Catching the Echoes – An observation About Love, Loss and Memory

I have owned Burmese cats for years, starting in 1980.  They are a lively, affectionate, intuitive and very smart breed.  Burmese originated in and around Thailand and Myanmar, and spent centuries hanging around people – generally in temples.

Merlin and Morgan
My first two Burmese cats were a pair of brothers named Merlin and Morgan. They were supposed to live to their mid-twenties. Or so I thought. I did wake up when they were fifteen and realized that they were old, but they were with me, they were fairly healthy, though the one boy’s kidneys were iffy, and we would all continue as we were, unchanging. Or so I thought.  The first one died in my arms of a heart attack on August 28, 1996.  I was stunned.  His brother died one month later to the day of kidney failure secondary to a severe hantavirus that his old body survived, but which threw him into a decline. I hadn’t wanted him to go, but I had realized that I was fighting against his best good, and I told him that I wouldn’t insist on his living and would let him go if that was what he wanted.  It was.
There is no ‘back to the drawing board’ when love has touched you.  Whether you believe in forever or not, the very fact that your life has intersected and run together with another’s has changed you. You are not the person you were before you came to love the one who has departed. You have an altered perspective, you have a part of you that grew in response to that other one. You have a way you would respond to the other’s voice, jokes, antics, love. You can’t go back to what you were before you loved the other.
But life does go on, and grief must be dealt with and resolved in one way or another. I didn’t expect to ‘replace’ my boys, but I needed to have pets in their places, so Boomer and BJ came to me. Boomer is a Burmese. BJ’s father was a Burmese (a particularly nice one!), so though he’s a Bombay and black, he looks, through the face, like my first Burmese. That is when I encountered the echoes. 
I started catching hints, sometimes faint, sometimes very strong, of my old boys.  A way one of the kittens reacted to being stroked. A way of tilting the head.  Finding one curled up on a pillow and raising its head to blink at me in a familiar way.  The sound of a voice.  It was not as though the lost ones had come back as those two kittens, but as though, somehow, I was given back the part of me that had loved them. As though I had been given a chance to re-live their kittenhood, to revisit memories I had forgotten in the rush of the years, to have the hurts, the sad memories somehow smoothed away, and the memories of the young, strong, lively ones returned to me, fresh and clear, unspoiled.

I have experienced this with all lost loves, memories that touch my shoulder and remind me that love still exists in me.  I recently opened a book and found a folded slip of paper with a note from my father saying that he believed in me, and enclosing a check to ‘keep the wolves from the door’.  Driving through Vermont one autumn afternoon, seeing a hillside with a familiar slant behind a yellow house…  My grandparents’ old house, which they sold decades ago, now repainted.  Landmarks had changed, but I remembered.

Those memories, touching our experiences, are a part of us, a reminder.   Something to be embraced.

Love Never Lost

I was at a cat show this weekend.  It’s a long story, and involves my eleven year old cat, Frida, who also modeled for Harry Winston.  I kid you not.  She loved the attention, the petting, the fussing over her – and, as vain as all cats, she enjoyed the necklace.  This photo was in the catalog for Harry Winston for that year, and I had obtained a copy of it for myself.  No, I didn’t make any money for the sitting.  I hadn’t expected to.  It was a favor for a friend, and I was tickled to see her wearing a quarter of a million dollars worth of diamonds.  Apparently, she enjoyed everyone.

I brought the catalog with me to the show.  My dear friend who gave me Frida (for the sum of $1) was there, and I wanted her to see it. 

The catalog had a pocket in the back cover.  I found a folded piece of paper there.  I took it out, unfolded it, and saw my father’s handwriting:

Dear Diana,

It’s been a rough time for you, I know, and I’m sending you a little something to help you along.  There is more where that came from, as you know, and you only need to ask.

Your mother and I are proud of you.



I had to turn away, a hand to my eyes.  I had not expected to find that. I remembered that terrible time, the economy at a halt, layoffs, no one hiring…  I remembered a lot of things.  Sternness when necessary, always there, always reliable.  Strike him as I might, he always rang true.  Perhaps the best gift I ever received.

I was remembering him just now, listening to this song:

The words to the second verse always speak to me:

          If heaven was a town, it would be my town
          Oh – on a summer day in 1985
          And everything I wanted was out there waitin’
          And everyone I loved was still alive

I thought of them as I folded the note and put it back in the pocket.  Often, what was never dies, but still is…

We always loved fireflies

Celebrating the Small Things – April 4, 2014

Little things… 

This wonderful Friday blog hop is the idea of VikLit (visit her blog and enjoy it!)   This is our time to celebrate the small things that often go unnoticed.  It is smile-making, and perhaps more importantly, makes me, at least, look at things with new eyes and find wonders I had overlooked.

Join us!  Details are at the end of this post.

A novelist, Robert Raynolds, wrote something that made me think, and made me nod years ago.   I still agree.

He said: The wonder of life is composed mostly of trivia.

If you think about it, the things that make up the fabric of our happiness are things that, taken one by one, seem so small as to be unnoticeable.  And yet, like the princess in the fairy tale who could feel a pea through twenty mattresses, once one is removed, its loss can be felt.

So what am I celebrating right now?  

I have Miss Frida (my cat – see my post about her a couple weeks back, here) beside me, sleeping.  She just turned ten years old this morning (April 4).  Old love is, indeed gold love.

I am about to head for bed (it is 12:15AM in the eastern United States – and good morning to my friends overseas!), and I know it will feel good to pull the covers up over my shoulder, settle into my pillows and drift off to sleep.

And tomorrow I will be visiting my charming mother and going with her to look at a place she may move to, which can care for her as needed, and where she will have friends.  We’ll squabble, of course, and visit antique shops and, if she’ll let  me, bake some pies.

And I will mix her an ‘Old Fashioned’, a drink she loves.  I’m blessed to have her still.

What are you celebrating?

Let Me Entertain You… Please…

I like telling stories.  Forming and telling stories is what makes me tick.  I see things, think of what lies behind them and what lies before them in the future, and from that I come up with stories.  It sounds strange when I phrase it like that, but it works that way for me, as I posted here.

We write our books (most of us) to entertain people. I am still blown away when I see that someone shelled out cash to read something I ‘made up out of my own head’, but maybe that’s just my oddness.  Our creativity is fueled by everything around us – whether stories our grandparents told us or myths we have heard or things we have read.  

Arthur O’Shaughnessy put it interestingly:

We are the music makers
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams; – 
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems

I am not sure that I would call myself a ‘Mover and shaker’ so much as an observer and reporter and ‘what if’ er.  I watch the world move past me, I catch glints of thoughts and I find the stories.  And I tell them.  I can’t help it: it is what I love to do, and I can no more not weave stories than I can stop breathing.

Everyone has something singular about him- or herself.  We are not all built the same, but we all have something that touches us, that makes us shine, that brings us to action.  Perhaps the hardest part (for me) is not to share this quirk, if you will.  It is rather like having a gift and wanting to give it, hoping that those who receive it will enjoy it and – somehow, some way – be strengthened or refreshed by it.

Listening to Poetry

I remember speaking with some others like me.  One fellow said that if people would only listen to him, trust him with their time, and let him entertain them, he would do it for nothing. I remember nodding.  I understood him.

But then someone else spoke up and said that, well, what was the point of doing that?  After all, there was ‘nothing to be gotten out of it’ that way.

I agree that no one should ever be sold short.  If you are producing something that people are willing to purchase, well and good.  Some things, however, go beyond buying and selling, and the pervasive ‘what’s in it for me?’ mindset troubles me. And I am encountering it more and more frequently in my own area of joy.

When will I start seeing money?  What do I need to do to get more sales?  Why aren’t people buying?  What are the contacts that I need to start selling?  Well, if people are reading this sort of work, then I guess I’ll have to write it!

I am not saying that it is wrong to sell your work.  I am not saying that it is wrong to seek ways to find more exposure, to make yourself known to others, to make your offerings available to more people.  There is nothing at all wrong with sharing, and there is much that is right about being paid for your hard effort, but I sense a serious disconnect or, perhaps, an area that has not been thought through.

Someone said, “If I can’t make any money, I don’t see any point in continuing.”

Is the measure of the worthwhile nature of an activity the amount that people are willing to pay for it?  In that case, I know of a great many athletes who might as well take up a seat before the television set and forgo their archery practice, golfing endeavors or horseback riding because they will never win The Masters or star at the Devon Horse Show’s hunter/jumper classes. They aren’t ever going to be asked to endorse anything in exchange for money.

What price agony?

And what of the singers who do not sell their recordings?  Singing for one’s own enjoyment or the enjoyment others is surely not pointless if others are enjoying it.  Causing agony is another matter and should be addressed as it comes up.  

But what of ‘the fire in the belly’ that makes me, at least, burn to bring my characters to life, to share them with others, to enjoy their antics and be touched by the things that they have done.  I am at this moment about to quickly jot a scene where one character, a man with a difficult childhood who discovered the constellations in the night sky, tells another man who is despairing and somehow has fixated on the blackness of the night as a sign of his own despair, that “the stars are there – right there! – behind the clouds.  Cassiopeia, The Swan, Orion – all are there, as they have always been.  Trust that they are and don’t rely only on your own sight.  I swear it!  There is never any need for despair!  I promise you–  I promise you!”

No one else will read it.  But I must write it.  Every little bit of joy must be savored…

Small Celebrations – October 11, 2013

Once again it’s Friday and time to happily participate in VikLit’s wonderful blog hop marking the small celebrations that make life special.  Why don’t you participate?  Details are at the end of this post.

We commemorate small celebrations, and this week I’m posting about one of my smallest.

cold morning, affectionate little girlfriend – happiness!

She is seven pounds, ten years old, chocolate brown, feisty and very sweet.  Her name is Frida and she came to me in May of 2005 through the kind generosity of a friend.  Frida is a Burmese cat, a breed that originated on the Malayan peninsula.  Go to Thailand and Burma and you will find little brown cats walking in the streets.  This little girl’s ancestors came to the United States in 1930, accompanying a sailor who had taken ship at Kowloon.

I’ve loved Burmese since 1965.  I have owned them since 1980. 

In her I have my best little girlfriend, my feisty little angel, and a peppery but sweet companion.  Who could ask for more?  She’s worth celebrating!

Things That Once Were

I wrote poetry, once upon a time.  I still do, actually, when the mood strikes me.  Generally, now, the mood that strikes me is puckish and what I write is humorous.

Grandpa at 90

I was remembering, recently, a time when my grandfather was sitting in my mother’s living room and mulling things over.  He was matter-of-fact.  He always was, with a puckish sense of humor.  I remember him laughing at some hobbling fellow who had told him that when Grandpa reached 60, as he had, he’d like to lean on a cane.  Grandpa was in his late 70s then. 

He was in his nineties that evening, a WWI veteran, a musician, a fly fisherman, gardener – my Grampa.  He was talking about life, and he said that young men think of all the things they want to do in the future, while an old man like him knows that the future contains his departure. 

Grandpa lived to be 100 years old plus a month.  His last words to me, when I hurried to the hospital to see him, were ‘I love you!’.  He died in his sleep.

On the evening I mentioned, I started thinking, and I ultimately wrote a poem.  I like the form of a sonnet, and that is what I wrote.  My grandfather loved it.  And I lost it in the course of many moves.  I didn’t have a computer at that time, just paper.

It was entered in a poetry contest of sorts (the kind where you ‘win’ and get to buy a volume of poetry that contains your effort.  I didn’t bother) and then it was lost.

Recently, I tried to find it.  My mother went through all her papers – no luck.  But she gave me a number of old poems, which I put away.  Last night I was sorting through them – and here it is, not lost forever and regretted, but complete, tying the past to the present.

                                                  Sonnet for my Grandfather 

                                Could I by some chance make you stay with me
                                Beyond the moments given you by time,
                                If I could somehow stay your destiny,
                                            Unravel fate’s thread and unsay life’s rhyme –
                                I’d spend a thousand summers by your side,
                                Distill them to the touch of one clear day
                                Within the stippled shade where brown trout hide,
                                Watching the water skimmers’ silent play
                                            Along the surface; I would stay with you
                                And hold your hand nor would I hurry on
                                As once I did, to matters fierce and new,
                                Whose call to me was brief, whose thrill is gone.
                                            But at your side I’d cheerfully remain,
                                            Knowing those times could never come again. 

                                                                    Diana Wilder  © 1979

Small Celebrations – Old Love

Today I am sitting in my usual seat, looking up the hill after a rainy night. The soil is no doubt soft enough that I can dig up that big Norway Maple in my front yard.  the one that keeps dropping leaves in autumn. 

17 year old BJ on the right

I can reach my teacup, but it is a stretch.  There is a sort of roadblock between me and its brown, hot goodness.

In this photo, large, black, with a face full of white whiskers, he is on the right.  I’m celebrating old love because BJ (‘Black Jack’, a Bombay) will be turning 17 years old on Wednesday.

Dawn love is silver,
Wait for the west.
Old love is gold love –
Old love is best

lifting a cup of tea this morning for old BJ

(Note: Frida, beside him, is nine years old…)