Tuesday, October 30, 2018

October 31: Halloween

Leo wants to trick or treat. Two blocks away is one of those streets that goes all-out. His classmate and walk to school friend Nolan lives there. They are going together. I was going to send them on their merry way with Nolan's dad or something. Not now. I'm closing the house, putting the dog on the leash, and purposefully walking these streets. Completely nervous and terrified.

I’ve put drug dealers and human traffickers out of business. I’ve met with the Secret Service, DEA, and FBI in my dining room. But nobody has ever been shot across the street. Right. There.

Hell, I was probably in a lot more danger back then.

 But I can’t put this to rest in my heart.

October 30: The What If's

What if Sophia, 17, had been parking when the shooter came? What if she and Maeve had been coming over to get something? What if Leo and a friend were riding bikes? What if the little 10 year old next door was on her porch? Stray bullets kill all the time. My students talk about it at school. Now it is too close to home. I took a walk with the dog later that day, but what if I'd been rounding the corner when the shooter ran up? The garages in our neighborhood are flimsy-walled. I am in direct line of sight. Sitting on my couch in the living room. Friends come over. Kids run by. I must fight for this place. But I am so tired and have so much on my plate. I must.

Monday, October 29, 2018

October 29: Fear at Home

I sit in my living room and listen outside to car doors slamming, truck doors (they sound different). Engines start, stop. Men’s voices. Afraid to look out for fear they will see my shadow. The alderwoman writes back. I wasn’t the only neighbor to contact her. A cease and desist letter was sent. The man who was shot, it turns out, shot first. He is in an induced coma. Worse than we thought. He was arrested as was the other man--who is already out on bond. Which voices do I hear? Which voices do I fear? The grandmother next door yells. The young woman, tonight dressed in slippers and a robe that does not cover her thong, yells back. Do I call 911? Do I wait?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 28: Today

This will be more than 666 characters.

Around 1:30 this afternoon, I was on the phone with a friend, both of us complaining about how much laundry we have to do. I'd just come in from hanging sheets in the brisk October breeze when I heard it: pop! pop!

I looked out the front window. "I think that was a muffled gunshot," I told her. I see two white guys running down my street.

My house faces the side of a house; the front of that house is on the street that ends at mine, in a T. It is a two-family, upstairs and down, and I'm puzzled by what is going on there. There are screaming fights in the street at all hours; my next door neighbors seem involved with them in some way but I'm uncertain how. Most of the summer, an orange extension cord ran from my neighbor's house, crossed the street, and went into the window I knew to be in the stairwell to the second floor apartment. I also knew that a skinny white guy and his--girlfriend? a skinny white girl, seemed constant. But otherwise lots of comings and goings and yellings and some of what police would call "domestics" .

As I stepped onto my porch, I saw Dwayne, the guy next door who sees Michael Jackson in the clouds, on his cell phone. I get off my own phone call and ask him what happened.

"I'm trying to reach 911. I think somebody's been shot."

I dial 911 and cross the street just as a dad from my kids' school does as well. He reaches the garage that faces their alley first, where I can hear someone wailing in pain. The school dad gets down next to the young guy, the skinny white guy I see over there, and he and another passerby start talking to him and trying to use a scrap of curtain they find to stop the bleeding.

There's a lot of bleeding. Like TV amounts. Like more than I've seen in real life.

I finally get through to 911 and give her my address. "My neighbor's been shot."

The skinny girl is running up and down the street wailing and pulling at her hair. A friend of hers (I guess), another young girl, Mexican, mascara streaming down her face, asks me, "Why? Why would they shoot Roy? Roy! Why Roy?" and then moments later, a bit more together, as the 6 police SUVs pull up and the fire truck arrives and the ambulance, she says to me and Dwayne, "I gotta get out of here, I got warrants."

Turns out, skinny girl is Dwayne and Jackie's granddaughter. And the building is bank-owned, the former owners got foreclosed on. The granddaughter learned about the empty house across the street and moved herself on in. Squatted there with Roy.

Seems that Jackie and Dwayne supported this for a while, with the electric cord and whatnot, but over the last month things have gotten ugly.

Neighbors gathered. A woman who had been in the parking lot of the auto parts store on the corner had the most information and was sharing it with the police. More police SUVs came by, and then U-turned and ran up the main drag at high speed. Detectives arrived. The ambulance left with Roy--he'd been shot in the ass, he'd be fine--and the fire truck left. The street was blocked off with police line tape and the crime scene van came by.

I went back inside but watched through the window. Eventually the vehicles left and the Mexican girl came back. I watched while skinny little granddaughter in her microskirt, calm now, sold her puppy to a blond woman in a minivan.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

October 27: A list of things that make my heart race just a little bit

Brown Recluses

Brown spiders that live in the basement and could be recluses but maybe not but I'm scared to check

Those furry house centipedes that I am pretty sure know who I am

Phone calls in the middle of the night

Waking up disoriented

Packs of feral dogs

Old advertisements with creepy slogans

The emergency broadcast system test sound

Thunderstorms in campgrounds



Dog teeth

Personal messages not for me left on my phone by mistake

Giant mechanical things in motion like anything having to do with the production of coal. It's all too big and it moves and could crush my house some of it

Too many of one kind of insect, except maybe ants, in one spot

Friday, October 26, 2018

Edward and Bridget part two October 26

Edward ran a saloon in a rough town full of rough men and transients. One day he shot a man in self defense and killed him. The self defense theory, it was rumored, wasn't holding water after 3 days (!) and Edward was looking at prison. He went to the bar, sat down across a friend, and poured two whiskeys. While the friend was distracted, he poured Rough on Rats into his own. Arsenic. Slow death. He drank it down before anyone could stop him. He died, you guessed it, 3 days later in a St. Louis hospital. I drove through East St. Louis looking for their old address but it’s under the elevated freeway now and the streets are there but no buildings. Again.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

October 25: Edward and Bridget

They are the liars. Illiterate Irish famine refugees, they met in KC, married, had children, and then left the boys there with her sister to move to East St. Louis, which was an industrial complex. They ran a saloon. At some point their daughter dies, but Molly comes to live with them, a niece. Maybe Bridget has relatives there, Dwynes or Tooheys, or maybe everyone is lying. In the Catholic church funeral record, during a cholera epidemic, one entry is just listed as “Mrs. Blake’s mother”, but I think there might be lies in that claim, too. I think people became relatives out of survival. I can’t imagine the exhaustion, so many burials every day that year.

Photo: Edward Blake, his wife Bridgett Kidney/Dwyne, and their son Edward, who married Jenny.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 24: Family stories

I talked to my aunt, who had dabbled in family history, about Edward's brother Richard. She wasn't sure, but said her father had talked about the "Kansas City relatives" and that one of them was a horse thief and was hanged out west.


Then my uncle told me that his dad always claimed that the first generation American brothers split up as young adults--one became a bricklayer in St. Louis (which checks out, that’s how he met Jenny), and the other went back to Ireland.

Back to Ireland?

Was that even a thing?

Horse thief or did he go back to his father’s land? Or did he drown or die in a house fire in the shantytown where they all lived?

Dead ends disturb me.

Picture: My grandfather Richard (names...) in his navy blues, with his father, who was Jenny's and Edward's son.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October 23: Disappearing Act

Jenny's husband Edward was from Kansas City, the son of two Irish immigrants who were married in KC by a famous itinerant priest who founded the diocese. He had 2 siblings: Mary and Richard. I wrote to the diocese and got the marriage record and the baptismal records of Mary and Richard, but not Edward. All I had was census snapshots, though, so I wasn't worried. As the censuses go along, things happen to them. The parents, Edward Blake and Bridget Kidney, disappear and then show up in East St. Louis. The children drop from 3 to 2. Then Edward moves to St. Louis and Richard is living with Bridget’s relatives in KC, the Cronins. And then he disappears entirely.

Monday, October 22, 2018

October 22: genetics

My aunts all said that if you took my cousin Adrienne and me and combined our features you would get Jenny. All I’d ever seen was the portrait when she was older, so I couldn’t see it until my grandmother died and my aunt Chris went through all the pictures with me. We sorted, guessed, confirmed all kinds of first communion pictures, snapshots of fishing trips, postcards and cardboard backed studio pictures. When we got to the picture of Jenny as a younger woman, then I saw it. I don’t know about coloring--although her brothers had such light eyes you could tell even in sepia tone they were blue. But I think her genes are strong--many years separate us but here we are.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

October 21: Jenny Part 6

I believed every bit of the Jenny tale as a child, the details so clear and spooky. Plus, my father had known his own grandmother, Anna, and she was probably a compelling witness. But the story of the rings holds so many iconic images that it catches in my brain--burying, rising again in 3 days, indestructible items that want to be somewhere they are not, the repetition of the 3. To learn it was likely rooted in fact (finding the newspaper article) added an interesting layer. Threes are a common northern European number in folk tales. Think: 3 pigs, 3 bears, 3 goats, 3 days to guess a name, 3 nights to spin straw. I’m convinced it’s rooted deep in our genes.

 Picture: the portrait of Jenny that hung above her son and daughter-in-law's bed. It has seen some wear.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

October 20: Jenny Part V

Remember the newspaper article with the 3 rings not stolen even though all the cash from the store she was carrying was “stolen”? When Jenny died she left those 3 rings behind. Having no living daughters, her youngest, my great-grandfather, kept them. His wife Anna wanted nothing to do with them, the story goes.

She buried the 3 rings in the backyard.

Three days later they were on the kitchen table.

Then she threw them away.

Three days later they were on the kitchen table.

She tried to destroy them with some sort of a caustic chemical.

Three days later they were unharmed.

 My father tells this story; I assume his father told him. But where from there? Note the 3’s.

 Picture: Young Jenny

Friday, October 19, 2018

Oct 19 Jenny Part IV

Mundane details: She was married at 16 while pregnant, to a man twice her age who died leaving her with six children, only one of whom would survive to adulthood. She remarried and had one son before that husband died of emphysema. He was a bricklayer like her brothers and father. Her father was a dodgy fellow who left one wife (or maybe survived her?) and married one younger than Jenny. And then had the audacity to move in with Jenny and her two living children after her husbands and first father-in-law had all died. When her dad died, Jenny kept on with the young widow until her youngest son, my great-grandfather, married Anna. Then she moved in with them.
Photo: Dodgy dad, Henry Dawes (he immigrated from northern England)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

October 18: Jenny Part 3

Jenny was a witch and her son’s wife knew it. Anna would walk back and forth on the porch of their now demolished house, crucifix in hand, praying for deliverance from her mother-in-law inside. Jenny had always lived with them since their wedding, and her portrait hung above their bed. She would rock Anna’s baby boy and talk to him in nonsense words. After she died, Jenny appeared to Anna at the top of the stairs and frightened her so much that she took to her bed, unhinged and pregnant with my grandfather. It went on long enough that she was unable to nurse him and blamed Jenny. He was fed Eagle brand milk with molasses and it “screwed him up for life”.

(picture: We believe this to be Jenny holding her own child around 1900)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

October 17: Jenny Part Two

She shows up in 2 newspaper articles in town in her lifetime. 1st, when her brother was shot by his stepson and she “rushed to his hospital bed begging and pleading for his life”. Edward, her brother, the head of the bricklayer’s union, was on his 2nd wife. This poor woman’s son Stanley was 16 & tired of watching her get beat and he shot him. And then he died.

 2nd story: she was robbed twice on the street bringing the earnings from the furniture shop where she worked home for safekeeping. Miraculously, her three rings nor her other jewelry weren’t stolen. It lent credence to a family legend and made me think she was probably as dodgy as the rest of her family

(Photo: Jenny outside the furniture store where she worked)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

October 16: Jenny Part I

She was my grandfather's grandmother. She died the year he was born and no one in my family who was alive while I was alive ever met her. Her name was Jenny Dawes and her daughter-in-law, my great-grandmother, Anna, thought she was a witch.

She probably was. I have told this story before. She cursed Anna to a thousand deaths, whispering it in her ear as she herself was dying of kidney failure. Anna took the curse seriously and died miserably of cancer after cancer.

The house where Jenny died was only blocks from where I lived and I rushed over when I read that in the 1920 census, thrilled to see.

It is the only empty lot on the street of intact original homes

Monday, October 15, 2018

October 15: Spooky Waking

I don't wake easy. Oftentimes my dreams tell me I must. Sometimes this is frustratingly amusing on a summer morning with Diane Rehm from NPR invading my dreams and asking questions I can never answer because her guests talk over me all the time. Other times, I have terrifying visions during REM and wake to find a child crying or a text message dinging with sudden bad news. I wish my brain could wake me with butterflies and puppies but it’s usually murderers and demons chasing me. When Maeve was young I would get creepy feelings and open my eyes to find her standing next to my bed, inches from my face. She is sweet and wonderful but at night she is so spooky.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

October 14: Last Autumn

When I first separated from my husband, I stayed at my parents’ house while they traveled in Europe for 6 weeks, my kids going between this house and his, which had been mine. When they weren’t with me, the house, an old two-family my dad converted, creaked and sighed with the changing temperature. And at night walking up the steps to the second floor, sometimes I just couldn’t, and I would go back to the kitchen for a cup of tea first. I felt so silly rushing up the steps with the cats and wedging the pocket door shut. Once in bed for the night, I never left until dawn. It is not a friendly house to be alone in. But when people are there, the house is happy

Saturday, October 13, 2018

October 13: Drip

Sleeping, late at night, rain falling outside. My bed is under the eaves and I woke confused, my head wet. It took a short amount of time to realize the ceiling was leaking rainwater on my face. Calculating how much sleep I had left to get if I went back to sleep, I decided to move my bed and put a cup on the windowsill. I would handle it tomorrow. I fell back to sleep wondering how on earth I would also move this mountain. Dread. In the morning, I went behind the kneewall in the girls’ room and found the leak. I put a piece of mirror that was stashed back there under the drip and wedged a towel into the acute angle of the roof hitting the attic floorboards

Friday, October 12, 2018

October 12: Trick or Treat

In St. Louis, we trick-or-treat, as does most of the country, in my experience. I've lived in Wisconsin, Georgia, California, Texas, and Oklahoma and it happens in all. What doesn't happen anywhere I've been to outside of St. Louis is joke telling on Halloween. Kids come to the door dressed in costume and it’s expected that each child tell a joke to earn candy.

These jokes are terrible, of course. Puns and bad knock-knocks. Little kids tell made up jokes that are not funny. Every so often one will be especially good and then I tell it to all the kids in return for theirs.

 No joke? No candy. I’m easy, though. I give jokes away so the next house will have candy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

October 11: Well, Hell. Here's more.

I called my mom and asked her for others--her mom is the Ozark connection. She agreed with the ones I had and thought a while before adding:

You never watch someone leave all the way until they are out of sight. Close the door before they disappear or you’ll never see them again.

You can pass the pepper, but you can’t pass the salt to someone’s hand. You have to put it on the table and let them pick it up.

If you leave the house and then remember something you forgot, you can go back and get it but you have to sit down while you’re there. If you are going up or down the stairs and remember something, you have to finish the steps before you can go back to get it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

October 10: A few more

Some weather:

 If you can see the backs of leaves blowing in the wind, it’s about to storm. If the breeze blows straight, it might mean rain but no storm.

Cicadas or katydids start singing three months before the frost.

 If birds are feeding on the ground during a rainstorm, it will rain all day.

 And I’m sure the persimmon isn’t just Ozark--split the seed, and if the growth inside is a spoon, it means heavy wet winter snow. A fork means little snow, and a knife means wind, sleet, ice all winter.

While a few of these have scientific basis (like the leaves showing before a storm due to the wind movement), I thought these were well known truths until I was in college.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October 9: More superstition

More superstitions I grew up with:

If you drop a spoon in the kitchen, a child is coming to your house. A fork: a woman. A knife: a man. I still drop a fork on the floor and wonder who's on her way.

In the morning when you wake, never tell someone your dream until after you've eaten something, or else the dream will come true.

 If you sing at the table you'll marry a crazy man. If you get wet across the middle when you wash dishes, you'll marry a drunkard.

 If your right hand itches, you’ll find money. Left hand? You’ll lose money.

It’s good luck to accidentally put your shirt on inside out.

You spilled salt? Pour water on it. The shoulder throw thing isn’t a thing.

Monday, October 8, 2018

October 8: Superstition

My family has superstitions. They aren't spooky except when they come true. Of course this is a relative truth--some things were going to happen anyway. With my Ozark roots, most of the superstitions are ones that other people haven’t heard.Not like the black cat crossing your path or walking under a ladder. A new broom sweeps clean? It means that when you move, you have to buy (or make) a new broom or else the bad things from your old house will follow you.

 If you are walking two abreast and something comes between you (another person, a post) you have to whisper bread and butter under your breath or that thing that comes between you will become an argument.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 7: Old House

Urban archaeology is active in south St. Louis. All you have to do is put in a new fence and dig down past a foot and a half into the dirt in the yard.

Glass bottles, marbles. Doll baby heads. Pipes. Broken dishes. All of it thrown into the privy or the ashpit. The palpable reminder of people long dead who once called my house their home.

This doesn’t bother me in my new place built in 1927. Single family home small and cute. Ashpit, sure, but there was no privy here. But my old place. 1904. Old place, brick streets covered over by asphalt. A boarding house for 20 years. People in and then churned back out. I could never get the place clean of their presence.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

October 6: Weldon Springs

We are all downstream. In Missouri, this is more true than in other places. We have karst topography--essentially the ground is limestone swiss cheese. This creates caves, sinkholes, and losing streams. Geologically fascinating, it is also dangerous ecologically. Build a uranium enrichment plant on the side of a bluff in the 1940s, say, as part of the Manhattan Project, say. Where might that waste, that leftover radioactive waste, wind up? Anywhere south, east, or west. What’s done is done.

Sophia and I hike Weldon Springs, rebranded as a Lewis and Clark trail. But the land is fallow because what’s under the ground, seeping away, dripping, dripping, dripping.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Capitol Reef National Park. October 5

Great stern towering cliffs crumbling in geologic time. A lonely drive past the orchards into an old wash. Signs posted at the edge of the road: warning, radioactivity. Explanatory signs pointed out the tiny one-man sized holes in the far cliff walls. A hundred years ago men would crawl inside to claw out the yellow rock filled with radium. The signs warned visitors not to drink the water or stay longer than 12 hours. We drove down the road back to the orchards; had pie and ice cream. All I wanted was the ease, the comfort, of Missouri. You can grow things there. Rivers and rich earth. No carcinogenic lonely little holes in the crumbling walls of the canyon.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

October 4: Outside White Sands, New Mexico

The gates to the state park were wide open. No ranger to check in with. We set up camp in a beautiful desert campground. Clean restrooms, showers. But no one else joined us. Darkness. We were exposed in the wilderness. I didn't want to stay. There was a KOA down in town. They mocked my fear. I sat up all night until the gray light of dawn creeped over the trailer. Then Maeve woke with a fever and earache. I couldn't sleep while others got ready, I had to comfort her and find a clinic. Fragile and worn out from a trip too long, I didn’t chide myself for silly fears. Instead I wondered why my fears didn’t count. It was the wedge in the fissure of our marriage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

October 3: La Prele Ranger Station

You get used to being able to contact the outside world. When cell service disappears and you're on a tiny dirt road in the middle of Wyoming, terror starts to creep in. The station where you're staying has maps, coal in the basement, and a solar powered water pump. No electric. Plastic mattresses on the bunks. A guest book designed to scare. A strange metal contraption in the front yard with no explanation. A full moon. You don’t sleep. Around 4 in the morning a truck drives by. Your husband and kids perfectly comfortable. You lie in the dark room with an ax you found by the front door. In the morning he mocks you. But you kept them alive, you know you did.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

October 2: Shortwave Radio

I would listen back in high school when the eastern bloc countries were changing and the Berlin wall fell. It was a perfect time to have a shortwave radio, in the era before the internet listening to faraway voices give me the news. Or read Frankenstein in ten minute sections over the course of a month. The odd station signals. The thin tinny voices and middle eastern music. Radio Kiev. Radio Berlin. The BBC. Flitty bits without name. Morse code and ship to shore breaking in. I would listen in the dark in my bedroom to the great giant world breathing and telling me how it was over warbly static. Being able to only hear is scarier than seeing it on a screen.

Monday, October 1, 2018

October 1: Spooked

I am spooked by things that do not rationally scare me. Some things are scary. But I get spooked by dark basements and wind rattling the windows. I do not like to look at, or hold, old mechanical things, and one time I bought a pair of wooden knitting needles at a flea market that I have never been able to use. They had a bad feeling. Flea markets in general, actually. Opening the door to the garage at night. Having a dog or cat stare over my shoulder, at nothing, and maybe growl just a little bit. Houses with open crawl spaces underneath. Anything unnatural dug into the ground, frankly. I’m ok with caves. They belong there. Mines, quarries, basements, nope.