Category Archives: Memories

Memories of My Father

Carol A. Hand

My father was 76 when he died on April 26, 1994. He was surrounded by strangers on the psychiatric ward of a veterans’ hospital when he passed away. I have a haunting photo of him during his last days. (Even if I could find the photo that I’ve misplaced, it’s not how I would want my father to be remembered.)

I was the only one in my family who could have visited him at that point, but I didn’t feel it would be appropriate. As a responsible daughter who could see no other options, I was the one who had to initiate an involuntary placement in the hospital with an order of protection. He was threatening to kill my mother before he planned to commit suicide. He would hold a loaded gun and point it at her. My mother, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, was terrified he would kill her. My younger brother was threatening to kill my father to protect her.

So the responsibility fell to me. Someone needed to intervene in a reasonable and compassionate way. My father’s threats needed to be taken seriously. I had survived his physical and emotional abuse during my childhood and witnessed his violent emotional instability and attempted suicide.

Paradoxically, though, I came to understand his emotional volatility. His bipolar disorder and the deep insecurities he carried given the traumas he experienced during his own childhood made his life so difficult.

***

My Father – 10 years old

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His years as a Marine during the Korean Conflict added new dimensions to his trauma. I remember times when he cried but couldn’t give voice to the experiences that brought him so much pain.

***

My Father in the early 1940s
My Father – somewhere in the South Pacific

***

I had forgiven him decades before I had to act to protect my family, perhaps because I had educational opportunities that he never had. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that I had embraced my mother’s Ojibwe culture as I eschewed the cold, dour nature of my father’s Anglo-American heritage. He could rarely bait me any more with racist, angry tirades. I had learned how to respond with gentle humor. “Well, Dad, this is an enlightening conversation,” I would say as I smiled. “I think I’ll go see how Mother is doing.”

As I think of him today, I am grateful for the many things I learned from him. Most importantly, I learned how to understand someone who was suffering with compassion and forgiveness. That’s what I remember on this father’s day, along with sadness for people whose suffering may not be healed during this lifetime. I hope his death brought him peace and I hope that wherever he may be he knows that I am grateful to him for doing the best he could with what he was given in life.

***

My Father – 1986

***

May you finally know peace, dear Father.

Too Busy to Write?

Carol A. Hand

Too Busy to Write
yet an image keeps coming to mind
unbidden
of a younger me
standing in the clearing
by my northwoods’ cabin
in Ojibwe ceded territory
on a warm sunny morning
many years ago
Like many mornings
I am humbly gathering strength
to face challenges with grace
With my fingers laced around the
latch of White Pony’s door
I pray
“Help me walk a path of love and light
and peace and joy
in thought and word and deed”

*

*
My prayer not quite finished
I hear a pounding rhythmic sound
drawing ever closer
my heart automatically beating faster
with surprise and a tinge of fear
“Bears can’t run that fast,”
I think to myself
as the sound grows louder
Suddenly it’s overhead
just behind me
then two bald eagles pass above
inches from my bowed head
flying south over the sunlit creek
I don’t remember what fearful
task I faced that day
walking into conflicts
between worldviews and cultures
but I knew the path
was where I was meant to be
on that day
and I would not be walking it
alone

 

October Transitions

Carol A. Hand

October is a time of transitions

Sorrow and joy interwoven in memories

of celebrating a dear daughter’s birth

and grieving a beloved mother’s death

A time when the green ash tree turns gold

and glows vibrantly in the afternoon sun

***

Green Ash Tree Turned Golden – October 23, 2017

***

A time when late-blooming flowers

Add grace and color to leaf-sprinkled gardens

***

Late-blooming African Daisies – October 23, 2017
Late-blooming African Daisies – October 23, 2017
Late-blooming African Daisies – October 23, 2017
Tiny-blue Flowers (?) in Mixed Wildflower Garden – October 23, 2017

***

October’s transitions memorialized in photos

to remind me of blooms and golden glow

just before the first northcountry snow

now blanketing the earth in winter white

***

Morning Snow – October 27, 2013
Morning Snow – October 27, 2013
Morning Snow – October 27, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

No doubt the morning snow will melt soon

before “real” winter settles in to stay for a while

***

 

My Father’s Father

Carol A. Hand

My Anglo-American grandfather lived in a goathouse
Perhaps it was my father’s father’s way of resisting classism
flipping the bird to his gated-community neighbors
The descendant of the youngest son of British aristocracy
who emigrated to make his own way because of primogeniture

***

Grandfather Wes and Aunt Margaret by the house my Grandfather built -  New Jersey, 1953
Grandfather Wes and Aunt Margaret by the house my Grandfather built –
New Jersey, 1953

***

My grandfather became a master plumber for NYC highrises
but built his own home without working indoor toilets
The hand-pump in the kitchen the only indoor source of water
It’s where his oldest son lived with his family
easy targets of derision from the privileged classes nextdoor
He preferred his two story shack out back
with goats in the basement and scores of canaries flying free upstairs

His wealthy neighbors offered him fortunes to sell his farm
But my grandfather steadfastly refused
Sometimes I wonder if he stayed there just to spite them

Despite the foul smell emanating from of his goathouse
and his dour, unwelcoming and cold demeanor
I respected his eccentric, independent spirit

***

Grandfather Wes - 1977
Grandfather Wes – 1977

***

The Power of Dreams

Carol A. Hand

Recently, I have been contemplating two recurring childhood dreams. They seemed to presage the bookends of my life choices. The first was always the dark one. The second was always light. I remember waking with deep foreboding from the first, and with a strange sense of joy and aloofness from the second.

In the first dream, I would awaken within a nightmare to find myself on a screened porch. It was the dead of night. Despite the darkness, I could see darker shadows pacing and sense the fearsome monsters growling and salivating just outside the screen. I couldn’t escape into the house, and I dare not open the screen door. I knew that the monsters could easily rip through the screen, but oddly, that never happened. Still, I was filled with immobilizing terror.

Then, I would suddenly awaken in the “real word” nestled in my bed. I pretended to be asleep as I lay there terrified with my heart racing, listening to the wooden steps and floorboards creak as if someone were coming ever nearer. Sometimes I would muster the courage to peek through a single squinted myopic eye only to see shadowy amorphous shapes surrounding me. Those hazy apparitions did nothing to calm my fears.

Thankfully, I would soon fall asleep again and another dream would follow. In the light of the dawn, I found myself standing on the top step of the stairway that led to my second-story bedroom in my childhood home. It would take courage to believe, but I suspected that if I really concentrated, I would be able to take flight. I raised my arms and lifted gently into the air, glided down the stairwell, through the open front door and into the world around me.

Once airborne, I realized I could control my flight with thoughts, one moment close enough to people on the ground to touch them (although I never did) or higher than eagles in the sky, able to gaze from afar at the world below. It was both exhilarating and lonely. I knew I could never land and be part of the scene below, whether near or far, unless I was willing to lose the magic of being able to fly.

***

Christmas past - 1949
Christmas past – 1949

***

But it seemed odd. Even when I was close, no one seemed to be aware of my presence.

The second dream never fails to remind me of Tao wisdom.

“The Tao person, detached and wise embraces all as Tao.” (Dreher, 1990, the Tao of Inner Peace)

Deep sorrow continues to touch my life when I look at the world today, both up close and from afar, but so does great joy. I’m really not sure why I’m sharing this here, but I suspect many people do see me as somewhat aloof. Perhaps I am, but I do care deeply about others. I just don’t want to lose the magic of being able to rise above confining darkness and fear. I have only ever wanted to be able to share what I see with others and learn what they see in return.

***

Celebrating Life - 1957
Celebrating Life – 1957

***

I want to thank all of my blogging friends for the chance to continue learning –
to see the world through many other eyes.
to sample great wisdom and beauty that brings sadness, joy, and hopeful yearning
as we soar together in ethereal skies.

Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you very much”) and blessings to all.

***

 

Reflections about a life

Carol A. Hand

Sometimes, in the fleeting moments of clarity,
I’m frightened. I wonder, what is happening to me?
I feel like I’m losing my mind as the fog descends
A memory surfaces of a life that might have been.

***

Norma b

My mother with the woman who wanted to adopt her, Lac du Flambeau, WI, 1923

***

If I had been adopted into a life of privilege by Mrs. Paterson,
into a world far away from the Chippewa reservation where I was born
instead of life as an unwanted child raised in abject poverty, forlorn,
who would I have become?

***

norma age 7

My mother in front of her aunt’s house, Lac du Flambeau, WI, 1928

***

But that was not to be, thanks to the mother who abandoned me
Giving me to her sister to raise, to live as a servant for my aunt’s family

***

Note: These are beginning reflections about my mother’s life from the vantage point of what I imagine her thoughts were as Alzheimer’s Disease progressively interfered with her ability to do the simplest of things or communicate. It’s based on some of the things she said early on, and the sense I often had in her presence that she was still there somewhere inside.

***

 

Reflections – Thursday, July 28, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Watching dragonflies that are almost as big as hummingbirds
glistening golden sunlight reflecting from their gossamer wings
as they flutter and float and zoom about
In awe of their beauty my grateful heart sings

And then an amazing thing happens
One flies up to me and gently kisses my hair
awakening a memory of a walk with my mother
when dragonflies circled about everywhere

canada darner dragonfly

Canada Darner – Aeshna Canadensis (Phil Myers, biokids.umich.edu)

The healing scent of sun-kissed pines, the whispering whir of dragonfly wings
Walking together down wooded paths where our ancestors once roamed
I think of your gentle joyful spirit as I remember these simple miraculous things

***

Note:

My mother died almost six years ago only a few miles away from the Ojibwe reservation home where she was born in 1921. We made this walk together thirty years before her death when she was recovering from an allergic reaction to a routine test that almost killed her. I remember her delight with the dragonflies that circled us, protecting us from the swarms of mosquitoes.

About the photograph: After I drafted this, a former student called. As I was sitting out on my back step talking to her, one of the dragonflies settled on the metal railing inches away from me. Ah, where is my camera at such moments! The dragonfly was gone by the time I returned camera in hand, darting teasingly nonstop forever out of camera range. But at least I was able to study the beautiful markings and find a photo on the internet.

***

 Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections – Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Carol A. Hand

This morning I thought of you,
my once long ago Ojibwe lover
Sometimes I wonder what could have been
if we had met sooner before both promised to another

The way we laughed and loved perfectly balanced,
your deep and hearty roar blended with my lilting song
Colonialism molded us into reluctant wounded warriors,
our joyfulness somehow seemed so wrong

Poignantly, I remember your beauty and deep pain,
and the sense of responsibility you tried to drink away
Yet the memory remains of how, together, our carefree laughter
once lit up an Albuquerque restaurant on a long-ago,
long-ago,
long-ago
day

quil rose

Photo: Quilled-Rose on Birch Bark

***

 Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Remembering a Time in World History

Carol A. Hand

Word by word, the story I’m writing about the past is emerging. I’m sharing an excerpt written on November 7, 2015 in honor of Veteran’s Day. As a nation, tragic events a little more than fourteen years ago forced the nation and world to make a decision that would profoundly affect future generations. A nation and world in shock and mourning faced momentous and difficult choices. Would thoughtful reasoning or quick revenge prevail? That question had not yet been answered at this point in my story…

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

Chapter 5 – Tuesday, September 11, 2001

When I awoke it was still dark. The stories I had heard yesterday and last week were still swirling in my mind. It was too soon to begin making sense of it all. That would take time. But I wished I could take time today to just think and organize my notes. I had typed up the story Raymond had shared even though it was late when I got home, but there were so many other pressures I needed to address.

I decided to take a little time to deal with the most pressing issues for my new job. It was, after all, what was both making my research possible and constraining me by imposing what seemed like an impossible timeline. It really is strange how life works out some time.
A year ago, I had returned to the university where I had begun my doctoral studies. Ten years ago I had been forced to withdraw in order to support my daughter in college and my partner who had lost his job.

Since then, I had mostly worked as an instructor at the university I attended and as a grant writer, program developer, and an evaluator for tribal programs and health education initiatives. I returned to the university as a Ph. D. student when I finally had a topic that I wanted to study passionately enough to sustain me through yet more classes and a year of research and writing – Indian child welfare. I had written two of the required preliminary exams and was working on a third when I got a surprise call from the chair of a social work department at another university.

“Hi Agnes. I’m Dr. Tim Smith, at Prairie University. I’m calling to offer you a job. I’ve heard about you from friends at your university. It’s my alma mater, too. I’m trying to build a diverse faculty here and think you’d be a perfect addition.”

“I really appreciate your kind offer, Dr. Smith,” I replied. “But I’m not looking for a job right now. I’m still completing my preliminary exams and my research proposal.”

“I have a proposition for you,” he responded, undaunted. “I’m willing to create a special position for you to support you while you finish your work. I want you to come for a visit so you can check us out. If you’re interested in the offer, we can talk about the details when you’re here.”

To make a long story short, I did visit and accept the position. It began at the end of August, 2001. My salary would support the costs of my research, a decision I made to protect identities. Dr. Smith had offered to reimburse me, but it would mean revealing the names of places and people. That would break my promise of anonymity for those who shared their lives and stories. In exchange for drawing a salary for the next two years to do research and writing during the fall of 2001 and 2002, I would need to teach a double course load in the spring. It also meant I had to meet deadlines for finishing my work if I wanted to join as a tenure track faculty member in 2003.

This morning, tired as I was with so many stories to think about, I felt I needed to check in with the university. I arose early and fired-up the gasoline-powered generator so I would have electricity to shower, pack, and get ready to hit the road. I decided to check my university email before I set out for the tribal community. The events I learned about in university messages would have a chilling affect not only on the Ojibwe community I was studying, but also on the world. I recorded my thoughts in my research journal…

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

Peace-Poster

Image: World Peace

I wish we had made different decisions in the aftermath of that fateful day. For the sake of those who will be on the front lines in the future, and the innocent families and children in harm’s way, I hope we take time to reconsider the wisdom of following the path of yet more war. It’s how we can best honor those who fought to keep their families safe. Working toward peace and reconciliation offers the wisest choice.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the preceding account to protect identity. The names of organizations have been altered as well.]

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.