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Harriet Tubman Twenties

The Harriet Tubman Stamp

I have been stamping Harriet Tubman’s face over Andrew Jackson for a couple of years now. Most vendors don’t blink an eye. A great number of them, especially servers in restaurants and small businesses, are excited to see them. In Las Vegas, I waited for twenty minutes while the Cashier examined the bill and my handout explaining it. The women bartenders and servers waited with me and let out a small cheer when the properly faced twenty dollar bill was cleared. Once in awhile, there will be a refusal to accept it, even when assured the stamp violates no counterfeit laws. So, I put my purchases back on their shelves.

It is long past time for Harriet Tubman to be the face of our twenty dollar bills. In 2016, the Obama Administration hired an artist to do the engraving, and things were lined up for the change. Then came Steve Mnuchin, who as the twice impeached former president’s Secretary of the Treasury, halted the presses, so to speak. The enlarged visages of America’s white men have been on our paper money for more than a hundred years. Enough. Andrew Jackson was not a hero. He was just a President, and an angry one at that. As recent events have proven, American Presidents can be the opposite of heroic. He authored the Indian Removal Act, resulting in the Trail of Tears, the taking of ancestral lands and thousands of deaths. https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/trail-of-tears. His farm “The Hermitage” required the unpaid labor of over 100 enslaved people. https://thehermitage.com/learn/slavery/

For those wishing to join the movement, here is a link to the stamp on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/697739930/harriet-tubman-stamp-self-inking

Here is the .pdf file that I print out and cut up that creates three information sheets the size of the twenty dollar bill to hand out during those teaching moments:

Winehouse Brandy

Amy invades

takes up cocktail hour residence 

Soft as shadows she casts silhouettes

tightly cut into shape by her X-acto knife voice

a dollop of dissipation floats in the refrain

She is the hors d’oeuvre served on a Ritz cracker in the local pub

Defiant, her lyrics undulate

sassy sad angry

Amy’s brave wise cracks

Every word snaps

Because her mouth forms the sound before it emerges

Knifes in

Warbles out

Some verses click, they are the essence of castanets spoken

How does she know 

exactly when to breathe

exactly how to stay 

just ahead of the beat?

Confident

Vulnerable

In her words “laughed at by the gods”

Teasing her hair up just before the show

lining her eyes in long strokes like a Pharaoh

She is sex honest on stage

Brandishing belly she pours her frail brute strength down inside your head like Alambic Brandy, and you smack your lips

Ah

that burns so smooth, pour me another

I stretch and relax

The first verse a frisky kitten 

jumps into my reverie and tears through it

emerging as a bobcat

carrying in her jaws the broken limp prey

of yesterday’s arrangements

I acquiesce to her genius

Copyright © Catherine G. Tripp

As published in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal Summer 2022

Lifelong Libertarian leaves the Party

On 10/6/2022 9:42 PM, ‘Catherine Tripp’ via pledge wrote:

I have included all of the email addresses I could find, which really aren’t many, in this my final missive to the Party who has abandoned American women.  My previous attempts to communicate with the Libertarian National Committee have been ignored (see link below for bodies of the letters I sent and posted to my blog).  

catherinesblog.com/2022/05/07/libertarians-must-not-be-silent-on-reproductive-rights-if-not-us-then-who/

catherinesblog.com/2022/10/06/libertarian-silence-letter-ii/

Because the party I have proudly championed from the time I turned 18 with my first vote in 1976 continues to ignore the single most misogynistic change in our nation’s laws as well as my letters and emails asking for my party to be once again Pro Choice, I must quit.  I will not be updating my pledge, I will be canceling it.  Shame on this party for its cowardly stand on this essential human right.   

And then, like the Democratic Party heard pro-choice Libertarians were looking for a new home, President Biden pardoned all citizens who were convicted of marijuana possession in a federal court, and urged State governors to do the same. Next step, voter registration changes.

Libertarian Silence Letter II

07/15/2022

Libertarian Party National Headquarters, 1444 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA  22314

Dear Libertarian Party HQ,

I am writing again (see letter from May) to ask you to REALLY fight for our bodily autonomy.  It is a phrase that has been employed by my party to protest face masks in a global pandemic, but there has been a deafening silence when it comes to Reproductive Freedom.  Since I wrote that letter in May, the Supreme Court has ruled in exactly the way the leaked decision said they would.  As I stated before: “the majority opinion of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade shows in chilling detail just how autocratic, just how oppressive, just how misogynist the current Supreme Court has become…My party should be up in arms.  Instead, my party, the party of principle, the party of freedom, chooses to focus on anything, literally anything else.”

In the Libertarian Response to the State of the Union, which omitted any words supporting reproductive freedom LNC Chair Whitney Bilyeu spoke of the “heavy hand of government”, she spoke of “the use of force, coercion and theft to control and manipulate us, turning us against one another” and there is no better example of this than the oppressive laws being passed in state after state offering rewards to Americans who turn in doctors and pregnant women who will be jailed for using or providing this basic essential medical service.  These laws will not affect the rich, or the well connected, just poor desperate women who are harassed and harangued at the entrances to women’s health clinics.  I was told by the communications director in February that this is a “Federal Government issue”.  And the Texas LP was addressing the Texas law.  It is NOW a “federal issue”.  A bodily autonomy issue that twenty-six state governments are energetically destroying.  I like to say we, the Libertarians, are pro-choice on everything, but the focus of the Libertarian’s harsh criticism in the light of recent events has NOT been on protecting this fundamental human right, my party is SILENT.  The Libertarian Party must take a strong pro-choice position.  I ask again, if not us, then who?

I would appreciate a response to this letter outlining how my party is planning to end this despicable silence.  

Sincerely yours,

Catherine G. Tripp, Libertarian Silver Member and Monthly Contributor

Libertarians must not be silent on Reproductive Rights. If not us, then who?

05/04/2022

Libertarian Party National Headquarters

1444 Duke Street

Alexandria, VA  22314

Dear Libertarian Party HQ,

I am writing to ask you to shift your PR focus to loudly and proudly opposing the full on attack on Reproductive Freedom that is going on nation-wide.  I have sent three emails regarding this issue, and am most dissatisfied with the response so far.  I have read and reviewed the Liberty Pledge Newsletter, the various email communications for the last six months, and the Party’s silence is deafening.   Whining about a piece of cloth over the nose and mouth while nearly a million Americans have died from the pandemic – hey – I don’t like mandates either.  But how about the mandate that a victim of rape is forced by her government to bring that rapist’s child to term?  How about the mandate that doctors who perform this essential medical service be sent to jail, or in some cases targeted for execution?

The recent leak of the majority opinion of the Supreme Court draft ruling overturning Roe v. Wade shows in chilling detail just how autocratic, just how oppressive, just how misogynist the current Supreme Court has become.  And it was the Court’s latest 98 page screed against human rights that motivated me to write this letter.  My party should be up in arms.  Instead, my party, the party of principle, the party of freedom, chooses to focus on anything, literally anything else.

In the Libertarian Response to the State of the Union, which omitted any words supporting reproductive freedom LNC Chair Whitney Bilyeu spoke of the “heavy hand of government”, she spoke of “the use of force, coercion and theft to control and manipulate us, turning us against one another” and there is no better example of this than the oppressive laws being passed in state after state offering rewards to Americans who turn in doctors and pregnant women who will be jailed for using or providing this basic essential medical service.  These laws will not affect the rich, or the well connected, just poor desperate women who are harassed and harangued at the entrances to women’s health clinics.  And yet, not one word.  Not one word in your latest missive bemoaning the Federal Reserve.  Or the one before that where somehow we are concerned about Disney’s fight with the government of Florida?  Both parties to this kerfuffle have all the resources they need to solve it without our help, certainly more resources than the poor women of this country, who will be forced to bring every pregnancy to term.

I wrote to the communications department on September 10, 2021 in response to the press release September titled “Libertarian Party Reaction to Biden’s Six Point COVID-19 Mitigation Plan”.  Therein was stated “However, what is not up for debate is the right of bodily autonomy”.  Really?  It’s not like pregnancy is contagious, but if the ugly attacks on procreation-related bodily autonomy continue, terminating a pregnancy could well be deadly.  And yet, not a word.  So, I emailed this:  <<As a lifelong member of the Libertarian Party, I am writing to tell you how disappointing this message is.  If only my party could summon up this sort of passion and outrage over the attacks on reproductive rights as you do on opposing public health initiatives, I would be proud.>>.  The response was:  <<I assume you’re referring to the Texas abortion law that went into effect this month. Typically we limit our responses to actions by the Federal government, as there is too much going on in the fifty states for our limited staff to address. However, we are currently adding staff and building out our communications department, so we are optimistic that the situation will change in the near future.>>.  A Federal Government issue?  No.  A human rights issue.  A bodily autonomy issue that twenty-six state governments are energetically destroying.

I wrote to lphq (LP Headquarters) again in October in response to the Anti Mandate Ad.  I quoted the Ad “We will not leave the American people with nowhere to turn”, to which I added “but you will leave Texan women with nowhere to run.  My party should be focusing on Reproductive rights, not this nasty attack on our President.”

Then in February, when I received the Job Notification for Development Director, I wrote “Gosh, I hope they care more about reproductive freedom than some cotton mask on their face.”

So, you see, I have been trying to get my party to support reproductive choice unequivocally, strongly and without reservation for several months.  And I have not, in past years (again, I joined the Libertarian Party in 1976) criticized my party’s positions.  I like to say we are pro-choice on everything, but the focus of the Libertarian’s harsh criticism in the light of recent events has NOT been on protecting this fundamental human right.  You don’t even mention it.  

In the Party Platform, we state:

1.5 Abortion

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

And honestly, that’s a little mealy-mouthed as well.  It’s not a sensitive issue.  It is an equality issue – this plank ignores the fact that women, and not men, are being forced against their will to support fetal life.  Yes, the government should stay out of the matter, but right now, they are gleefully wading in like jack booted thugs.  The Libertarian Party must take a strong pro-choice position  –  if not us, then who?  Protecting an individual’s right to choose whether or not to procreate is our fundamental duty.  And it’s time we lived up to it.

SOMA VAMP excerpt

…The restaurant is not far from her apartment and while walking she muses about “The Realtors”.  They are like a scary girl gang; travelling in packs, conspiring to come up with cutesy names for every neighborhood.  In this case, they adopted a New York City naming convention for this neighborhood in the seedy section of San Francisco.  If Manhattan can have South of Houston (SOHO), then San Francisco can have South of Market (SOMA), a pretentious name, not at all like the district itself.  It is literally on the wrong side of the tracks, if you consider street cars and cable cars to be the tracks in question.  “Live/Work” is another Realtor Misnomer – there is not enough room for either. … She walks to Got You Beet in about fifteen minutes.  It is a typical San Francisco night, and the cool fog-kissed air keeps her from working up a sweat, with the added benefit of fluffing up her hair.  When they made the date, he had promised to wear a green carnation.  A shrewd – if not obvious – move one of her girlfriends had taught her, a safeguard allowing Beulah to turn around and walk out if the guy with the goofy flower is a dud.  Upon entering, she smiles and appraises the spacious vegetarian restaurant, scanning for the bright green flower on some loser’s lapel.  And then she almost gasps aloud.  There, already seated at one of the coveted two tops, was the most handsome man she had ever seen.  There are only five tables -or-two in the family style restaurant, and she is glad he came early, so they could have some privacy.  

Considering the undeniable fact that <oh my Goddess> he is gorgeous, she ponders briefly taking a selfie and IM’ing it immediately to the Women Who Wine.  They would pee themselves.  He is ghostly pale, like LeStat in Interview, and elegant in chiseled black attire.  The collar and cuffs are startlingly white and starched to the thickness of fine stationery.  He had an old fashioned hairstyle, a little long – showing off white blond waves framing a masculine face – not too pretty, not too harsh.  So this guy somehow manages to make a green carnation look svelte.  Wow.  Straightening her shoulders, Beulah insinuates her long legs and swanky coat between the tables, clamping her mouth shut to avoid drooling down the front of her outfit.  He looks up just before she gets to the booth, he has already left room for her to sit down, guilelessly avoiding the awkward scooching coders are known for.  Clearing her throat, she unintentionally warbles:

“Um, Gerard?”

“Beulah?”  He smiles, then says  “It must be you, zere are so few young women attracted to garish green lapel decorations.”

“Yes, it’s me.  I mean, I’m Beulah.  So you must be Gerard, hi.” This cannot be Gerard.  Oh.  Hell.  No.  Angie would have given me a heads up.  There’s gonna be a bait and switch, the real Gerard <fat, balding, Izod shirt in puce> is on his way – this must be Gerard’s gay friend who got here early in order to chaperone.  He is standing up, and <swallow the slobber> he is just the right height.  About six feet tall.  Holy crap.  Mommy, can I lick him?  Hush up Beulah’s Brain.  Wait, that’s not my brain talking….

Telling the Future – Digital Musings

The days run together like negatives in a camera with a broken film winder.   When the photographer had to wait to see the images, paper and silver meshed together in a camera shop, too late to take another shot, but still, so laborious that we put the camera away to experience the sights with our own eyes.  But it’s a soft blur, a Vaseline lens focused on a life well lived.  Suffused with contentment, only occasional flashes of fear of failure pop by to rumble my intestines, I hesitate to say I am as happy as I ever remember being. 

Tonight it’s another tangerine sky for the apple of my eye.  I think about color.  About color and pixels, and trying to explain how every form of display reads the bits and bytes of your image differently.  Navy blue is #00080 and Dark Blue is #0008B.  Seems logical, but then, Royal Blue is #4169E1 – so it’s not like you can guess what shade is spelled how.  Each shade is an embedded universal hexadecimal code, but the ink cartridges and printers and screens interpret them differently – always have, always will, so not the same.  I just read an interview with a guy named Alvey Ray, who coined the phrase “Digital Light”, a second reality where what you thought was a pixel, isn’t.  He is a pioneer in Computer Generated Graphics of all kinds. He said, and I quote:   “the pixel is the product of a two-part process in which an element of some consciously created content is presented of some sort of display.”

I had to read that about three times, then I started thinking that the pigments and oils spread on the original canvas – the sassafras and the ochres, charcoal and lead, these are artificially created colors, too.  You cannot smash a handful of violets and get a teaspoon full of light purple paint.  You cannot grab a handful of cloud, and smack it down on the paper as the puffy white and gray object that floats across the sky.  Primary colors, opaque colors, palettes smeared by the artist, the painter blends them, at first to mimic nature, then to transcend it, to better it by hinting at the flowers within, obliquely implying the sky, making daisies with dabs of yellow and slips of green.

What then is an “original”?  Peripherally, there is all this buzz about NFTs Non Fungible Tokens, which are essentially instances of the item’s first appearance in digital form, all documented and everything.  That’s just so weird, right?  But maybe not.  I spent the afternoon scrapbooking, which leads one to lofty thoughts, all those photos not scanned in, all those memories, so fragile – especially grandparents and great grandparents – who besides me has those?  And I have WAY too many binders, looking back now wondering what I was commemorating, and for whom.  Who would ever flip through the carefully curated pages again?  Poof there goes the contentment bubble, I am back to wondering what it all means…

A secret fear

Today, October 24th, is my big brother Chris’ birthday, he would have been sixty five years old today. I wrote this short memoir in 2017, it was published at Reedsy.com in February of 2020. In celebration of this wonderful man who swirled up to the heavens in July of 2010, here is “A Secret Fear”:

My late brother Chris and I were having a conversation one of those many times at the end of the day when he needed a toke.  I would light up the joint, hold it to his lips, then pull it away after he inhaled.  He would hold onto the smoke for a minute, exhale, then take a second, then a third.  I’d puff on it sometimes, but home was twenty to forty minutes away by car.  He lived up in the Oakland Hills, and I had to get back to San Francisco.  Nowadays, you can count on an hour or more in travel time anytime you have to cross the Bay.

I don’t know how he persevered with such kindness and grace.  He was the best one of us three, a healthy normal boy until the accident that left him a quadriplegic at fourteen.  We passed the time with gallows humor.  

I’d say “Hey you, here’s the good news, at least you’re not a blind quadriplegic – that would be worse.”  And Chris would say “I feel lucky, oh so lucky.” and we’d snort-laugh. 

With the award he won against PG&E in the lawsuit over the fall, he bought a house and moved up the hill with a live-in attendant.  Eventually, my mother and stepfather moved into his big house after selling their bungalow down the hill for a profit.  They built in an artist’s studio, a formal dining room, and separate quarters with the proceeds.  It was a symbiotic arrangement, they relied on each other.  It worked because Chris was so easy to get along with.

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know before:  I was The Normal One.  I stayed in school, did my homework, did my chores, went to college on scholarship, earned a Master’s degree, worked in banking, made a good living, married well.

“Third time’s the charm, man.  Mom finally got it right when I popped out,” I would jokingly brag to my brother.

When we were kids, Chris and I ran away from home together.  The first born, our older sister was an emotional maelstrom of destruction.  She would hit us until we bruised.  The family was always walking oh so carefully on the shattered glass of the broken trusts she never apologized for.  Being only five and seven years old, we managed to trudge the few miles to Grandma Benjamin’s house.  She of course finked us out to Mom, who was frantic.  For a little while, Valerie withheld her blows, but never really stopped. 

When I was twelve, Chris was severely disabled, needing attendant care every day, a tough responsibility to put on a kid, but (there will always be a psychic but in this story) I loved him and we had this mutual disregard for our older sister and super corny jokes we’d tell each other and snicker over as I was rolling him over and changing the linens on his special medical bed.

I distinctly remember this conversation, one of those nights when there was nothing on TV, we chatted about this and that while I fished out the roach clip and we finished that joint getting more and more real as the Zig Zag paper curled brown around the edges.  I had killed a spider in his bathroom earlier and we were parsing the finer points of just where such a mighty huntress should carve her notches, when he asked, all serious, 

“So Catherine, what are you afraid of?” 

“Being average” I declared.

“No, REALLY afraid of?  I know it’s not spiders”, he asked, then he slid into patiently waiting mode while I squirmed.

“Really, really, deep down”?

“Yes.”

“My own anger.”

“Now that is truthful, how come?”

“It’s poisonous Chris, I’ll slice and dice your heart and hand it back to you all fricasseed.  My anger could burn bridges, decimate towns, ground planes, trains and automobiles.  I think it’s why my tummy is so upset all the time, all the anger I’ve swallowed, ‘ya know, it burns.”

He nodded sagely and reassured me that I could never do or say anything that would keep him from loving his little sister.

He’s been gone nearly ten years and what I know now that I didn’t know then is how much insanity is inheritable. 

If two suicides in a three-son family isn’t proof of bat shit crazy, I don’t know what is.  Grandpa Benjamin killed himself at 54 years old, July 5th, 1952.  His brother Lawrence had done the same six years earlier on June 20th 1946.  They both fought in both World Wars.  Imagine fighting in The Great War, the War to End All Wars, it was called back then, only to find yourself re-enlisting for the SECOND World War.  Great Uncle Lawrence was a soldier all his adult life and survived less than a year after his honorable discharge.  Grandpa Benjamin was an undiagnosed manic depressive who inherited the straight razor that Lawrence had used to slit his throat.  He then proceeded to abandon all four of his children and his wife to attend Clemson University.  He had a fresh GED diploma, and with nary a thought for his family, proceeded to lie to the local paper about how he was interested in meeting the “pretty ladies”.  He finished one semester, then went missing.  After seven days of searching, their oldest freshman ever was discovered in the woods, throat slashed, straight razor still in the grip of his right hand.  The same one.  I know that because he bragged about having it to a roommate in the men’s dormitory, and that guy was interviewed.

Of course, I didn’t know all of this back then, neither did Chris because nobody talked about mental illness, the VA did not acknowledge PTSD as a condition and the burden and the blame was laid upon my grandmother an underpaid Registered Nurse, a healer who in the end couldn’t heal her husband.  I am angry and I am afraid of being too angry – how far is homicide from suicide?  And how far is one woman’s angry outburst from her being hauled off to the Looney Bin? 

Us Benjamin women, I suppose, need a calm counterbalance to our too-easily wounded souls.  We cope, we love with reservations, jump in when the whole shimmy shimmy ko ko pop, devil-may-care dances come along, and we spin, sweat and forget.  But the devil does care, and he takes our men to hell after first driving them crazy. 

We were the East and West Wind

June 14th, 1990: Thursday evening in the front room, alone. Where does one begin to tell of the end of a journey? Janet Ryan, my friend Janet Ryan (I still can’t believe it) died early Saturday morning. It’s Thursday now, hardly bother with tissues anymore. Janet was an instigator. So am I. The East and the West Wind, we partied like there was no tomorrow. We scared my future husband whenever we went out together. I loved Janet Ryan – she lived life full out, really FULL OUT. When she died, we were thirty-three years old and still thick as thieves.

We were hanging out in the spring of 1982 when we decided we’d had enough of searching for “company” in dive bars and workplaces. We were scraping by at that time, twenty somethings with average salaries, and I remember she brought an entire clam and garlic pizza into a movie theater under her coat so we would have something awesome to eat. Man, I hope she burned that coat.

During that summer, we pooled our resources and wrote a personals ad. Gosh we were so broke, we didn’t even run two of them in the newspaper. Janet was a green-eyed brunette of petite and athletic build. I was a 5’ 5” blonde with hazel eyes, and a bodacious figure. We rented a P. O. box and planned to pick up the letters, read them together, and split those boys 50/50. I had just finished reading “A Woman of Substance” by Barbara Taylor Bradford, so we played off of that theme. It ran for a week in July 1982 in San Francisco’s local free paper, the Bay Guardian:
ATTENTION
All You Young Men of Substance
I am a young woman of 23 years, average height, nice build, and pleasing to look at. I am presently preparing to descend upon graduate school with self-assuredness and ambition. I am an optimist, affectionate, and have an unrelenting zest for life. I enjoy people, travel, music of all kinds, dancing, passion and especially laughing. I seek a substantive confirmed heterosexual male with similar outlook to enhance my life. Picture appreciated, money and good looks exalted.

Several letters arrived, I dated three guys named Jeff and one named Aaron. One of the three Jeffs hung in there, and in November of 1984, I married him. Janet had the ad done up in calligraphy as our wedding present, and without rancor, pointed out that from this ad, I found a mate, and she got chopped liver. One of her “young men of substance” came for his blind date to Liverpool Lil’s, where Janet worked as a cocktail waitress. After her shift, we all four hung out in his “love van”. Amused by the mirrored ceiling of the van, the carpeted floors, the platform bed – Jeff and I suggested a caption for the mirror: “Caution: objects in this mirror are larger than they appear”. Janet told us to cut it out, but it was too late. Mr. Love Van did not call her back.

Janet Ryan inherited my job as apartment manager and transformed the complimentary studio apartment into a Love Den of her own with Christmas lights that blinked like an airport landing strip around the edges of the waterbed. I think it was after she moved in 1986 that she proclaimed a new sexual orientation, pointing out that bisexuality opened up the other half of humanity for ficking, and I was stuck in Hetero Land. Mathematically unassailable.

Sunday June 15th, 1990, 5 o’clock: The “gathering” at Janet’s apartment where Clan Ryan was staying. Norah Ryan had four sons and a daughter. Michael, Patrick, Robert, John, and Janet. It is a seldom mentioned thing that brushes with mortality make mourners horny. Western civilization is so fucked up with their fear of death, their fear of raw sexuality, and their refusal to acknowledge the dual intensity of both. I remember being puzzled by a strange lust in my heart for one of her brothers, I mean he looked SO much like her. Patrick and I both wished that Janet was here to laugh at us both, got drunk with the family and missed her together. An Irish wake with cremains in a box. We told Janet stories to peals of raucous laughter punctuated with silences. We found out that night that Janet had scaled the tower of the Golden Gate bridge with a climber friend not once, not twice, but three times, all after midnight, so they wouldn’t be seen by the cops, and subsequently arrested. Honestly, I had no idea she had done that, apparently, neither did her mom. Makes you wonder, golly – if she survived that, how could she die in a fall from the fire escape? Steve, the climber, went back up a few weeks later, and scattered her ashes over the Bay.

There was very little left unresolved when Janet died. I’m not so sure that was due to her being “ready to move on” and tying up loose ends. It is just as likely due to Janet’s openness. She didn’t keep things inside, and she always kept in touch. Laura, her girlfriend at the time, and I had found Janet’s stash of one-hit-shit in her apartment and we smoked it in the backyard of this sprawling home in Lafayette where her Celebration of Life was held the following week. I had no idea how strong that dope was, laid down because I could not move my limbs, watched the clouds, and heard, I HEARD Janet laughing – the skies honoring her blithe spirit.

The Never Camper – A memory piece

I was never ashamed to curl up in Mom’s lap.  Even when I reached my full height of 5 feet 5 ½ inches.  She still stroked my hair with my head in her lap.  I could always count on that.  She and her second husband had a TV in their bedroom, and they went to sleep every night with the dulcet tones of Johnny Carson laughing about beaming from beautiful downtown Burbank.     

She wrote in her bedside diary that upon her death, we were instructed to destroy that diary, so we did.  Mom must have known that the anger she was venting in that last bedside journal was not the real essence.  I wish I had the rest of her writings – they wound up in the hands of my stepfather, who has isolated himself from a world he fears.  Though usually I’m not a material girl, I tend to hoard memories and photographs not valuables.  There is this memento that I would be bereft to lose – her graduation pen, black tip, gold barrel.  Engraved on the top piece that clicks into place both fore and aft is my mother’s chosen name:  TERA.  It came in a velveteen-lined case from the Cross Pen company.  It has a twin that twists to open – that ballpoint pen is for the keeping of accounts.  The Writer’s Pen has a felt tip.  It feels right in my hand, as I write about my aversion to camping.  Mom was so shocked when I stated loudly and dramatically that I hated camping.  As a matter of fact, I went down on one knee, shook my fist at the air and proclaimed in my best Scarlett O’Hara that “I will nevah go campin’ agin!”  The tent was a canvas monstrosity that you had to zip all the way up and all the way down every time you entered.  And no matter how thick the sleeping bags were, the ground was still cold and hard in these makeshift beds.  Couldn’t my parents see that these nice people in Yosemite Valley had built hotels and motels and cabins nearby just so we did not have to build them ourselves?  It was a fifteen-minute drive to the Oakland Redwoods from our house if you wanted to commune with nature, they had even gotten married in the Redwood Bowl, with peace pipes and organic bulgur salads, and music under the trees, and hadn’t they gotten over that phase yet?  

Many many years later, I photo safaried in Africa.  There, we dwelt in Canvas Villas with running water, copper bathtubs, verandas, indoor and outdoor showers, stationery to write home with, desks and couches, hot water for bush tea, fresh towels folded in the shapes of elephants.  No phones, no internet, that was ok – our wakeup call was one of the guides standing outside the steps up to our front cloth door – saying “knock knock” – not actually knocking of course, because the door was not made of wood, just saying “knock knock” until we mumbled back.  Every month, at least once, I want to go back to Botswana so much it aches.  I think, though, that my mother would have said that I did love camping after all, and laughed and laughed and laughed.