Wednesday, February 3, 2016

About last night on Dorrance Lane in Meadows Place

Last night, there was a disruption in the force on our block of Dorrance Lane in Meadows Place, Texas.

A major disruption.  Not music played too loud too late or cars driving too fast between two stop signs distanced by .02 miles, firecrackers for days at New Year’s, or mailed delivered to the wrong house or kids acting out up the bus stop.

Last night, my dear friend Muriel (who checks in on my mother Jean & me every day) called after our usual “Muriel on the way home” from work call to tell me that there were three people dead in a house on our block of Dorrance Lane.  And while on the phone, my brother interrupted to tell me the police & media were outside. 

The media presence was overwhelming.  People were gathered in the streets.  Bits & pieces of information trickled out from bystanders who moved closer to the crime scene tape, bits & pieces posted on social media, bits & pieces from local media outlets.

One young man, two women, all apparently related, dead.  Two small children, unharmed.

My closest neighbors, many of whom I have known since I was seventeen, gathered, along with what I call the “young kids on our block of Dorrance Lane” in my next door neighbor’s driveway. 

Gathered in our collective grief & horror & sympathy for the family facing this tragedy.

The media fiasco continued for what seemed like forever.  I wondered about what those sweet young new residents on our block of Dorrance Lane were explaining to their little ones.

This morning, the day after, local media reports were sporadic & varied.  Almost all repeats of what they had filmed last night. 

I did not know this particular family personally.  I have seen different family members coming & going, hanging out in the front yard, picking up the mail.

So I have no clue as to their individual & collective stories or what each of them was facing or why murder & suicide seemed an option for one of the family members.

But recent reports today indicate that murder / suicide is what happened.  A mother apparently killed her daughter-in-law & teenage son & then shot herself.

What I do know is a son & father of the two young children, came home to find his mother, wife, & brother dead.

What grief that poor soul must have felt.  And still feels.

A young reporter, by the name of Emily Foxhall, from the Houston Chronicle rang my doorbell this afternoon.

And asked if I was willing to talk about last night’s events.  I explained that I knew nothing other than what was in the media, that I did not know the family.

I told her I did not hear sirens, that I learned about the tragedy from a friend in North Houston & talking to me would not give her much information for an article.

Emily Foxhall tried a different track, & asked me about Meadows Place, the hidden little city nestled along the borders of Houston, Stafford & Sugar Land.  She reeled me in, pointing out that Meadows Place is rather unique.

I had to admire that kind of reeling.

So I told her what I know about this little square mile community – that neighbors watch out for one another & for neighbor’s children.   She asked me how long I had lived in MP & I told her that my parents Jack & Jean bought this house on Dorrance Lane in 1971. 

I told her that on our block of Dorrance, there are six or seven original families or their descendants that still live here.   I told her that there were many current residents, like me, who returned to this little square mile to raise our children.

And I explained that living in Meadows Place is very much like living in a 2016 version of Mayberry.  People may not know you by name, but they know your children & your vehicles & sometimes your routine. 

That we have an awesome police force, a fabulous elementary school & that when tragedy strikes, this community comes together.

What I did not explain to Emily Foxhall of the Houston Chronicle was how last night changed my perception of myself & my relationship with a neighborhood & home I too often take for granted.  

That is another blog.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

On Roots & Treetops & Powers that Move

There is a power that moves 
in such submission through the world: 
groping in roots, and growing thick in trunks, 
and in treetops, like a rising of the dead.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
(Image: Vincent van Gogh - Tree Roots and Trunks)

When I saw this post from The Bloomsbury Review via Charter for Compassion (I really need to research them), one word of Rilke’s quote leaped out at me in conjunction with Van Gogh’s rendition Tree Roots and Trunks.


Submission is not a word or concept I link with Vincent.

I do not see submission in Tree Roots and Trunks.  I see images of beings reaching with the support of green growth & hope reaching toward the light.
I see roots growing thick in trucks & treetops still reaching, fighting toward the light. 

I see a struggle to survive.  I hope that struggle has the power to move toward change.

I see hope.  I see a power in roots & trunks & treetops rising not from the dead, but from the hope & strength of reaching toward the light & maintaining position.

Which I pray fervently is still alive.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Christmas Lesson from my Sister, via Tulips

On Christmas Day this year my sister Janet & her husband David arrived with presents & tulips.  Without my niece Emily Kate or her fiancĂ© Zach or the Douglas dog & my special friend, Ms. Zoe.

But my sister brought tulips.  Red tulip bulbs resting in water in a large cylinder vase.  The tulips were lovely, but the cylinder vase confused me.  I never put tulips, or blooming tulip bulbs in a cylinder vase.

Enthusiastically, my dear sister explained to me that the vase would prevent the tulips from bending to reach toward the sunlight.  

As I listened to her explain how to care for the bulbs (a tiny offshoot bulb caught her eye), I thought how she took time & care bringing them to me, knowing how much I love fresh flowers & color. 

It is what my sister does – giving me something that is so very Jaki Jean.

I did not have the heart or need to tell her that I have always loved how tulips bend & reach for the light, returning to home base when the light fades.

At first, I did not know what to think of the bending & reaching toward the light confined to a cylinder designed to keep them upright.

Day after day, I tended the tulip blooms bound in a cylinder, adding more water & turning the cylinder when the blossoms escaping the stems' confined space kept reaching toward the light.

I realized as I watched my red tulips that there is something to be said for standing tall, for working within boundaries & still managing to reach for the light. Without bending.

I am quite certain that no tulips I have purchased & placed in any vase have ever lasted as long as my sister’s gift.

As will my Christmas lesson – stand tall, bend & reach, but don’t get distracted from the goal by bending & reaching in too many directions.

That tiny offshoot & all the bulbs survived the cylinder.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Lesson From Hanging out with Zoe

The scent of an excellent Italian red sauce wanders through the house.  Meatballs are simmering in the sauce.  Water for linguine is trying to boil.  And I am about to listen to The PBS News Hour.

I love when the scent of a good meal permeates the atmosphere of the house.  When people walk in & are either immediately hungry or ask what I am cooking.

It is the Wednesday after another weekend of hosting my sister Janet’s dog Zoe.

Zoe is a rescue dog, a female Cairn terrier.  She has proven herself a stress free & welcome guest.

We go on walks together & she always finds her way into a space next to me to sleep.

Zoe is not a talker like my beloved wire haired dachshund mix Eli.  She does not bark when she needs to go outside. 

In her defense, Zoe is accustomed to a doggie door.  Accustomed to wandering in her territory at will.  As are most of us.

On her first visit with us, I let Zoe have free reign in our back yard because Eli never got out.  I was convinced there were no exits from which Zoe could escape.

I was wrong.  She found an exit – I was in a panic.  Zoe was a guest for less than two hours & I lost her. 

I was an irresponsible dog sitter.  I failed my sister’s trust.

Fifteen minutes later, Zoe returned – traipsing up my neighbor Juta’s sidewalk as I asked if Juta had seen her. 

Looking as if she had just been out for a stroll, Zoe came to me when I called her name.  And I explained to her she no longer had free reign.

The very first time I knew I was missing Zoe’s signals on when she wanted to go outside to take care of business, she left a very small turd by the back door.  Not the mother lode, just a wee bit.

I knew I was still missing the signals when Zoe gave up subtle hints & left all her lode by the back door.

So I observed & finally understood that Zoe staring at the back door meant she needed to go outside.

I have been reminded by Zoe, a quiet little being, how essential it is to listen & observe.

Sometimes it is not enough or efficient to wait for verbal requests.

Unless you are willing to clean up the shitty aftermath.

Meanwhile, I have created the moistest, most tender meatballs of my forty years of cooking.  Thank you, Mario Batali.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Jaki Jean on Text & Making Muffins with Mimi

This morning, as I was creating Jean’s breakfast, I realized why I like to cook.  In cooking, as in writing, I create a text to be consumed & hopefully, savored.  Appreciated & discussed.  For Jean this morning, I created a mushroom omelet, a side of mango & a side of hash browns.

During our last soiree in the hospital, Jean informed me that there were only two good uses for white potatoes – French fries & hash browns.  She later amended that to include baked white potatoes.

My breakfast this morning consisted of muffins, inspired by my cousin Laura’s bright & articulate grandson, Thomas. 

During a recent visit with my cousin Laura & her sisters, I had the joy & wonder of meeting their children & grandchildren. 

Laura’s daughter Jennifer, who lives in Maryland with her Navy husband, was in town for an extended stay with her parents, who are called Mimi & Papa by their grand babies.

So, since I was camped out at Laura & her husband Al’s home, I spent time during my visit with Rachel, Thomas & Cecilia.

Thomas wanted muffins.  The first time he asked for Mimi to make muffins, she told him that they would make them tomorrow.  

When tomorrow came, Rachel & Thomas came downstairs in the morning & the first thing Thomas asked was:

Mimi, can we make muffins?

My cousin Laura gathered all the ingredients for muffins – sans the walnuts she usually uses.  She discussed sliced almonds & gave some to Thomas to taste.  With Thomas’ approval, almonds went into the muffins.

As I watched Laura make the muffins, Thomas on a stool to help, I realized she was creating more than food to nourish us.  She was creating a text, a memory.

Making muffins with Mimi.

When I returned to Houston, after a delay ( a whole Other story ), I decided to make Mimi’s muffins. 

But my Internet went down & was reduced to consult a cookbook.  I could have looked up the recipe Laura uses & tweaks on my phone, but I am always at my best returning to what I know & love & understand. 

I returned to a book.

So I made muffins, with walnuts & dried cranberries, tweaking the recipe, drawing threads from a braid of recipe texts & making it my own.

With Thomas’s voice echoing, “Mimi, can we make muffins?”

It was an amazing visit, seeing my favorite cousins – Laura & Vicki & Suzanne & Jenny.

But I think that one of the best parts was watching Mimi weave a text & create  a memory.  

That, & Laura’s four year old granddaughter Rachel addressing me as Jaki Jean.

Houston poet & Texas Poet Laureate Vassar Miller wrote about naming.  That we love what we name, we name what we love.

Rachel reminded me that Jack & Jean named me after each another, out of love for one another & for their first born.

Thomas & Mimi reminded me everything we do with & for one another is part of weaving a text & memory.  Part of being connected & sharing.

Baby Cecilia reminded of the wonder of a smile.

Fine reminders.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jaki Jean on That Flag

In the aftermath of Charleston, when I began thinking about how I feel about a state choosing to fly the Confederate flag, I read a post on Facebook by my friend Rachel Halperin Plotkin.  About that flag. Then I entered into a discussion initiated by Cate Poe about what to call the Charleston massacre.  And another discussion initiated by David C. Unger.   About that flag.

But it was Rachel’s post about that flag that first sent me to the keyboard.

To echo the sentiment of millions of sane moral people across this country - and the planet- the notion that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of a "heritage" to be honored and remembered couldn't be a more disingenuous claim - and let's all together, however many times it takes , call bullshit on it.
Speaking as someone who indeed comes from a line of Confederates And yes - slave owners - I can personally attest to the fact that there is absolutely nothing about the conduct and bigotry of this line of my ancestors that I am "proud "of or want to honor . Quite the contrary - I feel shame for it.

Since when does family or cultural pride 
root in the heinous conduct and beliefs of living relatives or ancestors long buried?
Do you imagine that these same Confederate flag waivers would respect a German person flying a Nazi flag based on pride in their "cultural heritage "??
Or buy the claim of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Nazi soldiers and party members that to fly a swastika on their car or over a government building was based on the idea that their great grandfathers were "proud and brave members of a noble army fighting to protect their family and their homeland" ???
I don't think so.
Did the Confederate South slaughter millions of people based on their religion and put them on trains like cattle to their death at a concentration camp? No.
They kidnapped ,bought and sold millions of human beings as animals - packed them into transatlantic ships - then sold them on an auction block -separated families -children from their mothers - and then sent them to slave camp plantations - where they were tortured and exploited and inflicted unspeakable ,suffering degradation and death . These were Evils perpetrated on GENERATIONS - millions of human beings based on the color of their skin . Then they Fought a WAR to PROTECT their RIGHT to do so - rather than give it up.
A difference ??
No sane moral person of even the most shallow of consciences would find a distinction.
SHAME on the Americans in this Country who remain committed to the falsehood that flying the Confederate flag is about the "celebration of a proud heritage."
and SHAME SHAME on the Republican Party - their propaganda spewing news outlets and their clown car of candidates who can barely choke out the word racism - much less admit to the evils perpetrated by the Confederacy -and adding insult to injury who actually claim to take pride in it.

So this is my response to Rachel’s post . . .

Rach, while I have no doubt that the soldiers who fought on the side of the Confederacy (including some of my ancestors) believed they were involved in a noble cause to preserve a way of life & assert states’ rights, the fact is that they were defending a way of life that involved slaves.  Slaves as the producers of the wealth their owners enjoyed.  Slaves who reaped none of the benefits of their labor.  Who did not choose their own spouses.  Who could not protect their women or their children or their honor.  Who were bought & sold & traded as if they were a commodity.

Wait, slaves – human beings – were a commodity in the Confederate South.

I do believe that in the minds of many in the states that seceded from the Union, they were protecting states’ rights.  That may be a myth – perhaps it was to protect their right to own slaves.  Human beings imported against their will & sold like cattle for breeding.

Only cattle were probably treated with more humanity & compassion.

Whatever the individual or collective motivations of the minds in those Confederate states, one fact remains.

The flag of the Confederacy represents a rebellion against the Union.  It threatened to dissolve the very thing that has held this country together.  A balance of powers in three branches, the intricate weaving & reweaving of states’ rights vs. Federal rights.  A shared loyalty to these United States of America.

A continuous coming together against a threat to those United States.

For over two hundred years, control of this country & for so long, control of the free world, has passed every four to eight years without internal violence or rebellion.  This is an amazing record.  One we need to preserve & continue for the benefit of all our citizens.

And, perhaps, the world.

So, for me, the Confederate flag represents a time in our nation’s history when people chose to protect an economic model of prosperity based on slave labor & threatened the dissolution of what has become one of the world’s oldest democracies.

Is our democracy perfect or always fair or always wise?  Of course not.  It is run by human beings who are, by our nature, flawed. 

So, our democracy is flawed & unfair at times.  It is up to its citizens to lesson those flaws & that unfairness.

Rach, we both know people who are working to repair flaws, who fight against injustice & the lack of fair treatment.  We both know people who are the true patriots of this Democracy.  Who, each in their own way, are making our neighborhoods, our states, our country, our world a finer & fairer place for all. 

The battle flag of the Confederacy belongs in a museum.  It needs to be reclaimed from white supremacists as the historical artifact it is.  It needs to become a symbol of an internal war based on an outdated & inhumane economic model & a system that refused to modernize, industrialize & free its workers from slave labor.  It needs to become an artifact that symbolizes the reality:  A house divided cannot stand.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Jaki Jean on Finding Jack's Aggieland Volumes for Janet

Before noon today, my sister Janet came to spend time with our mother Jean.  I ran errands, I came back with some groceries, heated Jean’s lunch, & began to wash fruit.

During my sister’s visit, we talk about what is going on in her life & later, from my vantage point in the kitchen, I see her wandering, looking at bookshelves.  So I ask her if she is looking for something.

Daddy’s Aggielands.

I cannot remember the last time I laid eyes on my father’s annuals from Texas A&M, but I know that this is important to my sister.  I always assumed that she had taken them, as the only one of our father’s children to become an Aggie.

When I told Janet that I always thought she had those annuals, she was not convinced.

My sister’s daughter, Emily Kate Douglas, is going to graduate from A&M this December.  I thought, these are part of Emily’s heritage as an Aggie, something her mother wants to make sure she is going to have.  This is something my Father would want.

So, after my sister left & I folded sheets (I am plagued by folding sheets).  I go an expedition.  I begin with a blue trunk, covered in dust.  It is falling apart & I know it needs to be emptied & discarded but throwing away things that are falling apart is hard for me these days.

In a dust covered, falling apart blue trunk, I find my father’s Aggielands & some bowling trophies.

Tomorrow, when my sister brings me a lawyer’s bookshelf she does not need in her new abode, I will give her those volumes.  

Because I know what they mean to her, what they will mean to my niece Emily Kate, & what making sure the volumes found the right home would mean to my father, Jack.
Of course, I expect all parties to remember that I am on page 299 in the 1957 volume, along with a pressed flower next to my picture,

Gig em.