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
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
Use the bathroom
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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.
This video made me laugh! I wish we had Adele back in day.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Click the title or the photo to get to the page in a snap
It took a few days to get it properly formatted, but it’s up and ready for purchase. Excited to be able to offer my first book on Amazon. Hoping to reach new readers.
Please consider a copy as a gift for a friend, or as an addition to your poetic library; I fit nicely between Keats and Oliver. *wink* -SPL
POETRY: Shannon P. Laws, 2013 Mayor Arts Award winner, takes us on a stroll through the mind, heart and the mystery of dreams in her debut collection. Her poems, like a fine picnic laid out on a blanket in the shade of her beloved Madrona, reveal treasures that hide in everyday living. This majestic tree, native to her home on San Juan Island, has a skin like bark, alive to the touch. They act as a sentry on her journey through ancient emotions and primal urges that stir within.
Times are tough. Not for everyone all the time. There is a proverb that claims it rains on the just and unjust alike. Most proverbs reference a farmer’s point of view, so I believe “rain” is a good thing, it’s what you want, it’s pennies from heaven.
At times when very little rain comes my way, I like to dream. I dream big. Hard work pays off, I retire, can afford a nice house. Nice by MY standards, of course, because it’s my dream.
One of my dreams goes like this: I see myself in a large house, with a flower garden. My family is there, my two cats and one friendly, soft-eared black Spaniel, or King Charles (can’t decide) is resting near me as I dead-head the Geranium and Petunias planted along the bed’s border. The sun is shining and there is a cool breeze. Birds play in the branches. Dinner will be ready soon; there is laughter, music and great fragrance of a home cooked meal. All kind of art hangs my on walls, interesting, exciting pieces collected from my world travels. Shoes gather around the front door, as the house fills, comfortably, with friends, family, smiles and laughter.
I’m saying “Thank You” and “I love you” sharing the riches of my hard work with those I love. —Hard work? Yes. Unless I win the lotto, this dream can only come true by working hard, working smarter, hopefully doing something that I love.
And so when times are down, I look and see what is for sale on-line. I search the Windermere Real Estate map, zoom to a favorite neighborhood, select price “highest to lowest”, then “Enter”. The house-porn party has started!
I look for a four to six bedroom, with an art studio, den, and a place for a pool table, modern kitchen and baths, a REAL laundry room, closet space galore, and at least one large fireplace, stacked rock, river rock or granite preferred. I need room enough for my son, daughter, mother, my brother and his family to visit, a bed for everyone! A house with a water or mountain view, a fenced yard, among a nice “walking” neighborhood, near a grocery store, quick access to the main roads and a park. That’s all I want. Simple. The perfect house.
I wonder sometimes if my need to view million dollar homes at 3 in the morning is bad; if it gives me false hope. If I set the bar too high.
The average cost for a home in my city is around $267,000, estimated median household income in 2012: $41,718*. Dreaming of owning a million dollar plus home is reaching for the sky! So, is it bad for me to look? Bad to dream? I don’t think so.
Let me share a story with you.
Back in the early 00’s I worked for the largest cable company in Western Washington. Comcast Cable has customers in the millions, from Blaine to Gray’s Harbor, North Bend to Forks. One of the ideas they were playing with was home-specific advertising.
This is a common concept for internet advertising today, 12 years later. To see user-specific advertising in action compare the ads on your Facebook page with that of a friend, son or daughter, or your mother. They WILL be different.
For cable television it’s a bit different. Cable boxes have the capacity to not only deliver the package you paid for, but to retrieve information. All the buttons you push turn into data, it is collected and analyzed. Cable and satellite companies, unlike their broadcasting cousins, know exactly how many boxes watch what channel, what show, when and where. So with this data, for a brief time, experiments were done on box or home specific advertising.
Based on your personal data it is determined that you could afford a Mercedes Benz, local Mercedes Benz lots would send their ads to your cable box, inserted onto the channels you watch, potentially saving MB money by targeting the “right kind” of client.
If your credit card data showed that you ordered pizza delivery more than average, then pizza advertisements for companies near you that deliver, would appear on your TV.
Advertising that reacts to your current habits and buying abilities within the parameters of your demographic. Boring.
Sitting in the beta results meeting, I remember thinking that box-specific advertising was wrong. It was wrong to deny people a “Goldilocks” experience; finding out whats too small, too big or just right for them.
What It Really Means
Dreams are not a demographic, they are more like a fingerprint. A hungry person, on a tight budget, might dream about food, but what do they really need? A Marie Callender Pot Pie? NO! (Well, maybe, those are good!) That person may need a nicer car that starts every morning, to help get a job that pays better, but dreams of going to school to get a better job, a better life.
How much influence does the media have on our dreams? Should we use things as rewards?
Is material attainment symbolic of the journey?
What are YOUR dreams?
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” ~Jesse Owens
“All [people] dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous [people], for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” ~T. E. Lawrence