Wednesday, March 28, 2012

To the Earth

Don Anderson was my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. He was a quiet guy, especially around chatterboxes like my husband and me. Unlike most introverts he didn’t seem to mind the racket too much. I was grateful for that.
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

He was an environmental engineer and was passionate about land use and water use. He liked skiing and hiking. He loved the mountains and lake near his home in Colorado.

He loved trains, too. For a long time he had a collection of working scale model trains. When we visited them, we would duck into the Train Room and watched the marvel of the Iron Horse set up in a world of its own.

Wine was another passion of his. He had a marvelous collection and was happy to share. We agreed about Navarro Winery being a marvelous place in a marvelous setting in the Anderson Valley, not named for him. It’s in a valley with mountain views, mountains not quite so tall as his Colorado mountains but no less colorful and relaxing and joyous and dreamy.

He was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, underwent treatment that devastated his speaking ability and took away his ability to enjoy wine. He was learning to live with the compromise that was his new life. It took a tremendous amount of help from my sister.

When the doctors said he needed to live at a lower altitude to help his breathing, he rented a furnished house in the woods about an hour away from us in California. It was a place in the trees just above the fogline, a place where you could count the stars in the sky on a good night. He drove to spend Christmas with us. We met Don and my sister for a wonderful dinner at a terrific restaurant. Don couldn’t eat because of the swallowing thing, the feeding tube, but we talked anyway and enjoyed his company.

And then he called for help. And all in a rush, he went to the Emergency Room, then came to stay with us, my sister flew here, we went for opinions, then the Emergency Room here, then the hospital and then Don was gone. It was just like that.

I miss the quiet guy who tried to make the earth better, the Page of Pentacles, the student of the earth and the real consequences of man’s changes upon it. I wanted to thank him for loving my sister, for serving me wine, for carefully chosen, if spare, words. I was glad we had a dog he could pet when his own dogs were in Colorado, too far away. I was glad we could be there for him in some small way. I know he will return to the mountains he loved, to the earth he tried to help for all of us. His ticket has been paid for and he is all aboard.

Best wishes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pink Bubbly

A long time ago – it seems like a lifetime now – when I was married to the wrong guy, his family decided to have Easter with Grandma in Chicago.

Ah, Grandma! She was a rock, but maybe something softer than that. She had come with her family from Poland. She was sensible, practical. She knew how to take care of things and she knew how to get over things. She was round all over. She cooked Polish food and knew where to get the best stuff in Chicago.

The best Polish sausage came from a butcher who wasn’t even Polish. That was something of a secret so of course I won’t tell, even though Grandma is long at rest and I left the wrong guy far behind. But it was, after all, Grandma’s secret to success and it wouldn’t be right to give it away even now.

Grandma had come to America with her parents when she was 4. Her sister Ann was born in the United States. While it was never said aloud, this small difference seemed to make Grandma the authentically Polish one with Ann as the American one. The two sisters were quite different from each other in many ways. As practical and down-to-earth as Grandma was, Aunt Ann was as flighty, superficial and impractical. Remarkably, they lived in the same house on the south side of Chicago, a neighborhood undergoing great changes when I first arrived there, changes beyond the matter/anti-matter drive that were Grandma and Aunt Ann.

When I was first introduced to the family, they were skeptical. It was with good reason but I did want to make a good impression.

“Where are you from?” they asked. “McCord, that’s Irish, right?”

Aunt Ann had married Jack who was Irish, so it wasn’t like Irish was a bad answer. They just wanted a better answer than Irish, something they could relate to. They inspected me, all blonde and blue with those dark eyebrows, searching for more.

I stuttered to list the litany of my mutt-like heritage, Irish, English, Scots, French, German, Czech, Bohemian….

“Bohunk!” They seized upon the familiar with delight. “Oh, if you’re Bohunk, you’re OK!”

I was relieved to have passed the test since my next listed heritage is Gypsy or more correctly Rom. This usually does not garner cries of delight from folks from the Old Country. I’m here to say I have never stolen a baby or a chicken from anyone in spite of rumors. There’s a lot of bad press out there for the Rom. If Grandma and Aunt Ann were happy, I was happy. I wasn’t sure it was OK to call Bohemian “Bohunk” but I wasn’t going to argue with the matriarchs. I was in another country after all.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
We all set about doing Easter things, which was mostly wearing a pink dress and sitting in a chair to stay out of the way for me. I went grocery shopping with them. Aunt Ann took Hubs-1’s sisters and me out on a rollicking shopping trip to Marshall Fields. We stopped at the perfume counter where Aunt Ann’s friend worked and were passed a discreet bag of goodies, expensive perfumes and cosmetics with bent boxes. A treasure trove! We ate Frangi-Pangi chocolates and returned to the double-decker shotgun-style house where Grandma, Aunt Ann and Uncle Jack lived.

Easter Sunday we went to mass. Grandma preferred the plainer local Polish Catholic Church. Aunt Ann liked the fancier, wealthier Lithuanian Catholic Church. At some point we went to both. This being post-Vatican II, the Lithuanian church mass was said in Lithuanian. Grandma and Ann marveled that I knew when to kneel and stand up since they were sure I didn’t understand Lithuanian. I tried to explain that the mass is the same in any language, but after they gave me that “two-heads” look, I just smiled and decided it was a compliment. I said thank you.

Back at the house, Ann and Jack made their way slowly upstairs to rest before Easter dinner. Jack had emphysema plus a pacemaker, so we didn’t want to wear him out. After all, living with Aunt Ann was like living with Tigger, bouncy, bouncy, so it was a silent understanding that Jack needed to lie down a while.

“We’re going to have pink champagne!” Ann announced. Grandma rolled her eyes and mentioned we already had wine to go with the feast that included potato cakes and jelly-filled cookies and other ethnic yummies. Ann insisted on the pink champagne. Hubs-1 and I, plus his two sisters, trooped up the back stairs with Aunt Ann to separate her from Grandma, hoping to stave off any Easter violence. Aunt Ann set the big bottle of pink champagne on the counter, preparing to take it downstairs. Then she got a phone call.

Aunt Ann was a talker, again the opposite of Grandma who used only the few words necessary to get her point across. After about an hour of waiting for Aunt Ann’s animated conversation to conclude, we all offered to help Uncle Jack down the stairs again. Dinner was almost ready. Yet Aunt Ann talked on and on. We could hear her from downstairs. Grandma rolled her eyes again and shook her head. They sent Hubs-1 back upstairs to retrieve Aunt Ann.

Happy as can be, Aunt Ann and the bottle of pink champagne came bouncing down the stairs.

“Bruce! You open this!” she insisted, thrusting the now warmed and shaken bottle at Hubs-1. We all muttered that we had wine. No, this was a special day. We were having pink champagne. Dutifully, he began to uncork the bottle.

I’m not sure if you realize this, but champagne is bottled under pressure. Like any drink that bubbles, when both warmed and shaken, pink bubbly can take on explosive properties during the uncorking.

Suddenly, the entire kitchen was awash in a geyser of pink, the majority of which sprayed Aunt Ann head to toe. We watched in horror as the volatile little sister was first stunned then furious, a 70-year-old wet hen. Valuing our lives, the rest of us said nothing, but all eyes were as big as saucers. All eyes, that is, except Jack’s, for he had begun to eat having waited for Aunt Ann all his married life and knew better than to wait further for a decent meal. At the fountain of half a bottle of pink champagne drenching his wife, he set down his fork. Taking as deep a breath as he could, considering the emphysema and pacemaker, he laughed.

We quickly mopped up Aunt Ann, poured what was left of the champagne into her cup, finished Easter dinner as if nothing at all had happened. After the cookies and the lamb cake and a little coffee, I could stand it no longer.

“Take me for a drive. Now,” I hissed. Hubs-1 was not particularly quick on the uptake. “NOW,” I stage-whispered through my teeth and smiled sweetly.

“Lovely spring day! We’re going for a little drive,” I said to the rest of the family.

In the car, I lasted just long enough to get to the next block. I exploded in helpless laughter, wracked with giggles that approached the Grand Mal stage.

“It wasn’t that funny,” Hubs-1 pouted.

“It was, too!” I gasped. “Keep driving. I have to get this all out. I can’t go back there and laugh.” We drove for about an hour, Mr. No Sense of Humor silent, apparently avoiding making my giggle fits any worse and feeling like the victim of a bad joke. Jack’s laugh at Ann’s misfortune had seemed like years of pent up told-you-so’s. This patient man had waited his whole life for this perfect moment and, taking one of his few remaining breaths, had laughed when no one else was allowed to. Tears streamed down my face. I howled. I hiccupped. I pounded the dash and stomped my feet.

The spray of pink foamy champagne over the family live wire, their own Queen of Wands, began to paint in Easter colors a journey with a family I was ultimately to decide I was not suited to. While it was not a successful relationship, however, it wasn’t without its laughs.

Best wishes!

This blog entry is part of a "blog chain" for a Tarot Blog Hop. Be sure to read the next blog entry in the chain and enjoy:  Hudson Valley Tarot  

To read the blog entry prior to my blog, click here and again enjoy: Tarot Inspired Life  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Crack in the Sun or Pixie’s Children

There I was, completely enthralled by artist and author Robert M. Place discussing the life and influences of Pamela Colman Smith a/k/a Pixie, the artist who drew and painted the images for the deck most people think of when they think of Tarot. I am sometimes a co-host with Donnaleigh de LaRose on her inspiring, meaty, funny and informative tarot show on Blog Talk Radio called Beyond Worlds.

Just my own little plug for Donnaleigh and her efforts: Beyond Worlds is one of the best sources of free information on tarot there is. So, if you have internet access but you are on a terrible budget, don’t have money to travel for conferences or in-person classes, Beyond Worlds is the perfect place to learn more about tarot from the most respected people I know. Where else can you get a free education from authorities on the topic? Did I mention free?

Back to this broadcast, I was so happy Donnaleigh had tagged me to be a guest host for this particular show. Bob’s book The Tarot, History, Symbolism, and Divination is one of my favorites. And he creates beautiful images in his own tarot decks that have at once a simplicity of line and a complexity of imagery. At one Reader’s Studio, Bob taught a segment on his own tarot spread reading the Chakras that was more diagnostic than a CT-Scan. Plus, at the last Reader’s Studio I snagged a couple of his sterling silver pins. Bob’s kind of an encyclopedia in himself too so just listening to him takes you places you never expected to go.

So the cool thing about this episode, and all the other episodes of Beyond Worlds, is that Donnaleigh posts the recorded session to make it available for people who were unable to attend the show live. You can listen to Bob’s description of Pixie’s early influences, including placing her not only in the right timeline but also among the people she knew.

We started laughing about Pixie being like Forrest Gump, showing up with so many famous names. Ellen Terry, the most famous actress of her time, was like a mother to her after her own mother died. William Butler Yeats introduced Pixie to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London, a group “dedicated to the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself” according to the Wikipedia listing. She was close to Bram “Uncle Brammie” Stoker in her theatre experience and illustrated his 1911 book The Lair of the White Worm.

Pixie was an artist whose family was rich and as it turns out not painfully dull. Her mother was an actress. Pixie lived in New York, England and Jamaica in her early years due to her father’s business enterprise. Her mom died when Pixie was young, but not too young to remember. Her father apparently was “in her court” and assisted her with her career.

I decided to look for little Pixie in the Tarot, her Tarot, her children, herself as child. I was surprised, since she had been a kindergarten teacher and had illustrated at least one children’s book, that so few of her cards show children. I looked specifically for children, not teenagers or young adults and found Death, The Sun, Judgement, the 6 of Cups, the 10 of Cups, the 6 of Swords and the 10 of Pentacles.

My sense was that she would say the Tarot is an adult thing. The search for mystical knowledge in the world of symbols for her seems less like Arthur Edward Waite’s prescriptive knowledge of their use and meaning and much more like the discovery of the eternal while listening to Debussy. Our Pixie approached the Tarot from a “right-brained” point of view and I expect she felt the images came to her, in their detail, rather than being drafted, directed and choreographed. And in that adult thing that was Tarot, the child could only be a child with a child’s vision, faith, point of view.

In Death, the dark-haired innocent is wreathed with flowers and is on her knees, staring Death full on as he rides through the landscape on his pale horse with his back armor. The little one reaches back for her mother’s hand, but her mother is unable to look or respond. The child views Death as a small person, someone who could not stop the horse or its rider. The events of change are so much bigger than a child.

In The Sun, the child rides the white horse, both bare-backed, without armor, without protection or distance from each other. I thought of Pixie’s childhood in Jamaica, in the warmth of the overgrown garden, free, yet protected by walls built by someone else, triumphant, delighted in the day. For what else do we have but today?

The children in Judgement look up at the trumpeting angel. Where their parents strike a pose to be uplifted by inner enlightenment or reach out to feel the music, the children raise their arms as much to greet the angel as to embrace it and even to conduct the music. Is it easier to arise from the past with less baggage? It is so much easier to fly when you still believe you can.

Still safe within the walls of home, the children in the 6 of Cups appear to be the scene of the older child giving a cup of a flower to the younger. Is the gift incomplete? The older child seems to offer the cup bare-handed, knees bent to the younger one. Or is the older child, unable to understand the significance yet, accepting a gift, bending to smell the fragrant flower, from the younger child whose hand is gloved, never quite touching. Will the child understand, only in retrospect, the significance of the gift? Memory is like this, a picture without touching.

The children in the 10 of Cups dance together, child-happy in a landscape where the parents appear to understand and appreciate the gift of the bliss they have been given. For children, these days last forever. For an adult, they are gone too soon. Like a rainbow, were they ever there at all?

I understood too well the child in the boat in the 6 of Swords, sitting with an adult—mother?—cloaked as if in mourning or bundled against the cold. The thoughts are heavy in the boat and threaten to sink it as they make their way from rough water to a far-away land. Someone else, someone strong steers the boat. Someone else is in charge. My family left our home for a place we had only heard of. It was an adventure. It was a mourning. It was refuge.

Finally, the 10 of Pentacles’ child peeks out from around her happy and confident mother’s skirt to touch the dog. The dog seeks the touch, however, of the patchworked old man outside the gates of security and the known universe. Is he a beggar? A wizard cloaked in magical symbols? The parents focus on the now, but the child looks outside the gates to know what may be, drawn by the comforting touch of the warm and loving dogs who seem to know the old man. Is this the real thing? Or is it just fantasy? One thing is for certain, for good or ill, all this will, must change.

I think Pixie shows us that childhood is to be held precious and dear, protected and encouraged and yet is so often misunderstood. Near the XIX in many printings of the RWS deck on The Sun, there is an extra jagged line, thought by some to be a crack in the printing plate. The “flaw” is the way of things. All things must change and become themselves again.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Appropriate Humor

“Don’t try anything funny.” This has got to be one of my favorite lines from television or movies. I figure just about everything I’ve ever tried was funny in some way. Not everyone appreciates a joke, though.

Take my first husband, please, with apologies to Henny Youngman. I figured that there had to be some common ground for us somewhere because he was a famous, no, more like notorious collector and teller of Polish jokes. He’s Polish, so it was hard to argue with self-deprecating humor.

After all, I’ve made short jokes (“I AM standing up,”) and blonde jokes, too many to cite, for years. So I figured that even though HUBS-1 was a Virgo with all the most retentive and compulsive needs for order, down to alphabetizing his socks, fer goodness’ sake, (“black comes before blue, left to right”), somehow my devil-may-care random housekeeping habits—OK, fine, sloth—could somehow be overlooked with well-placed jokes. So, we all know THAT didn’t work out. So much for the power of optimism: It will get you into things that can be really expensive to get out of.

Still, one of the things I actually liked about the guy was that he kept a visual gag prominently displayed in the living room. It looked like a crafts-class trophy at first glance until you realized it was a pole with a lock.

I figured someone with a good enough sense of humor to display such a trophy had to have some redeeming features in there somewhere, in spite of the tendency to wipe a gloved finger over the doorway trim to prove to me that, after a day’s diligent housekeeping on my part, the house was still dirty and we could not, after all, go to the movies. I reiterate: I only divorced him. For those of you who find these traits attractive, I think he’s remarried for the third time too and not available. Hail and farewell, I say. This isn’t kiss and tell; it’s dust and tell. He should see my dust-bunnies now!

When things are funny to you and you laugh, sometimes people think you have a sinister ulterior motive. One of my co-workers from our former employer was pulled over by a notorious Machiavellian reptilian and demanded the back story on yours truly.

“What’s Marcia’s game?” he whispered to her urgently with sidelong glances. It was a scene straight out of The Borgias.

My co-worker laughed out loud and told him that she had known me for years and as far as she could tell I didn’t have a game. I worked hard, was results-oriented, was a good manager and wanted everyone to win, genuinely. He wouldn’t buy it.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 How could I be The Fool and plan intelligently for successful outcomes, again and again? Plainly it’s a Fool reversed.

Comedian Bob Newhart had a routine that I thought encapsulated my predicament well. He was superb at his comedy routine where he let you hear just his side of a telephone conversation. He’s talking to his boss, apparently a stern authoritarian, when he says, “Yes, sir, I do have a sense of humor.” He pauses to listen to the imaginary telephone in his ear. “Yes, sir, I can keep it to myself.”

But sometimes, I have to laugh.

I agree, it’s not always helpful. For instance, I considered my biggest handicap when I was studying for a career  teaching junior high English to be my height. I had thought, in error, that I had half a chance of being taller than the little sweetums, but, no. Genetics and American nutritional standards have conspired so that there was no way on earth I could sit at a teacher’s desk and be Teacher and still see over the first row. I had to stand all day. My feet were like pizza at the end of each day. But what I really underestimated was the trouble I would have keeping a straight face. They were relentlessly funny, usually unintentionally, making the need for self-control all the more important. After all, I didn’t want them to think I was laughing at them and hurt their feelings. That would be horrifying.

I’m lucky enough to have had jobs in the corporate world that provided plenty of fodder for laughter. When the emergency phonecall starts out with the preamble, “First, I’ve gotta tell you that they did not fire this girl,” I had to sit down to laugh.

Then there are the corporate disasters I could only stand back and admire. The dress code violations and redefinitions by a particularly conservative company trying in vain to be hip were a constant source of amusement and anguish in the 90’s. As a manager, I had to translate and enforce whatever the latest definition of what a wardrobe malfunction was among a group of programmers who were more likely to come to work with their favorite Birkenstocks duct-taped together as the permanent fix. I sought assistance from my war-weary director.

“Just a few questions about the new dress code,” I ventured into her office.

“Oh, no. Now what?” She didn’t really want to know.

“So just as a point of clarification,” I went on. “Is khaki a color or a cloth?”

She groaned.

“And I know it says here that there will be no apr├Ęs ski wear. I consider myself to be, by choice, permanently pre-ski.”

She shook her head low over her desk.

“OK, you guys,” I chirped later in my team meeting with my lovable misfits, “you’ve all seen the new dress code, right?”

They rolled their eyes with the appropriate fervor and reverence as only people so rooted in logic can do. I looked around the table and nodded.

“Don’t make me talk to you about this stuff, OK?” I turned the sheet over and we moved on to more serious topics.

My favorite, however, was one experience at the hospital. John, “The Hubs”, The Only Good One, the Precious, was set to have a little patch-up job. With one too many serious abdominal surgeries in his youth, he had, as a mature man of action, an umbilical hernia. We joked together about it (viz., only good one) and I told him that I had dragged him up and down the stairs too many times like a teddy bear so that his bellybutton had fallen off. Now they were going to sew it back on. He was so relaxed about the whole thing that they had to wake him up to give him the sedative. I was more tightly wound.

The anesthesiologist, with her clipboard, started checking down the usual list of repetitive questions prior to surgery. She must have been a little tired. While at the top, she had read aloud, “umbilical hernia,” by the time she got to the bottom of the long form of questions, she looked up at us and asked, “Which side?”

I knew immediately that she’d grasped the hernia part without the navel feature but I could not help myself. Being tense before my sweetie’s surgery will do that to me. I broke my husband’s cardinal rule: Never, ever be funny in front of a doctor.

I placed my hand on top of his very relaxed tummy and looked up at the doc with all seriousness and answered.

“We prefer the front.” I blinked sincerely.

We all burst out laughing and I turned to John and said, “Well, THAT was close, huh? They might’ve sewn your bellybutton back on the WRONG SIDE!” Well, what if, you know?

Best wishes!