Day 305: Tattoo

On March 24th the governor of Washington State declared the “Stay Home. Stay Healthy” mandate. Here we are over 300 days later, fatigued, depressed, foggy, frustrated…and now hopeful. Hopeful that the pandemic will end this year, and America can get back to work. The second half of 2020 I began to read the daily “briefings” of American Historian Heather Cox Richardson. Her writings have helped me to place events into a perspective I would not have been able to do so on my own. It’s helped me, might help you, the link is at the bottom of the page.

John Oliver also makes me smile. I like his analogy of last week feeling like a person finishing a marathon, after breaking the ribbon and about to celebrate an official comes up, shakes your hand, and says, “Did you know that one million dogs are euthanized in shelters every day?” Just give us ONE DAY to feel the relief. PLEASE, just one day for those that survived the four year attack on America by Americans, can we have ONE day of hope?

Outside of politics I’ve been thinking about an old friend that passed away a few years ago. Jim joked about being a curmudgeon, but he really was a good-tempered easy-going old guy who had a divine level of dad jokes at the ready. There was an absence of family men in my upbringing. Mostly appeared as unreachable, or two dimensional. Grandpas lived in other states, my father had sleeping fits, and my uncles were loud, swearing, sons of bitches that belched loudly and with great showmanship at the Thanksgiving table upsetting the aunties.
Life has a beautiful way of balancing itself. If you are missing a family relationship, say a sister, parent, or, heck, a whole family, somehow life brings you a family. I do not know how it does it, but it is so welcomed. Jim was welcomed into my life as an adopted grandpa. We met at a poetry open mic. Here is the one photo I have of us, taken at his first book launch.

2015, at Village Books, Fairhaven

He supported my work, greeted me with a smile, asked me what I was up to in my writing world, shared with me what he was marveling at that day. A wonderful gentleman. I believe it would be egotistical of me to think I was special to him because he treated everyone this way. All people and everything about this world were special to him. He passed “into the cosmos” in October 2019. I do not know how much support I gave him, but he helped me more than I was able to ever share or express to him.

My poem “Leaf Tattoo” was one of his favorites. Often when I see a leaf tattoo or now, the little buds of a new leaf on the branches, I am reminded of his kindness. I’m thankful for people like Jim. I’m glad he appeared in my life, and for other “adopted” family that visited, albeit, only for a short time. They are true treasures.

Leaf Tattoo
You can you feel it
In my city
The change of air
as wind folds in
fall’s weather.

Orange leaves appear on
the sidewalks of Holly Street.
No worms to dance them back to soil.

Cement laden, laid on
the roadside in random patterns leave
a tattoo, imprinted on the stone.
Five pointed stars
a tree hand
pressed by feet and rain
bleed orange ink for all to see.

By winter the marks wash away
By spring, bright green babies wave
at us from their mother’s arm
borne back into our memory.

Photo by Sarah Mae, Seattle, WA, on Unsplash

_______________________________________

https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/

Disposal

The other day at work I had the unusual job of sorting through donated Christmas decorations.  The donations came from the husband of a woman that supported the organization. She, unfortunately, passed away over the summer.  The widower was now in a convalescent center. A friend of his helped him collect their old Christmas decorations and deliver them to us to be donated to families in our housing program.  It was shared that this gesture of giving was in honor of her love for Christmas and desire to help others. Very kind.

Late Friday afternoon I set up a staging table to sort through the five boxes of decorations, dividing them up into containers for delivery later that day. Some items were in better shape than others. With each item I wondered, perhaps, it held a special place in someone’s heart and memory. These were precious to someone at one time.

A couple of times I felt myself getting spooked out by it, I’ll be honest. However, reason dominated the afternoon.  Decorations are not HOLY items that require special handling.  They are not Mezuzah’s for example; old or broken Mezuzahs MUST NOT be thrown away but buried.

“Even though it is the scroll that is the mitzvah, the case also becomes holy because it is used for a Mitzvah. Therefore the case should be brought to a genizah – that is a place where holy items are brought to be buried in the Jewish cemetery.”

The embroidered caricature ornaments of Mr. and Mrs. Clause or a broken snowglobe with a water-bubbled Frosty, arms full of presents, do not require special disposal like sacred communion wine and baptismal water.  Leftover blessed communion wine and the vessels used for serving MUST be washed in a sink that empties out into the ground.

“A piscina is a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church, or else in the vestry or sacristy, used for washing the communion vessels. The sacrarium is the drain itself. Anglicans usually refer to the basin, calling it a piscina. For Roman Catholic’s sacrarium is a “special sink used for the reverent disposal of sacred substances. This sink has a cover, a basin, and a special pipe and drain that empty directly into the earth, rather than into the sewer system”

Religion fascinates me.  All these different rules, detailed rules, stifling rules, people make up for the brand distinction.  Of course, at the root of many religious rules is the respect for the object and what it represents, such as the Word of God or the Blood of Christ.  So, how do you categorize a ripped 1978 cross-stitched fabric wall banner of a geriatric man with fancy cherry-red lips proclaiming  “HO! HO! HO!” that hung on a wall 23 days a year for 42 years?  CAN it be thrown away, in the trash, to the landfill?  Why yes it can—and it does.

The newsletter for Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc (PSSI) and the Stanford Recycling Center located in Redwood City, CA, USA, reported Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage or about 1 million extra tons per week!

PSSI and SRC suggest some rules: reduce, reuse.  

If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.

It is a delight for all non-profits to receive donations of any size shape and configuration. After going full circle in my thoughts I was happy that this family decided to donate their Christmas decorations to less fortunate families.  Standing over my staging table, I wondered at the stuff, so much stuff. I sorted through each shoebox, bag, and large plastic containers of Christmas ribbon and plastic snowflakes, Christmas candleholders, Christmas ornaments made of glass, plastic, ceramic, tinsel and yarn, Christmas tree toppers, Christmas banners, tree garland, Christmas wreaths for the table and front door, Christmas votives and Christmas coffee cups.  Whoever wanted a bag of evenly distributed items, they was ready.  I tossed out the few old and broken and passed forward future memory makers.

Here are some 2020 ornaments that caught my attention. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas! Hope you are safe, warm, and bubbled up with folks you can tolerate.

Did he ever imagine while in medical school THIS would happen?
There are MANY like this, but the description -lol! “Commemorative 2020 Flickering Dumpster Fire Ornament – Limited Edition Christmas Gift
F-Bombs? YES! I dropped many of these throughout the year and well, the last four years TBH.
No thanks, I hate it.
RGB remembered
This year is not a shining star, and I don’t want to forget it. 2021 is a steep hill for countries, cities, towns, neighborhoods, and families to climb. We will never be ‘normal’ again. This year changed the world because it changed people, challenged us, hurt us all over. Let’s build something great from the ashes & rubble.

*******

Sources
https://mezuzahstore.com/blogs/mezuzah-blog/2719082-how-to-dispose-of-a-mezuzah-case

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piscina

https://lbre.stanford.edu/pssistanford-recycling/frequently-asked-questions/frequently-asked-questions-holiday-waste-prevention

https://www.artfire.com/ext/shop/product_view/AccidentallyPerfect/19122711/_f_bomb_2020_holiday_ornament

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-54878910

Poem: Four Minus Three

 

 

photo credit: Photography by Magda Indigo

 

Four Minus Three

By Shannon P. Laws

 

The sanctuary of four tulips
in a heavy glass jar
atop the round dining table
bathe in afternoon sun

Church is found in
the smallest folded places
Between petals
Between panes

A god does not determine
who lives or dies
It is the science of fate
The seat you sit in at three a.m.
when a moose moves out from the brush

Three bleed-out inside a crumpled-ball of car

while one

if asked by any nurse or doctor

could tell you
what the family
ate for dinner
yesterday

 

Vignette: Mimi’s Closet

The fabulous Iris Apfel. Like Iris, Mimi, my grandma, wore large framed glasses and chunky jewelry. Unlike Iris, who shared many of her secrets, my grandma kept hers close to her heart.

 

Mimi’s Closet

by Shannon P. Laws

 

The door at the end of the long hall stands open
The third bathroom is in there
Sent to the room by my mother’s voice
busy behind the door of the second
common bathroom, the guest bathroom
Go use Mimi’s
I obey

The faint gold light
from a bedside lamp whispers
as I step twice into the space
Her closet door is open, just a little
Moving toward the closet my arm reaches out
to feel inside
to find her secrets

These are her uniforms
her suits of clothes and character
Rich hand-me-downs with East Coast labels
—meant to impressed me, even at 13

I am too far, too deep, too close to the truth
my ears give a quick check
All family members are engaged
in after dinner conversation
at the other side of the house
No footsteps in the hall
I can quickly look
touch a few
view the hieroglyphs
decipher the ridges
in her shoes

A shriveled fox head snaps at me
with sunken eyes from the top of a fur wrap
I sense the ghost of a guard
standing attention blocking me from the
colors, textures that hang in the back just out of reach

My bladder and a toilet flush down the way
remind me why
I’m there

Use the bathroom
then leave
don’t touch anything
mind your business

As I turn to capture one last look
I see her desk
a round breakfast table
paired by two chairs
with woven wood backs
Yellow chains of jewelry, keys, papers
laid out with books and pens
There’s a tube TV, two large leather jewelry boxes
on the long low dresser in front of the bed between
two dark lamps
Under the bed, I spy boxes of canned soup

Who gets all this when she’s dead?
My aunts will consume anything of value
Strangers at the Goodwill get the rest

 

 

#

Poem: Castaway

Rain clouds over Seattle skyline, photo by Christian Bobailla

 

Castaway

by Shannon Laws

 I am a yolk inside an egg
first light backlit behind mother’s skin
Morning glows gently
through her Texas accent

It’s about to rain in Seattle
Clouds dark-gray-pregnant with drops
hover over Yesler Way

Latin guitars labor heel slaps
against slats laid on the café floor,
serenade woodblock prints
balanced by wires against the red wall

Joker behind me gets up
throws something in the basket
It’s Wednesday afternoon
smashed into a ball
wasted

 


I learned I was born on a Wednesday. Such a quiet day to be abandoned, laid like an egg in a forest-floor nest, placed there for fate to guard but the world to devour.

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DNA Part Six: The Good and Bad News

wordcloud
A tree shaped word cloud using known Rowland / Rogers family names

Good and Bad News to Report.  First the Good News:

I can’t believe it’s been over a year and a half since I have written about my DNA journey.  What a long quiet year 2015 was on the DNA front.  So many months have gone by with no new leads.  It was a tough year and full of distractions.  My temp work had me bouncing around between five different jobs.  However, I gained new skills and met some interesting people along the way, so no complaints.

Then, in April, 2016, I received this message from Sandra:

I uploaded my information into gedmatch.com and you were the first person on my list.  I wanted to contact you because I was wondering how you fit into my family.

 I’m not looking for anything from you.  I was just curious as to how we’re related.  I’m always fascinated finding new family.

Turns out Sandra is my mother’s cousin AND she is the genealogist in the family!  She sends me my mothers family tree.  For the first time in my life, I have a blood family tree, names, history and stories. It is overwhelming.  I’m in a fog for weeks.  Stunned actually.

Then, in June, this little gem shows up from David:

fyi, have put dna in GEDmatch and your dna in that database  has highest match to ours.
Our ancestry lived mostly in Ohio in the 1800’s.

David and I exchange trees.  We compare dates and names

Great
That is a match
You grandfather our uncle, Byron Rowland, brother of my mom, Gayle Rowland.

No wonder we are such a close match
Have much on Rowland ancestry

Music to my ears! If that wasn’t enough David sends me his family findings, a hundred page document that includes more names, more dates about the Rowland’s …and this note:

attached is tree for our mom, Gayle Rowland
It is same for Byron Rowland
Rowland’s were from Wales
Also, you are a Mayflower descendant

mayflower 2
On November 9th ,1620, the Mayflower’s crew sighted Cape Cod

Confused yet? The simple version is that David and Sandra share the same great grandparents, the parents of Gayle and Byron.  David descends from their daughter (Gayle) and Sandra from the brother (Byron). Sandra is my first cousin once removed and David is my second cousin.

There are so many families using DNA sites now. 23andMe lists over 1000 relatives for me, even though I only share one chromosome with most.  Sandra and David, as distant as we three are on the tree, score head and shoulders above the fray. I am thankful for these two diligent genealogists.

 

THE HORRIBLE BAD NEWS

Sandra sent the newspaper article with the headline

“Flames in Locked Auto Held Cause of 5 Deaths”
from the Castroville, Texas, Wednesday,
22 Jul 1964 issue of the Dallas Morning News.

My mother married a Captain who served in World War II.  They had five children.  After the death of their youngest son, my mother, Joan, wrote her husband a letter that she was taking the kids and leaving him.  He moved out and went to live with his parents in a nearby town.

Then, one day, perhaps when Joan was at an appointment, he loaded my four half brothers, and sisters, ages two to ten, into the car.  He put them to sleep with exhaust fumes by connecting a hose from the car muffler to a window, then poured gasoline over the car and lit a match.  Here is what the article reports:

“Justice of the Peace C. O. Williams of Devine said his verdict of “murder and suicide” was based on the physical evidence investigators had uncovered.

   The evidence, he said, included a letter Loessberg had written to his estranged wife in San Antonio and mailed shortly before driving to the pasture.

   Medina County Sheriff Charles Hitzfelder quoted the brief, handwritten note as saying: “You have only yourself to care for now.”

   Hitzfelder said the car may have been doused with an inflammable fluid.  The engine’s air cleaner was off the carburetor.

   A rancher and three youths who had been rabbit hunting in the area discovered the burning auto.  When found, the vehicle was upright, but had crashed through a fence and sideswiped two trees.”

The Rowland family was in total discord over the horrific murder-suicide.  It was 1964, perhaps they blamed Joan?  She ran to Seattle to live with a distant Aunt.

We know she married again.  She gave birth to me at Harborview Hospital, then, disappeared.  Perhaps, I am her only living descendant?

 

STILL, SO MANY QUESTIONS

Did her husband know about me?  Is she still alive?  It is possible that she is alive, in her 80’s.  I have all the information I need to find her address, find the marriage certificate, to find her phone number and call her.  I haven’t done any of that.  I just can’t get myself to do anything.

How could she…

What if…

It would hurt…

It could hurt.

It could also heal.

 


 

https://shannonplawswriter.com/2015/01/26/dna-part-five-how-do-you-identify/

https://shannonplawswriter.com/2014/12/20/dna-part-four-spice/

https://shannonplawswriter.com/2014/11/28/dna-part-three/

Alcohol Poem Anthology

I am happy to announce my poem “Rancid Blood” was selected by James Bertolino for his new project an Alcohol Poem Anthology.  More details to post later. Stay tuned!

My bio reads: Shannon Laws is a World Peace Poet and non-profit radio producer in Bellingham, Washington. Her family has an intense, repetitive history with the disease of alcoholism and addiction. The current generation, more aware and supportive than any previous, keeps a loving eye on the next.

jesus casts out
“Jesus casting demons into swine” or “Why bacon is bad for us”

Rancid Blood

“Jesus asked him, saying, “What is your name?”
And he said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him.”
-Luke 8:30, New King James Version

You sit across the table and smile
Eyes dark, glazed, fingers tap the table
As I search for words
What is your name?

A worm crawls inside
Eats the innards, of a rotten, soggy soul
You are dead, the you I knew
Died years ago

If only I could cast out demons
And send them to swine,
Alcohol no longer your blood

So sorry, but I have no words
The sight of you has stolen them
All I can do is hold your hand
I cannot climb your mountain
I cannot walk your path
I cannot fight your fight
This is a demon you must
Cast out of Yourself
Everyday

 

online cover OLT
Rancid Blood from “Odd Little Things” By Shannon P. Laws Copyright 2014

Thankfulness Event & Adele

You’re invited  

Concert of thankfulness and poetry event

Wednesday, November 25 – 7:30 PM

St. James Presbyterian, 910 14th St, Bellingham

Music presented by the St. James Bell Choir and Chancel Choir.

Thanksgiving poetry & memoir provided by local writing community poets and writers: Susan Chase-Foster, Luther Allen, Darrell Hillaire, Janet Oakley, Shannon Laws, and Carla Shafer.

“Join us to pause and reflect on our blessings and give thanks for all that we have been given. The evening’s monetary offering will go to the Bellingham Food Bank.”

“Looks like a warm evening of reflection and music.  Here is what I’m reading.” -SPL

bethankful

Walking with Family

            -by Shannon Laws

In the 1980’s I was a kid growing up in South King County.  Two of my mother’s sisters lived nearby.  These three sisters kept the family together by organizing the parties for holidays and birthdays.  The aunts and my mother rotated the hosting chores, added new recipes to the menus, brought out the best china, crystal and extra tables for Thanksgiving.

My father and uncles seemed reluctant to dress up for it, after all, their football or baseball game was “always” interrupted by invading house guests, but they reacted kindly by adding “color” to every event.  These were hard working men, they were a construction foremen, an owner of a plumbing company, a city building inspector and a mailman. They had plenty of jokes and stories to amaze the crowd of child and parent alike.

By the mid 90’s the two sisters moved away and family gatherings all but ceased.  One family moved back to the mid-west for work, the other to Arizona for retirement.

When my two kids where toddlers, however they were able to enjoy a few of these events before everyone moved away.  Returning home from an Easter dinner my son shared in his cute little five year voice, “Wow, we have a BIG family!”

Somehow after my family dispersed, I found the kindness of new friends comforting.  My path has provided me with new aunties, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, sisters and brothers.  Friends walk with me a bit on the path of life.  Company is always welcome, whether there’s a Seahawks game on or not.  Life changes.

People, even family, come and go in our world.  Some people stay longer than others.  It brings tears to my eyes as I type these words; tears of joy & happiness and most importantly—thankfulness.

heart leaf
“The Heart of a Leaf and My Feet”

This video made me laugh!  I wish we had Adele back in day.

“A Thanksgiving Miracle”

mqdefaulthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2zyjbH9zzA

Published on Nov 22, 2015

There’s only one thing that can keep a family (Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Matthew McConaughey, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer) from fighting at Thanksgiving: Adele.

#

Squawk!

Happy Valley- a poet walks among you!  She walks down the middle of your streets in search of a coffee house that opens at 7—preferably one that has blueberry scones…

clinta48588
Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, 1966

Last few weeks my inner dialogue seems to have a Wheeling Virginian cigar hanging out the corner of its mouth, almost as if I am internalizing a Clint Eastwood character from a 1960’s spaghetti western.  This dialogue surfaces as a distaste for sidewalks apparently.

My urban bird watching continues to provide rewards.  This morning I took a right on 17th and saw a collection of Steller’s  Jays sitting on the corner of a low rooftop chatting away.  It was about 6:45 in the morning and I imagined they were having a bird meeting about bugs, feeders and crows.  Two of the birds looked smaller than the other three.  Are they young-lings getting trained?  What surprised me the most about this conversation was the low volume.  Steller’s are known for their loud “SQUAWK!” The kind of squawk that can wake you out of a nap, bring your shoulders up in a cringe, and your finger to involuntarily enter your ear in an attempt to protect the lobe.  It’s an annoying sound.  The bird’s feather mohawk fits the personality perfectly.  They thrash about the stage of any backyard bird feeder violently tossing seeds all over and chasing the other birds away—a real punk of the bird community.  Yet here they are, five of them, quietly chatting away making little gargle sounds and tapping their beaks together in salutations.

Around the corner three crows sit on a wire quietly eavesdropping.  Bird espionage.

stellers3ce065
“SQUAWK!”

Later today I am attending my cousin’s funeral.  Family on my dad’s side is flying in.  There is an old joke about us Irish-types: we suffer from Irish Alzheimer’s, we only remember the grudges.

This morning after four days of anxiety, I’m different, peaceful, after my walk.  In the past I felt like a boxer getting into the ring prior to a family get-together …not today.  My mind makes a connection between these birds and the family.  The childhood stereotypes of each family member squawks at me.  However childhood memories are distorted by time.  Even our mind’s eye remembers event at the low angel of a 12 year old.  Adults are bigger than life!  Old memories, we all have of some variety, knit themselves deep into our hearts.  Every so once-in-a-while a box of yarn, cut up, knotted up and tangled, is dropped off at our doorstep demanding to be segregated and deciphered.  Who did what to who, and who’s to blame?

Fuck that.  Don’t take the bait.

Today as I travel into Anacortes with my brother, in our funeral attire, I leave my tangled box of yarn at the door.  I will approach my family, especially the ones I haven’t seen in decades, with fresh eyes and “quiet” conversation.  We have all changed in one degree or another.  The fabric of our hearts are knitted by natures stitch.  The natural bond of family is greater than the artificial polyester strings of misunderstandings and hate.

I love my family.

Squawks and all.

HEART-SHAMROCK

 

 

It’s Time for Ham!

c19b0-timeforham

Since 2010 I have posted this story around the holidays.  It has become a Madrona Grove tradition.  The ham story is a about generations and tradition.  

My mother’s mid-western family has many traditions.  One that is especially unique is making fresh Oyster Stew on New Years.  My mother’s Minnesotan family originates from the Rhine River valley of Germany, apparently near a place where you can get good oysters. Mom says her grandma made it as a holiday soup, and her mother made it for new years.  My parents would take us on the one and a half hour drive to Minterbrook Oyster Farm in Gig Harbor every year for the “freshest oysters in Western Washington”

Some other traditions in my family for Thanksgiving include a pause in prayer before dinner and a round-table mention of what we are thankful for for the year.  

This year with the Ferguson, Missouri riots and equal rights demonstrations flaring up across the nation, I’m thinking of freedoms.  How wonderful is freedom?  The freedom of speech, the freedom to walk down the street or drive a car without harassment.  The freedom to not wear a burqa or a head scarf and NOT be arrested.  All the freedoms I have in my day, my freedom to write, to speak, to share my thoughts, feelings and poetry on this website. I’m thankful even for the freedoms I have yet to discover.  I’m thankful for the supportive writing community here in Bellingham.  I especially enjoy reciprocation—when sharing and respect come full circle and friendships are formed.

Whatever your traditions, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, good food, good love and a warm soul.  

Best wishes, -Shannon P. Laws

It’s Time for Ham!

OK, true story:

One holiday four generations of family are all gathered together in the youngest daughter’s new home for a rare time together. This is the youngest daughters first time hosting the family dinner, and she’s a little nervous.

Her mom is helping her with the ham. The daughter plops the large ham into its pan and asks the mom, “OK what do we do next?”

“Well,” answers the mom, “first thing we need to do is cut off the ends of the ham, just the sides about 2 inches worth.”

“Why?”, asks the daughter.

“I don’t know, but my mom always did it, and her ham’s turn out great every time.”
They call the young woman’s grandma in, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends of the ham before cooking?”

“Gosh, I don’t know why. Never thought of it. MY mother always cut the ends off, so that’s how I’ve always done it. How funny.”
The three ladies quickly walk out to the living room to find the young woman’s great-grandmother sitting and talking with family. “G.G. I have a question for you. Why do you cut the ends of the ham off?”

“Well, I don’t know why YOU cut the ends of the ham off, but I had to cut the ends off or it wouldn’t fit into my oven!”

Lesson:
It’s good to know WHY you do what you do, so that you don’t waste any ham.

????????
shiny-glowing food