Bohus Stickning or What I Do In My Spare Time, ed. 1

I started knitting again when we lived in IL and found a knitting group here in VA two years ago. I came across Wendy’s Keele’s Poems Of Color on the Knitter’s Review forums when I was exploring color work and have loved those designs and the story behind them for quite some time.

Last year, against all my previous intentions, I learned how to spin. That is, spin yarn from fleece/unspun fiber, not the exercise spinning, although I might be able to do that as well. For a while, knitting was touted as the new yoga – for me, the new yoga is spinning. Both are relaxing, both are hand-work that results in a physical transformation, but when it’s going well, spinning is very calming and centering.

In April, Loudoun Needleworkers went to Willow Hawk Farm‘s spring shearing and I ended up sharing 4 fleeces with another spinner, Jenni, so that we could try fibers from different sheep breeds. Jenni and a few other friends skirted the fleeces (picked all of the poopy, yucky part out) and Jenni & I split washing duties.

After washing, most fleece needs to be further prepared (combed, carded, or flicked) for spinning. In May, my husband gave me a Schacht Matchless wheel and a Strauch 10th anniversary drum carder for my birthday & Mother’s Day. The drum carder, by the way, is used for blending fibers into batts, which look a lot like batts of insulation, and is actually not as helpful as I had hoped at handling large amounts of washed fleece.

All of these things – Bohus Stickning, fleece, carding, and spinning – came together over the summer; I am currently knitting the Red Palm Cardigan. The pattern for is in Poems Of Color but I am making it in shades of blue instead of red. Another difference between this sweater the orginal bohus sweaters is that mine lacks angora, which gives the bohus sweaters a subtle halo of fuzz. In addition, all of the yarn that I am using is handspun.

Final Batts
These are some of the batts that I made using my drum carder that blend the brown wool from one of the Willow Hark farm fleece from a sheep named Abigail (1/2 Romney, 1/4 Finn, 1/8 Corriedale, 1/8 Merino), with a braid of blue-faced leicester from Miss Babs in the Regent colorway (blue), and white cormo that I got from a very generous spinner during the first-ever Spinning Loft Retreat, which happened last spring as well. By varying the percentage of fibers blended, I was able to achieve some very subtle color changes from cormo->BLF->Abigail, which was really just an experiment for me as a new spinner & carder.

Blending Experiment: Final Skeins
These are all of the skeins of spun yarn that I ended up with from the carding experiment, from light to dark, with 100% cormo at the 9:00 position, 100% Miss Babs BFL at 12:00, and 100% Abigail at 3:00. All of these are 2-ply yarns, which means there are 2 strands of singles (what gets spun initially) twisted together to make the yarn.

Most of the Bohus sweaters are yoke sweaters, which means all of the color work is done over the shoulders, rather than, say, near hem edges on the bottom or the sleeves or in an all-over color work pattern. They are worked from the top-down in the round, which means (basically) that you knit a starting at the neck and working your way down to the bottom hem, stopping at the armpit to make each of the sleeves. The pullovers and the cardigans are constructed the same way, but when you are done knitting the body of the cardigan, you cut (with scissors, no less) right up the front and knit a button band on. This is a steek and it strikes fear in the heart of many knitters, but I hear if it’s done properly, nothing will unravel.

bohusDetail
My first yoke that goes from dark to light to dark shades, as does the original red palm cardigan. I miscalculated the color that I needed to start with and end up frogging it (a.k.a., ripping it out or unraveling it) because I ran out of colors before I should have.

bohus progress
My progress so far, arms and all. If you look closely at the yoke, you will see the colors go from light to dark to light as opposed to the sequencing in the original and in my first attempt. I have another 4″ or so and I’ll start the ribbing for the bottom hem.

I had to prepare and spin more of Abigail, which is what I’m using for the main body of the garment. I still have more fleece, but here is a closeup of the 3 additional skeins (about 1416 yards total).

Abigail Close
As you can see if you look closely, this is a 2-ply yarn as well.

I’m hoping to finish this by the end of next month so that I can wear it while it’s still cold. I am able to carefully try it on, so I know it will fit. At this point knitting, particularly with this project in the all-stockinette stitch stage, is so easy that I can do it without having to look at it most of the time, which means I can do other things (like watch TV/movies) while I knit.

So, uh, that’s what I do when I’m not digging up the past in writing, poking around on etsy, or keeping up with my suburban mom gig. Oh! Here’s the project on Ravelry (for you ravelers out there) and the complete photoset on Flickr.

Separation & Divorce

I have written the following sentence so many times that I hope this is the last:
On New Year’s Eve, 1985, my mother came home and my father did not.

They had gone out with friends to (I think) The Woodstock Inn, which had either made the evening affordable for locals or it was a rare extravagance for them. I was 13 and stayed home with my brother (17) and his girlfriend watching movies and the Times Square coverage on whatever station Dick Clark was on at the time. My mother burst in – I don’t remember whether it was before or after the ball dropped, I don’t remember what she said, if anything – and went to her room in tears. This was the first sign that I had that anything was wrong.

The next day, there must have been a talk with one or both of them about falling out of love, how sometimes people grow apart and become different people, and that they were separating. My father collected some of his belongings and said good-bye to my brother and I individually. I was in my room, in my closet pretending to look for something or putting clothes away, basically, I was pretending to be strong, pretending that it didn’t bother me that he was leaving. What could I have said anyway? It was clear that something was wrong. My father said something about it not being my fault, that really it had nothing to do with me; it hadn’t even occurred to me that I could be to blame somehow, but it was the 80s and it seemed like everyone was getting divorced. In my family alone, Uncle Bert and Aunt Sue S. and Uncle Terry and Aunt Sue K. were separated or divorced by then.

My father got a room at the Queechee Gorge Motel, a room in one of the stand-alone buildings with a kitchen/living room and a separate bedroom. I began to spend weekends with him. He was working at the Post Office in White River. It was, I think, his second year there and he hadn’t built up enough seniority to be on a day shift; he was working from 3 – 11 or 5- 2 or something like that. So I was left to hang out in this totally cool hotel room, sleeping on the couch (or perhaps the bedroom had 2 beds), watch cable TV, which we did not have all the way out in Barnard, eat what I wanted when I wanted it, sleep when I wanted. A rare treat for a 13-year-old getting more freedom and independence. One night I watch A Nightmare On Elm Street, turning the TV off every time it got too scary and then turning it back on again because I was captivated. I searched the cupboards for something to snack on and to check out what was there and discovered a box of Arrowroot biscuits, which have a picture of a baby on the front. I’d never seen these cookies before, except maybe in the store, and Dad had them in a cabinet that didn’t have other food items in it. This was the first time that I realized that my parents weren’t telling me everything.

The real story, the whole story, as I understand it, is that my Dad, who turned 40 in 1984, was going through a mid-life crisis and was having increasing difficulty dealing with his PTSD from being in combat in Vietnam. At my mother’s urging, he began seeing a psychiatrist at the VA for help with the PTSD. Around the same time, the Volkswagen dealership he worked at had to close and he began working at the Post Office. One of the attractions of the Post Office (other than a steady paycheck) was that as a an independent agency of the United States government, any military service counts towards years of employment (but not seniority): his 4 years in the Marines would count toward his pension and eligibility for retirement.

In the short time he had been at the Post Office, Dad had met Julie, mother of twins who born in November 1984. Julie was in an unhappy marriage and I assume their affair began, as most do, with talking. I’m guessing they were friendly, had a few heart-to-hearts, and it just took off from there. The New Year’s Eve that my mother came home crying and without my father, Julie had showed up at the party they were at. I’m not sure what was said and don’t want to speculate, but it’s clear that my Mom (along with everyone else there) was able to figure out what was going on.

In the months following their separation, Dad tried to make things right with my Mom. They went to couples therapy for a while with someone in the Spooner building (for those who know Woodstock), which sometimes began or ended with them having lunch or a drink together at Spooner’s (great restaurant that is/used to be in the same converted barn). Once, I saw them making out in the backyard. Years later, when I talked to Mom about this, she said that Dad did try to patch things up and did stop by the house, but he had to be careful about his visits so that Julie wouldn’t know because she would drive by to check. My mother also started getting phone calls from Julie, most if not all were just hang-ups. This was only a few months into the separation between my parents.

Ultimately, my Mom decided that the relationship couldn’t be saved and my Dad decided that he wanted to be with Julie. Dad got an apartment that spring on High Street, a few houses down from Aunt Freda1, who is really my grandmother’s sister and therefore technically my great aunt. Another neighbor was the Watsons, who were both in my mother’s class at WUHS and who’s daughter, Sudie, was in my class and a friend. The closest neighbor, right next door, was the Barry family, with two boys who were ahead of me in school. I mention this because it becomes important to an event that happened the following winter.

My brother graduated from WUHS in June and went to UVM in August. I have a picture that I should scan of Dad, Devon & his girlfriend, Me, and my Mom that was taken at the house right before we drove him to Burlington to get him settled in his dorm. When Devon turned 18 in February of 1986, technically custody/visitation and support for him became moot points. And from August on, they’d just have to agree (or let my brother chose) where to go on vacations and for the summer. I was the remaining thread tying Mom and Dad together over custody/visitation, support, and health insurance.

Mom and Dad were amicable, still friendly if not friends2, and so when Dad got the apartment on High Street, I spent Friday and Saturday with him and weekdays with my Mom in Barnard. At first, this was a dream come true for me. To live in downstreet3! To be able to hang out at the library as late as I wanted or walk to the movies or go swimming in the river under the iron bridge or in the pool at the Rec Center, all without having to convince one or both parents to drive me there. While Dad lived on High Street, I also discovered boys and parties with older kids, parties with drinking and (probably) pot (and probably other things), but I didn’t get quite as involved in all of that as I would later.

On night in the fall or winter of 86-87, Dad and Julie had a night off, a Saturday probably. They had plans to go out to a party or a bar. They began drinking (and probably smoking pot, as I would discover later that Julie did that often) before they left the for the party. When they got home, at 1 or 2am, not only were they plastered, but they were fighting loud enough to wake me up. I don’t remember what the problem was, just that they were loud, slamming doors and throwing things.

The back window in the door to the apartment was broken in the course of this fight. At a certain point (probably the window breaking) I got up and got dressed. I was terrified and was going to run out the front door and get away, to anywhere but there. Dad managed to get Julie inside the house, since part of the fight had become about her wanting to leave and go home, and so he caught me before I could get out the door and told me to go to my room and wait it out.

Julie got riled up again, managed to get into her car, and in trying to back out of the driveway, which went up hill toward the back of the house in the shape of an upside down J, miscalculated and backed her car into a corner of the Barry’s house. Literally: the car hit the corner of the house, dented the corner wood support beam, and cracked some of the clapboards. I remember tow lights, Mrs. Barry (who I later worked with at the Creamery) and Mr. Barry probably came out, but I’m pretty sure there were no police. I’m not sure how that’s even possible in a town as small as Woodstock, so I’ll chalk it up to everyone wanting to mind their own business and not get involved.

I was ashamed, terrified, and stunned that someone could actually be like that, exploding in anger and completely irrational. I never knew about any fights between my parents because they both use the penetrating, stony silent method of dealing with anger, calming down before they talked about what was bothering them. To see this irrational tantrum rocked my world and not in a good way. I asked Sudie at school that week if she had heard anything; her whole family woke up and was trying to figure out what was going on.

Dad forgave Julie though. Having had an alcoholic mother, it makes sense that he would be able and willing to do that. That spring or early summer they bought a house off route 12 on the other side of Barnard, close to the Bethel border, and got married in the summer of 1987 on the lawn at that house. In time, I forgave both of them too, but I should have taken it as a warning of what was to come.


Got Footnotes?

  1. For Woodstock people and family, she and Fred Doubleday were cousins and were both named after their grandfather or great grandfather.
  2. They would have remained friends if Julie had not been insanely jealous and insecure, afraid that Dad would get back together with my mother, a hope that I gave up on in 1990.
  3. Old(?) New Englanders say this instead of downtown.


Amphibians

Last week, Henry brought home a non-fiction library book from school: U.S. Marine Corps. He’s selected other books in the Fighting Forces series about the Navy and the Army, so I wasn’t really surprised. Last night, he chose to read the first chapter of it for one of his bedtime books. I proudly told him that his Grandpa Kinne was a Marine, to which he replied, “I know, Mom. And Uncle Devon was in the Navy. Can we read now?” Such impatience.

On the first page, the Marines are described as an amphibious force:

The Marines, however, have a special role to play. They are trained to fight on land after arriving by sea. That’s why the Marines are called an amphibious force.1

Henry is pretty on the ball because he asked what amphibious meant. When I flipped to the glossary and read the definition, he still had a confused look on his face. I said “There’s also a group of animals called amphibians that can live both in and out of water, like frogs,” and Henry had his eureka moment. We talked more about frogs because I couldn’t think of any other amphibians, which I readily admitted. Henry said “We’re amphibians because we can swim and walk!” I had to explain that it’s not just being able to be in water and on land, but to actually be able to live on water and land. We chatted about gills and lungs and eventually went back to reading.

Two sentences later, I remembered that salamanders are also amphibians and stopped reading to talk about them. To my dismay, Henry did not know what salamanders or their more colorful cousins, the newts, are. Blasphemy! If six-year-old me could have marched him out to the Pond right now, she would have.

The house I grew up in in South Barnard used to have a beaver pond next door, which is why I feel free to capitalize pond in the previous paragraph – it was simply the Pond to us. It was so close, just down a well-worn path that I think was the original Route 12. If my parents had been able to swing it, they could have bought that land along with the 3 or so acres that they got with the house. Instead, the land sat fallow (basically), owned by the Pearson family, from whom they bought the house, until the late 80s when the Whites bought it, after the beaver dam had burst during a prolonged period of spring rain. The Pond drained, it eventually went back to being a brook running through a meadow.

When I was small, we would walk to the Pond on summer nights, sit at the white picnic pavilion there, and quietly watch the beavers, who could be seen swimming if we were quiet. And if we weren’t quiet, like when we walked over the hill and sat on my Rock (explanation to follow), clomping through the woods, one of the beavers would slap their tails on the water in warning. The rest would dive and head for their lodge. But if we were quiet enough and waited long enough, they would come back out and cavort. I even remember seeing a baby beaver swimming (presumably) with its’ mama.

So about my Rock. Shortly after being given free reign to explore the woods around the house, Devon2

and I both chose rocks to be our hangouts, like a clubhouse but a rock. These were no ordinary rocks; they were big rocks, boulders, much taller than we were. Devon chose a rounded white rock (probably quartzite or dolomite – I’m no geologist so this is a guess) on top of the hill between the house and the pond. It had a view of the house and our driveway and of part of the pond, Route 12 to the south. Now that I think about it, he may have chosen that rock long before Mom would let me roam the woods on my own. Clearly, it was the better choice because of the view.

My rock was the one all four of us would climb up and sit on to watch the beavers. It dark brown and probably basalt or a dark sandstone (again, I’m no geologist but I know it wasn’t shale or slate). It was part of an old foundation, with a very low, 3-sided stone wall cupping the straight back, a bit of a ledge which was where I stored all of my moss, which I loved and collected. The front was scooped out a little on the right, sloped up a bit, and the top was fairly flat with another long rock along the back side. In short, it looked like a giant couch to me.

Devon and I would spend hours hanging out at our Rocks. In the fall, the foundation behind mine would fill up with leaves and I could jump down into them without much effort. In the winter, the beveled part of the front became a slide. Spring and summer brought moss and flower collecting, to be stored on the ledge. I wish I had pictures or knew the names of those mosses, but alas, Wikipedia tells me there are 12,000 species and the last time we went hiking nearby (on Mt. Tom, which has similar mosses), we forgot to charge the camera fully. In all seasons, my Rock became a house, a pioneer’s cabin, a ship, a lonely mountain top – really, whatever I or my friends needed it to be.

The Pond was, of course, a big attraction for Devon and I; it had both frogs and salamanders that we would catch and release, catch and release – the game was in the catching, not in having them. One spring, I figured out where the frogs liked to deposit their eggs and convinced Mom to let me try hatching some at home. She gamely offered up an old casserole dish. I watched as a few of the eggs, which look like eyeballs with a clear white and no iris, morphed into polliwogs and began to swim around in the dish. The jig was up when the survivors, many of whom had grown legs, began to eat the remaining eggs, which were clearly developing into polliwogs themselves, as well as each other (survival of the fittest!) and the whole casserole pond began to smell bad.

The salamanders we caught we slimy and more agile than the orange newts that would come out after rain storms. Unfortunately, as you can see from the previous sentence, for most of my life, I thought these were two separate creatures – the slimy dull salamanders and the pretty newts that were hard to find. They are, in fact, the same creature: the eastern newt or red-spotted newt. The cute orange ones, called red efts, live on land and are juveniles, while the slimy duller ones in the water are adults. I preferred the red efts3

; they were easier to pick up and hang onto, and I remember mounting more than one rescue mission to save them from the perils of Route 12 after a rain storm.

These are some things I miss about Vermont and the way I grew up. Living in the suburbs of DC (really, Leesburg is being swallowed by sprawl) is giving them different opportunities, and there is even a pond on the land behind the house (though I don’t let the kids go there alone and I have to check them for ticks when they come home), I just haven’t taken the opportunity to show them nature as I know it, as I grew up with it.

By the way, Merriam-Webster (11th edition available online) defines amphibian as:

1 : an amphibious organism; especially : any of a class (Amphibia) of cold-blooded vertebrates (as frogs, toads, or salamanders) intermediate in many characters between fishes and reptiles and having gilled aquatic larvae and air-breathing adults

2 : an amphibious vehicle; especially : an airplane designed to take off from and land on either land or water
And, just for good measure, eft is:
: newt; especially : the terrestrial phase of a predominantly aquatic newt


Footnotes! It’s what’s for dinner.

  1. I feel the need to source this properly or as close to properly as I can get without looking in a style guide, so here it goes. “U.S. Marine Corps,” Cooper, Jason. Rourke Publishing LLC, (c) 2004, page 4.
  2. He was Smokey to us all then, named after one of Dad’s Marine buddies who didn’t make it home. My brother has me so well-trained that I can’t call him by that name anymore.
  3. Now I can prefer them for a whole new reason: their name. Red eft makes me think of Ents and The Lord of the Rings.


Picture Pages

I could look through old pictures all day long, even other people’s old pictures. At this point, these almost are other people’s old pictures; if I had my Aunt Sue K sitting with me as I scanned or if my brother and I had done that with Dad when he a alive or even if I had been a Very Ambitious, Historical-minded High School kid, I would have more solid info in my captions. Take note all you people with boxes of old pictures and living relatives who can tell the stories that go with them.

SmallSnaps01
Ben & Betty Kinne. I don’t think this one was dated, but I’m guessing it was pre-baby and probably pre-marriage. It was also hand-colored by Grandma (Betty).

SmallSnaps01.retouched
And the same picture retouched in Photoshop with my amateur skillz.

WeddingPicture
The Happy Couple – Benjamin E. Kinne, Elizabeth N. White – July 24, 1943. I love the grins on their faces.

BabyDad
Baby picture of Dad, born July 11, 1944. I’m guessing he’s about 5 or 6 months old in this. Also hand-colored by Grandma.

DadFishPond
The fish pond at the farm house (the Big House, the one my great-grandparents lived in) in Rehoboth, MA.

DadHowie
Dad and his Uncle Howie and the awesome fish pond again. Howie was Grandma’s brother – Howard White – a WWII vet. He died in the 50’s in a car crash. Howie was Dad’s favorite uncle.

Dad Cousins
Dad, far right (I think), and his cousins (or maybe his Uncle Donnie, too?) at the farm in Rehoboth, MA. Sadly, the farm, which was in the family for a several generations, is a golf course now.

Dad.misc01
Two lucky kids, Aunt Sue K and Dad, Christmas 1950. This picture makes me want to chant “You’ll shoot your eye out! You’ll shoot your eye out!”

SmallSnaps
I’m not sure of the date, but I’m going to guess 1955 or 56.

scott Baby
Scott, born 8/11/59, 6lbs, 4oz. Grandma was 34 when she had him.

About the bear: I have that bear. Dad got the bear from a friend of the family when he was little and it was worn when he got it. There are suspicions that he’s a Steiff (the bear, not my Dad or Scott), but his hands and feet have been replaced. Even in this picture it’s evident that he’s been patched up. His ears are pretty worn out too, and I think Steiffs are identified by some doo-dad on their ears. Or feet. Or something.

LittleVietScrapbook05
Joel as a toddler. Grandma was 40 when she had him and well into the sauce by then. I know Aunt Sue K ended up doing being more mother than sister to Scott & Joel; that’s a lot to lay on a teenager. 

There are more pictures and things on Flickr; they aren’t organized and not all of them are cropped properly. Feel free to go poke around in the Archive: Old Letters & Pictures set (and any other set/collection that’s over there); you can tag things and make comments.

Suicide

I had (and still have) a great post with old pictures ready for today but read a tweet about Bill Zeller’s suicide, who I did not know or know of until this morning. The link includes his suicide note, parts of which are familiar to me because I have felt the same way. The pictures can wait until tomorrow.

I feel lucky that I have been able to hold off my own darkness. Every time I have thought about suicide, I’ve scared myself into getting help or I’ve talked myself out of it one way or another. I think Zeller was a much more private person than I am, and, I hate to say it, but more broken by what happened to him than I am by my own shitastic experiences – at least I am able to talk about what happened, even if parts of it I can talk about only with a few people.

In his note, Zeller talks about being worried about gossip and lies being spread about him. My theory on dealing with gossip is to tell the truth and hope that people believe me. Everyone talks about everyone else behind their back: it’s not a bad thing, it’s human nature. I would not be surprised if the bombshell I dropped the other day was being talked about, but I told the truth and I feel protected, insulated by that somehow. I guess I my “fuck it” attitude applies in more areas of my life than I thought.

After my Dad died, my own darkness got bigger again. With a family history of depression, which I now recognize comes from both the Harlows and the Kinnes, and a personal history with it, I fought it off as best I could. First, when I stayed behind after our family vacation in FL, I started smoking like a fiend to get the little kick of nicotine that would make me feel better, even if it was just for a few seconds. By August I was smoking 2 or 3 cigarettes in a row (outside, of course) just so I could face the next few minutes when I wasn’t smoking. Smoking is a really, really slow way to commit suicide, which I had realized in high school is really what I was doing. I tried Chantix, which really messed me up in other ways and then was overwhelmed when we buried my Dad in early September and gave up on quitting.

I had joined Ravelry right as my Dad was getting sick and started using the site. I found a local knitting group, Loudoun Needleworkers, joined, and made myself start going to meet-ups even though part of me really didn’t want to be around people. I felt the way Zeller descibes in his suicide note: broken, contaminated. But The Knitters, as I refer to them, turned out to be funny, irreverant, ironic, as dirty-minded as I can be, and much to my delight, most of them swear like sailers if given half a chance. I clicked with them and though we usually don’t have intense talks, it’s not group therapy by any means, they have helped me hold on and fend off the darkness.

One of The Knitters, Azar, introduced me to To Write Love On Her Arms via the spontaneous To Write Love On Her Arms Day on Facebook, wherein people write the word love on their arm and use a picture of it as their profile picture in support of those struggling with depression, addiction, and dealing with suicide. I participated (and actually just realize I missed it/it may not have happened in 2010) and started to follow TWLOHA on Facebook and Twitter. Some of TWLOHA posts have helped me heal and many have given me hope that I can go on, broken or not, that there is more to look forward to.

Finally, last summer I was having more bad days than good. I was so miserable that it seemed pointless to go on, the hole I was in was so deep I wasn’t going to be able to climb of it. I made a commitment to Ky to get help. It took me a month, but I started therapy again, went on medication again, and finally feel like the person I could have and should have been all these years. Therapy always seems like the last option, it’s always the one I put off, because it means talking about everything to a complete stranger. Every time I’ve gone into therapy, I’ve had a new therapist. At least now I know what will help me:  talk/narrative therapies combined with cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.
I still have bad days, I still sometimes feel broken and lost, but I feel better than I have been for a long, long time.

There is hope and help. No hole is too deep. Everyone’s story is different: telling yours can help keep it from swallowing you. Hang on: you might feel like help is easier to ask for 5 minutes from now or tomorrow or the next day.

Live!

We thought the hiccups would kill him. I’m thinking of it now because I have the hiccups, bad ones, the kind that, if they get worse, will bring up the acid in my stomach from all the coffee I’ve had this morning. They started the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and didn’t end for nearly 7 days, not until Hospice got everything under control in the care center. He wanted to be at home for the whole thing – home death, like home birth – with visiting hospice nurses keeping everything under control, the pain in particular. But he didn’t anticipate the hiccups or the additional pain they would cause, the vomiting, his eventual inability to keep his pills down and so, the nurse’s inability to control the pain.

My Dad died June 1, 2008, a little over a month before his 64th birthday, of a massive heart attack after being taken off all of his heart meds while he was in hospice, a total stay of less than 48 hours. He was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in early April, which would have killed him if not for the family history of men dropping dead of a massive heart attack, a much faster way to go, with a different kind of pain. He lived longer than any of his predecessors – my grandfather died at 59, great-grandfather at 55, and so on, each generation living a few years longer. Dad might have died when he was 35; he had four heart attacks in one day, waking in the middle of the night with a big one that couldn’t be ignored like the ones before it. He said later, when I interviewed him for a school science report, that it felt like an elephant sitting on his chest. Since my brother was away at boy scout camp, they only had me to wake up and drop off at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. I had no idea what was going on – I was 7. True to form though, my father drove from our house to my Aunt & Uncle’s, and then to the doctor’s, and then, if I have this right, the half-hour or so to Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover, NH (now Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center).

I joked with him that since he had lived longer than his predecessors, he was the one to discover that the family carries a gene for pancreatic cancer – wouldn’t that be a kicker. Of course, we didn’t know that for sure, but it sounds a lot better than blaming it on the Agent Orange he was exposed to in Vietnam (he got sores on his arms for years afterwards, my brother and mother and stepmother all tell me that I should remember seeing those sores, but I don’t) or his lifestyle. After his heart attacks, he had to quit smoking, which was very difficult – he had an addictive personality, as did my grandmother, who was an alcoholic and smoker, and as do I. After he got home from the hospital after his heart attacks, I remember him sneaking out to his truck, a yellow Chevy Luv, to smoke cigars. Finally, to compensate for quitting, or to substitute the nicotine delivery system, he started chewing tobacco. The risk that comes to mind, that was drilled into me in high school, is oral cancers. But in the 25 or so years that he chewed tobacco, he never once spit while chewing. All of those nasty juices made a bee-line to his stomach and the rest of his digestive tract, including the pancreas.

Looking from the outside in, it seems like a pretty cavalier attitude to have toward your life if you’ve beat death before. He escaped death at least 3 times before he kind of threw up his hands, said “fuck it,” and did what he wanted: he made it through Vietnam, he recovered from the bout with malaria during which last rites were said over him, he survived the heart attacks.

What’s even funnier in a dark way (which is sometimes the most laugh-worthy because it is much better than crying) is that after all of that, in 2000 (or 2001?), a little over 20 years after the heart attacks, he had quadruple bypass surgery. I should have gone to FL to be with him through that, but we hadn’t reconciled enough, I hadn’t forgiven him enough to be there. During the long recovery, we talked on the phone. He told me how one night he woke up and it felt like the bed was moving, like one of the cats was on the bed. But when he looked for the cat to boot it off the bed, there wasn’t one there; the movement was from his heart beating. We laughed and laughed about that and I was so happy for him – he felt great. And then a year or two later, maybe not even that, he started smoking again.

All that time he hadn’t been smoking, he missed it. He hadn’t wanted to quit to begin with and now, even after watching my grandmother die a very painful death (she was an alcholic smoker with emphysema and throat cancer), he still started again.

While I’m not advocating smoking (quit now while you’re still alive!) or any other self-destructive behavior, “Fuck it” is another way of saying “Live!” As Auntie Mame, played by Rosalind Russel in the 1958 film, would say: “Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” 

So I say, have that extra slice of cake (and actually, my pants have made me well aware that I’ve been a little too indulgent with the cake lately). Have a good soak in the tub that your children use more than you do. Take those five minutes to yourself when you just need silence and to breath. Rock out to a great song in the car – sing at the top of your lungs. Do something that makes you feel good because you can, because you’re alive.1


Footnotes! Footnotes are fun and I am a dork, it’s true.

  1. Yeah, I said it. I know it sounds hokey – I groaned in my heard as I was writing. But sometimes the hokey is true, sometimes the hokey stuff helps, and if it doesn’t help, we can all stand around making puns about it and laugh and *that* will help.


Family Peculiarities

Brandon and Ethan asked me recently if they could make family trees on Ancenstry.com. They either saw a commercial on TV or, since they’ve been playing a lot of games on line, saw an ad for a Free Family Tree with 3-month trial membership!!!1! They were disappointed when I told them they couldn’t after explaining that a credit card was required for this free trial, how automatic billing would kick in after the trial membership was over, how I would forget to cancel the account, and so on, ending with “And that’s why we have nice things.”

I was going to make a family tree – a project that’s a little more extensive that what I have time for today. Also: I’d need to talk to my Mom to get accurate dates for births, marriages, and divorces – again, a bigger project than what I have time for today because we can talk for hours and hours.

I have explained some of this to friends before, which has usually ended in confusion. Although a picture would probably be helpful, I’m hoping that seeing it in writing will give you enough time to re-read and comprehend instead of me having to stop and explain again.

My mother, née Holly Harlow (1947), has 3 brothers, 2 are older (Bud, Terry), 1 is younger (Bert). They each married women named Sue – that’s right: 3 Sue Harlows all living in pretty much the same town. To distinguish all of these aunts from each other when I was little, we appended the first letter of their maiden name to Aunt Sue. So, there is Uncle Bud and Aunt Sue B. (née Susan Blake), there was Uncle Bert and Aunt Sue S (née Susan Sailer), and there was Uncle Terry and Aunt Sue K. (née Suzan Kinne).

What? What’s that? Suzan Kinne? That’s my last name. That’s right folks: my mother’s brother married my father’s sister. Holly Harlow (1947) married John Kinne (1944) and became Holly Kinne. Suzan Kinne (1947) married Terry Harlow (1943?) and became Suzan Harlow. To make this even neater, Uncle Terry and Aunt Sue K. had two children – Shane and Kelly. Double cousins! Sounds genetically sketchy, but it’s not! I swear!

To make things even more fascinating in a coincidental way, Shane and Kelly are four years apart, just like my brother and I: Shane (1965), Kelly (1969); Devon, aka Smokey, (1968), Me, (1972). Very neat indeed, although it’s technically not quite that neat; my mother miscarried twins at some point between my brother and I. When I was little, I used to think that I might not exist if the twins had survived and of course I was (and still am) sad for my Mom.  But I used to think of those twins fondly, kind of like imaginary friends but not (I had one of those too); I think I was too old for imaginary friends by the time I found out about the twins.

Back for a moment to the Aunt Sues: luckily my Dad’s brother Scott (1959) did not marry a Susan, but in 2008 his youngest brother Joel (1965) did marry a Susan. So ha ha – yes, we1
technically have another Aunt Sue.

Because Scott and particularly Joel were closer in age to my cousins, I never called them “Uncle Scott” or “Uncle Joel”. In fact, I just realized my oldest Harlow cousin, Uncle Bud & Aunt Sue B.’s son Rocky (really Roswell Harlow III) was born in 1960 and is only a year older than Scott.

Moving on to 1964-1965 – a productive and scandalous year in Woodstock. My cousin Shane was born in 1965 and so was my youngest uncle, Joel. That’s right: Aunt Sue K and Grandma K2 were pregnant at the same time. Aunt Sue K both had a baby and welcomed her youngest brother into the world in the same year. She and her mother were pregnant at the same time. Again, sounds genetically sketchy, but it’s not. In telling this story, I have had people pipe up to say that there is a similar situation in their family.

Even more crazy (and fodder for gossip): Aunt Sue K and Uncle Terry did what today is basically not such a big deal, but then – in the mid-60’s – was a serious scandal, serious business. Aunt Sue K, who is awesome and talked to me about this in FL when we gathered around my Dad, was going into her senior year of high school when she got pregnant. She was not allowed to return to Woodstock Union High School in her delicate state – that simply was not allowed. She wouldn’t have finished school were in not for an exceptional teacher who was able to overcome/ignore the social stigma to help her finish high school: Arnold Howe. The reverence and gratefulness that she has for Arnie Howe’s persistence in pushing her to finish school and graduate was still in her voice as she told me about this.

And now I’m wondering what year my cousins Linna & Amy & Heather were born; was Aunt Sue B. pregnant that year too? (Added 1/6/2011): Aunt Sue B. was pregnant with Linna ’64-’65 also. What a bumper crop of babies!

But there is one more pregnancy I am sure of. My Dad and his high school sweetheart, Nancy, continued to date even after he went into the Marines. From what I understand, his unit was deployed on a ship into the Mediterranean and then, when things heated up in Vietnam, they returned to the states and had some leave time before (and maybe after, too?) additional training Camp Lejune and Camp Pendleton. He had enough leave time to both get Nancy pregnant and have a huge fight and break up with her. He saved a letter from my grandmother that I scanned (page 1, page 2, page 3) & transcribed. It is hilarious and scary, all rolled into one:

    Sun. P.M.

    Dear Johnnie –
    Good news Johnnie – Nance isn’t pregnant. You had her so upset by going into the marines, I guess, she just skipped 2 months.
    I’m glad in one way, she doesn’t have to tell her father and I don’t have to tell Grandma K. but I’m sorry in another way. I was kind of looking forward to a grandchild but now you kids can get engaged and married like you should. Once again my prayers were answered. Aren’t we lucky?
    That’s all for now. Our love is still with you – finish up this week on the rifle range in grand style!
    All our love
    Mom Dad Due & Scottie
    Thurs. 11-8
    Dear Johnnie –
    I didn’t send a letter yesterday so I’m going to try to finish this one & get it in the mail this morning. I’ve got 15 min. to do it so it will be a short one.
    Nancys father got a new rifle for hunting – It’s a Ruger .44 cal. put out by a new company. It has a real short barrel on it. He has a scope on it too. Real nice. Nance, her father & Bob came over last nite to show Dad & wouldn’t you know, last nite was the Rotarys Farmers nite so he was out with Chick Wells.
    Racicots have moved into the school house. Red fixed it all over & it looks good, he has much more room there.
    Steve T. stopped for a minute last nite. Guess it was just a social call, he didn’t want anything in particular.
    [Ben’s writing] Hi John in for breakfast 8:20. The Tester was here this morn. got 9 more cows to calf this fall – am shipping 6 jugs will ship 10 jugs before Dec 15 – been cutting wood & think about 5 cords more wood than ever before – not to cold. The Tester Patsy – 50 lbs Winky just fresh Polly 48 lbs almira 42 lbs Pat 48 lbs. so you see I have some good ones. the rest in the 25-35lbs average. John Pesky new manager of Boston Red Sox & ice hockey to get started pretty soon will probably beat rec. center. Good luck to you
    Dad.
    [Betty’s writing up sides of letter] Scottie messed up the envelope!
    with Love
    Mom Dad Sue & Scottie xxoo

     

I love this letter – I would love to pick it apart and point out all of the things it says about my grandparents, but alas – I’m almost out of time. From what I understand, my Dad had also taken up with my mother (as they say) during his leave and my mother still feels guilty about it; had she known about all of the unresolved things between Dad & Nancy, in particular that there was a fight but extenuating circumstances (i.e., a baby on the way), she never would have gone out with him, taken up with him, looked at him cross-eyed. I think – maybe – my Dad did offer to “do the right thing” and marry Nancy, though this part of the story is extremely hazy for me – I have no idea who did what and how they felt about it. Nancy ultimately found someone else, (I would even go so far as to say someone better), who is at her side to this day.

So to the ladies who gave birth in 1965: you all have my respect for the courage it took live through that under the microscope of small town life. And also, to all the Aunt Sues out there: every time I see Sue Bee Honey, I think of all of you and your initials.


Footnotes! Footnotes are fun and I am a dork, it’s true.

  1. My brother, Shane, Kelly, and I.
  2. Yup, we did the initial thing for our grandparents too – Grandma and Grandpa K, Grandma & Grandpa H, though many of my cousins just called them “Gram and Grandpa” or “Grammy and Grandpa”; I guess my brother and I were a little more persnickety about titles.