Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dancing With the Spirit

(This post has a religious theme and is not about therapy or recovering from C-PTSD.  Now that I no longer am working in therapy and no longer am suffering the misery of PTSD symptoms, I am free to write about other aspects of my life.  As Braveheart said, "Freedom!"  It's wonderful! Recovery from C-PTSD is possible and amazing!)
Icon of Christ, written in 2013
Throughout the seventy-six years of my life on earth, I have been aware, as I have danced my dance of life, that I have not been dancing solo.  From the time the first notes sent my feet moving to the beat of my life, the Holy Spirit has been my faithful and attentive partner in this joyful, exciting, and sometimes excruciatingly painful dance.  “But how could you know this?” you might ask.  All I can say is, “I’ve known.”  If I hadn’t known, I probably would not be here today, reading this essay to you.

The fact is that I was not supposed to have begun this dance.  My parents were young schoolteachers in Longview, Washington, in the days when teachers could lose their jobs if they were married.  They certainly were not allowed to start families!  Thus, I arrived into the world and began my dance unbidden. As I skipped and bounced to the music of my life those first years, I knew I was unwelcome, but that didn’t matter because I knew I wasn’t alone.  I sensed the presence of an other, a companion, a partner who was with me and would remain with me so long as I continued to dance.  And this partner was glad I had been born!

At times during my childhood, the tempo of my dance slowed, sometimes almost stopping, but my partner and I always found reason to keep dancing. Entering Sunday school at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview was one of those reasons.  Although my parents were atheists and made no effort to nurture my spiritual development, they allowed family friends to take me to Sunday school. My Sunday school teachers welcomed me, and I looked forward to coloring pictures of Jesus with little children on his lap, talking to my friends, and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I believed that Jesus truly did love me, and I happily imagined myself sitting on his lap like the children in the pictures.

When I was four, my parents allowed their friends to have me baptized, and then when I was thirteen, I was confirmed by Bishop Stephen Bayne.  The tempo of my dance accelerated to reflect the joy I felt at taking on the responsibility for the Christian aspect of my spiritual development, but I was still unable to name my dance partner. In Sunday school and during church services, I had heard a lot about God and Jesus but not much about the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost, later renamed the Holy Spirit, was there, however, my faithful dance partner.  Again, I sensed the Spirit’s presence and was comforted even though I did not know my comforter’s name.

In addition to pondering the matter of my dance companion’s identity, I pondered other matters such as the meaning of the expression “in God’s time,” the concept of Eternity, and, most puzzling of all, the matter of saints, both upper-case saints such as St. Paul and St. Winifred, and lower-case saints such as the lower-case saints mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed that I recited most Sundays and mentioned also in that quaint song written by Lesbia Scott that I sang each All Saints’ Day, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”  Each time I sang that song about the lower-case saints, I became more determined to lead the sort of life that would allow me to “be one, too.”  I wasn’t certain as to what I had to do to become one of those lower-case saints found in such ordinary places as shops or “at tea,” but I knew in my heart that trying to be a “good person” would be a starting point.  I was not sure, though, exactly what I had to do to be a “good person,” but I hoped that one day even that question would be answered.

Since my parents refused to discuss religion, I was left to ponder the questions on my own—or so I thought. I did not know that my dance partner was also my Counselor and would, by and by, give me clarity of insight so that I could answer my own questions just as that same Counselor led me to crucial insights as I danced through my life. And then on a Sunday in 2007, at a time in my life when I had long since abandoned my search for answers to the questions of my childhood, the Holy Spirit answered these questions in a manner and at a time completely unexpected.

In 2007 I was living in Sherwood, Oregon. There was no Episcopal congregation in Sherwood, so since St. Francis Roman Catholic Church was an easy walk from my apartment, I attended that church.  Mass at St. Francis was much as it was in the Episcopal churches I’d attended, and I had no problem following the liturgy. I felt somewhat out of my element, though, simply because I was not allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  Thus, after a few months of faithful attendance, I became fed up with this situation, and I talked to the priest about becoming a Catholic.  I told him I wanted to participate fully in the Mass, and I realized I could do that only if I became a Roman Catholic. The priest, being a Jesuit and somewhat liberal in his theology, read my spiritual autobiography and set a date to admit me to the Church.  Thus it was that I became a Roman Catholic and settled into the Roman Catholic way of worship.

Usually, I attended Mass on Sunday morning rather than on Saturday night, and I always tried to find a seat where I could see the sunshine, whatever sunshine there was.  St. Francis church had a new, rounded sanctuary with a high ceiling in which skylights had been installed.  Whatever sunshine was available beamed down through these skylights, and each Sunday I was drawn to a seat under the center skylight.

Often, during the homily or sermon, I let my mind wander and travel in whatever direction it chose.  As I sat that Sunday morning, mind drifting into a quiet place of no thought, I became aware that the sun’s light, which had at first appeared to me as one soft beam, had separated into three beams of intense gold.  Caught up in these three shafts of gold floated an infinite number of tiny, moving, shining particles. Dust specks? Certainly. But dust specks of a vibrancy and glow I had never before beheld.

At first, I did not know what to make of this vision.  I had sat in this same place many times, but I had never before seen the soft shaft of light separate into three intense beams nor had I seen the shining specks moving, vibrant, suspended in the light.  And then I understood—these three intense shafts of golden light and the infinite number of tiny, glowing specks were all parts of a message to me from God, conveyed to me by my companion, Counselor and dance partner, the Holy Spirit.  The message and the answer had taken a while to reach me, but I knew then that God’s time and human time are not the same.

As I beheld those golden beams, I became aware that I beheld Eternity.  At that moment, I clearly sensed and understood the nature of God’s time or, as some might say, the nature of the Universe’s time.  In this time, the past, the present, and the future are one.  Our time may move from minute to minute, hour to hour, marching from life to death, but in the Universe as with God, time is different, and we mortals cannot devise instruments capable of measuring this different time. Furthermore, I understood that all those glowing, moving little particles were the souls who had gone before me, the souls of those in the present, and the souls of those who will exist in the future—all saints of God. And then I understood that if I but let myself be guided by my precious Counselor, “there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.” (verse two, “Saints of God.”)

Lesbia Scott had gotten it right, and now I understood.  I understood, too, that those three sunbeams of gold had brought me a precious gift, a message of comfort, a sign that I need not be afraid of death or of failure or of human frailty, a sign that my wonderful Comforter, Counselor, and dance companion was with me still and would remain until I no longer danced my life’s dance.

As I walked home after Mass that day, I reflected upon the third verse of Lesbia Scott’s song, especially upon the words “. . . for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one, too.”

“How lucky and how loved I am!” I said to myself.

They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still;
 The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. 

(“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” verse three, by Lesbia Scott, 1898-1986.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Conclusion: Sweet Little Blossom Comes Home

Throughout my adult life, I have lived with the vague, uncomfortable sense that I was not a complete woman, whatever that may mean.  I had an affair before I was married, performed in the bedroom as I was supposed to, and looked like a woman.  I enjoyed being a mother and insisted on breastfeeding my baby when breastfeeding was not in vogue (1960s).  So what was missing??  I had no idea!  All I knew was that I had a nagging sense that something was missing, especially when I was in the company of other women and when I attended social events and watched how other women behaved around men, the flirting and the smiles and all the other normal female-male interactions.   But try as I might, I could not identify the source of my discomfort and feeling of being incomplete--that is, until sweet little Blossom arrived at the arena about a year ago. 

To set the stage, Blossom enters the arena unexpectedly and chooses to begin her life there by bunking with Constanza, an ego state that I have not yet mentioned in my posts.  Who is Constanza??  Constanza is that part of my personality who is flamboyant and on the verge of being out of control, who lusts after the hot, muscular bodies of athletes and movie stars.  She is the part who most women must, no matter how elderly they are, rein in by saying, "Whoa, Babe, don't let anyone know about this thought!  Naughty, naughty!  Keep a lid on!" 

Constanza, in other words, is the person within me whose presence I would never reveal to a priest if I were to go to Confession.  Especially my Constanza, for she exists at the arena in the form of a huge, black, nasty-tempered, part-Appaloosa  mare with white spots on her withers and who paints the large lips at the end of her muzzle with cherry-red lipstick and who applies extensions to her eyelashes and gobs them with layers of black, sticky mascara.  Constanza is the part within me who believes she is God's gift to males and is entitled to throw horrendous tantrums to get her way.  Constanza, in other words, is that part of me who, like a jack-in-the-box, must always remain hidden under the lid of "acceptability and appropriate behavior" but who more often than not is pressing and pushing the lid, trying to pop up to see what's going on and what kind of havoc she can wreak. 

Yes, I've known my Constanza for a long time, and I've grown to love her despite her volatile temper and her flamboyant nature.  Since she has arrived at the arena, Constanza has become much more civilized, though.  Cowboy has tamed her, and the other parts, particularly First Protector, have loved and accepted her, and now she has the primary responsibility for meal and snack preparation.  She has a flair, especially, for preparing exotic treats for some of the more exotic creatures. Gemini, the wise old land turtle, is especially fond of Constanza's deep fried beetles and succulently seasoned cabbage worms.  Constanza has won the appreciation of all who inhabit the arena, and she is at home there.  However, if each individual part were asked whether Constanza can be trusted one hundred percent to behave herself, I suspect that many parts would politely change the subject.  So that's Constanza, the part chosen by little Blossom as a roommate.  Ironic, huh?  We'll see. Please note:  Most of this dialogue excerpt is in maroon to mark it as being part of my dialogue.  However, I have used black text to denote the section in which Blossom explains why Jeanie, my little girl self, sent her away and told her never to return.  Some of you who have been victims of child sexual abuse may be able to relate to Blossom's words here.   

February 5, 2014

While we are attending to the discussion between J.P. and Cowboy, there is another drama presenting itself in the area of the kitchen, to be specific, in the area we know as Constanza’s stall.  Constanza has been napping to get her rest before she is called upon to organize the kitchen forces for dinner preparation and before she must prepare the delicacies for J.P.’s reception.  She suddenly becomes aware through the fog of sleep that she is not alone in her stall, that she has company of the most unusual sort.  As her eyes begin to focus, she is aware that she is being watched by a being she doesn’t know at all and who does not belong in her stall or anywhere near it! 

This being is clad in a short-sleeved knit peasant-style top the soft shade of pink we often see in the tulips that herald the spring, and it is embroidered at the neckline with tiny blossoms in white and tints of pink.  Her skirt is a softly-flared denim the color of forget-me-nots.  It reaches modestly to four inches below her knees.  On her slender legs she wears smooth beige tights, and her sandals are dark brown leather with a design of tiny blossoms punched into the straps.  Her clothing, thus, is simple but feminine, comfortable but attractive. 

But what of her face and her hair?  She has an altogether pleasant face, round with features that one cannot describe as beautiful, exactly, but they are not unattractive.  Her lips are average and a natural shade of rose.  Her nose is not too large but is well-shaped and suits her face.  But her eyes, her eyes reveal her heritage, for they can be a bright blue, as blue as the bluebells of Scotland, and yet they can be as gray-blue as the stormy North Sea from whence her Viking ancestors arose.  Her hair?  In her younger years, her hair fell lightly into waves of soft brown, but now the waves of brown are, like the foamy sea, wisps and curls of soft white.  Age has had its way with this newcomer, but despite that, she remains comely and vital.  Now that we have studied her, let us once again witness the activity in Constanza’s stall so that we might gain some understanding of this new arrival’s personality.

Constanza:  blinking, trying to focus her eyes, wondering if she is still asleep.  . .  Who are you??  What are you doing here??  In my stall, yet!  I don’t even know you!  Are you dangerous??

Blossom:  No, Constanza.  I am no danger to you.  I am no danger to anyone here, in fact.  I have come home, and home is where I am.  Well, maybe not specifically right here in your horse stall, for I’m not a horse.  I’m a woman, a sexual being. 

Constanza:  So what are you doing in my stall, watching me sleep??  You make me nervous.  I can’t figure out whether I’m asleep and dreaming about you or awake and actually talking to you.  If I’m talking to you, I shouldn’t be.  Or should I be?  Can you help me?

Blossom:  Well, I’m not sure how to answer that question, Constanza. 

Constanza:  How do you know my name?  I haven’t introduced myself, and neither has anyone else.  So how do you know?

Blossom:  I was guided here by Light, and Light told me that the best place for me to begin my homecoming was in your stall.  Light said that if there was part here who would understand me and have empathy for me, it would be you, Constanza.  So that is why I arrived in your stall.  I just more or less found myself here.  I hope you don’t mind too much. 

Constanza:  So what did Light tell you about me?  Did she say good things about me?

Blossom:  Of course she did, Constanza!  Light is proud of you.  You do great work here, and you have had the courage to make changes in your behavior.  I’d say you should be proud of yourself! 

Constanza:  bats her long eyelids and smiles a toothy smile . . .  Well, Blossom, those words make happy.  I always wonder if I’m appreciated for my sterling qualities.  So what brings you—as they say—to this neck of the woods?  And where did you get your name?  Your name strikes me as being more fitting for one of my cousins, a lady of the bovine persuasion.  Oh, don’t be insulted!  My cousin is a wonderful producer and a great lady.  She and I spent many a moment together in adjacent isolation stalls before I arrived here at the arena.  You could do a lot worse than having a name like hers. 

Blossom:  What, actually, was your cousin’s name, Constanza?

Constanza:  Well, if you really want to know, it was Appleblossom.  And her sisters were Peachblossom, Pearblossom, and Quinceblossom.  Quinceblossom we called Quincy for short.  Her name fit her.  She was dried up and sour.  Quince blossoms are a beautiful intense pink, but the fruit is inedible—horrible!  And that was the way Quincy was—sour and horrible!  But you don’t strike me as being sour, and somehow I doubt that you are horrible—at least, you have not shown me your horrible side thus far.

Blossom:  laughs gaily .  .  .  No, if I were horrible, I doubt that Light would have sent me here.  As it were, she didn’t hesitate, so I guess I must be okay. 

Constanza:  Well, why has it taken you so long to find your way to us here at the arena? 

Blossom:  According to Light, I’ve been the farthest away and the most thoroughly hidden.  She was sure I existed somewhere, but she simply did not know where.  Luckily for me, she kept searching.  However, she did mention when she found  me that she was on the verge of giving up the hunt.  She didn’t, though, so here I am.  Right here in your stall with you, Constanza. 

Constanza:  Yes, that’s for sure!  But who are you, Blossom?  I mean, each of us here is a part of Jean, working for her welfare.  But who are you?  What part of Jean are you?

Blossom:  As near as I can figure, little Jeanie went through some bad experiences, and she banished me to a place as far from her as she could find so she didn’t have to be reminded of those terrible experiences.  And those experiences all had to do with the fact that she was a little girl and had the body of a little girl.  She was female, in other words, and horrible, awful people took advantage of that fact.  She was a little girl who had a little girl’s sexuality, a natural sexuality, the kind she was born with.  And she liked being a little girl and dancing and singing and feeling the raindrops on her outstretched hands and catching snowflakes on her tongue and watching to see if the fairies really did dance around their rings in the grass at night. 

But when those horrible, awful people took advantage of her femaleness and hurt her, she decided she didn’t want to be female anymore.  She didn’t want people doing those things to her, so she made me leave.  She said she never, ever wanted to see me again.  So I left and went as far away from her as I could.  I understood why she didn’t want me around to remind her of horrible events, so I departed and headed for places where I knew Jeanie would never stumble across me.  Problem was, when I disappeared, Jeanie was never able to remember me and to understand me.  So the little tyke grew up to think she was neither male nor female—well, she didn’t know WHO she was!  She knew the other little girls, her schoolmates and playmates, were little girls and were growing into becoming big girls, but she didn’t believe that was happening to her.  She was very, very confused!  You see, I had been her sexual identity, and she couldn’t find me.

But when Jeanie grew up and became Aurora, that poor, sad creature who sheds brittle bits as she wanders, somehow horrible, awful people recognized me in her, and once again, I—in the body of Aurora--was used by somebody intent on satisfying his own needs at Aurora’s expense.  Oh, if only I had gone unrecognized!  Aurora would have been spared so much misery!  I was devastated when I knew that harm had come to Aurora because of me!  Of course, Aurora did the same thing Jeanie had done—she told me in no uncertain terms that I had to leave and never come back.  She had a lot of very harsh words for me, blaming me for her woes. 

But I knew better.  I knew that what had happened was not my fault.  So I did not go as far away as Jeanie and Aurora had wanted.  In other words, I disobeyed their orders.  Now that I am here, I am somehow going to need to earn their acceptance.  Sighs  The only thing I have going for me is Light’s approval.  Light has let me know that whether Jeanie and Aurora will admit it or not, they need me—Jean needs me!  So I have a hard task ahead of me.  I must gain the respect and trust of all the parts here, including yours, Constanza, and I must find myself a comfortable place among you. 

Constanza:  But that doesn’t explain why you wound up in my stall! 

Blossom:  Well, and I don’t want you to take this wrong, Constanza, but I believe Light figured that you and I have some common traits, being female as one, and being more or less what I might describe as “unconventional” being another.  What do you think?  Do you think maybe I could bunk here with you until I earn a bed elsewhere in the arena?  I don’t have any belongings to take up space, and I’m not nearly as big as you, so I wouldn’t need much room.  I could even be useful, in fact.  What do you say?

Constanza:  intrigued at the prospect of a little novelty in her otherwise regimented and somewhat boring life .  .  .  I suppose that would work, Blossom.  That is, if you will help me supervise the little girls when they serve at mealtimes and serve special refreshments—such as those we are serving tonight when J.P. comes.  Would you do it?

Blossom:  Of course!  That would help me meet the others and begin my effort to find my way here at the arena.  But what would we tell people tonight when they see me?  Only Jeanie and Aurora would recognize me, and I have no idea as to what their reaction would be!  Or maybe they wouldn’t react.  They may be too ashamed to react.  What can we do to save Jeanie and Aurora from grief?

Constanza:  Hmmmm . . .  I need to ponder this a bit.  I think we need to slow down.  Tonight may not be the best night to spring you upon everyone. Say, did you ever hear of the Trojan Horse?  Maybe I could enlist Cowboy’s help and build you a Trojan Horse, a way for you to not look like yourself and yet you could be there at the meeting tonight and listen in.  Big things are planned for tonight, a major shift in the power structure here at the arena.  Hmmmm . . .  Yes, I believe a Trojan Horse might be just the ticket.  After all, if the others see you for the part you truly are tonight, that might be a bit over the top for most parts.  What do you think of that plan?

Blossom:  Do you really believe Cowboy will go along with your plan?

Constanza:  If I know Cowboy, she won’t want anything to muck up her plans for tonight, and so she would probably be happy to build you a Trojan Horse.  And she could build you a large enough horse so that it could serve as a cozy little home for you.  We can park it right here in my stall at night, and if anyone asks about it, I can just say that I was so lonesome Cowboy built me a wooden companion.  And if I play my cards right, I bet I can talk Cowboy into painting the horse to look just like me!  What do you say to that??  Wow!  I believe I’m really getting into this!  A wooden Constanza!  I would really, really like that!  After all, with my looks, I believe I deserve to be duplicated.  Don’t you?  After all, how many mares have my lips and my eyelashes?  How many mares can flirt like I can?  How many mares . . .  

Blossom:  interrupts Constanza’s litany of her own assets .  .  .  Oh, yes, Constanza, I believe Cowboy will not only agree to build my Trojan Horse but will, with the help of all those strapping but not very bright Formerly Little Needy Ones, get it built toute de suite, as the French say.  Shall we ask Cowboy? 

Constanza:  My, my, I think maybe it would be best if you left this to me, Blossom.  I must approach Cowboy in a certain way to broach this to her.  Just leave this to me, okay?

Blossom:  If you say so, Constanza.  But where should I go while you are discussing this with Cowboy? 

Constanza:  Well, I’d say my stall is a pretty good place to lay low.  Nobody stops by for fear that Cowboy will put them to work mucking out my stall.  So why not just hunker down under one of my old blankets over there by the hay bales and the muck bucket?  I know it doesn’t smell too great, but all the more reason to use it as a hiding place.  Would that work for you?

Blossom:  I think I could tolerate that for a short time.  Oh, I just hope Cowboy agrees to build that horse! 

Constanza:  Leave it to me, Blossom.  So I’ll get you settled in over by the hay bale, and then I’ll take myself off to the stables to find Cowboy.  In the meantime, you can catch a few winks.  Constanza and Blossom head for the blanket by the hay bale, Blossom settles in for a needed nap, and Constanza leaves to find Cowboy.  .  .  . 
This excerpt marks the end of my Ego State Therapy dialogue thus far.  With the coming of sweet, little Blossom to the arena, I understand that I am, indeed, a complete woman just like all the women I have watched and wondered about.  My innate femininity and sexuality has been inside me all this time, but Blossom, my sexual innocence, had been waiting for the right time to make her presence known.  Now I recognize her and love her for the innocent creature she is.  My innocence was taken from me when I was a child and unable to protect myself--or I thought she was taken from me.  Furthermore, I actively blamed that sweet creature for my pain and shunned her.  No longer!  She is now a beloved and cherished ego state who dwells in peace in my arena.  She has chosen to continue living in Constanza's stall despite its environmental flaws, and sweet little Blossom has become a friend to all and a beloved companion to Jeanie and Aurora.
Lest you think that my ego state dialogue is finished, I can assure you that it is not finished.  I no longer write my dialogue, but when I am feeling disorganized or sad or distressed, I return to my pals at the arena, and we work together to resolve whatever matters are bothering me.  My dialogue continues in my mind.  This, then, is my way of doing Ego State Therapy.  Other people may do it differently.  But this form has worked for me to alleviate my PTSD symptoms and to help me get my life back. 
When you feel that you have reached the end and that you cannot go one step further, when life seems to be drained of all purpose: What a wonderful opportunity o start all over again, to turn over a new page."    Eileen Caddy, Scottish writer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Part III: An Amazing Set of Twins Who Really Isn't a Twin

Dear Reader,

Before I begin this next installment in my description of my journey through Ego State Therapy, I want to give you this web address:   I don't know why I have not found it before this, but now I have found it, and that's what counts.  If you read this article, you will understand how and why I have benefitted from Ego State Therapy.  Just as the woman in the case study, I managed to dramatically reduce my PTSD symptoms after working for two years with my ego states.  Also, like the woman in the case study, I was able to locate the unconditionally loving ego state within me and enlist that ego state's help in reducing the conflicts among my other ego states and bringing about peace.  I did my work on my own while in a light trance state and wrote about the process in dialogue form.  The ego state I refer to in the title of this post is the part of me that enabled me to do this work! 

In the previous installment, I described my introduction to Cowboy, one of the first ego states I met.  Slowly, some of my other ego states drifted to the arena in Jasper Canyon, and I became acquainted with them.  Upon settling into the arena, each ego state had to interact with the other ego states in some way, and in the process of doing this, the role of each ego state was clearly defined--usually!  There was one ego state, however, that arrived at the arena in one form and, given loving care, gradually morphed into a different form. 

Poor, old Nothingness was truly "nothing" when Cowboy and a few of my other ego states encountered him/her--for simplicity's sake, I'll use the masculine singular pronoun from this point on.  Nothingness' story begins the day Cowboy and First Protector, the nanny who tended the very young ego states lodged in a nursery off the arena's kitchen, ventured out to give the little ones some fresh air and sunshine.  The little ones, being little, had their choice of riding in the big red wagon Cowboy pulled or walking along the trail on the banks of Jasper Creek.  As they walked, they chattered and sang and skipped and hopped--all under the watchful eye of First Protector, of course.  Cowboy and the wagon led the procession, Cowboy being vigilant, making sure that no danger approached the little party. 

Suddenly, the procession and all the chatter stopped, for there, lying completely across the trail ahead of Cowboy, was a huge gelatinous blob.  I can't say that the blob was formless, but it was as close to being formless as it could be.  I also can't say that it was colorless, but being a nondescript grayish shade, it was as close to being colorless as it could be.  Although Cowboy's first inclination was to kick the mass and shove it to the side of the trail, she hesitated to do that.  In the first place, she realized that the mass was possibly immovable due to its lack of form and its size.  In the second place, Cowboy, ever curious, noticed while peering closely at the mass that beneath its translucent covering there flickered tiny pink lights.  A sign of life?  Yes, decided Cowboy, perhaps a sign of life.  So what to do?? 

After putting their heads together, Cowboy, First Protector, and all the little ones decided that the only thing to do was to somehow transport the blob to the arena.  As First Protector contended, "This blob is here for a reason, and the only reason I can see is that he was trying to reach the arena and just couldn't quite make it.  It's up to us to help him."  Having said that, she and Cowboy, with the help of all the little ones, managed to pull the side rails from the wagon, gently ease the gelatinous mass onto them, and slide the blob onto the wagon floor so he could be safely transported to the arena. 

Once the mass reached the arena, he was housed in a special stall where he could be cared for tenderly.  After careful examination of his outer membrane, the parts at the arena realized that the poor creature was so dried out that he needed constant moisture available to him if he was to survive.  Cowboy, always quick to invent devices to serve special purposes, designed a misting system to keep the blob's membrane continuously hydrated, and some of the other parts formulated a special ointment that they gently rubbed over the entire membrane of this newcomer.  Also, so the new arrival would feel at home, one of the parts decided upon a name, Nothingness, for the creature--with the thought that if this mass changed and grew and became a Something, then the name would be changed. 

Thanks to tender, regular care, the appreciation of all his new friends, and the safety of his new home, Nothingness lived and changed.  Each day he grew a little pinker and a bit more inclined to define his shape.  Slowly Nothingness became a Something.  And one day the folks at the arena saw him for what he truly had become--a handsome and wise old land turtle, filled with the wisdom of ages and able to impart his knowledge of life to all ego states. 

If you have puzzled over the title of this installment, I don't blame you.  Initially, the wise old land turtle, after revealing his amazing powers of imagination and intuition, was renamed Gemini, the Twins, because within him appeared to reside two entities, one capable of great imaginative powers and the other capable of great intuitive powers.  Eventually, though, these seemingly semi-separate entities appeared to join and become almost one single entity.  They never completely integrated, however, so Gemini still carries within him my powers of imagination and intuition, not completely separate, on the one hand, but not completely one and the same, on the other hand.  He doesn't seem to mind, nor do I. 

So what does this story mean, really?  And how is it related to my healing?  First off, I have retold the story of Gemini here in narrative prose.  In my Ego State Therapy writing, the story was told in dialogue or conversation format, revealing the interactions among the various ego states.  Unfortunately, I can't find my original dialogue work on my present computer.  Luckily, my therapist has the printed text, so it isn't lost. 

My healing has occurred as I have written the dialogue because in interacting with one another in the dialogue, my ego states have ironed out their differences and have learned to accept one another and live in harmony.  At times, when conflicts among ego states were not resolved by the ego states themselves, Light, the channel of the Universe's unconditional love, offered her assistance.  Eventually, all my ego states were working together to bring peace to my psyche.  Now, when I begin to feel psychic discomfort or distress, I go back to the arena, the place where my ego states dwell, and we once again work together to resolve whatever issue is causing discord.  If you have read the article I cited at the beginning of this post and then read this post, you may have been able to get a glimpse into how this therapy modality works.  It's not easy to demonstrate the inner workings of the human psyche, but I have tried here to do that. 

Next Post:  Conclusion--Sweet Little Blossom Comes Home

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Part II: Some of My Ego States Introduce Themselves to Me (May, 2010)

First of all, my initial visit with my new therapist on that April day in 2010 gave me hope because she gave me a tentative diagnosis of Complex PTSD and told me that I had a choice of treatment modalities.  She presented me with my choices, and I chose Ego State Therapy with the idea of preparing for EMDR.  Ego State Therapy appealed to me because I'd known all my life that I had a lot of parts of me inside my head, and from the time I was a child, my parts had conversed with one another.  I remembered how as a little girl I had taught myself to solve problems by setting my parts up to talk together in order to find a solution to what bothered me.  Ego State Therapy sounded like what I had been doing since I was a child, so I felt comfortable in choosing it over the other modalities she described.  My therapist let me know that preparing for EMDR work might take me a while but that the preparation was essential if EMDR were to be helpful.  For the first time, then, I had a definitive diagnosis and knew what I needed to do to help myself heal.  I had a direction and was eager to begin the work.   

From the reading I have done on Ego State Therapy, I have learned that traditionally, ego state work is done in a therapist's office with the therapist available to help the client identify ego states and facilitate a useful and beneficial interaction between client and ego states.  In fact, several articles have described the therapist as facilitating a family therapy session with the family members being the client's ego states rather than being individual human members of the client's family.  Most of the time, from what I have read and from what my therapist has told me, the client is asked to imagine herself sitting a large conference table and inviting her ego states to come to the table and introduce themselves so that she and they could meet one another and begin what might become a beneficial interaction and relationship. 

I didn't understand at the time my therapist introduced the modality to me and told me about the conference table why I objected so strongly to the traditional setting, why I couldn't have simply done my Ego State Therapy the way I was "supposed" to have done it.  The day in April when my therapist mentioned the conference table concept, I told her there was no way meetings around a conference table would work for me.  I would have no part of that!  Boring, boring, boring!  Nope!  I was not doing that!  She appeared shocked or puzzled as I left her office that day after my outburst, and I was shocked at myself.  Normally, I didn't do outbursts.  Normally, I did as I was told.  Later, though, I realized that I associated conference tables with the meetings I had been forced to attend when I taught in the community college.  They were boring and often a waste of my time.  I resented being forced to attend them when I could have been grading papers or planning lessons.  Yes,  I knew that I had hated going to meetings, but I had not realized how intensely I hated meetings until my outburst in my therapist's office.  Aha!

By the time I caught my bus to go home that day, I had thought about my situation and realized that if I were not willing to sit at a conference table and interact with my ego states, then it was up to me to find another way to accomplish the same thing.  How did I want to do this?  I understood the basic principle--I needed to design a way that suited me to accomplish the same thing I was asked to accomplish around a conference table.  Coming up with my own substitute for the conference table would be risky, I knew.  Maybe my therapist would insist I follow the usual procedure, insist to the point of refusing to work with me if I didn't cooperate.  There was that possibility.  Oh, well, if that happened, I supposed I'd have to find another therapist.  But I was 70 years old, old enough, surely, to be allowed to do this in my own way.  Thus, I began to construct my own setting for my therapy.

First off, at home I decided I needed to think of a setting for my therapy.  Where would I like to have my ego states gather?  Since a lot of good memories centered around the location where I had done archaeology work back in the late 1950s, I chose Jasper Canyon as my locale.  Because I loved to watch dressage events, I decided to place an indoor dressage arena into this canyon.  The super-deluxe indoor arena would have apartments for all my ego states, and when they needed to meet, they could meet in the show area.  The space was flexible and would allow for small group meetings, large group meetings, and for meetings of all the parts together.  This decided, I was ready to greet my ego states. 

Who would arrive first?  I waited a few days, but nobody arrived.  What to do?  And then I remembered my brief course of art therapy in 2002 and how that therapy had allowed me access to memories and information that seemed inaccessible through deliberate thought.  So I got out my trusty oil pastels and my huge pad of newsprint, let myself go into a light trance state, and began to draw.  I'm no artist, for sure!, but by drawing, I allowed myself to meet my first group of ego states. 

Cowboy arrived first.  Here is a picture of her: 

Cowboy is the part of me that flies into action when action is called for.  She gets her energy from all the anger I have kept inside myself throughout my life.  Cowboy is not a delicate, sensitive creature, but she gets the job done--whatever that job might be.  Cowboy and I have been old friends from my childhood, and we respect one another.  She is direct in her speech and manner, and she is not terribly respectful of the unwritten rules governing social interactions.  In other words, Cowboy probably rubs a lot of people the wrong way.  But she is honest and hardworking, and she fights for the underdog.  Luckily, some of my other ego states/parts know how to work with Cowboy so that she does not completely run roughshod over the rules governing social interactions!  Cowboy has been part of me since I was a child.  I believe she was born when I first knew that my parents would punish me if I showed anger or if I contradicted them.  I endured quite a few hard spankings when I was a little girl before Cowboy took over the reins and protected me from the effects of my parents'  physical abuse. 
Along with Cowboy came her counterpart and companion, Internal Therapist.  Where Cowboy initially acted without considering the effects of her actions upon others, Internal Therapist's job was to help Cowboy become aware of possible consequences and the effects of her behavior on others and to use that information to temper her behavior.  This, at any rate, was their relationship in the beginning, when I first met these ego states.  Later, Cowboy and Internal Therapist appeared to integrate to a certain point, and Cowboy actually took over Internal Therapist's role herself, retaining the qualities of blunt speech and the ability to fly into action when needed.  Today I am no longer aware of Internal Therapist as being separate from Cowboy, and I cherish Cowboy's presence in my psyche.  I know that when I am in a difficult situation, I can put on my chaps, my boots, and my spurs, and Cowboy and I can tame the wildest bucking bronco.  That's my Cowboy! 
Shortly after meeting my first ego states, I became aware of shadowy, menacing figures slithering and creeping along the perimeters of the arena's huge main show ring.  I recognized these figures as being a threat to my well being, and I wanted to simply annihilate them, get rid of them.  When I told this to my therapist, she gave me the one and only rule I was to follow:  Do NOT kill or get rid of the shadow figures because they may have played a protector role at some time.  Instead, preserve them and see what happens.  See how they evolve.  Over the months, I had grown to respect my therapist and to believe that she had my best interests in mind, so I agreed to follow this rule--not, however, without objecting to it, of course.  I kept my word to her, and as time passed and more ego states found their ways to the arena, these shadowy figures slowly changed.  Eventually, they became staunch protectors of my spirit.  When I look back and think of what might have happened if I had tried to kill them off simply because I was afraid of them, I shudder.  During my journey through Ego State Therapy, I kept the one rule my therapist gave me in mind.  Doing this led me to accept and be willing to acknowledge the value of each and every ego state who arrived at the arena.  By accepting and valuing each of my ego states, I have grown in my ability to accept and value my whole self.  I no longer feel worthless.  That's progress!
Next:  Part III, I meet an amazing set of twins who isn't really a twin. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Ego State Therapy--I don't understand it." My response to a search query.

Each week, at least, I check my blog's stat page, and in the process, I check the list of words or phrases that have brought people to my blog.  Today I found that somebody had reached my blog by typing "Ego-State Therapy--I don't understand it" into a search engine, and because this particular therapeutic modality has been so essential to my healing, I decided to devote a post to the topic.  If you type "Ego-State Therapy" into the search engine on my Google blog, you will find that I have written about the therapy in many of my posts, but I have never described my journey through the process from start to "finish."  I put "finish" in quotes because I'll never be completely finished with Ego-State Therapy.  I learned in therapy how to use this modality to achieve inner peace and freedom from my PTSD symptoms, and I will continue to do this work with my ego states as long as I live.  My C-PTSD will never be completely "cured," but I will continue to heal for the rest of my life so long as I use the skills and techniques I learned in therapy.  

Listed below are three articles on the topic of Ego-State Therapy that might help you understand the basics.  If you read them before you read the description of my own process, you can see the theory and how the modality works.  My own process differs in some ways from the traditional process, but the principles of my process remain in line with those of the traditional process.  My process has led to healing, and that's what is important to me!  (A brief, to-the-point definition of Ego-State Therapy)  (A site with lots of helpful articles about Ego-State Therapy.)  (A page with links to helpful articles on Ego-State Therapy.)

Finally, I have found Ego-State Therapy to be an excellent preparation for EMDR.  The insights I received during Ego-State Therapy amplified and enhanced the insights that came from my EMDR sessions.  I think of that saying "The whole is composed of more than the sum of its parts."  Ego-State Therapy + EMDR= Healing!  And healing is, indeed, much more than merely "the sum." 

My Own Trip Through Ego-State Therapy:  Background Material
For seventy years I had suffered the misery of Complex PTSD symptoms--the nightmares, the anxiety, the dissociative episodes, the derealization and depersonalization, the flashbacks--all the miserable symptoms that made my life so difficult and caused me at times to wish I were dead.  By the time I was five years old, I felt as if there was a full-blown war taking place inside my head, and the war stopped only when I was asleep, at least my conscious awareness of the war stopped.  At that young age, I didn't know that nightmares and horrible dreams could reflect the activity of the unconscious mind.  By the time I was six, I experienced my "Alice in Wonderland" days, the times when the ordinary appeared weirdly different from usual and when I felt myself to be living in a world where I seemed to be the only person who knew I existed.  Like Alice, I often felt myself to be so tiny that I was afraid I would disappear completely. 
As a young child, I knew my life was a struggle, but I assumed that everyone struggled as I did.  I didn't know this for a fact because I said nothing to anyone about the abuse I had endured, and I said nothing about what was happening in my mind.  I said nothing because the important adults in my life were also my abusers.  One and the same!  I kept myself to myself, observed the acceptable social behaviors of other children, and did what I needed to do to fit in. 
I credit my Sunday School teachers and other welcoming and accepting adults at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church for giving me the nurturing environment I needed to stay afloat and not give up on life.  Looking back, and I am reluctant to admit this, it wasn't faith in God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost that kept me going so much as it was the kind and loving attention I received.  But, then, I was a child, and God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were abstract concepts that did not mean as much to me as being treated with kindness and respect meant.  My parents were nonbelievers and seldom stepped foot into my church, and for that I was grateful.  In church, I was happy coloring pictures of Jesus holding little children on his lap, singing songs about how Jesus loved me, putting pennies in my mite box for poor people, and learning about martyrs and saints and how I could be a saint, too, if I said  my prayers and obeyed the Ten Commandments.  In church, I learned how to see myself as being a valued child of God, and I learned what now might be classed as "old fashioned" moral values and how to be a good person, something that my parents did not teach me.  What I learned as a child at my church sustained me and gave me courage to survive.
As an older child and a young adult, I struggled to cut through the chaos and noises in my head that threatened to block my thinking, and I managed to force myself to ignore the anxiety that threatened to rend the fabric of my inner stability.  Somehow, I kept myself together through the flashbacks and functioned well enough to meet the expectations of my parents and the other people in my environment and graduated from college.  And then I got married.  Then came twenty years of repetition of the abuses I had endured as a child.  Only when I had reached a point where I was no longer able to reassemble the fragments of my mind by myself did I get help.  After six months of therapy, I slowly realized that I was not the cause of every bad thing that happened in the world--and in my home.  My eyes opened, and I caught my husband in the act of molesting our daughter.  I reported him to the police, and then I knew I was free to help my daughter recover her life and also free to make my own life whatever I wanted it to be.  Thus began my journey toward healing.
Looking back, I believe the most important piece of advice I could give to anyone with a background of abuse similar to mine is this:  LOOK AT THE ENDING OF YOUR ABUSIVE MARRIAGE AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHAPE YOUR LIFE INTO WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DREAMED IT COULD BE!!  That's what I did.  I asked myself, "If I could have any life I wanted, what would that life look like?"  I answered that question. And then I set out to make my dream a reality.  And I succeeded.  I have no regrets. 
I made that decision in 1981, shortly after turning my husband in for child sexual abuse and filing for divorce, and then I planned my course.  I knew I needed to include therapy in my life's plan because I had experienced so much benefit from working with my first therapist.  From 1983, when my therapist retired, until 2010, I tried to find the help I needed to bring about peace in my psyche.  I saw no fewer than 15 therapists before I found the person I saw from 2010 until recently.  One person along the way gave me an accurate partial diagnosis of PTSD--C-PTSD was pretty much an unknown at the time--but then relocated to another part of the state before he was able to help me.  Otherwise, I saw a lot of well-intended therapists and a few who, it turned out, were not so well-intended, but I survived and continued seeking a definitive diagnosis and appropriate help.  Without an accurate diagnosis, how, I reasoned, would I find appropriate help?  Good question!  However, in April of 2010, after following up on a referral by a well-known Portland, Oregon, psychiatrist, I found the right person and had my first appointment with her.  Thus began my trek toward significant healing and peace.
Next time:  My ego states begin introducing themselves to me, and we commence our work together. 





Monday, December 22, 2014

A Few Christmas Memories (Another off-topic story. Enjoy!)


I.  My Earliest Memory of Christmas
Age four or five during WWII.
 The first Christmas I can remember clearly is the Christmas I heard Santa laugh and received my heart’s desire, the curly-haired Red Cross doll that beckoned to me from the display window of the Empire Drug Store.  The year was 1943 or 1944, and I was either four or five years old.  The War was still raging in Europe, and I was living with my parents in a two-bedroom rented bungalow on Fir Street in Longview, Washington. 

            For many people in Longview, maintaining a household was a challenge during the War.  Goods and money were in short supply.  We used ration stamps when we paid at the grocery store, and we paid sales tax with tax tokens, little grey-green cardboard disks that had holes in their centers.  My father was a teacher, considered a necessary occupation at the time, and he also had bad feet and bad eyes, so he was not drafted into the military.  Thus, my family was better off than the families that lost their breadwinners to the military, but not by much; a teacher at the time did not take home much income.  With this in mind, I know now that expecting Santa to bring a Red Cross doll from the Empire Drug was a long shot. 

At the time, however, all I knew was that if Santa was true to his word and image, he had better have that doll in my arms by Christmas!   And every time my mother and I walked to town and passed the Empire Drug, I made sure that my mother knew I wanted that doll.  Each time I mentioned the doll, my mother told me that I would not get it, that Santa couldn’t afford to bring me an expensive doll like that because he had so many other children to supply with Christmas gifts.  Her explanation made sense to me, but it did not stop me from wanting the doll.  To complicate matters, I learned a few days before Christmas that we would not be home on Christmas Eve because we were going to another town to spend Christmas with friends.  Despite my mother’s reassurances that Santa would find me anywhere, I spent those days before the Big Day worrying and complaining, two activities that did not add to the holiday spirit of those around me, I’m sure.

Christmas Eve found us in the tiny, cigarette-smoke-filled bed-sitter of family friends.  All the adults were jovial, enjoying the bottles of cheer and their Camels, Luckies, and Pall Malls as they played their poker and bridge games, sat on each other’s laps, ate candies and cake, and listened to Bing sing “Adeste Fideles” and “Christmas in Killarney.”  At some point, I went to sleep on the living room carpet. 

I was awakened at midnight in time to hear the bells of Christmas bursting forth from the Philco.  Then I was hustled into my pajamas, somebody made me a bed on two kitchen chairs pushed together in a closet, somebody else safety-pinned a stocking to my pillow, and I was told to go to sleep.  By that time, however, I was wide-eyed and sleep was impossible.  Suddenly, as I feigned sleep, I heard a “Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Has Jeanie been a good girl??”  Somebody replied in the affirmative, and then, as I lay there ever so still, a bundle was placed on the floor by my makeshift bed.  When I thought it was safe, I felt the bundle, felt the hair and the hat, and I knew Santa had found me and had fulfilled my dream.

I wish I could say I cherished that expensive doll, kept her in mint condition, and still had her to this day.  Alas, my childish curiosity got the best of me—and of her—and in my attempt to figure out how she opened and closed her eyes, I mutilated her beyond repair.  If only I’d had access to the Internet, that fount of all knowledge, I could have satisfied my curiosity without sacrificing the doll, but at the time computers were merely a gleam in the eye of their inventor, and nobody then probably even dreamed of traveling on the cyber highway.  So that Red Cross doll, which I named Mary Ann, met her end in the garbage can, and a disgruntled Santa never again made the mistake of bringing me a doll.
                                  2.  The Family Christmas Tree
Courtesy Google Images

In addition to that memorable Christmas, there were others, of course, perhaps less memorable, when I was a child.  I may not be able to remember all those other Christmases in detail, but I can remember some Christmas generalities.  For example, my parents always had a real tree, and my mother made most of the ornaments until my brother and I were old enough to add our  clumsily-produced ornaments we made in school.  The first step in the process of decorating our tree was to anchor it in its stand.  That was my father’s job, and normally he accompanied his work with a lot of cursing and words I was not supposed to repeat.  In fact, sometimes my brother and I were sent on an errand while my father, a Lucky dangling from his lips—somehow he had mastered the art of cussing without letting his cigarette drop--put up the tree.
After the tree was up and stable and watered, my brother and I made a multi-colored chain for it by cutting strips of colored paper and slathering on thick, mint-flavored white library paste to glue the links.  When the chain was about ten feet long, we did the best we could to drape it gracefully around the tree.  After the chain came the lights, not the tiny, twinkling lights of today but the old-fashioned larger multicolored lights—at least my family used those lights.  During the ‘50s, other families bought the Noma Bubblelights or the little twinkling lights, but my family continued to use the older lights because, as my mother claimed, they did the best job of making the tinsel glow. 

With the tree up, watered, garlanded, and lit, we took the next step, putting on the ornaments.  My mother was very picky about where the ornaments, the multicolored glass balls, especially, were to go.  She directed my brother and me, and we hung the balls.  After the balls, came the other ornaments, the school-made ornaments and the few spun-glass angel ornaments that my mother had saved from her own childhood trees.  To wrap up our tree-decorating, my mother carefully placed one or two strands of tinsel on the tip of each branch.  She would not let my brother or me do this because she said we were not careful enough; when we did this, the branches looked “clotted” with tinsel, in her opinion.  She was probably right because our tree each year was a piece of art, and the neighbors who came by with cookies and fudge always admired our tree and said they wished theirs were as beautiful.


3.  The Hadleys' Tree


Looking back through time, I do believe that having the most beautiful or tastefully decorated tree on the block was extremely important to my mother, just as important to her as having a good figure and out-dressing the neighbor women must have been.  This competitive spirit was especially noticeable after the War, in the mid-1950s.  My parents owned the first television set on the block and the first Volkswagen sedan.  There was, however, one Christmas during which my mother’s tree was not the center of attention.  It may have been the most tasteful or the most symmetrically decorated, but it was not the most noticeable or the most talked-about tree in the neighborhood.  The tree that won those honors belonged to our next-door neighbors at the time, the Hadleys.

Herb and Dee Hadley moved into the home previously occupied by the Heuer family, a huge Irish-Catholic family who celebrated Christmas and New Years and every other special occasion by going to Mass and by consuming enormous quantities of food and alcohol.  To this day, when I hear the Old Groaner singing “Adeste Fideles” or “Ave Maria,” I am back in the Heuer’s steamy living room, overwhelmed by the number of bodies, the noise, the food and drink, and the mound of presents piled under their tree.  And there in the midst of all is tiny, prim-looking Jen Heuer, silver hair in a bun, directing traffic and shouting orders.  I remember that as I sit now in my little apartment, cats for company, and enjoy the silence.  To me, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, witnessing the Heuer family at Christmas was an experience I was not about to forget. 

Along with each holiday spectacle at the Heuer house came “the girls,” two of Jen’s granddaughters, Chauncy and Sue.  They were just about my age, and their presence was a definite “plus” in my holiday life.  First of all, both girls had black hair, pale pasty skin, and were covered by skin eruptions that they attributed to allergies.  In my household, nobody in the world had “allergies,” so this condition made Chauncy and Sue even more fascinating to me.  Also, the girls, both students at St. Rose’s Roman Catholic School, had a vast store of smutty stories, probably stories they overheard their uncles tell when they were in their cups.  As they said, when Mass became dull, they whispered these stories as a diversion.  Hail Mary had to take a back pew. The story-telling also gave them fodder for confession when they couldn’t think of anything else to confess.  However interesting the Heuer family may have been, though, I have digressed and strayed from the Hadley family and their tree. 

When the Hadleys moved into the Heuer home early in the 1950s, then, Herb Hadley was a young man on the way up in the insurance business in Longview.  He was outgoing and jovial, two qualities that helped him climb the ladder, I’m sure.  His wife, Dee, had been a home economics major in college, and she gave him the support he needed in his career climb and cared for their children.  Herb had a competitive nature, and that quality served him well at work.  However, he also had to be the first on our block to try new ideas and to buy new products.  During the Christmas season of 1953, his competitive thrust hit a wall, however, because his Christmas tree became the joke of the neighborhood.

Before the mid fifties, people had green Christmas trees that were alive.  Oh, a very few people sprayed white snow on their trees, and they called that process “flocking,” but white trees were rare.  However, during the mid 1950s the stores were flooded with novelties—Noma Bubblelights, those cylindrical candle-shaped lights that contained a liquid that bubbled when they were turned on, plastic ornaments to replace the more fragile glass ornaments, animated ornaments, AND  Christmas trees that were flocked in exotic colors. 

Herb was not one to stick with the old tried-and-true; no, he was one who loved to try new things and to be first on the block with whatever took his fancy. So when he visited the feed store where the family normally bought their tree and discovered that the store was offering flocked trees in a dizzying array of colors, he decided to over-ride Dee’s order to buy a white flocked tree and instead be the first on the block to have a gold-flocked tree.  Feeling somewhat uneasy about his decision, however, he decided to surprise Dee and the kids.  His family’s squeals of delight at his surprise for them, would, he reasoned, justify his deviation from orders. 

The day of delivery arrived, and as Dee let the men from the feed store into the house, she was appalled.  She asked them if they were certain they had brought the right tree, and they were entirely certain.  And then, after the men had erected the tree and it stood in front of the big window in her dining room, she wept.  For there in all its glory, standing tall for everyone in the neighborhood to see, was a urine-yellow Norwegian spruce that looked as if monstrous male dogs had lifted their legs over every limb and needle. 

After she wept, she called my mother and me and told us to come as quickly as we could.  I can remember staring stunned at the tree, not knowing just what to say under the circumstances.  My mother, always practical, suggested that the best and simplest solution to the problem would be to gob as much decoration onto the tree as possible to hide the nasty color, and she offered to help by donating some of our ornaments.  By the time we left, Dee was laughing, but when Herb came home from work and expressed his amazement and disgust, she was crying again.  The kids, however, thought the tree was fine, and they took my mother’s advice and decked it so full of ornaments and tinsel that most of the limbs were hidden.

  By the time they got the presents heaped around the base, nobody could see much of the tree at all.  The story got around, however, and Dee had to tolerate the folks who stared at her dining room window, covering their mouths to hide their grins.  As far as I know, that was the last year Herb tried an innovation at Christmas time.  


Courtesy Google Images

                               4.  My Little Brother’s Mystery Gift


Now that I think of it, this account of childhood Christmases would not be complete without the story of my brother Birck’s fourth Christmas, Christmas 1949.  Now, my little brother was an amazing child, with hand-eye coordination beyond his years.  And this particular Christmas he put this quality to good use.

As usual, our tree was an example of my mother’s artistic endeavors and was the envy of all the neighbors.  Birck was just four years old, and I was ten, going on eleven.  To us, the artistic quality of the tree was not nearly as important as the gaily-wrapped loot under the tree.  When the tree was first up and the presents had been placed under it, Birck and I began our work.  We separated the presents into piles, one pile for each family member, and we made sure of the location of our respective stacks.  Each day we inventoried our gifts to see if any had been added or if any were missing.  Birck and I always had more gifts than our parents, and we saw nothing wrong with that.  After all, kids were supposed to get more presents than their folks.  By the time Christmas Day finally rolled around, we had poked and prodded our gifts and had identified most of them. 

On this particular Christmas, however, there were several gifts that Birck could not identify.  I wasn’t any help.  One package, in particular, was about a foot long and half a foot wide and very heavy.  When we shook it, it didn’t rattle; the contents, instead, clunked!  I was as mystified as Birck by this bundle, but neither of us dared tear even a little piece of the wrapping.  If we had been caught doing that, our gifts would have been locked up until Christmas morning.  This mystery gift was, of course, the gift that Birck would open before any of the others.  No wonder—it was about the only present that was still a surprise! 

Christmas Eve came that year, finally, and late in the afternoon my mother, Birck, and I attended the candlelight service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal.  My mother normally did not set foot in any church, but she thought Birck should experience a few moments of Christianity once a year.  The portly old priest got through the service, and then he disappeared briefly, reappearing in a Santa suit.  He gave each of us a brown lunch sack containing a couple of huge oranges, some Brazil nuts, and a candy cane, and then we lit our candles, sang “Silent Night” in the candlelight, and walked home in the dark to our Christmas Eve dinner.
 Now, lest you imagine a huge Christmas Eve feast with prime rib, all sorts of vegetables, and pies, let me describe our customary meal.  First, because my mother was not one to dash around from activity to activity and spend time over a hot stove while trying to keep to a schedule, our dinner on Christmas Eve was extremely simple—lumpy cream of pea soup from a Campbell’s can,  singed toasted cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks, and fruitcake slices.  By the time we had walked home, usually in the rain, from the church service, we didn’t care that others may have been sitting down to roast beef and pie; we just wanted to get warm and fill our stomachs. 

Dinner over, we were allowed to open one gift each, and my mother selected the gifts we could open.   The present she gave Birck was not  the mystery gift, and no matter how Birck begged, she would not allow him to open that gift.  I can’t remember which gift he opened that night.  The gift she allowed me to open was from her two old maid artist friends in New York, Ruthie Dunbar and Mildred Stumer.  I groaned when I saw it because I thought I knew what it was.  And I was right:  two pink marzipan pigs surrounded by colorful marzipan flowers.  They always sent us marzipan pigs, and I didn’t even like marzipan! 

After that non-event, Birck and I were hustled off to bed early so Santa could have some wiggle-room.  Birck and I shared a room, so it took us a while to settle down.  I turned on my radio and put the headphones near my pillow so I could hear Christmas music, and then I fell asleep.



On Christmas morning I awoke to curses and exclamations coming from my parents’ room.  The cause of their wrath was the banging and pounding coming from the stairs to the basement at five in the morning.  I followed them to the stairs.  There was Birck, clothed in his home-sewn white flannel nightgown, totally absorbed in his work of using the hammer from his brand new Christmas tool kit to nail tiny bits of kindling onto the steps of the basement stairs.  When I consider the task now, I am amazed at Birck’s ability to nail the tiniest bits of wood to a step without splitting the kindling.  At the time, however, my parents were definitely not amused or amazed.

I can’t remember exactly how they resolved the situation because I was eager to open my presents and didn’t pay much attention.  After all, it was Christmas morning!  And yes, the hammer Birck used on the basement steps was just one component of the mystery gift, a Handy Andy tool set for little carpenters, complete with apron. The kit also contained a saw, a small saw, but even at that, a saw that was still capable of marring the legs on our living room furniture.  The hammer and saw disappeared during the morning, but in the excitement of opening the other presents,  Birck didn’t miss them until the afternoon.  When he did miss them, my parents tried their best to locate them, they claimed, but the tools did not resurface until Birck was older and more inclined to follow the rules for their use. 

I can’t remember what Santa brought me that Christmas.  I don’t think that was the year I received the Morse Code key, but whatever I got must not have been too memorable.  I do remember Birck and the tool kit for little carpenters.  My parents did not give that to him.  I am sure that the person who did give it to him was on my parents’ hit list for the next few Christmases.  After opening our gifts that day, our house settled into its usual post-present quiet, and mid-afternoon we had our big Christmas feast of rump roast cooked until it was leathery and dry, grey peas, lumpy mashed potatoes, gelatinous gravy with scorched bits of meat floating on top, vibrant green Jello salad with carrots suspended in it, and mincemeat pie with ice cream on top.  After dinner, my parents napped, and Birck and I played with our toys and tried to stay awake.  Christmas night was an early night for all.

Christmas now is so different from the Christmases of my childhood, and sometimes I forget that modern kids want video games and I Pods and not electric trains and Shirley Temple dolls.  But the core of Christmas, the reason for Christmas, has remained the same for over two thousand years.  I need to hold onto that thought and let it guide me on my journey as the Star guided the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem.  Merry Christmas!  And many more!

Courtesy Google Images