Sunday, March 12, 2017

Death Valley, Coyotes and Snake Oil

I like to camp about twice a year. I think I’m getting too old for this torture, but inevitably I plan another trip, pack up my little Saturn and I’m on my way again. For the past couple years my daughter and I thought that Death Valley in the winter time would be a good choice.  Let me tell you, it’s still more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit during early March – and I hate the desert. 

The stars at night more than make up for the dry, over-powering heat of the day. After the sun goes down, Death Valley is a great place to see meteor showers, comets and reckless lovers. Note to couples: in the evening, sounds and sights carry in the desert. I’d like to add, that bush you’re under carries an assortment of scorpions and flea-infested, plague carrying rodents, so please, for the sake of all that is decent, go back to your tent. NOW!

The highlight for me, during our winter excursions is the group of musicians that gather at the same time every year to play music around the campfire. Mostly, there are the usual guitarists, banjo pickers, accordion players and fiddlers. The performers say that the original troupers began the tradition in the 1950s. The ones that assemble now have been convening regularly since the 1970s. This eclectic bunch comes from all walks of life. One claims to be a physician, but since the beer and vodka are flowing amongst the majority of performers, I have my doubts. Anybody present can share their musical talents. All are invited. Someday I hope to bring my electric piano, stuffed with batteries and a prayer, since my playing is child-like at best. In the past, the musicians have hosted people like the ukulele playing students who only picked up their instruments six months before joining the melody-filled evenings. The best I could do the first time we sat around their circle is give out copies of my books and read a brief passage or two. Last year we were joined by a fire dancer. The dramatic look of firelight reflecting up through the branches of the taller mesquite and salt cedar trees was magical. During those kinds of evenings I’d like to imagine that I’m at a gypsy camp. It’s a wonderful feeling.

The musicians always wind up just before 10 pm. One evening two years ago, my daughter and I went back to our tent around nine. We listened to the music, hypnotic in a way, the guitars strumming and low voices singing. Then some guy yelled at the top of his lungs, “Shut that music down!” The melodies continued, the night wind rustled a little. During pauses, coyotes could be heard singing their own songs of loving and feasting. Then a fiddle began a lonesome Irish ballad. “Shut it down already!” I was jolted awake again. This continued until ten. I guess the old grouch didn’t realize that his barking was creating more of a disturbance than this traditional, decades old jam session (music’s version of a pick-up game). Lights out. Ten PM. The coyotes were closer and they began their nightly serenade. I waited anxiously for Mr. Grouch to yell at our howling, furry neighbors, but by then I think he’d given up hope for a good night’s rest. Do what the rest of us do:  gaze up to the sky and let the blanket of stars dazzle your senses.

In October 2015, historic flooding damaged many roads and made last year’s planned trips to a couple tourist areas, including the famous Scotty’s Castle, impossible. The rain also created optimal conditions for desert wildflowers to bloom in abundance. Mostly gold greeted us on our excursions, but there were splashes of pink and purple along the way.

Most of the other roads had been fixed since the storms had washed them away, but a few were down to one lane. That gave us passengers time to reflect and talk. The subject of health came up and I said that I was a believer in the power of vitamin-C. I take it every day for six weeks during flu season and I have not caught the flu or pneumonia like other members of my family have. At one washed out path, in the back of our vehicle, one of the campers with us took the opportunity to whip out a catalogue of the health supplements that she sells. There was a parade of cars ahead of us and a line of cars behind us at least a mile long. We were surrounded by construction vehicles, and the potential of traffic heading our way until we could take our turn on the fragile pavement. I could have tried to make a run for it, but the heat and dehydration would kill me eventually unless a rattle snake struck me first. As the young lady introduced her line of vitamins, my eyes scanned the road for a poisonous snake. “Oh, Lawd, give me patience,” I thought. The young woman knew she had a captive audience, literally. A half hour later, we were on our way again to Stovepipe Wells.  Bless her heart for trying.

Days later, I was back at work with my seniors. I had a great morning with one of my favorite ladies. I fed her some breakfast and folded her laundry while we chatted. Before long, Luzi had me cornered in her kitchen, extolling the benefits of the supplements she was taking. I was blocked in by her motorized scooter, while she held up a bottle of the same brand that the young saleslady introduced to me. I couldn’t go left, I couldn’t go right. I was backed up to a cabinet as Luzi shook the container at me insisting that it was a lifesaving libation. At that point all I could hear were the yelps of coyotes. I looked at the floor and prayed for a snake.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Uncle Trump

It felt really good to be an American today. I will admit that I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. He sometimes shoots off his mouth, says the wrong things. He reminds me of that uncle. You know the one. He is always at the family reunions, or maybe sits at the far corner of the table. He tells a few off-color jokes or asks the younger kids to pull his finger. You know the man has good intentions and you love him despite all his crassness. Donald Trump has promised to bring jobs back to the USA by taxing those companies that abandoned their domestic factories and American workers. He wants to do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement. That should help. I still remember the marches against NAFTA and the WTO a couple decades ago. Trump wants to replace the flawed Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) with one that is more on par with Europe (which by the way, grates the nerves of many ultra-conservatives).  If you are reading this and hope that “The Don” doesn’t keep his word, you can find comfort in the fact that most politicians fail to keep their promises to the voters; sometimes, even covenants to their own spouses. No, I did not vote for the man, but I will be praying for him. I am an American. I believe in the American process. I see facts before me, not innuendos and speculations or even false accusations that fade away as fast as their accusers.

I actually enjoyed the closing prayer given by Rabbi Marvin Hier. I’ll admit, it was more of a statement than a communication with God, but the words were heart-felt, true and factual. I am certain that many people were offended by them because they spoke of hard-work, pride and ethics. I was delighted to see Franklin Graham, son of the Reverend Billy Graham, speaking. For generations Billy Graham led our nation in prayer and advised our leaders. For eight years President Obama turned his back on Billy Graham. Listening to spiritual leaders’ advice does not mean that any particular religion is favored over another. It means the words of a reasonable man, close to God the Father, are heeded. Instead of comfort and words of wisdom, these past eight years, too many people became divided and learned to hate. I look forward to a spiritual awakening to take place once again. Maybe we can set aside our so-called differences and remember that we are Americans first. (I would like to remind some of you before you say, “White Bread has no idea what she’s talking about,” that I come from a rainbow family in every sense of the word.)

I actually support President Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. I was aware of her before the election. DeVos believes that all children are entitled to the same educational opportunities regardless of income or neighborhood. She and her family have given a lifetime total of 1 billion dollars to charities and foundations in and around Michigan. At least forty percent went to educational causes. A large portion went to health services. Her family built the DeVos Learning Center in Grand Rapids. It’s like a field trip for the mind. I also am overjoyed that Dr. Benjamin Carson was selected to serve as the secretary for Housing and Urban Development. I knew of this great man for a few decades. He was a child in the same part of Detroit that I was born in, Delray. You can’t get much more urban than that. The appointment of at least two people from Michigan, I hope, will influence some decisions to bring jobs back to my home state.

Donald Trump is my president. He is America’s president. I will not protest. I will not whine and cry. I will support and pray for him as I have for all the presidents since I was old enough to vote, in 1982. God, bless Donald Trump. Please, bless our nation. Please guide the leaders of our world. Amen

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

All Lives Matter

I feel so full of the Holy Spirit today since reading my scriptures this morning. Specifically I studied Alma Chapter 26 which is in the Book of Mormon. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, it is not an addition to the Bible. It is the record of a portion of some Native American tribes who were looking forward to the coming of the Great Spirit. From the ancient oral and written traditions of their ancestors, they knew that one day a Savior, the son of God, would come to our world to tell all people about forgiveness, repentance and love.)

The words in Alma Chapter 26 are truly inspired for our day!  Whenever I came across the word “Lamanite,” I mentally inserted the words “ISIS” or “Al-Qaida”. Lamanites were a bloodthirsty, violent group in the Book of Mormon. Just as ISIS beheads Christian men, kidnaps innocent girls and crucifies Christian children in the streets, some of the Lamanites tossed families of the believers into smoldering pits to their deaths. Then, as now, it was the traditions and incorrect teachings of their leaders that made them feel justified in doing these acts. They did not have a written record as did their brothers. As recently as a few hundred years ago, some Native Americans (such as the Cherokee) had a written record. Other tribes only had oral traditions. The written word does not change, but oral histories, like a phrase in the telephone game, can change.

Because not everyone has the motivation to love their brothers, we must spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It is as important overseas at it is here! It is difficult, I know, just as it was in the days of Ammon in the Book of Mormon. We may face scorn just as he did, or even ridicule, by merely just suggesting that we pray for these perpetrators, let alone offer them the fruits of the Gospel of Jesus.  Deep down, this is what missionary work is all about. It is not to teach those that are already faithful, but to bring about change; to turn the hearts of all people to do good. Jesus said that if we love Him we must feed His sheep. (John 21:15-17)  Jesus also said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) The Gospel is good news!  It will change the hearts of all people, because all lives matter.

Alma Chapter 26:                                   (Specifically verses 23 – 35.)

To teach your young Sunday School students, diversity and love on the most basic level, please consider purchasing a copy of Liesa Swejkoski’s book “As I Have Loved You,” from Schuler books
 or via Kindle  . 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Independence Day

Independence Day is fast approaching. It is the time that we celebrate the declaration that the colonies would no longer be subject to the tyranny and rule of Great Britain. Many people are still under the impression that after that great statement was signed, in July 1776, there were no more battles, but that is not true. There were wars, skirmishes and burnings long before that day (and long after).

Too many people believe that history is boring. Not enough is done to teach this subject in our schools. Thankfully, there are some great dramatizations of history in a few select films. Every year, to commemorate Independence Day, I watch several motion pictures, in sequence (listed below). It helps me to remember that my freedom was well fought for and that America must always remain free for all people. The United States is a work in progress.  We have made mistakes and we’ve learned from them.

I hope that many of my audience will strive to learn more on their own than what is portrayed on screen. I would encourage my American readers to search the names of their ancestors and the places those individuals settled and lived in.

The dream of an independent, free society began thousands of years ago when great thinkers in Greece expounded the idea that all men should be free and not divided into the aristocracy and their slaves. Aristotle taught that if all men are men, then all are free and none are slaves. Hundreds of years ago in places like Germany, Ireland and Scotland, the countryside was blossoming with people who wanted to exist without the threat of kings and noblemen who would rob them of their flocks and fields, sons conscripted for armies and daughters taken by force. The New World was a land full of bounty, independence and fertile soil. It was a place of opportunity, a territory “battle born” even before the settlers arrived. Tribes killed one another for plentiful hunting grounds, fishing rights and a place to plant corn, beans and squash.

I learned that two of my women ancestors that remained in Germany during the time of one of the films (Alone Yet Not Alone, which takes place in 1755) lived in Germany under a nobleman’s rule. These ancestors are from my mother’s side of the family. At the beginning of the 1700s, these women were essentially serfs in the town of Heigenbr├╝cken and their Burgomeister would not allow them to marry, but they still fell in love and had children, one by the town shepherd. Many of their counterparts sailed to America to worship freely and marry the men or women of their choice. These immigrants were allowed to keep the yield of their crops, not hand their hard-worked for gain to government. In another blog I might tell you more about my German ancestors’ story, but for the moment I want to continue about American history.

During the mid-1700s when the Native Americans were aligning themselves with either England or France, people were kidnapped by a variety of tribes to replenish the braves and children lost to battle, disease and famine. Parents were killed along with babies who could not make the journey to the Ohio from Pennsylvania.  Scalps were taken as far south as North Carolina. My ancestor John Wood, who was born In Ireland about 1700, was killed and scalped along the Yadkin River. He was most likely an indentured servant.  Some people came willingly to the New World, as North America was called then, and worked for several years until they earned their freedom. At the end of the agreed upon time, they could find a place to build a cabin and make a life for themselves.  There were many more that were taken by force from Scotland or Ireland; young men and women, sometimes children. Long before I learned of this history I had a very vivid dream. I will describe that dream another time, but I firmly believe it was what some scientists call a “cellular memory”. It was the horrific conquering of people wanting freedom from England, while attempting to make changes in their own lands. Sadly the rebellion was quelled and my people, like many, were shipped off to a life of servitude. There they were used, abused and sometimes bred to make more servants. Oft-times it was the leader of the plantations that fathered children, many times a strong black slave or a captured “Indian” or man from Scotland or Ireland. That was the fate of many Scots-Irish at the time. My dream took place just before the journey.  I learned the rest later.

The freed Scots and Irish began to settle and make families, establish churches and local governments. Eventually all of my father’s people made their way down the Shenandoah Valley. They farmed and married the Cherokee.

Another ancestor, Elizabeth Sibylla Scharrman Guntermann, was a child born in America of German parents: Franz Andreas Guntermann and Cornelia Keyser.  They were contemporaries of the people who came to America who are featured in the movie Alone Yet Not Alone. I wonder if the Scharrmans and Guntermanns were also under threat of having their cabins burned down to the ground during the French and Indian Wars. Later, as an old woman, Elizabeth and her daughter-in-law took water to our Patriot troops during the Battles of Cowpens and King’s Mountain. (The last military campaign featured in The Patriot is based upon the skirmish at Cowpens.)

Many settlers soon realized that England would not leave them alone to be free citizens of their own land. They were still subjects to the King of England, so wanting to be free from the shackles of tyranny, they naturally rebelled. Several of my own ancestors served in the Revolutionary War. I am proud that my ancestors served in this great cause. We are a free country, in part, because of their bravery. Recently I had the honor to become a part of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Decades after the Revolutionary War, a few of my ancestors even fought during the Civil War.

That is a very brief, condensed history of America and why there was a Revolution. I wanted to show readers how they could put their ancestors into the time frame of many of these historic events, just as I did. History may become more exciting to you when you realize that these people were living, breathing individuals struggling during tumultuous events.

These are the movies that I watch, in sequence, beginning in June. None of them are family movies so you must decide if your loved ones are mature enough to watch the battle scenes and a few love scenes.  If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

  1. Braveheart (R)
  2. Rob Roy (R)
  3. Alone Yet Not Alone (PG-13). (This one is hard to watch. Let me tell you, children are kidnapped and there is a scene where a woman is burned at the stake. Being burned alive is not a quick process.)
  4. Last of the Mohicans (1992) (R)
  5. The Patriot (R)
  6. The Alamo (PG-13) (I usually watch the 2004 film, but I also enjoy the version with John Wayne.)
  7. Gettysburg - Gods and Generals (PG-13) (usually sold together in a package.)
  8. Glory (R)
  9. Cold Mountain (R) (I didn’t want to see this movie until a very distant relative explained that this film is loosely based on the tales of our people in post-Civil War North Carolina. I'm glad that I saw the film, but I often wonder, were our people the families waiting for the soldiers or were they the Watchmen? Maybe they were both.)
  10. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (TV-14)
  11. Far and Away (PG-13)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

King of the Nile

(The flip-side to my other post about dying with dignity)

I have a senior friend that I absolutely adore. “Jerrold” and I get along so well that it feels like he’s become a part of my family, and that’s the way it should be with friends that you love. We take walks together a couple times a week and talk about everything from politics, weather, senior care and our respective health challenges. Despite what we’ve been told about the outcomes of our long-term wellbeing we still push ourselves to walk, read, think and do the best we can to manage our symptoms.

Recently while we were hiking in the desert, Jerrold asked, “Other than a river in Egypt, what does denial mean to you?”

I had to laugh. I hadn’t heard that reference to the Nile River in at least a decade. I thought for a moment and answered, “Well, in a rational-thinking person, one that has all his or her faculties, it’s to have all the data and yet still believe in something impossible. I don’t mean believing in a miracle (miracles do happen and that’s what makes them unique) but counting on something despite all the facts, like thinking you can fly off a balcony when you don’t have wings, something like that.”

I took a few deep breaths as dull pains moved their way up my calves. We walked past a golf course and I asked, “What does denial mean to you?”

“People keep telling me that I can’t do some things, but I do them anyway. I know my disease will get worse, but I keep walking anyway. I try to get better.” Jerrold hadn’t really answered the question, but I understood what he meant.

After a while, I added, “People don’t always think rationally. Some, like patients that have dementia, live in their own reality. Little children have their own reality, also. To them, if they say they can fly, they jump off of a pile of dirt and give it a try. Then they fall and learn not to do it next time – but look at the Wright brothers, they kept trying to fly. They kept building a better flying machine and eventually got off the ground. If not for them we might not have airplanes. Rational thinking can save our lives but denial of reality and thinking beyond what is real makes us better individuals and more interesting, don’t you think?”

Jerrold pondered this. We were getting closer to the pool where we planned to rest. “But I’m told that I’m in denial. I will never get better. I could just sit and wait at home to die. I think about moving to Oregon or another state that has assisted suicide.”

“Robin Williams had the same prognosis that you have. The same one! He gave up too early and broke all our hearts.” I silently pondered the joy that Williams had given the world with his wit. Then I remembered the heart-ache I felt the moment I heard about his suicide. The world seemed to tip just a little off its axis and things just haven’t been the same. I pleaded, “You can’t do that, please, don’t give up. You need to keep moving and getting better day-by-day!” Of course, Jerrold knows this already and that’s why he walks until the very day that his legs will no longer carry him.

We passed a pond at the golf course. It was being drained. I decided to throw Jerrold a life-line. “Like any river, the water in the Nile flows higher in the rainy season. Sometimes it’s lower during a drought, but it always flows. Reality is, if you’re in the middle of that river, you could drown. It’s still the same river despite the weather, yet we all face the power of that water in our own way. Faith is like an inner-tube. Are you going to swim? Are you going to hold on to that flotation device or just give into reality, let go and drown? What a rational thinking person does is hold onto that ring as long as he can, despite reality, yet he knows that he’s going to die! It’s like that with so many things. It’s a balance between reality and faith and it’s a balance between our own reality and everyone else’s reality. Just keep pressing forward and don’t give up.”

Reaching the pool, Jerrold said, “I like the way you think.”

Sitting there we spoke not another word and watched bathers enjoying themselves. The sounds of the lapping water were soothing. I thought about Don Quixote riding a broken down horse, battling a windmill with his lance. We all have our monsters to fight: disease, poverty, PTSD and doctors who tire of us patients asking for cures and treatments that don’t yet exist.

Maybe denial isn’t rejecting reality. Maybe denial is giving in. We know that today’s truth was yester-year’s miracle! Tomorrow’s reality is what we dream and hope for now. We have jets, cell-phones, computers, treatments for stroke, life-saving operations and transplants that were just someone’s impossible dream mere decades ago.

My friend caught his breath, stood up and was ready to head back to his home.

“Jerrold,” I said, “you can be the King of Denial. You keep dreaming and, who knows, you might outlive all of us.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Getting Nowhere Fast

My father and mother raised me to be a lady. I’m not saying this in the modern sense of the word. I mean, someone delicate in thought and deed; one who knows the finer arts of painting, music and writing. They took me to museums and shelved all the best books in our home. This put me in an awkward position since I grew up in Taylor, Michigan. Even the locals said that there was more culture in one cup of yogurt than all of Taylor. (Note, I didn’t say it. I was told this from people at school and neighbors as well.)

In 1968 Papa moved us south of Detroit to Taylor, a community situated in the Downriver part of Michigan. The fixer-upper house, situated on over an acre, was close to I-75 so my father could get to work quickly at General Motors’ Fisher Body-Fleetwood factory in Detroit.

Taylor, known as a bed-room community, was home to working class families. Parents relied on the factories to pay good wages and provide the means to put meat on the table. There was little time for art, travel, classic music or exotic food for most people. The most exciting part of the move for me was that huge yard. Living on over an acre meant that someday I could get a horse!

My mother always dreamed that I would one day marry a very rich man. Her own father was an artist; and a reluctant soldier. My grandmother wanted my dad to become a preacher. He joined the Navy. The early twentieth century was one of strife, war, depression and turmoil. It changed lives and destinies as battles, famine and epidemics have done throughout the ages. So once the world was relatively peaceful, post Korean War to be exact, my parents set their visions and hopes on me. It was a tall order.

I was a tom-boy kind of girl. We didn’t go to church. My parents didn’t believe in things like that. My father rebelled against his mother’s stern upbringing as did all of her offspring. So from the time school let out in June until after Labor Day, I ran around with no shoes. That’s right: three months of freedom for my toes! Every year I developed such hard calluses, that I’d walk over the sharp rocks in our driveway and barely notice the stones by July. When September rolled around, my dad would struggle to put my shoes back on. I hated the scratchy feeling of the socks and the constricting tightness of my footwear. This meant that my dad was always buying new shoes for me. Back then they were fitted to my feet. Everyone went to the shoe stores in those days, getting their feet measured. That didn’t help my situation. I despised shoes with a passion and if not for the cold Michigan winters, by choice, I would have gone barefoot all year ‘round.

Additionally, summers meant swimming. If I couldn’t get to the pool, I’d run the hose, get a lot of mud started and roll in the muck like a little piggy. My mother bought me some lovely purple culottes that I didn’t like. So after being forced to wear them a couple times, in desperation (or spite) I went outside and spent the next couple of hours cooling off in my mud-hole. Mommie was furious! She demanded to know why I didn’t wear my play clothes. She never did get the stains out of those culottes. I actually felt bad for her, but I was relieved. Eventually she dressed me like the other kids in my neighborhood: jeans and t-shirts. My cousin Greg handed me down a lot of his jeans and I was grateful. (He was always like my big brother, but that’s another story.)

My mother made sure I learned music. My piano teachers usually quit after a few lessons. One high school student, starved for cash, stuck it out. I learned a lot from the young man, but treated him pretty bad. My parents encouraged art and liked that I was taking some classes in junior high school. Eventually, I started paying attention in all my English classes, enjoying the study of words and grammar. Due to some mild dyslexia, spelling has always been a challenge, but my mother introduced me to the dictionary. My sister Margie actually made me crack open a text book and showed me what a noun was so that by the time Schoolhouse Rock debuted on ABC TV I was enthralled with the first song! “A noun is a person, place or thing!” blared from the television set in our living room.

Eventually, my dad bought me the horse that he promised and soon I began riding lessons. Nothing was too good for his baby girl. He wanted me cultured, educated and refined. (In reality I was smelly, sweaty and sporting snarled hair every evening.)

Years later, I went to John F. Kennedy High School. I wasn’t the best student but I rose to the challenge. Also, I left my tom-boy ways behind, looking forward to the day I could go to a university, which I did eventually. My parents were thrilled that I’d decided to break away from my life Downriver. They were working class just like everyone else, but wanted me to experience more and have a better life than they did.

Half way through college I met the love of my life, David. He is a mechanic, not the rich businessman my parents had hoped I’d marry. Family friends in Detroit insisted I should marry for money first and learn to love a man. I didn’t see it that way. I wanted to wed for love.

David and I began our married life in my hometown, Taylor. I tried teaching, day care, working as a bank teller, working at a museum and later writing. I even did a stint as a lunch lady and at the time, it was my highest paying job! There was no money in music, art nor writing. Believe me, I tried. I’d still like to be a sculptor. I’d even like to try singing lessons, but I’m not delusional. There is no money in any of those avocations-- unless I’m one of the lucky ones. Our bread and butter come from my husband’s hard work.

Which brings us to this decade. My son-in-law majored in theater. I was so proud of him when he graduated from my alma mater, Brigham Young University! Sadly, finding a job is another matter. The arts just aren’t appreciated and an artist is not loved in his own time, if at all. I know that John will go on to do great things in his life, but theater is a hobby, not a career unless you are willing to move to New York and schlep your tired body to every audition after working two jobs and paying high rent for a gawd-awful, rat infested apartment. But that young man has talent! He did a killer Ichabod Crane in a college production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He can do stunts and the splits. If there is ever a life story produced of Buster Keaton, he’s the man for the job. He is the right height, coloring and. . . who am I kidding? Even Buster Keaton, genius that he was, is not appreciated. I think we’re getting nowhere fast --but it’s a fun ride!

John in his role as Ichabod Crane.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Confession

Let me begin this post by stating that this is not intended to be a spring-board for people who have a gripe against my religion. If they want to jump into a discussion somewhere else, good for them. I just don’t want this blog entry to be a catalyst for it. This is merely my personal trial, a situation so difficult that I’m not even sure Abby and Ann could help.

Here’s a little history:

I seem to be a magnet for accidents and catastrophes. I’ve had a history of splitting my head open, landing noggin first into a tree from my horse, diving off a sod-hill onto my neck resulting in snapping my collar bone. . .and that’s only the surface of the iceberg. My first car accident happened when I was only three years old, before mandatory car-seats for toddlers. I was jumping up and down in the backseat when the car my family was in got struck from behind in a low-speed fender bender.

In my grade-school years, I liked to plunge into everything, reckless and energetic like most kids. I rode hard, played hard, swam with fury and ran everywhere, usually in bare feet, all summer. Autumn-time, I’d bound through piles of red and gold leaves, rake them up and start all over again. . .and again. In the winter I’d scramble through the snow until dusk, reluctantly going home, red-faced, half frozen and exhausted.

As a teen, I’d go hiking or camping. Sometimes I’d be tick-bit.

In young married life, I had huge babies (nine and ten pounders) and postpartum depression bordering on psychosis. My body was overwhelmed. I didn’t have the opportunity to heal properly and still had to tend to my babies. At the time, my husband was going to tech school, also working full time, and my parents had retired to the sunny southwest.

Over the decades I’ve been in about a half dozen car accidents. Thankfully I was never the cause of those accidents. One was a multi-vehicular wreck in January of 1998. At a two way stop a man dialing his clunky cell phone ran into a large Chevrolet Suburban creating a domino effect. I had the good sense not to “ride” the bumper of the car in front of me, so when I was struck by the Suburban, I didn’t hit the vehicle in front, and she didn’t run into the auto in front of her.

Witnesses setting up a sign at the corner saw my head shatter the back window of the single cab pickup truck that I was operating. I thought my skull had been struck by a baseball bat. I remember the next moment going forward, full force. My safety belt caught me preventing my body from being flung through the windshield. One broken window was enough for one day.

Weeks later I still had an ‘L’ shaped burn mark across my chest and belly! My neck and back were bent but not broken. I was numb at first, sore later, in pain after that. For many weeks, I couldn’t remember my children’s names. I couldn’t lift my kids up. Instead I had to sit down and gather the youngsters into my arms.

Additionally, doctors said my brain had bounced back and forth like a bug in a jar the moment of the collision. I had to teach myself how to do division and math all over again. For a couple months I’d lost my grip on words. I had to learn how to spell some things over again, relearn the meaning of other terms. A simple thing like “hyena” had me stymied. “Stymie” had me stymied!

As a result of my jaws snapping together in the impact, occasionally shards and splinters of broken mandible would work their way to just above my teeth, protrude through my upper gums and descend between my cheeks, into my mouth. I lived with that for nearly two years after the collision. To this day I live with sensitive molars that disintegrate sometimes.

I won’t even go into the legal mess here, but a therapist had to work with me a couple years later to try to get me to not be so hyper-vigilant. Every time I was stopped in traffic, I thought I’d get bashed from behind. He had his work cut out for him; trying to convince me that it was unlikely that I’d be involved in a similar accident. I had a hard time believing him at first because a year after the multi-vehicular collision, a driver behind me kept going even though I’d stopped for traffic, bumping my fender. Another time, I was at a stop sign, when a woman ran into my automobile. If I hadn’t been stopped, she would have gone right into the cross traffic. She explained that she'd turned around to talk to her three-year-old and didn’t realize there was a stop sign. After all that, my psychotherapist tried to convince me that it was unlikely I’d get killed in a similar accident.

He was right. It’s been decades since my last vehicular collision, but if you look several posts down, you’ll read about my train wreck. My PTSD is so enormous it should have its very own zip code.

I still live with body aches every day and many I can tune out – except one. Since the train collision, I have a nerve in a place next to my spine, a part of my back that I cannot easily reach. Several times a day that nerve will go into an itching, fluttering, burning electrical frenzy. I try to ignore it, but just before I fall asleep, or while sitting down to watch a movie, or in church, the little lightning storm starts up again. If I don’t have a back scratcher close by, I do my little dance to try to reach the spot. I am just grateful there is no pain associated with that particular nerve.

Decades ago, I used to sleep soundly. Nothing would disturb or rouse me. Now, many times I awake in fear. Just three short weeks before the train accident, I’d had major surgery, a hysterectomy and a tummy tuck. (It was less a vanity issue and more of what to do with all that extra hide from carrying enormous babies. The doctor suggested the procedure and I gratefully accepted.) The skin over my belly was still raw. I think sitting in the Nevada desert, watching the train that my family had just been on go up in flames, burn and melt, imbedded a fear into my abdominal cells. Their receptors seem to be highly sensitive to adrenalin. I say this because when I have that fleeting terror that casts me out of my elusive slumber, I feel like I am at the top of a roller coaster, just beginning my descent. Maybe it’s a descent into madness. Only time will tell.

I'm narrating this not to gain sympathy but to set the scene for my present situation.

My problem today is that I am too fearful to sleep at night. Consequently I am so tired after a night of trying to escape my dreams that I’m too exhausted to get out of bed. Some family members also have issues and if they are visiting and we argue, it can take hours, sometimes days for me to settle down to some sort of normalcy. Many mornings I awake to music in my head. (The thrumming and drumming have been there most of the night, I know, because I wake up to it sometimes hours before my alarm blares.) I listen to Christian music or the golden-oldies during the day, then relaxation music just before I go to sleep, but sure enough the inner-march is there again with the sunrise. If it’s a day that I don’t have to go to work, I roll back over and cry, trying to catch a few more winks, but the song remains.

One evening, after an especially horrific argument, my skull was throbbing. No pain thankfully, but I thought I was going to have an aneurism. My cousin, who is not an active member of the “Mormons” as she calls the Church, has excruciating headaches when the barometric pressure drops, just before severe weather sets in. The spells are so bad, she cannot think or see. No matter what her family doctor recommends, it doesn’t work, so she takes a few sips of wine cooler and can sleep soundly. She and I have similar issues with thick blood and dehydration issues. I was given some pain pills about ten years ago and the darned things made me stop breathing. Some other ones designed to stop my heart from racing lowered my heart rate drastically, enough to cause me to come near to fainting. Some other anti-seizure samples that a doctor (a friend of my family) prescribed, made me loopy for three days afterwards. Reticent, I took a cue from my cousin. I was coughing anyway, so I purchased some Drambuie, my dad’s old stand-by for coughs and colds. I drank half a glass. The throbbing subsided and I slept better than I had in years! (Incidentally, the rest of my family had that cough for a whole week. I didn’t.)

I still don’t believe in social drinking, but medicinally, once every several weeks, a drink has helped me. I didn’t go to the temple during this period, but it was soon time to renew my temple recommend. One of the requirements is the observance of the Word of Wisdom, a tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Introduced in the 1830s, you could say the “W of W” was before its time. It cautioned against the use of tobacco when smoking was believed to be healthful for the lungs. Before caffeine was even identified, hot drinks such as coffee were proscribed. Hard liquor was also against church policy and specifically named in the W of W. Grains and plants in their time and season are recommended. (That verse sounds similar to the new-age thinking of grow your own or shop locally.) Yes, the Word of Wisdom was well before its time and just as much a blessing now as it was then. If you want more information, you may look it up online. It may be found in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 89.

I‘d like to point out, the excessive use of meat is likewise cautioned against. The W of W says to eat meat sparingly, in thankfulness, because the lives of those animals that God has created are precious to Him. We are advised to consume meat in times of famine or winter when there is no harvest. Yet, many Mormons can down a steak so fast it will make your head spin.

The faithful also eat boundless amounts of candies, cookies and baked goods. They drink gallons of sweet beverages, enough to drown a moose. When my non-Mormon niece and her boyfriend visited Utah a few years ago, they were in awe of the large families they saw everywhere, eating ice-cream or hanging out at places like “Swigs” known for its syrupy confections. I explained that with the Word of Wisdom in place the only fun for us Mormons was sex and sugar. They got a chuckle out of that.

Recently my friend and old neighbor Devin* went back to college. His kids were grown and the down-turn in the economy led him to a place where finishing his degree was necessary. Aside from being tired, he also seemed more edgy than usual. His wife Marlow* confided that he was consuming several cans of caffeine-laden energy drinks a day! He was getting maybe three to four hours of sleep per night at this point. Here I was striving unsuccessfully for seven to eight hours of sleep and getting out of bed in the morning, feeling like a depressed slug. I was working two jobs, writing and managing several Facebook groups and pages.

One day, caving in to my weaknesses, I got an iced coffee so I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel. My morning got better. In fact, I felt happy all day! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (No, to answer your thoughts, this is not a daily routine. I’ve only had one more since.)

So, as I said before, it was time for me to renew my temple recommend. I confessed all to my bishop, a requirement during the interview. At that meeting, I didn’t bring up my cousin and I didn’t bring up my friend, or even the countless others that I know who are members in good standing that drink coffee (for their slow-beating heart conditions) or alcohol that doctors have prescribed them. This was between me and my bishop. I told him everything I stated here. He asked me why I just didn’t take a prescription (because we all know big pharma isn’t named in the W of W so tranquilizing is okay. Massive amounts of energy drinks are not hot drinks -- so also okay.) I told him about the pills I’d been prescribed in the past decades and how they nearly killed me. I also told him that I awake refreshed after a small occasional drink at night of Drambuie or Irish cream. The man truly is kind and concerned, but never-the-less his face got a little red. I did not get my recommend that afternoon, but instead was prescribed counselling. That did not help. We even did a little family therapy so that my troublesome family members and I could get along, but that didn’t help with the anxiety and PTSD.

Still wanting to feel the peace that attending the temple brings, I met again with my bishop a couple months later. At that visit I told him I knew of people who have “prescriptions” from their doctors for over the counter remedies such as wine, coffee . . .and cannabis oil for their seizures. He wished me luck trying to get a doctor to write a script for me. (All but one of the doctors near my winter home in the west is Mormon.) Consequently, I am without a recommend and I still have my issues.

I live with guilt. It’s there riding my PTSD like a cowboy rides a wild bronco, digging its heels into my psyche with cold, sharp spurs.

There’s nobody I can talk to. If I speak to family, all but one of them gives me a shunning look of condemnation, no love, no compassion. If I talk to other members of my church, they may question their faith and I’m told questioning is dangerous for them. I’m also afraid that they may avoid me like I’m a porn star or a Democrat. Likewise it’s a reasonable concern that the value of my youngest daughter as a possible marriage partner for a good man will go down several notches. (Sorry, Honey, it’s out there now.) So until now I remained in silence – alone.

I did talk to some homosexual friends. I only see these guys once a year, so I really do not have a consistent sounding board. They wanted to know when the Church will lift its ban on gay marriage. I contended that I felt the Word of Wisdom is a bigger issue, explaining that many more church members are having problems with new substances that were not widely used centuries ago. Some didn’t even exist when the W of W was revealed to Church membership by Joseph Smith. The world now has marijuana, high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs and energy drinks to name a few. I asked my friends if they imbibed in coffee or alcohol. They said they did, agreeing that the Word of Wisdom, despite its healthful benefits was a greater issue for a greater number of individuals.

Despite the guilt and isolation, I will not go back to the insanity of sampling prescriptions. With my pharmaceutical history, it could be deadly. I think back to Betty* a Relief Society president from the next town over. One weekend, she made sure all the ladies under her watch were cared for. The mothers with newborns had meals set up for them for the next two weeks. Some neighborhood women whether at the hospital or home recuperating from surgery were also covered. Betty talked to her best friends, made sure their lives were going smoothly. She met with her counselors. That Sunday morning Betty was found cold and stiff, dead from prescription pills. The lady that told my group was the deceased’s best friend. She said her pal had not intentionally overdosed. There weren’t many missing capsules from the new Rx. Betty’s good heart was just so focused on the needs of others that she required something to calm her nerves. Those pills worked so well that she died in her sleep, calm. Serene.

I think I know what Abby and Ann would do. Maybe they’d suggest I sit down for more therapy. I will try more analysis. They’d suggest that I discuss my problems further with my “ecclesiastical” leader or even recommend another church. Well, I intend to stay in my church (and I will discuss why in a future entry).

Oh, Abby! Ann! Help!!!

*Names have been changed.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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