Helping Hallucinators


A view in Helen Dillon's garden, Dublin, Ireland, May 2005

A view in Helen Dillon’s garden, Dublin, Ireland, May 2005

“Spread the word!”  That’s a phrase I hardly hear these days probably because between social media – the phrase makes me want to urp I regret to say but is shorter than listing them all – cell phones,  email and even the old fashioned telephone and letter, everybody is spreading ample words and tales, true and fake.  I wrote a previous blog on this topic but now have a new urgency and an assignment for all of you who read this. I hope you agree that it’s an effort worth making. 

I have Charles Bonnet Syndrome. It’s visual hallucinations and happens to people with failing vision and a perky productive mind that is just fine but is bored when all it is fed visually to play with is blurred, out of whack or unidentifiable, perhaps even  just darkness. Had my vision been as poor in 2005 as it now is, I could not have seen the incredible creativity of Helen’s garden pictured above with its multiplicity of plant varieties and colors, and intriguing foliage shapes and textures. (Thank God I took the pictures and have them to remind and instruct me.) Our brains apparently need and feed on visual stimulation and deprived of enough, create their own. I have been dealing with this off and on for about three years. Mine started as vivid floral wallpaper-like  visions, appropriately starting on walls and then spreading over fireplaces, bookcases, people, trees, the world. I found them surprising but not scary. After a day or so of constantly mutating visions including neon and glittering geometric shapes but with breathers of seeing none, I called the eye doctor’s office and learned these were coming from the visual stimulation starved brain not anything happening in my eyes but developed because I had increasingly poor eyesight.

About the time my hallucinations began, I saw a story in The New York Times about a young couple, one of whom had a mother complaining  of a little green man who had free access to her apartment. Fearing she was suffering dementia, they sought out a psychiatrist who after examining, questioning and just talking with the mother assured them she had a fine mind but was seeing visual hallucinations.  Everyone was relieved and comforted and the green man ceased to be frightening and upsetting.

The problem I see is this. It is widely suspected that there are many Charles Bonnet sufferers who tell no one of their problem because they think they are losing their mind.  If people felt they could reveal their visions and laugh at them with their friends and family, the known number of those afflicted might become large enough to encourage the medical community to spend more time and resources researching this puzzling phenomenon and possibly learn more about what triggers attacks and ways to end them faster, possibly some day even cure them. Charles Bonnet Syndrome is nothing to be ashamed of as it seems almost an assurance of a sound mind working creatively to keep itself lively and entertained.

These descriptions are my own, somewhat flip, ones but based on what I have read. There is very little published information on the subject but I have just bought a pricey volume through Amazon which (if I can wade through some of it) should soon make me a bit brighter. My increased interest was sparked by a recent nine day attack, three times as long as any previous siege, much worse, and pretty much non-stop at its peak. One day the bathroom mirror was so obscured with twining green vines that I could not see my face and hair enough to calm my cowlick or know how I looked to welcome a visitor in ten minutes. My visitor was enthralled to hear of my visions while talking to her but the cat developing a second tail which then multiplied before turning into an immense boa constrictor. I could barely read, compose, type or do anything at the height of  this attack and felt debilitated by the syndrome for the first time. If others have it as badly as I did this time, the medical world needs to be nudged into action to learn more about this hardly known malady.  It’s not, as we say in our family, “a biggie” like heart disease, cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease but more knowledge would be a gladsome thing.

Please spread the word. Talk it up. Tell your friends about Soomsie’s multiple tails which became a large boa constrictor, my most complex vision to date. Ask your doctor about it, tell your doctor about it and, if you yourself have it, tweet about it and report it on Facebook. The more people who know CBS exists, the fewer sufferers will needlessly fear for their sanity. See you next c. September  26. Meanwhile, guests and help with projects I can neither handle alone nor when writing blogs! I’m not the girl I used to be!  p


Summer’s End, HOORAY for Fall!


Message inside: “Don’t laugh. This is how the Easter Bunny got started. So Get Well Soon!”

Summer isn’t officially over, of course, but emotionally and psychologically for most of us it is in remnants. Order and obligations are creeping up on us and the pace of living has stepped us. Many experience this transition as profoundly depressing, the end of ease and permission to party. Those leaving summer homes have places and summer friends to miss. A few, however, welcome the return of orderly schedules as comforting. And for most of us, a week to ten days will see us happily adjusted to regular life, our initial malaise healed.Returning home in the years when our children were young and in school  brought two domestic issues almost immediately. The first was making sure we had milk for the morrow! Irvington had something fabulous to solve this problem if we could remember at the end of a weary trip to use it.  It was a milk machine, about a block from the foot of our driveway. We usually arrived late in the evening having milked the last day as fully as possible. The milk machine operated like a soda machine, carrying whole, skim, and chocolate quarts and whole white half gallons if I remember rightly. One inserted money, pushed buttons and was rewarded with milk for cereal, coffee and the youngest family members. Next to the Amoco station, at the head of Main Street, if one arrived before 11 p.m. one could even gas up for the morrow while another family member bought milk.

Toilet paper was the other domestic stumbling block. I was forever going out the first day home to stock up and, remembering having bought toilet paper only days before and closely focused on food needs, would skip that aisle. Returning home, it usually became obvious by the time the last child had wakened that there was a dire paper shortage. The remembered purchase  would have been, of course, four states to the north. Solutions were devised annually but, like the crisis itself, never remembered until repeated.

For many years, Howdy and I taunted each other as being to blame for our worst return trip ever.  We had left Maine even later than usual, after an early supper with Howdy’s brother’s family who were staying an extra day or two.  Howdy started driving and I, exhausted from packing, cleaning and the dance the night before, slept the first two hours. It was totally dark, the kids and dog all sleeping when Howdy, his eyes at half mast, woke me to take over driving.  Our route led first south, then east on 495 to the Mass Turnpike for a short piece, then south-east from Sturbridge to Westchester County, NY and home.  “Have we passed Sturbridge?” I asked. “No, but I think we’re almost there,” Howdy assured me.

I began my stint. It was a lovely night. Bright moonlight above flickered restlessly through patches of light fog sparkling in the light. Eyes peeled for signs on the right for Sturbridge and routes 20 and 84, I lost track of time looking for our turn.  Howdy slept soundly beside me as I realized we had to pass a well lit gas and food stop on the right about 2 miles before our turn.  Had Howdy been crawling or parked or had he already passed Sturbridge not seeing the turn or had I?  It shortly became obvious, that someone had, as we were welcomed toNew York state, crossed a bridge over the Hudson and signs for Albany, ahead just a bit to the North.

That trip, praise the Lord, was our only trip ever where we returned from Maine from the West, having crossed the Hudson twice to do so! The sun rose not long after our c. four thirty a.m. arrival home. After an odd breakfast, our children happily rediscovered the delights of the toys of home. I dumped my dirty clothes in the hamper and going into the bathroom to put away toothbrush and bathroom gear, discovered a messy medicine cupboard. I cleaned it thoroughly and then, feeling I was on a roll, did Howdy’s and the children’s for good measure. I was just coming out of Howdy’s when he trudged wearily up the stairs. I looked at him curiously, then boasted proudly, “I’ve just cleaned three bathroom medicine cupboards. I thought you were sleeping, where were you?”  “Oh,” said he in a tired but virtuous tone, “I cleaned out the fridge and then under the the kitchen and pantry sinks. They look much better.”  We looked at each other and started to snicker, then to giggle and finally to laugh hysterically. We threw ourselves on the bed.  “What the hell is wrong with us?” Howdy wheezed out.  “Maybe a travel high?” I snorted. “More like punch drunk with exhaustion,”  Howdy declared. “How in the name of all that’s Holy could you drive right past Sturbridge?!”  “Me? I sat up in outrage. “It was long past when you woke me and so was the rest stop with all its lights! You must be blind!

A querulous young voice spoke from beside the bed where our grubby current supply of three children stood. “Now that you’ve slept all morning, isn’t it time for our lunch?” they demanded crossly. Holy Moses, what a horrid, long day that was!  

Back here some day next week if Irma allows my technical administrator to have power, etc.. May she and her family and all of you out there be safe and well as Irma loses steam and sinks, unmourned, into some wide patch of ocean!  Pray for that with me, please, we don’t deserve another big beast of a storm.  p

Image: Vintage Hallmark greeting card received in April 1983…


Queen for Four Days

Her Majesty, Queen Silvia XIV, Miss Penelope Spurr, Fairmont, West Virginia

Her Majesty, Queen Silvia XIV, Miss Penelope Spurr, Fairmont, West Virginia

If you are involved with an organization that does a lot of fund raising, you may be familiar with the phrase describing a common asking ploy, “Your thank you is your next request.” Those on the receiving end are less fond of this strategy having hoped they’d kicked that particular ask ball off for another year and feeling nudged ungratefully and too soon. I wish there were an equally slick phrase covering the situation when one person seems to be chosen to be honored but it is really the one who gets the bills for the honor who is being recognized. Perhaps I should just explain?

My father for about 20 years was head of a large WV electric power system, including the service in Elkins, WV, the home of the West Virginia State Forest Festival, held each year early in October, as near the peak of autumnal colors as scheduling will permit. This pretty much guaranteed he could afford to outfit a daughter in a fancy Queen costume, pay for housing in Elkins, and any other finery mother and daughter might think necessary. In short, the year after I graduated from college, I was named Queen Sylvia XIV. This is not a beauty contest.  I did not have to be beautiful or look well in a swim suit or evening dress. I needed a certain level of maturity and sufficient poise, dignity, good manners and self confidence, including the ability to smile regally virtually non-stop. The festival would provide a worthy, tall escort with similar qualities but my own choice of date could also be invited for the festivities and balls. The coronation and assorted hoopla around the Queen and her court seems a less important and possibly smaller part of the festival emphasis these days but maybe it was just my role in it that made it seem so central when I was Queen. The festival, then and now, is a lively delightful tourist attracting event. There are competitive jousting on horseback, sheep shearing, log cutting – all kinds of outdoor competitions – and rustic events and demonstrations – lots of fun to watch!

As Queen I would wear a long ivory velvet gown with a very long train attached to a tight fitting jacket which, removed, left me in a thin strapped evening gown. Mother and the Ladies who ran it all had a mini battle because the custom was a sort of Elizabethan high backed collar and Mother thought it sinful to hide my lovely long neck. (This was the only time I ever heard of that remarkable appendage although Mother, in years to come, disapproved heartily of my fondness for turtlenecks. See Nora Ephron on necks if they interest you.)  

The Queen’s court has two Maids of Honor and I may be wrong but a faint memory says there is a princess from every West Virginia county, doubtless all chosen much as I was. Only the Queen has a unique dress: Princesses and Maid of Honor dresses share the same design but are in all the autumnal foliage hues of velvet. There is also a train bearer, about six years old.  Knowing how mischievous my own younger brother was, the possibility of that small soul playing “Whoa, Nellie” going down the long hill gave me many worried wee hours in advance!  He bore the train with gentlemanly care, bless his soul! 

The court forms the order of march on the Halliehurst Mansion lawn above the amphitheater, screened by a wall of evergreens from the assembling audience beyond. The princesses go first around and through the curving screen of evergreens and down the long but not very steep hill of the natural amphitheater which is packed with bodies: families, friends, townspeople, tourists. When Maid Sylvia steps out, the vision of all those onlookers, absent at rehearsal, is suddenly heart-stopping. I stopped dead at the hilltop, and would have been run down by my train bearer had not someone held him through my hesitation. I was scared breathless, overwhelmed and distinctly not smiling yet. Suddenly from the right, a few feet into the seats, an unknown man’s husky, warm voice spoke. “Smile, darling” he said, “It’s your show, your day and you’re looking beautiful. Smile for us, your loving subjects!”  And I looked his way and smiled my brightest, most grateful smile where I thought he must be sitting. As I started down the hill, I heard a little girl’s voice say, “Oh, Daddy, she’s pretty when she smiles!”  so naturally I smiled my whole way to the Governor and crowning with my head up and on cloud 9.  At the level foot of the hill, a stage with a throne awaits Maid Sylvia, together with her court and the Governor who crowns the kneeling Maid. 

I had a little epiphany on that walk. This wasn’t really my show, my day. I wasn’t a star but a necessary role player for our joint grand and symbolic “pretend.” The entire Forest Festival is a celebration and appreciation of West Virginia’s natural beauty, its woods and hills. The audience needed my joyful participation to match theirs. They were rooting for me, not me Penelope but me Sylvia. I’ve never felt more cherished in all my life than I did that day and largely thanks to that kind, observant man with the comforting, caressing voice. 

It was a wonderful weekend. My official escort was the champion sheep shearer in the state and captain of ROTC at WVU, a perfect consort. Restaurants all had my picture on their menus causing my date and best friend’s fiancé, when we had a post midnight breakfast after Saturday nights’s ball, to display the loudest, crudest table manners possible to draw attention to me and embarrass me. Others in the restaurant caught on and we all laughed together. The next morning at breakfast in another restaurant, an old beau of my Mother’s, who had not seen her in years, saw the picture and told his wife that he used to date that girl. She laughed and mentioned years and they set out to find the Queen’s Mother, his girl from 30 years back. It was a fun reunion!

The year Howdy; retired, former Queens were invited back to watch the first daughter of a former Queen be crowned. We had a beautiful time. The best moment, however, was in Saturday’s parade. Two former Queens, we sat on the folded top of a white convertible as we drove in the slow procession behind Queens and Princesses, bands and colorful floats. Waiting to proceed at a street corner, we were greeted by an attractive, late middle-aged man who stepped off the curb to address us. “Lookin’ good’ ladies, lookin’ great! We all standing right here remember you both. You looked great then and you look great now. Don’t forget to smile for your people. and y’all come home often now!”

Great Scott, do I need an Elkins fix! See you soon, not sure when or how often in September. Visitors!  p

Penny’s Picks and Peeves

Credit to Pete Souza, The White House

Experienced father of daughters  shares a Tiara Moment with Girl Scouts   |  Photo Credit:   Pete Souza – The White House

May I introduce you to a few items I find superior and something I deplore? It seems only friendly to share tips. Sharing peeves is really venting in a good cause. If you feel the same way, we can feel comradely and you won’t want to miss a word of my blogs!

P I C K S !

THE PICTURE ABOVE may be my favorite picture EVER of a sitting president. President Obama had resolved never to go for the scenic hat picture: no Indian Headdresses, no cowboy hats, no coonskins. But this is a man who is clearly not wearing a tiara for the first time and I can imagine him, knees to chin because of the child size chair he’s on, with a tiny teacup of fake tea in hand, sharing a tea party with a doll, a teddy bear and his two daughters. This is Obama the man, having fun. I smile back whenever I see it as the wallpaper on my computer.

SOOTHE is a Bausch + Lomb brand of artificial tears for treatment of dry eyes. I buy Soothe in bulk in the 28 individual vial boxes. It is the only brand I will now buy although I think it is a bit more costly than most others. Two reasons: I have arthritis in my hands and some of the less expensive ones I cannot easily get open. And in a little clutch of four or five, I sometimes use four at a time because either I cannot get any liquid out of them or couldn’t even open them. Soothe opens easily and has a huge dollop of fluid, and in over 300 individual vials, only one wouldn’t open. Worth more money to avoid irritation and get what you paid for.

EFFIE’S HOMEMADE OAT CAKES. Effie started baking these in New Brunswick but they’re now baked in Massachusetts. There are many flavors of Effie’s cakes but the oat, and now (sneaking up) the Cocoa, are my pets. The cakes are little oblong cookies, roughly 3 inches long by 1 ¾ inches wide and come packed 10 in little orange bags. Cocoa bags are red. Wonderful with morning coffee, afternoon tea, applesauce, whenever. The cocoa I use more for dessert and snack rewards. These are addictive and I’ve created a number of addicts to date!

LOUISE PENNY’S INSPECTOR GAMACHE series of mysteries. Her newest one, GLASS HOUSES comes out today and her devoted readers have waited a year for it. You can start with this but if you like it, go back and start at the beginning, STILL LIFE. Nearly all the books involve the same background characters and Eastern Township of Quebec village and they build on each other. They are rich and satisfying novels with highly individual characters. Treat yourself!

PET PEEVE. I feel so violently about this one I’m prepared to make it the star of the Peeves. I speak as an authority on this issue. Howdy and I raised five bright, curious, articulate children. They got a lot of good genes from our families and even us, and always had a roof over their head, enough food and clothes and loving relatives which all helped but we paid attention to them and seized teaching and vocabulary developing opportunities. My peeve is with mothers glued to their cell phones when pushing babies and toddlers in strollers and carriages. They miss countless chances to teach children words, names of things they see, to alert them to identify sounds they hear or just to chat with their progeny. I feel the same way about mothers and fathers driving, chatting away on their mobiles with cars full of kids. Even if they just listen, they may learn things they will want to know about schemes and relationships. (Unless, of course, the kids are all on their cells, which these particular parents deserve richly.) If you want to have real influence on who your children become, postpone phone time when you have a chance to be with your children. Talking about life as it happens- your life, their lives – sharing concerns, joys, successes and plans as regularly as you can is important. Such friendly, non-judgmental exchanges establish critical patterns for lifelong sharing relationships.

End of sermon!  Relish these final days of August. I’ll be back Friday, September 1, but will skip a few blogs in the weeks to come. My visiting grown-up children deserve available parents/hosts for talks and fun just as your kids or guests do!  Have fun!   p

Friends in High Places

Prime Minister Nehru of India, PSM, Louis Johnson, Madame Pandit

Louis Johnson was my father’s best friend and claimed distinction as “my first date” based on his steering me around the dance floor at the Greenbriar Hotel at White Sulpher Springs, WV when I was eight or nine. A lawyer and Democratic politician, Mr. Johnson lived in Clarksburg, WV where he was the Johnson of Steptoe and Johnson law firm, and in Washington, D.C. where the firm also had an office. 

Political roles introduced him to many foreign and American diplomats and elected officials and, when he could, he introduced me to them. 

Hu Shih, Chinese Ambassador to the United States (1938-1942) visited the Johnson’s in Clarksburg and my parents gave a party in Fairmont for him. Unknown to me at the time, he was a graduate of CornelI, had a graduate degree from Columbia University and was a distinguished author, philosopher and Nobel prize nominee. I was 12 at the time of the party and wore a Lanz of Salzburg bright yellow pique dress with red trim which Hu Shih declared my tribute to China and him “as  yellow and red are our favorite colors.” What I remember most about him, however, was his happily joining other enthusiastic singers in a lusty barbershop quartet rendition of Sweet Adeline. Listening to them, my sense of awe of ambassadors morphed into an understanding that people are people no matter what their titles may be. An important recognition enhanced by the Ambassador’s wink and grin at me as I listened goggle-eyed to the spirited impromptu concert.

 Louis Johnson served as Assistant Secretary of War under President Roosevelt from 1937-1940 and second Secretary of Defense under President Truman, 1949-50. However, his most pertinent role for this story was his appointment by President Roosevelt as his personal envoy to India c. 1939 to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharial Nehru while Assistant Secretary of War. 

In the fall of 1949, as India’s first Prime Minister as an independent nation, Jawaharial or Pandit Nehru, as he was sometimes called, visited the United States and his sister, Madame Pandit, then India’s delegate to the United Nations. Mr. Johnson gave a large politician studded reception and dinner at the Greenbriar honoring Nehru and Madame Pandit, old friends from that late thirties mission. Mother and Daddy were invited to the whole affair but I received a special invitation to just the reception because Mr. Johnson wanted me to meet his honored guests! I attended and was, at 21, probably at least 25 years younger than the next youngest party guest. With my new Paris haircut, I felt what we Marshalls call “swave and deboner” and was undaunted  although out-classed. Before being served drinks, the guests went down a very illustrious receiving line. Mr. Thompson, then CEO of the Allegheny Power Company and my father’s boss, kindly asked if he could escort me down the line. A tall, good looking bachelor son of Portland, ME, probably in his fifties, he had known me for years. 

The line was peopled with high ranking politicians. Mr. Johnson introduced me to Madame Pandit and Nehru, explaining to them his role in my life, slowing down the line as he did so. Next came Vice-President Alben Barkley, a clutch of Cabinet members probably starting with then Secretary of State Dean Acheson. So far, so good, we were Miss Spurr and Mr. Thompson. However, we then arrived at the Supreme Court Justices. Overwhelmed by the line-up of political big-wigs, I hadn’t really registered on whom I met in the middle part of the line. But I came to abruptly as we arrived at Associate Justice Reed who got my complete attention when he introduced us to the next Justice as Mr. and Mrs Thompson. There were still about 3 or 4 Justices to meet including William Douglas and Felix Frankfurter whom I admired and could see ahead. What to do? If I corrected the mistake it would sound as if I didn’t like being called Mrs. Thompson but I thought Tom was probably mortified by the assumption that we were married but that HE couldn’t correct the goof without sounding unhappy at being linked to me! At the end of the line, I accepted a glass of champagne and hastily turned to Mr. Thompson to thank him for escorting me and to stutter my hope that he wasn’t upset by the mistake. Looking down at me with a broad grin, he interrupted me to say, “Penelope, I hope you weren’t mortified to be called Mrs. Thompson but I think all those justices were looking at me in a whole new light!  Their opinion of me has clearly soared now that they think I have a lovely young wife! Best time I ever had in a receiving line! I wish you were staying for dinner.” Good heavens!

Moments later I was summoned to Mr. Johnson’s side where he was standing with Nehru and Madame Pandit. He beamed at me.“We need to have a picture with you,” he said. Laughing, I agreed “Yes, you certainly do!” and the photographer caught us still laughing.

Labor Day is looming, summer is winding down, my so-called baby was 53 yesterday. Incredible! See you the 29th?   p

Rebellions Begins at Home

The author in her rebelious, scientific extreme youth.

I start my day slowly these days.  Teeth brushed, morning meds downed (two longtime prescriptions plus an Anacin) I turn on lots of bedroom lights and crawl back under the covers to await the cheering and enlivening effects of the pills and wake up the rest of the way. I do not say to myself as I do the morning eye drop routine, “I will now remember my life” but, sooner or later, I drift into it, often while trying to think of a blog topic.  Sometimes looking back makes me laugh or makes me cry but recently I sat up with a start and saw myself in a whole new light.

Well! Thinking particularly about my most youthful self, I realize that I was, and probably still am, a rebel!  All my mother had to do was say “Don’t ever pull Pal’s tail!” and presto! like magic, it was done. (Pal was a neighbor’s Airedale dog who, mistakenly it turned out, thought I was a very lovable, harmless little girl.)  Pal promptly bit me as Mother had prophesied and was then totally mortified, showering me with slobbery kisses.  It’s funny, for years I have wondered what inspired Mother to tell me not to do all these things I had not ever thought of doing, thus putting the idea in my head. Never before last week had I ever considered what made the little girl, who instantly did them, tick.

Pal and I lived in Wheeling, the scene of that first remembered aggression. When we Spurrs moved to Pittsburgh, told I was not allowed to ride my tricycle on the sidewalks of Linden Avenue, I tried it at my earliest opportunity, and was soon spotted by my parents as they drove past me. Mother had picked up Daddy early from the office in order to take me to the Country Club swimming pool for a hot day special treat including dinner out at the Club. I was put to bed early but Mother and Daddy lost their pleasant evening out.

When we moved to Hagerstown, MD, my parents became friends with the Headmaster of the nearby boys’ boarding school and his wife and their son my age, Henry. My parents and I were all invited to join the Onderdoncks at a football game on a beautiful fall Saturday. My father bought Henry and me each a small bag of peanuts in the shell, and we retreated under the bleachers where our parents were sitting to eat the peanuts and enjoy some five year old congeniality. As we headed off, Mother cautioned us, “Don’t try to put any peanuts up your nose!” WOW! What a great idea – I would never have thought of that by myself! Henry thought it was a disgusting idea but not me. I carefully stuffed several small shelled peanuts well up my nose, trying to see how many fit before I summoned my parents with my wails. We all spent the school’s triumphal second half in the school infirmary where the school nurse carefully extracted my insertions.

Back in Pittsburgh in the very same rented house, when facing discovery, punishment or something I didn’t want to do, I took to running away. Always with my little brown initialed suitcase, my doll Genevieve, and my yellow linen flower girl party shoes. Out our backdoor, through the backyard and into the attached back yard of a house on Linden Ave. and down Linden to the corner of Linden and Penn Avenues was my standard route and goal. Beyond in all directions lay the BIG UNKNOWN WORLD and although determined to show my deep outrage, concern, defiance or all of the above, I still hesitated there hoping for a rescue by contrite and worried parents.  Mother, furious one day at having to cancel a lunch date to retrieve and punish me, threatened me. “Young lady, if you want ever to be found and come home again, you better never cross Penn Avenue!” Then she slammed the door on my darkened room, and her currently disliked and disgraced daughter, safely back in my own bed. Needless to say, on my next departure, I allowed someone to “cross me” over Penn and then, truly terrified, had to wait what felt like forever to get “crossed back” and eventually retrieved. I never ran away again.

My parents never noticed what may have been my stupidest “rebellion”. It occurred during an eclipse when I was between 3 and 6. I find I cannot identify this eclipse but I stood with my parents and my Aunt Helen and Uncle Lee on the edge of our Pittsburgh backyard looking into five other backyards up Lingrove Place to Juniata, each with people looking up. We all were holding photo negatives over our eyes to protect our eyes. (This was perhaps the newest idea in eye shields or the cheapest as this was during the Depression.) Mother, of course told me “Now, don’t peek, Penelope, you will actually see better through the dark film because looking right at the sun is so blinding you will squint or shut your eyes” so, of course, I kept sliding the negatives to the right or left to see if it hurt. As I recall, it didn’t but it was much easier to see through the dark translucent film because, as Mother told me, looking right at the sun is blinding. But as I struggle with lousy eyesight, I find I wish I hadn’t peeked around the negatives.

My blog suggests that maybe I wasn’t a rebel, only a budding scientist, curious to know the results of these forbidden actions. I’ve always blamed Mother for suggesting things that led me astray but I have a child who, unwarned, behaved just the same way. More from me Friday. Will I “see you”p

Inspired by Attic “Treasures”


Inside: “That’s the breaks!”

Before getting into the tasty meat of today’s blog, I have two important announcements.  First: Today is my parents’  91st wedding anniversary. I’m not sure they’re still counting up there where they are but down here I still rejoice mightily and often that they married and had the good sense to produce me, Ben and Dib. (I’m not egotistical, I’m the oldest.) We were very lucky to have them and the joyful running start they gave us and, happily we knew it and told them so. (Hint!) You will live a happier, more regret free life if you remember to say “I love you” and “thank you” often and “I’m sorry” as needed to the important people in your life.

Second: Primarily for three followers who commented on Wednesday’s blog. WordPress is either inconsistent in or has changed the way they ask us to approve and reply to comments. I wanted to say “You all make me smile, too!” but could not find a place to do it in WP’s message to me. Future notice: Anyone making a comment who doesn’t get one back can consider I’ve said that to them, too. Live readers who take the time to comment are like the whipped cream on an already yummy dessert making it even more soul satisfying! Bless you! 

One of my children, who has recently moved and intends a possession light life traveling for the near future, was promised space in what passes for “the attic” here although it is just a really huge room-size closet off one of the two upstairs bedrooms. I knew this would require some shuffling of contents and possibly even some throwing out. It received everything that didn’t have a designated home when we moved in here 21 years ago and I intended to clean it out as soon as Howdy got a little better. Neither happened and over the years, lots of other goodies – 3 vacuum cleaners! – have moved in temporarily and earned tenure and cobwebs. So a massive clean out project has been launched.

Choosing a box with my visiting son’s name on it to sort, we found nothing of his but a mysterious blend of things from many different areas of the Irvington house. I have been revisiting a fat 8×10 manilla envelope containing about 20 condolence notes for my mother’s 1972 death and (I counted them) an amazing 56 get well cards from 1983 when I did a bone-shattering tri-melilior fracture of my left ankle requiring surgery to reconstruct a stable basis for future mobility bolstered by a temporary metal plate. All this just two months before a son’s Maine wedding! Rereading my cards Tuesday, I was stunned by the number, by who sent three or more well spaced cards and by how many senders’ names I either did not remember or could not read.

Most of all, however, I remembered the pleasure they brought me at the time, and the warm sense that my presence in their lives somehow mattered.  I displayed cards everywhere and I remember seeing cards and feeling better, hopeful and on the mend.  Email messages simply do not convey at least to me, the degree of care and warmth that a card in the mail carries, even in a re-run 34 years later. I want to share a wonderfully kind, very prompt note I consider practically perfect!  I was working with the writer on a benefit for Young Life but we were not close friends. This was the first of four from her.

“Phew! What some people won’t do to get out of their Raffle selling obligations! The mind boggles!”

“What a nasty thing to have happen. Don’t worry about a thing – Cynthia is in high gear and everything is under control.”

“Concentrate on healing and we’ll see what can be done to be helpful when you get home.   With love,  Rae”   

I buy cards in quantity and with abandon but I don’t think I have ever penned anything resembling that supportive, comforting  note. I love the comment about the raffle tickets and the card itself was a gem about someone attending a Tuesday night class “where we explore the different uses of hamburger.” (inside) “Last week, I made an ashtray!” I lean to humor in cards, feeling that the act of sending is heavy with thoughtful, loving sentiment. Commercially expressed sentiments seem to say too much to ring true, mostly and make me squirm.  

May your card collecting remain for outgo and you inspire minimal inflo except on birthdays or card-sending holidays. Have we a date for Tuesday?  I’ll be here.  p

Get Well card image by Suzy Spafford