part 2

When I first joined the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective in the Fall of 2011, it was with the intention of improving my skills as a short story writer. But several of the members of the group were primarily poets. I had actually first encountered the group at one of their Open Mic nights, which immediately followed an event I was participating in at the Vintage Theater, and most of what I heard that night was poetry.

I presented one of my stories at that first meeting, and it was critiqued and discussed, with suggestions for improvement being made by several of the members. But then someone else presented some poetry. How, I wondered, could the group critique a poem? A poem, to me, consisted of a coherent whole, and it seemed that any suggestion from an outsider to change this or tweak that might cause the entire poem to unravel.

Several members of the group presented suggestions: consider changing this image , this is distracting, this is redundant, this is irrelevant to the image being presented; consider switching these lines around, move this bit to here, and try it again, see how it flows.

The poet re-read the piece, incorporating the changes. It worked. The poem was greatly improved.

Writing groups can be a mixed bag. If established writers can share their experience and knowledge with aspiring writers, that's a wonderful thing. But it doesn't always work like that. Writers can be capricious and other-than-altruistic, jut like anyone else Sometimes the advice given is to the detriment of the work. Sometimes the advice given basically removes the voice of the poet from the poem, and replaces it with the voice of the person offering the advice. At those times it is important for the poet to have the strength and confidence to reject the advice being given. If nothing else, a writing group can give its members experience in deciding when to accept advice and when to dismiss it.

On top of that a writing group allows every member to be exposed to many different poets and writers and their work. This exposure is extremely valuable, as is the network of relationships formed with other poets and writers, relationships which may long outlast the writing group itself.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

National Poetry Month: Writing Groups, Part 1

I attended the Spring 2017 edition of The Writer's Showcase at the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton tonight, and ran into several fellow members of my old writing group. We reminisced a bit about old times and talked about the current state of open mics in the area.

Some - but not all -of the members of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective at the last meeting at the Vintage Theater on Penn Avenue in Scranton, May 26, 2012, shortly before the site closed. The group would continue to meet at the Northern Light coffee shop in Scranton and then return to the new location of the Vintage on Spruce Street, where it would remain until the final closure of the site in August 2014. The group would not long outlive the venue that had become its home. 
When I first joined the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective, it was with a mind to improving my skills as a short story writer, not as a poet. Frankly, taking up poetry again after a hiatus of over two decades was not something I had in mind. Besides, how could a writing group help a poet? Wouldn't changing a poem fundamentally change the work into something different from the poet's original intent?

I soon learned how a writing group could help with poetry, and some of the hazards involved in such a thing. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, April 28, 2017

National Poetry Month: Who gets to write poetry?

Who gets to write poetry?

For a lot of people, poetry is something written by "the other." Professional poets, stuffy ivory-tower academics with glasses pulled down low on their noses and patches on the elbows of their suit coats. Women who have locked themselves in their parents' attics. Mopey teenagers sulking late at night. But the truth is, anyone can write poetry - even if maybe some people shouldn't.

The first rule of poetry is: there are no rules. Of course, the second through billionth rules of poetry contradict this rule, simultaneously proving it to be false and true. There is no agreed-upon definition of what poetry is, but there are very specific and rigid rules regarding meter, rhyme scheme, and structure for specific forms of poetry.

Blank verse is very popular, a poetry style without rhyme or structure. Some people take this as license to throw down anything and call it a poem. One writer I knew would read shopping lists and call them poetry. Other poets accepted that. I could see their point. Even Billy Collins, a poet I greatly admire, wrote a poem about waiting for a friend at a train station. The whole poem consisted of a series of lines saying "Not (name of friend).", followed by a single line with the friend's name.

At the other extreme is the unloved child of modern poetry: poems that rhyme. Once the standard of what constitutes a "poem," poems that rhyme are relatively rare these days. To me this is a welcome change; I find most rhymed couplets childish and tediously inane. Still, like all rules, the demand for a rhyme scheme creates an opportunity for creativity in constraint.

On the other hand one poet - a terrible, and now deceased, poet - once told me that his technique for writing poetry was to find a bunch of words that rhyme, and then fill in the blanks.

There are objectively terrible poets, poets who are universally recognized as bad poets and refuse to do anything to improve their work. More common are subjectively terrible poets. Almost every poet will be hated by someone else, or several someone elses. Sometimes these people are poets. This can be born of jealousy, or a desire to suppress what is perceived as competition for listeners' ears. It can also be born of a judgement based on a sense of what is good for poetry and what is bad for poetry. Some poets aren't just bad poets, they actually threaten the perception of poetry written by other poets, effectively filling their listeners with disgust going forward.

One poet I  know writes pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-hip poetry, poems that sound cool and meaningful but ultimately aren't just meaningless, but also mock the listeners for having listened in the first place, for trying to extract meaning from something that was ultimately devoid of meaning. At the same time, he also actively works to silence other poets, to discourage them from writing and reading poems. Why does he do it? Is he trying to suppress bad poets from reading and writing bad poetry? Is he trying to silence all other voices in the area, to make himself the last poet standing? I don't know. I gave up trying to understand why he does what he does long ago.

So who gets to write poetry? Anyone. Anyone who is willing to take the time and put in the effort, anyone who is willing to take the chance to get up in front of friends and strangers and say "Here's something I wrote..." Will you be good? Maybe. But if you're willing to work at it, maybe you can get better. And maybe you will someday be called a "poet" by someone else.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

National Poetry Month: Writing

And so I didn't get a post together for Thursday because I was writing poetry.

I finally put together a submission for Poetry in Transit, which was harder than I expected. While trying to get there, I hacked out some lines about the car I'm about to junk. More on that later.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

National Poetry Month: Planned posts

Spent the evening at an open mic in Scranton, followed up with some shopping, mostly for cat food. I'm tired now, and a little down because of the looming prospect of having to dispose of my broken-down twenty-one year old car. So, no post today.

One thing this National Poetry Month exercise has made me realize is how very few poets I'm actually familiar with. I need to remedy that.

I have two non-poem posts planned before the end of the month: one about the value of a writing group to a poet, and another titled "Who gets to write poetry?" But those are for other nights.