Finding Mom

This post is going to be the first in a series to document the discovery process by which I find out more about my mother. I am not going to say much now, but be aware that they mystery of the Emmons family will be under investigation. Stay tuned for more information as I unearth it (and I have more time to write!)


Lawn Twats R (not) Us

Rob’s new descriptive phrase and definition – ‘Lawn Twat’ – anyone unhealthily obsessed with the condition of their lawn to the point of being obnoxious while overlooking any other potentially detrimental landscaping details such as loose slates, overgrown bushes, and poor lighting.

That is his new name for our landlord. Seriously. The man dragged Rose’s tent into the woods because she set it up to dry on the lawn for two hours. The new grass might apparently die in that time. What is one to think? I also got yelled at for screwing with the water system, something I was not at fault for. The result? He left and the handle was turned tightly off, something our neighbor had apparently done and he had not noticed. I was not sure if this was normal, so I called him. And texted him. Four hours later he texted back. “Make it work for your needs. Then set it back for the lawn near the porch door.” How does that answer the original text of “Went to get water for plants. Main faucet was off. Do you want it/does it need to stay off?” Answer: it doesn’t.

Is it just me, or is he the stupidest smart guy I know?

This is just the latest in a long list of stupid things. I’ll update another time.

New Poem – February Beach

This poem was written about an event that occurred about three years ago, the beginning week that Gracie, our little seizure dog, died. Russ and I went to Race Point Beach on the Cape (Cape Cod for any non New Englanders) and let my two hounds run the beach. Race Point is about as far as one can get from anywhere, and seemed a good place for a run. There is also a rickety fence at the top of the dune which is not much of a deterrent, but seemed to help in this case. I am not sure if there were any fences on the beach itself, but the dogs did not run too far in any event. I think they just were thrilled to get to fly!

To be clear, I don’t advocate allowing dogs of any kind to run free, and I feel that this was a very foolish thing in retrospect. That being said, it was an amazing experience that I remember strongly enough three years later to write about. There is nothing like letting greyhounds really run, and the beach was as close to safe as I could come. I would probably never risk it again, but the experience was memorable. I also feel that Gracie got the touch of freedom her soul desired, and the tragedy of her passing later that week from a major seizure was somewhat lessened by it.

February Beach  –Deborah Jarvis 3/12/13

On a February morning, down the Cape,

My friend Russ and I traveled with you, my hounds.

Tall and quiet, you, Whith, stood, refusing to lie down

As you watched the scenery through the windshield,

Your black body a firm obstruction in my rear view.

You, Gracie, smaller and striped like an autumn tiger,

Lay quietly enjoying the ride, phased by nothing,

But excited by the drive and the company nonetheless.

We traveled the length of the land, to the very tip.

Out to Race Point Beach, where the seagulls darted

And the wind played as we flip-flopped our way

Through the ice cold sand and the salt sea spray.

It was here that I dared to pursue the dreaded desire,

To let you run free upon the beach, without limit,

Without anyway to curb your unskilled freedom,

Or check your flight in anyway beyond voice or love.

I watched you, my hounds, as you leapt from my side.

Normally restrained by leash or fence, or inside walls

Your feet took wings to fly and soared you onwards,

Speeding along the winter beach, length by length,

And sailing you aloft to the top of the high dunes,

Almost, but not quite, out of sight and sound above.

You stopped, two lean hounds, falcons of fur,

Peering down at my poor, grounded and heavy soul.

My fear of your flight, yet desire for it, was akin,

I thought, to what a falconer must feel each time

He looses his bird into the air, trusting a bond

Based on mutual trust; that his companion will

Return to him once again from the dizzying heights.

For a long moment, you stood immune to my call, my

And rising panic; the knots in my stomach increasing,

And making it hard to breath until…

…You turn, like dulcet doves, and flutter back to me,

As calm as the wild wind now tamed to my hand.

Once more gently grounded, once more on earth,

No longer in flight, you are happy and safe again,

Tongues lolling, eyes bright, and coats gleaming over

Iron framework and soft, elastic, muscled flesh.

A masterpiece of man’s hand and God’s design;

A torrent, a whirlwind, and a storm finally at rest.

The whole way home, you both sleep. Small wonder!

Your soft sighs and twitching paws tell me that

Even though you are safe home again, your souls

Still fly on the beach. In your restless dreams,

You are dogs-of-air, not tied to the earth, but free

From all earthly cares, the wind rushing through

Your swept-back ears, your eyes bright on the horizon,

And your hearts bursting to run to the end of creation.

California – Part 5

So, the end of the trip was nigh. The last day. I had a lovely morning coffee chat, bid my wonderful hostess farewell, and set off for the conference. The last day. Too soon over.

I met Jeffery for breakfast again and went to a number of seminars, including one on teaching mythology in high schools amid the growing dissolving of literature-based reading. That was pretty exciting. I was jealous. The day flew by too fast with me attending workshops, hanging out with Jeffery, and finally attending the end of the conference. As everyone broke out into their last focus groups, I drove out of the driveway, wondering if I would ever return again. I hoped so.

The drive down through Toro Canyon was now bittersweet. I had learned to drive in this foreign landscape, felt more at home with palm trees, olive trees and live oaks growing outside, and had followed Jeffery’s advice to connect with the land. You know what is odd about that land? It is so young and fresh compared to New England. Not just the people, who are really nice everywhere, but the land itself seems more vibrant and alive. It welcomed me. I felt at home there.

I returned my rental car with a full tank of gas and an empty pocketbook. I was literally down to my last few dollars, and still wanted to get stuff for the kids. I had poked around for a little while to no avail before returning my car and found a mug for my mom that said Santa Barbara, but that was all. Praying that the airport would have a better selection, I got on the bus to go back to Los Angeles with a heavy heart.

The sight of the now-familiar Santa Ynez Mountains actually made me cry. It was like saying goodbye to a new, very dear friend that you are not sure that you will ever see again. It was painful and it hurt. As we drove down the coast road and entered the Ventura Highway area, I finally got around to listening to America’s “Ventura Highway” which I had downloaded specially for this occasion. If anything, this made the whole thing worse, and I ended up with tears streaming down my cheeks. It is hard to cry quietly on a partially full bus. I did my best, though, 

As we drove, I felt the land reach out and the sense that I was welcome back anytime was comforting.  It reminded me very much of a line from the Muppet Movie when Gonzo sings, “There’s not a word yet, for old friends who’ve just met, part heaven, part space, or have I found my place? You can just visit, but I plan to stay, I’m going to go back there some day.” I will go back someday. I promise. And maybe it will be to stay.

The bus ride was long, and the wait at the airport lengthy. I also set off the sensor with something I was wearing and was subjected to a pat-down search, complete with ultraviolet lights to detect gunpowder residue. The line from Bell X-1’s song ‘The Great Defector’ went through my mind (I’m all about the quotes today apparently.) “I love the way your underwire bra always sets off the x-ray machine.” I found the whole thing amusing, and when I was on the plane and could finally relax, I discovered that my seat mate was from Harvard, MA, and we had a lovely chat about dogs and Boston before I finally fell into a fitful sleep. I wasn’t nervous at all.

Boston in the early morning is a nice sight. The landing was smooth, the sun slightly overcast, and the exit process less than terrible. I made it out of the airport, into the early September mugginess, and into my car with Rob very very glad to see me again. He told me about how the dogs had been freaking out for days, and how he couldn’t sleep. I thought, this is home. But the colors seemed all wrong and the land seemed so old, and the world didn’t have that youth and vitality. It felt tired. The houses in Toro Canyon and Ojai tried to blend in and work with the landscape. Civilization in New England has dominated the landscape. It is not the same.

Now that I am ending this blog series, I have been back here for a half a year. The images from California are still vibrant, still vivid, and still very real. I still check the weather in Santa Barbara, and still talk to Jeffery from time to time. I have readjusted to the snow, the cold, the dank weather, and the high heating oil prices. But I think often about California. I feel the land there, in all its vitality, and on dreary days like today when I am grading papers and preparing for a midterm, I think of how far away that word is, and wonder when I can go back. I feel like I need to go again. That world is waiting. It is waiting for me. I will return.

The sordid truth about…houseplants!

So I got an email from iVillage home about fifteen easy plants to grow in your home, and Being a consummate plant grower, I decided to take a look for myself. Their comments were amusing. As an indoor gardener for over 20 years, I am now going to share the actual truth about these plants…

Are they all easy? Not really.

Pothos – Will grow anywhere. Lack of light turns it fully green. Anticipate possible problems, but not many. Enough light will have it crawling towards the door, the ceiling, and small children…basically anything it can climb over or around.

Aloe – Bipolar. Won’t grow for years (literally almost a decade for one plant) and then go absolutely mad, sprouting EVERYWHERE. Good for sunburn on foolish friends who won’t wear sunscreen. Yes, Beschen, I mean YOU!

Chlorophytum – Spider plant – oops I forgot to water you. You’re still living? Good. I have one that I got over 15 years ago that I got from a guy who had been growing it at his house in Provincetown for basically the same length of time. These plants are like parrots. Your grandchildren will inherent them.

Hedera HelixEnglish Ivy – dies if you look at it the wrong way, over water it or underwater it. Cuttings from live plant won’t take, but cuttings from day-old bridal bouquet will. WTF?

Crassula – Jade Plant – will grow anywhere from the little leaves, except the leaves I brought from California. All but one perished. Upright growing, except for Cathie’s variety that grows just so tall and then cascades everywhere and sheds leaves that sprout on the floor. Not a hard keeper. Just weird.

Ficus Elasica – Rubber tree – Lazy, refuses to grow except on it’s own terms. Will leak white sticky sap that looks like – well, what do you know? It’s rubber!

Diffenbachia – Wonderful low light plant. They neglect to say that the leaves, while not toxic, are filled with tiny fiberglass like shards that if eaten by pet or child, will cause the throat to close up. These used to be – to disobedient slaves. Nice houseplant if you don’t have small children, cats, or senile relatives.

Peace Lily – Spathiphylum – WATER ME! ALWAYS! OR I WILL WILT AND LOOK ALL PATHETIC! Standard range of 85 degrees? What am I, living in a sauna? Nice plant, but temperamental.

Snake plant – Mother-in-Law’s Tongue – Sanseveria – Try to kill it, I dare you. I have been actively trying to kill one for years. It just sits there. Wrote a poem about it for class about how it just sits there. Tolerant for any idiot who can’t remember they own a plant.

Ficus Benjamina – Weeping Fig – Nice plant, but for the love of God, once it finds a place it likes in your house, don’t move it. Ever. It will drop leaves like crazy, sigh at you, and die. Okay, maybe not die, but it will look like a twig for a long time and be very slow in reviving. If ever.

Philodendron – Nice plant. easy. Will become etiolated in dim conditions (i.e. will stretch out so it leaves average about one a foot or so). Remember to water occasionally for best life.

Pepperomia – Don’t over water, don’t underwater. It will wilt to let you know it is thirsty. Over watering will cause all of the stems to die, and the plant to suddenly fall apart all at once leaving you mystified as to what went wrong. Deceptive.

Shamrock Plant – Fun plant. Nothing exciting.Might flower. Might also include Leprechaun.

Fiddle leaf fig – Similar to Weeping fig, except this one will drop dish-sized leaves all over the floor and look like a walking stick stuck in a pot. Also leaks whitish sap like the rubber tree if cut. EVERYWHERE!

Areca Palm – If you have a cat, forget it. Every Areca or Dwarf Neantha Bella palm I ever bought became cat fodder in a week. If you have no cats, you can pull this one off with some sun, some water, and a tall, cool piña colada.

Seriously, this the real truth about these plants. More than you ever wanted to know probably, but the truth will set you free, or at least stop you from trying to grow something that is not suitable!

Original link to article is here.|02-26-2013|&_mid=398636&_rid=398636.7000.127042

Reading Falkner and related thoughts

This may sound like a boring post, but it really isn’t. I have to read Absalom, Absalom by Falkner for my Literature of the Americas class, and in chapter three I came across a very old parlance which I won’t repeat here because I hate the N-word, but that W.C. Fields apparently rephrased in his film My Little Chickadee as “an Ethiopian in the fuel supply.”

A cheery cover for a cheery book, right?

A cheery cover for a cheery book, right?

I don’t like the phrase, but I did grow up with it, along with other racist comments that my parents, who grew up in the 30s and 40s, and grandparents, who grew up in the 20s, had no problems using. I have had to kill some of these from my own vernacular, though the phrase “Chinaman’s chance” is intriguing given the supposed history behind it regarding the often deadly jobs that immigrant Chinese workers were given while mining and building railroads. The phrase here is not totally racist per se, but the way the Chinese workers were treated certainly was. The phrase has long since been removed from my usable vocabulary.

Let’s be absolutely clear that my mother and my father had views that were typical of the culture in which they grew up. My mother’s family lived in a huge house in Andover (paid for by my grandfather’s association with the Lawrence mill industry of where his family owned the Emmons Loom Harness Company) and had a black cook and gardener/chauffeur. She is actually pretty racist, though she does not admit to it. Her words are evident though, and she seems to take great pleasure in my discomfiture. My father’s mother, Alma, was very clear that he be kind to anyone regardless of race and that my dad give up a seat to any elderly person regardless of color, race, or creed, but he still used the phrases without much thought to their being racist. Dad was about the least racist person I knew, actually, but back then, using the phrases just wasn’t an issue or a topic for commentary. They just were.

Fortunately, Falkner’s quote never made it into my repertoire, even though I heard it and knew what it meant. At least, I thought I knew what it meant, and so, to be sure, I ended up going to the computer to double check. Wikipedia did indeed confirm that I was right in thinking that the heavily British phrase did (and still does to some older politicians who have used it at the wrong time in the UK) mean that there was something beyond what it obviously seen, something hidden from the view of the casual observer. Apparently the phrase may have come from the Underground Railroad movement, though there is some question as to whether that was its only progenitor, or whether there is a further tie to the train cars of lumber that often had enough space for a man to hide in and remain unseen.

Regardless of its origins, I do tend to read all Wikipedia articles fully. I admit to liking Wikipedia, not for its actual and possible questionable information, but for its links to the original articles. This section can be a veritable source of interesting information. Like the link about marmalade.

Now, what does marmalade have to do with this topic, you ask? Apparently one of the UK politicians who made one of the official gaffes had referenced a certain brand of marmalade(Robertson’s)whose trademark character is, or was until a few years ago, a creature called a Gollywog. A new Wikipedia search, and I found myself faced with this image:

A picture from the original book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and the Gollywogg.

A picture from the original book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and the Gollywogg.

This is from a 1895 book entitled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg by Florence Kate Upton. Apparently, the Gollywog was listed as, and I quote: “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome” (Upton). This in itself could be seen as crucially racist, but at the time, it probably was originally not meant to be. It indeed inspired the creation of the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that freaked so many of us out as children.

In later years, there have been a great deal of collectables derived from this image, and these toys are even being sold in stores to this day. However, in recent years, from about the 1980s on, the remarkable bulk of the PC steamroller has done its best to remove this image from the sight of people both in the UK and America as being horridly racist. Upton’s books are no longer being printed and several other books that had black characters, such as Mr. Golly from the Noddy books  or Little Black Sambo, have also had a lot of negativity applied to their images, so much so that a Noddy character was replaced by a white version of the character in the last few years. This replacement caused its own stir as Mr. Golly was a garage owner, and some African American garage owners have apparently felt that the character’s replacement by Mr. Sparks was a slight to them. You know the old saying – you can’t please anyone.

In stores now...or at least, a couple of years ago.

In stores now…or at least, a couple of years ago.

So what does this all have to do with Falkner? Well, a lot actually. Absalom, Absalom does not stint with its use of the N-word any more than Huck Finn or To Kill A Mockingbird do, and it seems to follow the same anti-racism pattern of the other two books. The attitude of the South is clearly portrayed in the entire story, and even though I am not through with it yet, I can only imagine where it may well be headed. The story reflects the way the world was and uses that lens to see the problems inherent within.

This is where the Gollys come in. They are a symbol of the way things were. Things were racist, yes, and the name Gollywog has spawned all sorts of racial epithets that I refuse to use or name here, but you can guess. What is not seen in all of the news reports about Carol Thatcher using the term to describe an African American tennis player, or people seeing them in stores and sending angry letters that they be pulled from the shelves is that there is a piece of history here that is being swept under the rug. The Gollys reflect the way the world was when the story was written many years ago by a woman who had gone to America as a little girl, seen little black children playing with little black rag dolls, and returned to England, eventually writing a children’s story years later about toys.

While we do not want to embrace these ideals, we don’t want to forget them either. The old axiom that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it is very true, and by banning everything and changing things to suit the PC vultures, we are ignoring a history that we should remember, not to encourage but to grow from. If people who looked at the image and Upton’s book went beyond the line about the Gollywogg being “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome,” they would find that the character revealed himself to be a noble, kind, and generous figure who was loyal and true to his friends – something positive that should be lauded in that time period. These positive characteristics were not true of other Gollywog characters, however, especially those created by Enid Blyton in her Noddy books, and this is why there is so much dislike of the character as a whole.

My final word on the subject is this: don’t embrace racism but don’t forget the history that it comes from. Remember that the characters were created in a time when there was no PC policing force to tell us what to think and hide a past that might not be so lovely. I am under no illusions about what the past views of my ancestors were. I am totally aware about the social injustices that people have been forced to face. The Native Americans, African Americans, Irish Americans, Asian Americans, Russian Americans, and, most recently, the Islamic Americans have been the targets of hate crimes unnumbered. As we forget one racial bias, we find another to take its place. Hiding from racism and pretending it is not there has not solved anything. From the evidence of Chinese students being harassed at colleges around the country to Middle Eastern businesses being threatened and mosques being attacked, the ideals of racism are alive and well in America.

If I ever buy a Golly doll, and I might before they disappear entirely from the picture under the PC machinery, it will be because of this reason: I won’t forget, like so many others, that many people have fought and died in this country for their worthy beliefs and goals of freedoms. And I don’t mean my forefathers, either. I mean all of the people, ALL of them, who have fought to gain their rights in this nation. Their fight is not over. Not by a long shot. Pretending otherwise is being blind to the reality that exists all around us in schools and workplaces across this country. Getting rid of the symbols of racism is not the same thing as getting rid of racism. It is just another way to turn a blind eye to the problem.

For more information on the history of the Gollywog, view this link:
For a history of the Gollywog and its creator, check this out:

Enter the Dragon…err…Angry Poet?

We went to the Bardic on Saturday night and I read “Tundra baby,” “The Mound,” and “Coyote for Coffee” which is an older poem, and highly amusing. At this event, a certain person who often goes by the nomenclature of Lily Pond Wolf walked over to my husband and grabbed his ass. When he complained, she laughed and did it again. She also took his photo several times over his well-voiced and loud complaints that he was uncomfortable with that. She ignored him, and I am going to now have to do something ugly. I am going to have to tell the organizers.

In other news, the latest offing for the poetry class, hot off the press.

Familia Musica – Deborah Jarvis 2/4/13

Three blind players were our kin,

(We’re glad there weren’t four!)

They played a loud, amazing din

And no one cried for more.


The violinist screeched away,

His bowing skills were harsh,

His listeners were all heard to say,

“Let’s throw him in a marsh.”


As fingers danced on mandolin

They often missed a step;

Music from an opera has-been

Who’d oft come down with strep.


The fumble-fingered guitarist broke

Every string she tried to tune

Along with the songs she made to croak

Her career had found its doom.


They’d come together one spring day

In hopes of getting signed

But we all realized clear as day

They were deaf as well as blind.

Tundra’s Poem

And the first poem…

Tundra Baby (For Tundra)
—Deborah Jarvis  – 1/15/13

Tundra Baby,
Tundra boy.
Darling, sweetheart,
Furry Joy.

Quiet, skittish,
Bite my thumb.
Cuddle closely,
When night comes.

Five years old,
No older still.
Sickness, darkness,
Deathly ill.

Skin and Bones,
All flesh dissolved.
Tremor, shaking,
Life resolved.

Pills and tablets,
Keep you here.
Cancer creeping,
Minutes dear.

Morning rises,
Days go bye.
Wondering just
How soon you’ll fly.

Tundra Baby,
On the floor.
Death on car seat
Joy no more.


Here is the second poem that I have written for my poetry class.

The Mound – 1/24/13

Through the leafless trees,

Moonlight glimmers.

I walk through the snow

Alone with the dogs.


The wind, cold and harsh,

Bites my bare cheeks,

Numbs my ears, and

Tugs at my gloves.


Beyond the dog pen,

Just past the forest,

The flags in the cemetery

Whip in the wind.


And on the small hill,

Beyond the trees, but

Not quite in the Yard,

Something ancient stirs.


I can hear it move

As it whispers along

The leaf-covered ground,

Just beyond sight.


The wind moans and wails,

The tree-tops dance,

And the dogs and I

Remove within.


Behind on the path,

In the dark, windy,

And frigid winter night,

The leaves crackle.


The earth trembles;

The shadows deepen.


I close the old door,

And the mystery,

Outside in the dark,