The Long View

I’m reading a sort of romance written a hundred years ago. I say “sort of” because I don’t think there was a romance genre back then, at least not the way we know the genre. But it’s irritating me in the same way that modern romances irritate me. So much of the story is based on non-communication. If the people involved simply talked to each other, there wouldn’t be a problem (or a story). I suppose it makes sense for such an old book to be based on communication problems because that era was the beginning of it being acceptable for women to speak their minds, especially around men. But for modern stories to be based on the same stupid theme? Not acceptable.

That’s not the only thing impinging on my life right now that I find unacceptable. Rich, successful black politicians, politician’s wives, celebrities, sports figures who are feted and adored by blacks and white alike are telling their story with the same old racist rhetoric. “White people don’t see me.” “White people hate me.” Um . . . did it ever occur to these folks that maybe it is not their racial heritage that some people might object to, but them specifically? Not everyone likes everyone. Not everyone sees everyone. Not everyone cares about everyone. (Though we often pretend to.)

This reminds me of what Jack Nicholson said to Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie Wolf. “You know, I think I understand what you’re like now. You’re very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you’re beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you’re you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you’re not very interesting. You’re rude, you’re hostile, you’re sullen, you’re withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you’re beautiful. Ironic, isn’t it? In an odd way you’re your own problem.”

Other than that, I find nothing objectionable about my day. Well, I do find it objectionable that a couple of my Kentucky coffeetrees seem to be fading away. But if they all die, I’ll wait until fall or next spring, and beg my neighbor for another of the tree’s “volunteers” that will be growing in her yard. (There is one thing about the beans that bothers me. They are poisonous if eaten raw, but when roasted, they once served as a coffee substitute for prairie folk. My question is how did they discover that? If you eat the seeds, you get sick and maybe die. So why would you roast the seeds and try again? And how would you know they would make a coffee substitute if they made you sick before you could learn that?)

Although it’s uncomfortably humid today, it’s also cloudy and cool enough that I was able to plant my new plants. Perhaps they will do okay, but I won’t really know until next spring. Gardening is a hard occupation for a person who likes to see quick results, but then, it’s probably a good occupation for such a person — it teaches one to look at the long view.

Unfortunately, a long view isn’t necessarily different from a short view— look at the 100-year-old romance: the same today as it was then.

I suppose it’s possible that the folks who learned to roast the coffeetree beans took the long view, thinking that some illness and a few deaths were worth the long-term gain, in which case the long view paid off.

In other cases, such as the ongoing violence, burning, and looting that’s been going on for months now, the long view isn’t worth contemplating because what’s going on now can’t portend anything good for the future.

So maybe taking the long view isn’t necessarily a good thing to learn. Maybe I don’t need to learn anything when it comes to gardening — just do what I can, and see what happens.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

The Glad Game

When I was a girl, I often got hand-me-downs from a much older and thinner cousin, which gave me a bad body image way too young and many years before it became a “thing.” My books, most of which had been published in the early part of the twentieth century, were also hand-me-downs from her. Looking back, some of the books themselves seemed old even then, so they might have been handed down to her first — odd to think I never thought to ask where the books originated.

I read as much then as I do now, so whenever I got sick and had finished reading all my library books as well as those of my siblings, I’d reread these novels. I had a few Nancy Drew, a lot of Judy Bolton, some miscellaneous stories, and a boxed set of five Pollyanna books that chronicled her life way past childhood. One year I was absent from school so often that I must have read these books three or four times. (I remember thinking I was pretending to be sick so I didn’t have to go to school, but once when I told my mother this, she said, “You really were sick.” But silly me, I never asked what my illness was.)

Way into my late teens, whenever I wasn’t feeling well, I’d reread these books. I don’t know what happened to the mysteries, but a friend wanted the Pollyanna books, and so I gave them to her. (She doesn’t remember this, but it was a long time ago, and I’m sure her receiving the books wasn’t as emotionally charged as my giving them.)

I was particularly enthralled with Pollyanna and her glad game, and I even tried playing it myself, but being the pragmatist and realist that I am, I couldn’t always see “gladness” even in the things she found to be glad about. The game began when her missionary parents received a “missionary barrel” of donated items, and the only thing for a little girl was a pair of crutches. Her father told her, and she believed, that she could be glad she didn’t need them.

To my way of thinking, she could have been just as glad not to need them if she had also received the doll she wanted, and the doll would have lasted a lot longer than the gladness for not needing the crutches. But then, of course, if it had worked out my way, there wouldn’t have been a story.

What made me think of all this is that my co-worker is a real-life Pollyanna, though her key words are not gladness but “this is a good thing because. . .” I’d seen her in action before, trying to keep our charge from descending into a funk, but her skill really struck home yesterday.

The client (for lack of a better word) and I had spent our time together grumping about the things going on in the world today. Being a grump has its place, I think. Facing the reality of widowhood and age certainly has its place. Mostly we just acknowledged the various situations we talked about, and then went on to something else without dwelling on the issues.

When our friend and coworker came home with her gladness, it struck me how very different two valid points of view can be. I’m ashamed to admit that I burst out with, “You’re a real Pollyanna!” Not only is it rude to make personal remarks like that, but the word “Pollyanna” is also sort of trite and meaningless nowadays, devoid of any literary context, especially since others have used the word to describe her. I tend to think it’s different for me, steeped as I have been in the whole Pollyanna literary mystique for so much of my life, not an offhand comment so much as a reflection of the hundreds of times I’d read the Pollyanna books. I could actually see my co-worker in that dauntless girl, changing the world around her with her attitude.

For a few minutes, I considered emulating her, but then I remembered my previously failed Pollyanna-isn-ness. And I remembered how much good I’ve done by dealing with certain realities — such as grief — in all their stark horror, bleakness, and pain by saying, “yes, this is hard, and it will always be hard.”

One thing that I can be glad about — because of this episode, I downloaded the first two Pollyanna books (the two written by the original author) as well as a couple of others she’d written with that same “life is beautiful” attitude.

And the author is right — life is beautiful.

Even when it’s not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Seedling Forest

We’ve talked before on this blog about the changes that are happening or might be happening because of having to wear masks. Without being able to see smiles, we don’t connect as well with others. Without being able to see mouths forming words, we don’t hear as well. (Which is a serious problem for the hard of hearing.) Without the humanization of faces, we are in danger of becoming dehumanized. And, as I’ve been discovering, they make us cranky, especially me.

I’ve been shopping at the local market partly as a rebellion against the closures — it seems so wrong to keep Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and other corporate businesses open, but forcing smaller businesses to close their doors. You’d think the local grocer would be pleased to have such a loyal customer, but what was once a pleasant experience has become decidedly less so. Out of the last three visits, twice I was overcharged, twice the clerk was rude, twice I ended up fuming and thinking that maybe shopping at Walmart isn’t so horrible after all.

(This rudeness is something I’ve often wondered about when it comes to small independent stores. They don’t offer the discounts that the major stores do, they don’t offer service, they don’t smile or make the visit anything more than a ho-hum shopping trip. They act as if they’re that pretty girl who knows she’s pretty and so has to do nothing to foster a relationship but accept one’s homage.)

Today the shopping experience was especially unpleasant, and I know it was the crank factor.

The skies are cloudy, though there are no clouds — that cloudiness is the smoke drifting here from the fires in Colorado and California. Because the air is still, the smoke just hangs around. (Such irony! There have been strong winds most of the summer, and now that we need to move out the smoke, the winds have disappeared.) Although I can see (and taste) the smoke, I can’t smell the air — I am allergic to smoke, so my poor aching sinuses have closed off my smeller. It’s hard enough to breathe without the mask, but once that’s added, oh, my. So not fun! (Hence the tendency toward crankiness.) I should, of course, have thought of this before I went to the store, but I needed to drive my car and I wanted to get various healthy snacks to take to work tomorrow. (We always have an afternoon snack, so I’ve been eating things that are in her house but aren’t on my diet, such as cookies. I don’t have to have them, but the sharing of a meal is even more important than the snack itself.)

So what does all this have to do with my seedling forest? Not a whole lot, really, except that it pleases me to be growing trees at a time so many trees are being destroyed. Admittedly, these seedlings will not in any way offset the millions of trees being burned, but then, there’s not much any one person can do about any of the horrors that are defining our world today — the fires, the riots, The Bob, wearing masks. Still, it’s something.

Most of the seedlings are locusts that planted themselves in my yard, though one was grown from a seed in the pot itself. Previously, I’ve tried transplanting the seedlings into the ground directly, and they just died. (I have a hunch it has to do with the harsh sun burning their tender shoots before they got over their transplant shock). Oddly, the seedlings seem to like the pots. A couple of the seedlings are Kentucky coffeetrees, new additions from my next-door neighbor. Apparently, these trees are rare in this area, and her next-door neighbor ending up cutting down his coffeetree (to the horror and sorrow of the tree cutter) as well as a couple of my neighbor’s trees (a property line dispute, which makes me even happier that I had my property surveyed), so she and I are trying to repopulate the area with these gems.

Planting trees seems such a hopeful, non-cranky thing to do, and best of all, I don’t need to wear a mask to tend to my seedling forest.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

The Shadow of Family Trees

I live in a small town where people tend to stay when they’re grown, or if they leave, they come back to retire. I thought there would be a problem, since the residents of many such towns tend to stick together and not welcome newcomers, but not here. Everyone (well, almost everyone — there’s always that one person who aggravates) has been kind and welcoming. Now that I’m sorting out the family trees just a bit, this welcome amazes me even more. It seems as if almost everyone is related within one or two degrees of separation.

For example, I met the grandson of the woman I am working for (with?) and today, talking to another friend, she mentioned her grandson of the same name. Turns out, it’s not a coincidence of names — the same boy is the grandson of both women. In another case, one friend’s grandfather is another friend’s uncle. I can’t even wrap my mind around that!

I may never get all these relationships straight, but it doesn’t matter. The shadow of their family trees doesn’t fall on me like it does with those who grew up here. I can take people are they are, rather than what limb they came from.

Another thing I discovered (that has nothing to do with family trees, though it does have to do with plants) is that at one time, 92% of all zinnia seeds came from this area. It must have been beautiful, driving down a highway lined with jewel-toned fields, all the colors mixed together in a riot of joy. It certainly explains why zinnias seem to like me — it’s not me so much as that they feel at home.

It would be nice to think that the zinnias I found growing in my yard were descendants of the original flowers, but I doubt it. Although I was surprised to find the zinnias, it’s only because I forgot that I planted them. Well, in a way, I planted them. I had some old seeds that I threw out into the yard instead of tossing the unopened packet in the trash. Most of the seeds did nothing, but the zinnias decided to grow. So nice of them!

I’ve never really had any special feeling for zinnias, but after this summer, seeing the cheerful blooms and knowing they belong in the area, might even belong to the same family tree as those original zinnia fields, I’m considering planting a yardful of them next year.

One of my new friends (one of the grandmothers) told me about a seed store in a town up the road a piece. They might even have seeds grown around here, which would be nice.

What is also nice is being able to plan for next year, knowing that unless something traumatic happens, I’ll still be here in this small town. And probably still trying to sort out the shadows of all those family trees.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Dilemmas

The women I work with and for invited me on a drive this afternoon. We went out in the country and saw where the one woman grew up, where their relatives once lived, where various other people I don’t know once lived, as well as a lesson on the water dynamics of the area. Some of the big farmers and ranchers saved their water rights, but people with smaller acreages and adult children who didn’t want to farm, sold their rights to be able to stay in their houses.

I understand this was a tough decision for people, but not being a rancher/farmer, all I can do is shake my head and wonder if they’d ever seen a western movie. It seems that a huge number of westerns revolve around water rights, generally, with the evil banker trying to corner the valuable water market, and so the idea that anyone would sell their water rights seems self-defeating. Money now, of course, but not later when/if it comes time to sell the property. Still, not my dilemma.

My dilemma is a different one, though still in the financial realm. A relative had some very bad luck, and my first inclination was to send her a check to help her out. Then I got to thinking about it, and realized that I accepted a job to help my own financial situation, and if I sent her anything, in essence, then, I would be working for her benefit, not mine, that all the money for the work I will be doing for the next several months would be going in her pocket.

Oddly, the tarot card I picked today — The King of Pentacles — reminded me to stay in control of my energies and resources in pursuit of a larger goal (such as a solution to my own precarious financial situation). Although this is also a card of generosity, I am tending toward the less generous outcome, more because of the job than anything. Still, I feel bad for her, so who knows.

Since these dilemmas are not pleasant to contemplate (if they were pleasant, they wouldn’t be dilemmas, I’m sure), I’m adding photos my zinnias. They might not have anything to do with anything I’m writing about today — they pose no dilemmas — but they do make me smile, and I can use a few smiles right about now.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Just a Kid

Working for a woman who is quite a bit older than I am makes for a rather surreal experience. I am struggling with age-related issues, or at least I think I am — the bum knee could be have come about from a simple injury, though I tend to think the poor thing is feeling its age. Even if my complaints don’t stem from age, I can tell I am slowing down — I don’t think as quickly as I once did, don’t move as fast as I once did, don’t make eye-brain connections instantly the way I once did. I also have to be more careful because of that lack of instantaneousness since danger can lurk in the lag time. If I remember correctly, I don’t I remember as well as I used to, either, though that could be a lack of attention rather than a memory issue. I do think I can still connect the dots as well as ever — i.e.: see the big picture from a scattering of images, draw conclusions from data presented — perhaps even better than ever since I’ve seen many more “dots” in my lifetime than I did when I was younger.

Very little if any of this “decline” is apparent to others. The few people I’ve known for many years are also slowing a bit, so my aging wouldn’t show up in relation to theirs. Most people, however, I’ve only met in the last year or two, so they wouldn’t be able to see those subtle long-term signs of aging. They can, of course, see the lines in my face and my graying hair, but those outward signs don’t show my true age; apparently, all things considered, I still seem younger than I am.

But whatever the truth, I am creeping up on the age where I will no longer be able to pretend that “elderly” only applies to others.

And yet, while all this growing into elderliness is happening, the woman I am caring for insists that I am still “just a kid.”

From her perspective, I am just a kid. Even though I often use a trekking pole to help navigate the decaying sidewalks (and sometimes use two when I walk to give me a full-body workout) and even though my knees stiffen when I sit too long, I can still get around easily, can still take care of myself, have no great dependence on doctors or medicines, can handle my own finances. Admittedly, I have no children to take those responsibilities from me — I know people my age and even younger who need one of their offspring to live with them and help them out, so my independence can be one of necessity rather than ability.

But I don’t think so. (Unless, of course, I am connecting the dots wrong and creating a false picture).

I try to take good care of myself, since what I do now will help me in those later years when no one, by any stretch of the imagination, will be able to think of me as “just a kid.” Unfortunately, too often, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And the rest of the time, the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak.

At least, if nothing else, I am back to walking a bit — nowhere near what I once did, but still, a mile and a half is not bad when one has a wonky knee. I have a tendency to want to do too much, and then I have to backtrack, so I am erring on the side of “not enough”. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can get back to where I was a few months ago. I’ve noticed that a never-healed injury or a badly healed one is the first step into a serious decline, but I think that comes in later years rather than when one is still “just a kid.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I’m beginning to wonder if the tarot is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not supposed to be a prognosticator, but rather a way of gaining insights. I don’t expect anything from my foray into card reading — it’s more a way of honoring my deceased brother since the cards were his. And what the heck — I always like learning something new, especially something that might have deeper meanings. And it’s like decoding messages, which fits with being a mystery writer.

The cards for the previous four days were all high pentacle cards (Queen, Nine, King, Ace in that order), which together indicate prosperity, financial gain, goals achieved, enjoying each day, and new beginnings. All great cards to get, and rather interesting that they would all show up in such a clump. Also interesting in that I started a new job this week, and although it is part-time, it will help tremendously with my finances. And for sure it’s a new beginning.

Today’s card was the King of Wands. This card suggests that an opportunity is presenting itself, and that I have the perseverance and maturity to see it through to the end. Mostly, this is a card of pure energy. It’s that last part that made me wonder about self-fulfilling prophesies. After I did my tarot lesson for the day, I went grocery shopping, did laundry, took a walk, cooked rice, made salads for the next few days, cleaned a bit, talked to a friend on the phone, and now I’m writing this blog.

Whew! Lot of activity! Way more than I usually have the energy for in such a short span of time. So did the card suggest to me that I would have energy and my subconscious said, “Okay, sounds good to me, let’s energize the woman.” Or did I wake up with the energy and the card simply reflected that? Or was my bout of energy and the card coincidental?

Personally, I think it’s coincidence. The storm systems that have been moving through the area and zapping my energy, have passed temporarily, allowing me to get much accomplished. And almost any card can be made to fit any circumstance. I think it’s like horoscopes. The horoscopes that have no connection to anything that happens, we immediately forget, and the ones that strike a chord are those we remember.

But who knows. Certainly not me since I am a neophyte when it comes to the cards. I do enjoy tinkering with them, though. It helps give shape to my day by giving me something to do when I wake before I’ve settled in for the duration. It’s a bit mysterious. And, as I said, it’s a connection to my brother.

It’s all good. Especially the part about having energy. I did like that!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Lucky Day

Today’s tarot card is the nine of disks in the deck I’m using this month (The Ancient Egyptian Tarot), but is more commonly known as the nine of pentacles. This is a card of good luck, which is nice because today I am starting a new/old “career.”

I use quotation marks because ten hours a week sitting with an elderly woman isn’t exactly a career, and though this particular job — and being paid for the job — is new to me, caregiving isn’t. After all, I did the same thing for my mother, father, and Jeff.

It is an interesting experience — not just working for someone, but all the paperwork that is required nowadays. I can’t remember the last time I worked for someone else or got a paycheck. Jeff and I worked for ourselves. It surprises me that anyone can use illegal labor because of that said paperwork. I had to fill out an “employment eligibility verification” form for homeland security and provide two forms of identification — one to prove I am me and one to prove I am eligible to work. Since the employer also has to sign these papers, then it seems that hiring someone who is in the country illegally is doubly a crime — not just the hiring, but the aiding and abetting and especially the perjury. And then the W-4 form — the last time I filled one out, it was a half of a sheet and no instructions. This one was two sheets — four pages — though in essence, it was the same as I remember.

Besides needing (or not needing) luck today for this new start, I got lucky on two other accounts — a very acceptable quote for the landscaping (breeze walkways, raised garden beds, fixing the foundation, and ornamental rock around the house and garage). And a great price on farm-raised beef and pork. I’ll have to buy way more than I normally would, but my freezer is empty, and what the heck. No chemicals, no torture, no mystery meat. My vegan and vegetarian friends are probably rolling their eyes (or gagging), but this is a new experience for me, not just buying freshly butchered meat, but actually knowing the person who raised the animals. (I’m not sure I would be able to do the same, which is actually a bit of hypocrisy since I don’t have any objection to eating the product of his work.)

Luck isn’t all the nine of disks is about — it refers to popularity and the favor of others, which seems to be true, though why it is so, I don’t know. I seem to have passed some sort of milestone where instead of repelling people as I once did, I attract them.

This card is also about looking back and celebrating the difficulties, struggles, and hard work that brought me to this point. Knowing how difficult it was, it shows that I intend to enjoy every single day that is given me.

And oh, that is true! I do try to enjoy every day, and with old age bearing down on me (or maybe I’m bearing down on it?) it seems especially necessary to celebrate the independence and relative ease of living that is still mine. So yes, today is a lucky day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Garage Gallery

I’ve been keeping track of my daily tarot card pick for a month now, and though I don’t see how the cards affect my life, there are certain things that show up again and again, such as sixes, which represent moving away from conflict, light after dark, and harmony. Another frequent card is the ten of weapons, which can mean anything from misfortune on a grand scale to a reminder that we can’t control everything.

Today’s card, the queen of pentacles, is also a frequent card, showing up about once a week. The queen is sensible, hard-working and domesticated; loves the comforts of life and displays splendor of life. She’s kind and affectionate; generous and forgiving, and prone to weight problems. Also, she depends more on her intuitive skills than her intellect.

I was nodding through the whole description. Yep, me. Me. Me. Wait! What? Relies on intuitive skills rather than intellect? I thought it was the other way around, but I suppose if the card is right about all the rest of it, then it’s probably right about that, too. Or not. Who knows? Another meaning of the card is someone who is shrewd and capable, so that seems to contradict the intuitive skills dependence meaning.

And oh, yes — there’s one other thing: the card represents the embodiment of feminine creativity.

I did have to smile at that, considering that I spent the morning decorating my garage, or at least one corner of it. I don’t like clutter, especially on the walls inside my house, because too much stuff makes me feel closed in. Over the years, though, I’ve collected some pictures I liked and painted others, and the garage seems the perfect place for them. I’ll be able to see them occasionally, and won’t get overwhelmed or claustrophobic.

I even put up a frill of a curtain. I wasn’t sure I wanted a curtain, though it would seem to be the epitome of a girl garage, but when I was sorting through things to store, I found a curtain ruffle and a rod that was the perfect size. Apparently, the window wanted a curtain!

Maybe I shouldn’t post the photo of these bits of artwork because, as a blog reader pointed out, posting photos and talking about my possessions might put me at risk for break-ins. Not that I have anything that’s worth anything except maybe my car, but that garage door sure was expensive!

Still, I got a kick out of my garage gallery, and thought you might, too.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Faceless Folk

I was offered a special treat yesterday — a visit to the big city! No, not Denver, but close: Colorado Springs.

Some friends were going to do some shopping at Costco and the Asian Market, and they invited me to go with them. The only drawback was that they were also going to the commissary at the base, and because of The Bob, the military has some sort of Defcon number in place, which means no one but authorized personnel were allowed on base. (It’s just as well — on the way back home, we saw a freight train heading our way loaded with all sorts of army vehicles and machinery and shipping containers transporting who knows what. And that in itself was enough to get my imagination going about military actions — I certainly didn’t need the extra stimulation of being on an army base to turn that imagination into actual fears.)

While my friends did their shopping at the commissary, I stayed at the Asian Market, which gave me plenty of time to watch all the faceless folk. It really is spooky seeing all sorts of people hidden behind masks and sunglasses. (Almost as spooky as seeing the army materiel on the move.) I mean, anything could be hidden in all that facelessness, and it wouldn’t have to be anything nefarious. Smiles and other signs of goodwill and connection were also hidden. No one seemed to be spending any time on the courtesies normally afforded when passing by others who were shopping. (People don’t seem to think the 6-foot rule applies to grocery store aisles. And apparently, if you take a step back and bump into someone, it doesn’t count, either.)

I did end up getting a few things at Costco, using my friend’s card (dried cherries, pistachios, cherry tomatoes and figs, if you’re curious), but mostly, things at places like that are not for women who live alone, or at least not this for this woman. I’m not fond of stocking up, for one thing, and for another, I generally can’t get through large stocks of food before it becomes outdated.

Still, it was fun seeing things I hadn’t seen for a while (or never, as in the case of a lot of the merchandise in the Asian market). And it was truly delightful being able to visit with my friends for the day.

It’s sort of interesting, but in each of the two days before we went, I got the ten of swords card for my card of the day. If you know anything about the tarot, you know, to the extent that any card is a death card, it’s the ten of swords that presages tragedy rather than the death card itself. The death card generally means a change of some sort, perhaps the death of the old you, but the ten of swords is more ominous and speaks of death, sudden misfortune on a grand scale, betrayal, and anything else not good. But since we can read anything we want to into a card, I tend to think it means that no matter how much we try, we cannot control everything, which can either lead to a defeat of the spirit or a letting go and accepting our present circumstances, no matter what they are. But, even in acceptance, we can take precautions. And, like the death card, the ten of swords ultimately can mean change and renewal. (Because nothing stays the same, any disaster almost by definition will eventually bring about a renewal.)

Considering The Bob and this ominous card, I must admit I was a bit worried about going on the trip — after all, at home by myself, I am safe, but out among the faceless folk? Not so much. Still, I took precautions — stayed away from everyone except my friends, and wore a mask out in public.

A side note — on the way back, after we saw the military train, we passed a mural of a group of people waiting for an old-fashioned train. I had to laugh at the painted fellow wearing a black bandanna as a mask because so many people I’d seen earlier had worn that very thing. Such masks sure mean something different today than they did a hundred years ago! Oddly, when I saw that mural, I had a brain hiccup, and for just a second I thought we were driving through Delta, three hundred miles to west on that very same highway, because Delta is the self-proclaimed “city of murals,” and I’d driven through that town perhaps a thousand times over the years.

Now I’m back to isolation, and grateful for it. At least when I’m by myself, I don’t have to wear a mask, and oh, do I hate wearing those things. They give me sinus headaches because they block off even more oxygen that just the stuffed sinuses do, and it’s hard to take deep enough breaths. And just as bad, they make me so very hot, which is not fun when it’s almost 100 degrees and humid besides.

Am I complaining too much? I don’t mean to. I really did have a lovely time. And it really was wonderful being not isolated for a day, even if it meant being around too many faceless folk.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator