Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Tag: memories

50 years: forties

This’ll bring us up to the present. First decade, second decade, twenties, thirties.

41. Kiran was about seventeen or eighteen months old when my Mom died. “Baba” was grandma since Rowan started to talk, and we saw Kevin’s mom frequently, so my mom became Baba Leona. A few weeks before she passed, Kiran started calling her Bona.

There was a period when Caryn Robson came over for a couple hours every week to watch the girls so I could write. I didn’t get much writing done, but knowing she would be coming every week was a lifeline. Often we would spend much of the time chatting, or I would be just getting around to putting lunch on the table when she arrived. After Mom’s funeral, the next time Caryn came over, we ended up sitting on the floor of my bedroom, Caryn behind me, releasing trigger points in my shoulders. When I started crying, she wrapped her arms around me and held me. Kiran was nearby, solemnly watching.

The next day, or maybe the day after, she said to me, “Bona died.”

“Yes. Bona died.”

“I saw Bona.”

“We saw Bona at the funeral home.”

“Bona was hugging you.”

“When was she hugging me?”

“Miss Caryn was here.”

“I was sitting on the floor and Miss Caryn was hugging me.”

“Yes. Bona was hugging you.”

“Bona was hugging me when Miss Caryn was hugging me?”


“You saw Bona?”


I had many more questions, but we seemed to have reached the limit of her ability to verbalize. She stopped talking then, satisfied that I’d gotten the main point, that after mom died, Kiran saw her with me, holding me in my grief.

Kiran doesn’t remember it anymore.

42. I wasn’t sure I wanted to send the kids to school, and preschool seemed like basically an ad for school. Rowan was very attached to me anyway, but because she was born in early November, she was almost four by the time the school year started. Still, I hesitated. My mother-in-law was on the preschool board, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to send her. I resisted. If she went to preschool, it would be that much harder to say no to school later. She would think of homeschooling as a deprivation.

One day Rowan was driving me crazy. Whatever I said, she ignored. Whatever I wanted her to do, she did the opposite. It went on all day, and really it had been building for a week. Clearly I had no control over this child whatsoever. Finally I’d had enough, and the words just came out of my mouth: “That’s it! You’re going to preschool. We’ll see if someone else can do any better with you than I can.” Sending a child to preschool because she was beyond my control seemed like the weakest possible reason, but I really was at my wit’s end. I couldn’t think of any other way to deal with her.

Her behavior changed immediately. Rowan started preschool a couple weeks later. She loved every minute of it, and was even disappointed when she found out it was only two mornings per week. Later I looked back and realized that it was precisely what she’d needed: to assert her individuality, to take the next step in separating from me. The words that popped out of my mouth were exactly the right ones.

43. I don’t remember what we were thinking when we planned this trip, but Mark Ferguson was getting married in Chicago, and I wanted to see my sister in upstate New York, and Niagara Falls was between the two places. When I saw it as a child, I was impressed, but as an adult, it was profoundly moving. We took an elevator deep into the earth, then walked a long tunnel to a boardwalk so we could walk right up to the edge of the falls. A little stream broke over a rock and fell onto the platform. That tiny stream was immensely powerful. This place where the water would devour the earth, were most of it not diverted before it even gets to the falls. And yet, this little bit of the remainder packed easily enough power to knock a person down. I planted my disposable sandals on the wet wood and held out my arms to open myself to the full force of the water. It was a ritual bath. It was a baptism. For days I was stunned, wondering that anyone could leave that place not knowing it is a sacred node of water energy.

As we returned to the surface, five-year-old Rowan said, “That’s the wettest I’ve ever been in my life!”

IMG_000744. I was working on the novel that would become Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. I was well into it with maybe 40,000 words. That doesn’t sound like very much now, but it was a huge struggle at the time. One day I was sitting in front of the computer, not feeling too inspired, when the phone rang. I got up to answer it, and when I came back, Toulouse was sitting on the keyboard, and the screen was blank.

Yes, the file was empty. The cat had deleted my entire novel.

Yes, I had a back-up copy. I only lost a few sentences.

45. Trying to learn and use Photoshop had always been an exercise in pulling out my own hair. I asked Kevin to help me design a cover for my book, but he bogged the project down with alternative ideas that would make the whole design much more complicated, but, in my opinion, wouldn’t improve it significantly. I decided to bite the bullet and learn Photoshop. Whenever I had a question, I googled it, a strategy Kevin often espoused. Each step took forever, but somehow I managed to create a workable design. It was an amazing achievement for me.

Later, when I tried to make a cover for another book, I found I could neither remember nor figure out how to do what I’d done before. It was as if it had never happened.

46. After a couple years of occasional puttering, I got my studio not entirely complete, but into a condition in which I could work in it. Steve Thompson did a lot of work. Without his input, I  couldn’t have gotten it done. I chose a gaudy, sunshiny yellow for the walls. Steve thought that color was totally wrong, and tried to talk me into something softer, but I ignored him. It’s a room where I’ve had days of sitting at the desk for hours, writing, revising, publishing, promoting. I go in as early as I can get there in the morning, and if I let myself, I can get lost in the work.

Costa Rica Journal47. Our trip to Costa Rica straddled my birthday. It was my second time there. The first I wished I’d journaled more; so this time I made time during the trip to write down as much as I could remember, most days. After we got home, I started blogging our experiences in this magical place, and intended to write at least one post for every day we were there. I did several, before the project faltered. But still, I think the Costa Rica Diary blog posts are some of my best writing here on Veronica’s Garden.

48. Shortly after the new year began, before the end of my term as a 48-year-old, I made these goals/resolutions for the year:
Have a working dishwasher.
Girls have their own rooms.
Publish 2 more short stories.
Have a solid draft of Witchcraft novel by year end, ready to seek an agent or self-publish.
Find my birth dad, George Mah.
Manage my health effectively for lasting wellness. (Yoga 4x/week)
Massage Kevin regularly, minimum of 12 times through the year.
Clear/organize house.
Make progress on back debt.

I published four stories, so I exceeded that goal. I’m averaging yoga twice/week these days, and seeing benefits from it. Massaged Kevin three times. As for the others, I failed every last one.

49. What I did instead of working on those goals was spend most of the year struggling with bureaucracies. The Kansas Dept. of Revenue was claiming we owed back Transient Guest Taxes from the motel we’d closed two years prior, while our health insurance premiums grew to unmanageable magnitude. Talking on the phone, navigating institutional websites, hunting through files for papers, these became my unpaid part-time job. Astrologer Kaypacha, aka Tom Lescher, said repeatedly in his weekly forecasts that 2016 would be a year of purification. Apparently, for me, purification means doing the tedious business of managing finances.

Sometimes it occurs to me, normal people do all these things all the time. I don’t know how they do it. And people who work forty hours/week, when do they do these things? Living as a normal adult continues to be my biggest struggle, my most persistent failure.

50. On my birthday, I had a wonderful massage from Lana at Southwind Health Collective in Lawrence. A few minutes into the session, she said, “I’m getting that there’s something that you’re really, really worried about. Is that right?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “I’m also getting the message that it’s gonna be all right.”


So there we go. It may be as hard for you to believe as it is for me, but I have lived fifty years. I have the memories to prove it.

50 years: twenties

Part 3 in my series to prove that my birthday this week will be my fiftieth, by presenting a memory from each year. First decade, second decade.

21. My first apartment was in downtown Galesburg, Illinois. It was a beautiful apartment with wood floors, and quaint little windows looking out into the hallway and between rooms. The building had a wide, flat roof, and there were birds that flew around over the roof at dusk. I never saw them, only heard their call, that sounded like “braak, braak.” In my mind, I thought of them as the brack birds. Many years later I learned their real name, nighthawk, probably Chordeiles minor.

22. I graduated from college in 1989. I had no idea what to do, but my parents’ house needed a fresh coat of paint, so I did it, and called it my job. Being in the town where I’d grown up had a strange way of making me feel like a kid again. I wandered around the yard, carrying paint cans and ladders and saying to myself, “I’m twenty-two,” to remind myself of my age. Not seventeen, or fourteen, or ten. “I’m twenty-two.”

23. That winter I was in Madison, Wisconsin. That was where I learned to dress for cold weather. Once there was a blizzard, but my roommate Dennis McGreevy and I very much wanted to see a band that was playing about a mile away from our apartment. The venue was a little bar which I think was called the Willy Bear. Buses weren’t running, so we put on all our clothes, double socks and three or four shirts and a couple sweaters, a wrap around my neck and a woolen shawl around my shoulders and over my face, and more. We walked to the bar through blowing snow that drifted up to our knees. There was hardly anyone else there, so we took off our excess layers and made a pile of clothes that was as tall as my hips. The band played for a dozen people, maybe, and we had a great time and danced so hard we were soaking with sweat by the time they finished. Then we put all our clothes back on, piece by piece, and went back out into the blizzard to walk home.

24. I moved back to Galesburg and ended up in an apartment on Allens Ave. The owners’ daughter lived below me, with her boyfriend and three small children. They were horrid, hateful parents, who didn’t hesitate to call their children “stupid,” or “fuckin’ asshole.” One time they went outside and the kids locked them out. The parents pounded on the door and cussed at their children to open it, while upstairs I was secretly cheering for the kids.

25. By this time I was living in Eugene, Oregon, with an anarchist who was a raging control freak. Don’t knock it, his ideology was probably the only thing that kept him from locking me up in a basement. He was a brilliant gaslighter and loved to pick verbal fights. Once we traveled with a group of people to San Francisco for a conference, which I think was organized by Food Not Bombs. When I got there, I found out that the women had organized an all-day event at a different location, and they talked most of the women into going to their event instead. It was an introduction to Model Mugging, which was a self-defense class in which the male instructors wore body armor and a helmet that looks like a beekeeper’s hood. The women had to defend ourselves in role-playing scenes by kicking the men in the crotch as hard as we could, and poking at the netting that protected their eyes. The men back at the conference were mad at us for leaving them, but that class changed my life. My nightmares of being victimized changed to nightmares in which I fiercely fought my attackers. Then I left the gaslighting anarchist. Walking away from him was the biggest achievement of my life up to then.

26. I knew some people in Chicago, and they invited me to come there when I needed a place to be. My friend Jonathan Joe told me that his girlfriend Amy Carlson was looking for an apartment and could use a roommate, so we got an apartment together with her sister Lori. Amy and I did a lot of intensive partying. Bars close at 2:00AM in Chicago, except for the ones that don’t, which are called four o’clock bars. (Not related to the flower, Mirabilis nyctaginea.) One of the four o’clock bars was the Blue Note, which was on a residential street that didn’t have buses late at night. Amy and I would leave the Blue Note at closing time, walking and eyeing the dark streets for a cab or bus. More than once the sun rose on us as we walked the full two miles home.

27. Amy got an exciting job in New York and moved away. Abbey Ripstra moved in, then, later, Mary Vukovic. Abbey was an artist I knew from Knox. Mary had a septum ring and tattoos. I though she was super cool. Mary introduced me to the music of Mazzy Star, Leonard Cohen, and Beck.

28. I only worked part time while I went to massage therapy school, so I was usually broke. But I was dating an amazingly cool bass player who waited tables, so he always had cash. Sometimes I would sheepishly ask if I could borrow five dollars for bus fare to get to school and back, and he would open his wallet and hand me a twenty.

29. The bass player and I had been living together for a while when we adopted two kittens who were left at Empty Bottle, where he worked. By the next day they were exploring the apartment, while I delightedly followed them, laughing and exclaiming with amazement, “I love you!”

30. I moved back to Kansas because I wanted someone to be closer to my aging parents. Their house was big and eerily quiet. Sometimes I would stare at the ceiling and see lines of yellow energy zigzagging around up there. If I got out my violin and played for a while, the energy would shift to purple, which I preferred.

50 years, second decade

Continuing with a memory for each year.

IMG_010311. I went to sixth grade in a school made of two buildings on opposite sides of a major street. There was a tunnel that ran under the street, but it had been closed for years. Once my teacher and the teacher from the next classroom over opened the door for me and a friend to look into the tunnel. The doorway was thick with spiderwebs, and half a dozen striped spiders skittered away when we opened it. The teacher said, “Be careful, I don’t know what brown spiders look like.” Now I know that they were wolf spiders, which most arachnologists consider to be harmless to humans. The one in the picture is carrying her babies on her back. They don’t usually look quite like that, but you can see the stripes.

12. I went to seventh grade  on the other end of the forbidden tunnel, in some mobile units set up beside the building. I took a test that determined that my interests were most like those of a computer programmer. (They had those, back then? I didn’t know of any.) My second occupational recommendation was bricklayer.

13. My mom made me go to summer orchestra. I had to get up early (!) and walk all the way to the school, carrying my violin. After an hour of playing, it was already hot for the walk home. I secretly kind of liked the playing, even the “4 Finger Club” exercises, but seriously??? Summer orchestra???

14. Oh, what a big year. First real job (Vista Drive-In), first big purchase (a new 10-speed bike, silver), first year of high school, stuff I won’t tell you about . . . In the summer before we went to high school, Michelle Wycoff told me that she didn’t have a group of people to hang out with. I said I didn’t either, so we would be one, and we were.

15. I sat next to Shelli Emery in chorale. One day I could feel the vibration of the sound through the paper sheet music I was holding as we sang. I told Shelli and she thought that was really weird, but not in a mean way.

16. There was a boy in Debate who would put Peppermint Schnapps in a bottle labeled Chloraseptic. It took a lot of spraying to get a buzz.

17. I switched from vocal music back to orchestra. We played in the pit for the musical, which was The Wizard of Oz. The music was really hard, because it was written in a key for singers, with more flats than I could count on one hand. I thought we were cool because we were allowed to perform in sweatpants and eat candy, as long as no one heard the wrappers crinkling.

18. Three weeks after I graduated from high school, I had a dream that I went to school as normal. After I’d been to a few classes, I realized I hadn’t done any school work for three weeks! I’d have to get on the ball, or I might not graduate. Then I realized I had already graduated. I tried to tell my Physics teacher, Mr. Buster, that I didn’t need to be in school, but he didn’t believe me.

19. When I came home from my first year of college, Anne Calvert introduced me to The Full Moon Cafe. We hung out there all summer. They had awesome cheesecake.

20. My sophomore roommate was Cheryl Stone (who is now Cheryl Richardson, but not the motivational speaker). She was a great roommate, and never complained about what a slob I was. Erin Legris (now Erin Beck) was in our suite, and she did complain. In a nice way.



50 years

IMG_1417It will come as a surprise to some that I will be celebrating my fiftieth birthday this week. I can say without bragging that I look younger than my age. When I turned thirty, it occurred to me that I could lie about my age and get away with it, but then I decided that I won’t. There isn’t a year or a day that I would prefer not to have lived. Even the crappy times I might just as well forget about, I survived, and I claim that. I want credit for everything.

So to prove to the doubters that I have truly lived fifty years, here is a memory from each one of them, excepting the first, which I would think would go without saying that I don’t have to remember. Today we’ll have the first decade.

2. My earliest memory is of a memory. I was eating lunch in a high chair in the TV room of the house my parents built in Salina, KS. I suddenly thought of some people I hadn’t seen in a long time. In the memory, I was lying in a room in the dark, and they were silhouetted in the light coming from behind them in the doorway, watching me.  When that image came to me, I realized that I would never see them again., and I cried. My baffled mom wondered what I was crying about, and offered me a slice of bread and butter, the lack of which wasn’t what made me sad, but sounded good anyway, and it was.

This picture was taken in the room where this happened. rachelasnewbaby

Over the years I’ve concluded that those people were the foster parents who cared for me as an infant before I was adopted. I would like to meet them again, if I knew who they were, or at least to see a picture, if they’re no longer living. Would they look familiar?

3. My sister and I took our daily naps in cribs placed on opposite sides of the room, but the cribs had casters, so we could stand next to our respective railings and push our cribs, a little at a time, across the room to meet in the center. My sister said, “Wanna trade cribs?” It sounded like fun, so I agreed, and she swung her leg over the rails and got in my crib. I swung my leg over the rail and discovered that her crib was very wet. She wouldn’t go back, though, so I tried sleeping in my crib with her, but it was too crowded. I ended up back in her crib, trying to curl up at the top, away from the pee.

4. Sometimes us kids would gather in our parents’ bedroom in the morning, and once I was lying on the floor with my legs up, feet resting on the side of the mattress, and my parents were talking about moving to Emporia. I said I didn’t want to. My sister said she did. We got into a friendly yes-no thing and I punctuated my nos by tapping my feet on the mattress. Of course I didn’t think my parents were going to make the decision based on my preference, and I didn’t really mind the idea of moving, I just liked how things were, and didn’t see any need to change.

5. There was a boy who sat next to me in Kindergarten. I tried to make friends with him, but I think he may have been a bit spectrum, and he never responded in any way whatsoever. On the first day, he discovered that if he rubbed his pencil on the edge of his desk, it would scrape the colorful paint off the pencil. I guess he preferred a natural finish. He scraped it every day, all around the pencil, until the teacher told him not to do it anymore.

6. I loved first grade. My teacher was very progressive and let us work as fast as we wanted. I competed with a boy in my reading group to do more SRA reading units, but we were pretty evenly matched.

7. I had a best friend named Lisa Thomas. She was from Elgin, Illinois. She was always fun and easy to talk to. She’s at the far right front in this picture of all the Suzuki violin students, though I’m not sure why, as she played piano, not violin. suzuki70s

8. My second grade teacher was Greta Thomas (no relation to Lisa). She was old school, and strict, which I didn’t like, though later I realized that she was an excellent teacher, just not of a style that inspired me. She was the first person who ever told me that Columbus wasn’t the first European in North America.

9. I was nine in third and fourth grades. My third grade teacher read to the class after lunch every day. Whenever a character did something eagerly, it sounded like she was saying “iggerly.” When my fourth grade teacher leaned over my desk to help me with a question, she smelled like smoke. I liked them both a lot. Lisa moved back to Elgin.

10. Fifth grade was a difficult year for me. I didn’t have friends. I was the first girl in my class to have periods, and I told some girls whom I wanted to like me. Of course it didn’t work, and they told some boys, and they all called me Mrs. P for the rest of the year. I never told anyone this; I’m not sure I have to this day. Shall we name names? They were Marcy Nail, Shelly Dingman, Thane Thompson, and Roy Wells. They might be perfectly nice people now, but as kids they were assholes.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my second decade.


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