Archive for the 'Tales From The Coal Patch' category

Things That Keep Me From Blogging

Disorganization. Procrastination. Endless estate paperwork and ensuing depression.

Trips back to western PA to empty out the house, and ensuing depression. Knowing the house is finally empty, putting it on the market, selling it two days later, and ensuing depression.

Sunday evening making a cake while dreaming about renovating my ugly kitchen when suddenly the power goes out because the electric panel died, 24 hours before a planned trip so hello emergency electrician, goodbye 10% reno budget...and cue ensuing depression. While a supposed-to-be vacation week is suddenly and terrifyingly made a visit-to-the-hospital week, returning home with worry worry worry on the mind, and ensuing depression.

A garden that was the source of pleasure and rejuvenation now overrun with weeds, baked dry as a bone, plants dying or suffering powdery mildew - in just one week! - looking like an eyesore and a hopeless chore, and ensuing depression.

Some hours on the phone for a $$$ doctor's bill the insurance won't pay, for the same test they paid for a month prior, submitted with an incorrect procedure code, impossible! for the aggressive billing office to deal with in any way, and ensuing depression.

No thing is unbearable, but everything is. No thing is impossible to deal with, but everything is difficult and draining and filled with despair.

No thing keeps me from blogging, but everything does.

7 responses so far

Theon Greyjoy: Catastrophic Transformation Into Living Death

Game of Thrones fans, book and show alike: this post DOES contain spoilers. If you are not up to date with your reading and show watching (Season 4, Episode 6), then read no further.

Also, this is very sad. You are warned.

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

I Held You In My Arms As You Once Held Me In Yours

This is something I wrote three years ago but never posted. I decided to share it because mom is on my mind, and because I want to encourage those of you involved in elder care to consider keeping a journal. I did write some during my years caring for mom, but not regularly, and not nearly enough. I wish I could have all my time with her back in writing. Here is one bit I did capture.


You'd been mentioning the arboretum during our phone calls, and on my last few visits.  What could you be talking about, where might it be?  An arboretum, right there in the city?  You said we went to it years ago, as Girl Scouts, when you were a troop leader. The woman from our town who took us there pointed out the spring wild flowers.  Trilliums.  I didn't even know you knew what they were.  I had recently discovered them, through a garden excursion with my own local arboretum. And thought I was fancy for learning what you had long known.

But the arboretum.  Through the genius of google, I found it, right where you said it would be.  And I asked you if you wanted to go see it.  Yes.

We stopped by the woods on a sunny autumn afternoon.  The parking lot was empty.  I got your wheelchair out of the trunk and should have known right away I was attempting something that wasn't sensible, something too difficult, something downright dangerous.  The handicapped parking spot was the only thing about the arboretum that was accessible.  Between the parking lot and the arboretum path there was a step - a small step, to be sure, but still a step.  I didn't notice then how the pavement sloped a little downwards there, too.  Nevertheless, you wanted, and I wanted for you.

I placed the wheelchair on the path, and helped you manage the few paces from the car to the chair - including that small step down.  Not bad.  The path itself was gravel - not great, but I managed.  We rolled back and forth only a short distance, as the path quickly sloped downwards at either end. As stupid as I was that day, I wasn't stupid enough to push you in a wheelchair downhill on a gravel path.

We admired what trees we could see, read what signs and markers there were to be read, and then returned to the path entrance.  And the little step, and that - oh, now I see it - sloping pavement.  How in the world am I going to get you back into the safety of the car?

I brought the chair close to the step and locked the wheels, and helped you stand up.  But that easy step up for me, from the level surface to the mildly sloping pavement, was for you a step onto a looming incline - you, with your weak legs, poor balance, and no handrails in sight.  "I'm going to fall, I'm going to fall!" you cried out.

"No, no, you aren't!"  I wrapped you in my arms and by sheer will alone I held you up.  By all the laws of physics you should have been lying on the rough asphalt with a broken hip, autumn leaves plastered to a bloodied skull.  Those are the images that flashed through my terrified brain as I steadied you, calmed you, helped you move slowly to the safety of the car just those few paces away. "How did she die?" someone murmurs at the funeral home.  "Oh, it was the daughter's fault.  Knocked her down on some godforsaken parking lot pavement and bashed her skull in." But you did not die, and we both live to drive off for dinner with your sister.

While I held you and did not drop you, and vivid images of your death flashed in my mind, this also came to me.  There is a story of my infancy you have told me over and over and over again.  How, as a baby, I was colicky, and you walked the floors with me every night, trying to soothe and calm me.  How one night, holding me so long and so late, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other, so tired from all your labors of the day, you fell asleep standing up.  You woke up just in time to catch yourself from dropping me on the floor and falling on top of me.  I am certain, from the sheer number of retellings of this tale throughout my lifetime and the way you tell it, that images of my bashed and bloodied baby skull on the kitchen floor must have flashed through your terrified brain.

I want to give you all that will make you happy, just as you did for me, but my first job is to keep you safe, just as yours was for me.  I am not an overworked, sleep-deprived mother.  I should have known better than to try something crazy like an arboretum outing, and all on my own, too.  No one gave me a manual for this.

My arboretum's paths are paved. I could wheel you around the whole of it.  But you are not here. And it is not the one you remember, with the trilliums, when you were a Girl Scout leader, when your legs were strong, when I was a girl, when life stretched long before you, when a step was just something you stepped lightly over on your way to something else.

5 responses so far

The Cabbage is Sad

I've been eating a soup of struggle, pain, and loss for the past two years. Still I have not found my way back to the center, and I begin to suspect there is no one who will or can say "stop, little pot".

Mr. Z and I throw in a dash of bluegrass festival or getaway vacation or just an evening's Jeopardy-watching marathon to season, as we can. In this way it is possible to continue eating the soup; our eyes meet over the rim of our bowls, and we remember the world-without-soup.

In the past few months, we have been eating the soup of sorting, packing, giving away, and leave-taking. My siblings and I are clearing out the house my mother lived in for over eighty years, the house she was, literally, born in, so that it can be sold. Mr. Z and I are helping his parents winnow down their already-once-winnowed possessions for the move from two-bedroom condo to daughter's house. Three lifetime's worth of belongings form a river past our selves; some diverted to siblings, some to charity, some to us, until the river will dry up. As our tributary washes in the front door I begin to dig a channel out the back, pouring in unworn clothing, unused bedding, dishes-replaced-with-dishes, furniture-with-furniture. My channel is no match for the tributary, itself a tiny offshoot of the river; the house floods with worldly goods, memories, and regrets. The river itself would drown me if I am not careful.

Yesterday evening Mr. Z came home with three pottery bowls and a cookbook. You've seen the type; a church or community or extended family gathers favorite and treasured recipes; they are typed up, printed, often spiral bound with a cover evoking embroidery or tatted lace. This morning I began reading the tales of food, love, friends and family. Appetizers and Pickles proved disappointing. How many Taco Dip recipes does one need? The next section was Soup, and there it was, first recipe on the first page: Cabbage and Potato Soup. Hungarians, cabbage and potato soup - surely this will be good. The ingredients list included Kalbasz and sour cream; very promising. And then the first instruction:

Place cabbage in large bowl; sprinkle with salt. Allow it to get sad.

If only this cookbook came with a bubba! Perhaps a DVD bubba, if a real-life one cannot be assigned. A bubba to say "this is how cabbage looks and feels when it is sad; this is what I mean by 'stir occasionally'; lard will not kill you, eat, eat!; done but not mushy is like this; season to taste just so; and here is where you can get real Kalbasz, or how to make it if the old ones are all gone."

Alas, it does not. My mother is gone. My mother-in-law is moving away. I shall have to content myself with My Grandmother's Ravioli. And imagine I am a bubba myself, and try the Cabbage and Potato soup recipe. I will allow the cabbage to get sad; I will stir occasionally; I will cook until tender; I will cook until done but not mushy. I will mix and return to pot. I will season to taste, and I will always remove scum from top of water when cooking with small strainer.

I will do all this, as A.W. asked, in memory of E.R., and in honor of all the bubbas who so willingly cooked and served up food and love against the struggle, pain, and loss, all throughout my life.

6 responses so far

I Wasn't Hearing That So Nicely For So Long

Last night I found a note I’d written to myself at least two and maybe three years ago, at the end of a beach vacation.

The ocean’s so vast – we can’t imagine it fished out.  Mom has been with me so long – I can’t imagine I will lose her. We don’t want to imagine these things. We tell ourselves all is okay even in the face of blatant evidence to the contrary.

Z contemplates life, the universe, and everything

Z contemplates life, the universe, and everything

I knew, from the moment we first got the diagnosis of congestive heart failure for mom, that we were at the beginning of the end. I knew that CHF could be managed, but not cured. And even if it could be cured, there is no cure for life. I knew but as my father-in-law says when we offer information he is not thrilled to receive: “I don’t hear that.”

This was maybe in 2004.  As one does, I resolved to treat time as precious. Resolutions waver, especially in the face of one’s own chronic illness. I often think about the four relatively good years of mom’s life that I let slip by.

In the summer of 2007 she expressed a desire to go to Cape Hatteras once again. It was a family vacation spot with many happy memories.  My younger sister and I managed to take her there for a week in September. We did everything. She didn't even want to wheel by a little yellow flower without a closer look.

The flower she couldn't pass by.

The flower she couldn't pass by.

One night she had food poisoning from some bad shrimp. We feared that she would be out for the rest of the week; I knew how long a similar bout would knock me down. The next morning she up was up, ready, and determined to go. Perhaps she knew this would be her last vacation trip ever. I thought it would be her last. But I didn't hear that.

Happy feet at Hatteras

Happy feet at Hatteras


It was January of 2008 when she moved into assisted living.

I became her power of attorney and as time went on, became ever more intimately involved with her affairs and her life. She called me often, sometimes several times a day, and left little voice messages if she didn’t catch me. Suzanne, it’s me, I just called to talk a little bit. Okay, I’ll talk to you later. Bye-bye. Suzanne, it’s me. I just called to see if you’re watching the Steelers. Okay, talk to you later. Her Reader’s Digest subscription needed renewal; send a check to the KDKA Turkey Fund at Thanksgiving; donate to the Red Cross for the Haiti earthquake or the tsunami in Japan.  She would remind me to pay the hairdresser at the assisted living home, tell me to buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot got high (“and one for yourself!”), and ask me to “bring some extra cash” the next time I visited, to pay for some handmade cards purchased from a friend.

Her health status oscillated, each time the peaks scaling a little less height, the troughs diving a little deeper.  The cane left at home when she moved to AL; first a walker, then sometimes a transport chair or wheelchair, then almost always the chairs, while we were out and about. She said she dreamed of being at a home town wedding in the firehall, walking around and saying hi to everyone seated in the chairs around the edge of the dance floor, and I just walked and walked and walked! It was such a good dream! But it's never gonna be. I listened and I sympathized and I felt sad. Still, I didn't hear that, not really.

Last October she was in rehab; at the end of my visit, she tried to coax me to stay an extra day. In my mind I had to get back home for some damn thing. I'm not going to live forever, Suzanne she said. I really did not hear that.

Even as late as last Thanksgiving I was still not hearing so nicely. She'd gotten as strong as I'd seen her in years after a round of PT at the rehab facility and was so happy to be back at her assisted living home. She surely had at least another year yet. We had a glorious feast in her home with many family members present, and she tasted the pleasure of every moment. We made silly art sculptures from vegetable pieces and she laughed.


Thanksgiving spread at mom's house

Thanksgiving spread at mom's house

Veggie art

Veggie art












The next day she fell and broke her arm. In the ER she said to me "This ruins everything" and my heart broke.

I knew broken bones are often the death knell of the elderly; but I didn’t hear that. “It’s only her arm, not her hip” I soothed. “She will recover! It will just take time!” In the nursing home she experienced excruciating pain at the slightest jostling, and by Christmas she was a shadow of the vibrant woman she had been one holiday earlier. By the first week of January, when Dr. Bones pronounced her healed and said the sling could go, she didn’t give much of a good goddamn about anything.  Or perhaps more accurately: she would have given it, but she was clean out of goddamns, good or bad.

I knew for sure then that the end was very close, and yet, I was not having any hearing of that.  Maybe she needed her meds adjusted, or she wasn’t getting enough attention at the nursing home, or the right attention, or she needed to be encouraged more in rehab. Or a pony, or a unicorn.

One afternoon of the week I was to leave for Science Online 2013, waiting at a red light, I saw an unusual number of cars go through the intersection before me. I saw, but I didn’t see that. The light turned green and the line of traffic just kept on going through the intersection. One, two , three cars…what the hell…red light runners are so fucking annoying…I honked my horn. And then I saw that. I saw the last two cars with little flags attached to their hoods. Flags that said “funeral”.  Oh! Sorry, sorry, I mouthed, hands waving wildly as if that would both communicate my apology and magically ward off some kind of bad karma I had just created.

A few days later, during a meal at SciO13, my cell rang, and it was my younger sister. She told me mom had had what looked like a stroke, and she was having trouble talking, and they had taken her to the hospital for observation. I knew what that meant. And this time, I heard that. I heard everything my sister said, and some things she didn't.

I was on a plane the next morning and at mom's bedside by the afternoon. A few days later she had a grand mal seizure, and by the end of the week we had moved her back home with the help of hospice. Just one week more came the moment when I traded my role as power of attorney for that of executor. Tomorrow will be the half-year anniversary of the transition.


She lived a long life. I know how fortunate I am to have had that much time with her, to have been with her at the end, and for her end to have been in her own home as she had wished, as peaceful as we could make it. My grief is not exactly that she should have had more time in her life - not more years of increasing disability and sickness, for sure - but that she should have had more time in her life when I was more present, more respectful, more attentive to her as a person and not just my mom (but also my mom).

Some of you may know I wrote some things in her memory on Twitter; they are collected here in a Storify.

Thank you, dear Zuskateers, for reading this.

Z and Z-mom January 2007

Z-mom and Z, January 2007


16 responses so far

How Sentiment and Respect Can Leave Your Parents Vulnerable

Jan 29 2013 Published by under (if) Elder (why) Care, Tales From The Coal Patch

A woman's purse is a part of her person. Even hairy-legged feminazis know that. A purse is an intimate thing; it carries so much of a woman's life inside. If the woman is a mother, it also magically produces all sorts of things for her children: tissues, pieces of candy, bobby pins, loose change, ketchup packets, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, and much more.

Of course a woman may have more than one purse, and will transfer contents from one to the other as the social occasion warrants, but the concept of a woman's purse more than any one purse is what I am talking about. The purse is a symbol of her autonomy and responsibility: she takes care for herself, and she takes care for others.

My mother's purse was ever-present, bountiful and authoritative. Z-mom was the family banker; her purse held the wallet that paid for groceries, clothing, or shoes. When at last she had to move to assisted living, her purse went with her. We knew she could not keep large amounts of cash with her but she wanted some money in her purse "just in case". We allowed $20. And her debit card. The debit card she wanted so that when we took her to doctor appointments, she could be the one to pay for lunch or dinner out. We bought a safe for her room but the purse never ended up in it; it was too awkward to get at and too difficult to open, and mom wanted her purse more accessible.

Inevitably, of course, some one of the low-paid staff stole her wallet out of her purse. The bank immediately recognized suspicious transactions and called me; we cancelled the card. Mom grieved the loss of the photos in her wallet more so than the few hundred dollars card theft (which, in any case, the bank reimbursed, as she was covered against fraud). Luckily, the wallet was found and returned to her, minus the $20 and the debit card. The thief and her boyfriend were caught on surveillance video and sentenced to some jail time. Mom's trust in the staff who cared for her took a hit. And we decided, no more debit card in the purse. My sisters would hold her card to use when they took mom out.

This was the right decision to protect mom against identify theft and fraud. We should have done it from the start. But it felt like cutting a hole in the bottom of her purse. Hacking out the purse was something we just couldn't bring ourselves to do at the time we were uprooting her from her life-long home for the potting soil of assisted living. So we left her exposed to theft.

Mom continued to take her purse with her when she went out, but sometimes we just took the handicap parking pass. Once or twice she remarked that there wasn't any point in her taking the purse since it wasn't needed for anything. This broke my heart. Your heart breaks at least three or four times a month when you are caring for your parents, if you are doing it right.

This past year has been full of grief and illness for Z-mom. From June to December, she underwent eleven transitions between her assisted living home, the hospital, rehab hospitals, and a skilled nursing home. The last straw was when she was finally back to her old self, but just for a few weeks; she fell and broke an arm. Back to skilled nursing. Recovery has been difficult. When I last saw her in early January she seemed distant. It was difficult to engage her. The thought occurred to me, we should take her rings home. She's so not herself, what if someone takes them off her hand? Or what if someone takes them off her for some reason for bathing and they are lost? And then I thought, what am I taking them home and saving them for? For when she is "better"? She's so depressed, won't this just make things worse? How can I go to her and tell her, you can't wear your wedding rings anymore, you can't wear your mother's ring with the six gemstones anymore? How can I take them away from her? Getting old is a process of gradually losing pieces of your life and autonomy. How can I say, even this, your wedding rings, you must lose, so that you can keep them? Keep them safe, so we can put them back on you in the casket?

So I said nothing. It turns out, my sister had much the same thoughts and doubts as I did. And, it turns out, we should have listened to ourselves. Z-mom's wedding rings are gone.

She says I took them off my hands to put lotion on and I put them on my tray table and then I forgot to put them back on and then they were gone. This doesn't make sense to me. How did she get the lotion? She can't reach it from her bed or wheelchair; someone had to give it to her. But also: she never takes her rings off, not for anything. Not for wringing out a mop while scrubbing floors, not while doing dishes, not while changing diapers, and definitely not while putting lotion on her hands. Why would she have taken them off, unless someone told her to?  I can't prove it, but in my heart I think someone stole her wedding rings, probably to sell for the gold.

A friend said to me, this is tragic, but in the scope of tragedies, keep in mind that she is safe, she isn't being abused, she doesn't have bedsores, her health is being well looked after. This is all true. But in the scope of all that Z-mom has been dealt in life and over the past six months, I say, really life? This too? Enough already.

What I would advise someone in a similar situation: if your elder loved one is in a senior living arrangement and is showing signs of confusion and/or dementia, take their rings home. When you come to visit them, bring the rings and let them wear and enjoy them while you are there with them. Then take them home again. It's not a perfect solution; you still have to rob them of another piece of their autonomy. But they won't be robbed of their rings, and you won''t have to try to console them over the loss of something that can never be replaced.

It's so very hard to make these choices. Everything you read about elderly people going into assisted living or nursing homes says, don't let them have anything valuable with them. But I haven't seen anything that gives advice on getting past the emotional roadblock involved in doing just that. "Don't let them have anything valuable" sounds sensible in the abstract. No thousand dollar bills or original Monet paintings in the room! That's easy! Taking someone's wallet and rings, however, feels a lot like saying "you're getting more feeble and closer to the grave each day, so just let me have hold of these things dear to your heart and sense of yourself!" Out of respect and love, we desire to let our elders hold on to as much autonomy as they can, as long as possible. In doing so, we risk leaving them vulnerable to thieves and accidents. It's enough to break your heart, one more time.

UPDATE: Apparently I learn nothing, even from my own experience and writing. "Do not give in to sentimentality" is advice easier to give than take. Sigh.

13 responses so far

Letter to Santa

My mother kept a book for each of her children (at least, the younger ones) called "School Days. It had two pages and a pocket for each grade. It had room to record your child's teacher(s), friends, pets, hobbies, clubs & activities, awards & achievements, sports, school & location, height & weight, "additional information", a place to paste their photo, and a line for them to print or sign their name, as they gained prowess. We always thought the entry for school and location was hilarious because you could just put it in at the beginning of the book: Bobtown Elementary, Mapletown Jr-Sr High School. What else was there to know? We had no concept of kids moving from one school to another as their families moved. Nevertheless we dutifully filled it in.

Fifth grade's additional information dutifully notes in my crabbed printing "My teeth are coming in; hair is shoulder length; am going to write". A very important year: the gap from my missing front teeth, which had inspired the great poetic work "Toothless and Teethless" (another time, Zuskateers) was finally getting patched; and I declared myself as a writer. Never mind there were detours through engineering and administration, and writing turned out to be blogging. I was right all along.

The pockets were for newspaper clippings, extraordinary art work, and things of that nature. I was going to say "I don't know how she had time to keep up with that" for all of us. Except that, you know, we were our mother's job - nay, her life's work. There was time because this is what she did. I was thinking the other day how badly we've all been hoodwinked with that "how can I combine career and family" question. The question implies that "family" a.k.a. mothering (and here I mean mothering, not parenting) is something that is not very difficult, creative, important, worthwhile, or time-consuming when done right. Therefore it can be "combined" with Career, which is all of those, by correct application. Think of Career as the shiny new glass tile of your kitchen backsplash that everyone looks at and wants, and Family as the grout which you paste in the thin little spaces inbetween (and nevermind that you need the grout to keep the whole business together).  Once the grout is properly in, you need not think of it much anymore, and can refocus all your attention on the pretty, shiny glass tile.

Mothering can be done by women or men, I think, but it truly is more than a full time job - it is a life's work.  Parenting is something different. It can be done by one or two parents, and parented children can thrive just as well as mothered children. Whether you are in a family where the children are being mothered or parented, life for everyone would be so much better if everyone's workplace was less greedy and demanding. And not just your fancy white collar jobs.  I remember my dad would trade shifts with someone in the coal mine, or go without sleep before the next shift, so he could see me or my sister or brother sing a silly song in a school play, or be crowned Queen of Hearts at Valentine's, or march with the band at our first football game. Mom would be glad he was there, and then worry about him at work.

Among the ephemera my mother saved in the pockets of my school years was a frantic 5th grade note:


I need 50 cents, one self-addressed envelope, 3 buttons, my cotton balls, and a milk carton for Monday. Also, get me up at 7:00 and make sure I get up then.


p.s. I need an 8-cent stamp

I would dearly love to know what that was all about.

Another piece she saved leads us finally to the title of this post - a letter to Santa. Written when I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade, I was teetering on the edge of believing/non-believing. As a budding scientist, I was hoping to garner some proof one way or the other.

Letter to Santa Claus from 9-yr-old Zuska

Letter to Santa Claus from 9-yr-old Zuska

The text of the letter reads:

Dear Santa,

We left some cookies and milk for you, and some salt for your reindeer. (Be sure they all get equal amounts.) I hope you brought my Love doll, and Cindy's doll like mine. Are you real? (Write yes or no) [Arrow pointing to two blank lines]

I really do believe in you.

Suzy, Cindy, Paul, Andy, Eddie, Mom, Dad [unexplainable sibling deletion - sorry, Pat!]

In the morning, the cookies and milk, and the salt, were gone, and the letter was signed in elaborate script "Thank you Merry Christmas - Santa". Santa declined to answer the "are you real yes or no" portion of the letter. Obviously beneath his dignity, or maybe he just didn't see it - it was in the messiest part of the letter, and he was probably in a hurry.

So Santa, since I have written proof of your realness, I'm writing again to ask for just a few things this year. I believe I have been especially good this past year. I've whined only the usual amount about the migraines; I've done a lot of elder care and not begrudgingly either - time spent with elders can be difficult but is often a gift itself; I've done most of the litter box duty and all of the cat puke duty. So please, please Santa, this is what I am hoping for.

1. Let lots and lots and lots more people follow George Bush Sr.'s lead and resign from the NRA.

2. Let those who remain fight like hell to change the organization from within.

3. Let Wayne LaPierre vanish into a world where the only sound is is own howling.

4. Let the tide be turned back on the vicious onslaught against workers and unions.

5. Let the people realize that not just the children, but the teachers, too, are our future.

6. Let parenting and mothering both become more possible and pleasurable as real and unconstrained choices for all.

7. Let The Hobbit be a reasonably pleasurable and escapist viewing experience for me and not a total crushing disappointment when I compare it to my own mental images of the novel.

Thank you, Santa. I know you are busy this time of year and I will appreciate anything you can do with this list. If #7 is too difficult you can leave it off.

One last question. Are you real?

(Write yes or no).  ___  ___



2 responses so far

Washington Trades and Labor Building

A few weeks ago I was in Washington, Pa - or what everyone in southwestern Pa refers to as "Little Washington". I've been there on numerous occasions but this was the first time I'd seen this building.

Washington Trades and Labor Building, Washington, PA

This is a closer view of the entrance.

Washington Trades and Labor Building entrance

The building now houses the Newman Center for Washington & Jefferson College on its second floor.

What had originally caught my eye, and led me to want to investigate more closely, was the stone slab on the lower left of the building front.

Inscribed stone slab on the front of Washington Trades and Labor Building

The inscription reads:

This granite is dedicated in memory of our brothers and sisters of Washington and Greene Counties who paid the ultimate price for employment many of which due solely to corporate greed and employer indifference to safety.

"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living" Mary Harris 'Mother' Jones

"The present age handed over the workers, each alone and defenseless, to the unbridled greed of that a very few and exceedingly rich men had laid a yoke of almost slavery on the unnumbered masses of non-owning workers." Pope Leo XIII

It's difficult to describe how I felt when I read that. It was breathtaking to see such strong words chiseled in granite right there out in the open for everyone to see - right here in the age of Scott Walker and Mitt Romney.  It's not some very old monument either - it was dedicated in 2001.  I haven't been able to find any information about the building or the granite marker.  If anyone knows anything about either, I'd appreciate it if you'd leave a comment.

If the Republicans have their way, we'll be right back in the world these quotes describe - indeed we're heading there.  It is so discouraging to a child of a UMWA man, to see how beaten down unions are in the U.S. today.


2 responses so far

Remembrance of Pies Past

Last year for the first time I made a shepherd's pie, in time for Pi Day, but inexplicably did not blog it. Onion, carrots, chunks of lamb meat in a savory filling, topped with mashed potatoes and sprinkled with cheese, then run under the broiler.  We dined with pleasure, and were sated.

Shepherd's Pie, One Year Ago

I love good pie, but alas, must purchase it or start with frozen crust. I cannot make a crust.

I love also the oblong pie that sits on a shelf in a wrapper,  Hostess Fruit Pies. Last week I searched but could not find them in my local supermarket - most likely because they are low class and my aspirational supermarket won't go slumming.  Years ago, when we were too stupid to know how low class we were, my mother packed these in my father's dinner bucket.  Something sweet at the end of a meal taken in the dark of a coal seam.  Sometimes he didn't eat everything in his bucket, or drink all the water in the bottom.  When the dinner pail came home, the leftovers that had journeyed to the underworld and back seemed especially desirable to we children - the water, more tasty, more thirst-quenching than nectar; the bit of sandwich or fruit pie, more savory than a feast. An unwrapped fruit pie was often saved for the next day's bucket; but once in awhile, we were permitted to devour it.

After I wrote that last sentence, I searched on google for "coal miner's bucket" and found this, where you can see great pictures and learn a little about a coal miner's life.  And there, I also read this:

I used to love to get anything my dad brought home in his bucket. It always seemed to taste better after it had been in there.

This gave me an odd and comforting happiness.

Hostess may have served my father's  dark world pie needs, but in the land of sunlight, it was my mother's coconut cream pie he loved.  We talked of pie today, and she told me how she made her own crust, and her own meringue, but used boxed vanilla pudding for the filling, adding a handful of coconut to it before putting it in the shell.  Back then, this was not instant pudding; it required some cooking.   I can remember my mother's meringues, picture them in my mind's eye; they were wonderful.  She made them from scratch, from egg whites; I cannot make crust, let alone meringue.

How did Daddy come to love coconut cream pie, I asked, did he always like it, or did you make it and he came to like yours?  Oh, I guess I just made it, and he started eating it, and that was the one he liked best.  I always made it for him on his birthday, he never had a cake, just the coconut cream pie.  My mother, when she made it, she made it all - the crust, the meringue, the filling.  I don't know how she did, cooked that pudding, how she made that.  I never was great with crust, mine came out okay.  Betty was the one who could make crust, so light and flaky!  Now, I heard somewhere where you could make crust with lard instead of Crisco, but where are you going to get lard today? I'd like to make one of those pies again.  Maybe when you are here and we are at the house.

If that could be, that would be the best pie day ever.

13 responses so far

Where We're All Heading in Scott Walker's Handbasket

Now indeed is the winter of our labor discontent.

Scott Walker, you'll recall, is the Rethuglican who has creatively called his union-busting scheme a "budget repair" bill.  Once we've finished stripping workers of all their rights - collective bargaining is just the first step! there's so much more that can be taken away once the collective bargaining is gone! - we can bring back many useful practices from the good ol' days.  The history of Blair Mountain is instructive in this regard.  Maybe you'll want to go visit Blair Mountain, and see the historical marker, but I'd do it now if I were you, before Mr. Peabody rips it off the face of the earth to get at the coal underneath.

Two years ago, Blair Mountain was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. And then, just a few months later, it was taken off by state officials.

Lawyers hired by West Virginia's largest coal companies came up with a list of landowners who, they said, objected to the designation.

"There's apparently a lot of money to be made by blowing this mountain up and taking all the coal out from it," labor historian Gordon Simmons says, referring to mountaintop removal.

Fuck you, coal companies. Isn't it enough that your predecessors had a hired army of goons and federal troops dispatched by the president to keep coal miners from forming a union?  Now you want to literally erase the history from the face of the earth? Fuck. You.

Well, Scott Walker's not calling in the troops yet on the citizens of Wisconsin. I'm sure that's just crazy to even imagine.  Why, people have the right to collective bargaining!  Oh wait, he's taking that away.  Well, they have the right to be in a union!  Oh wait, he's trying to make it really, really, really hard for there to be a union at all, what with the yearly votes for the union to exist, and the optional dues, and the fact that once your union can't bargain, and pay raises are strictly limited, you're going to wonder why you should pay dues or be in the union at all. You might as well join the Elks and spent your union dues on beer; at least you'll get drunk for your money.

So once the union is gone, and the plutocrats can pay us whatever they deem we are worth, and fire us whenever they feel like it, and take away our benefits on a whim - oh wait, you're saying, that's my life now?  Because you're not in a union.  Have you grumbled about unions in the past?  A union exists to protect you from all that.  But they talked you into thinking that the union was making your life hell, not the top 400 of them who hold more cash, stocks, and land than  the bottom 155 million of us combinedCrabs in a barrel, they wanted to make us, and it mostly worked.

Anyway, as I was saying, once they've taken us back to the point where we have as many rights as those coal miners at Blair Mountain (maybe they'll start paying us in scrip again!), they can imprison us even faster than they do now.    Pennsylvania's prison population has grown 500% in the last 30 years - that's a promising industry!  A caller to Marty Moss-Coane's radio show this morning suggested that prisoners be placed 3 to a cell, but only two of them in the cell at any given time; one would always be out working an eight hour shift.  Put the prisoners to work!  Well, at least they'd have an eight hour day, if not a five-day work week.  But why be limited by the arbitrary eight-hour day? We could pack them four to a cell and take out two at a time for 12-hour shifts.  It's not like they have a union or anything.

Yeah, where did you think your eight-hour day and five-day work week came from?  Oh, you say, not me, I'm a professional, I'm a scientist, I'm a grad student/postdoc/professor, and I work long hours.  I'm k3rntastic!  Science demands no less, I work for the love of it, I work long hours because if I don't someone else will step right into my place and work just as hard and take my job. Oh crap, that last one sounds just exactly like what the coal miners used to say before they got themselves organized and formed a union.  You know what?  Coal miners are professionals too, and take pride in their work, and love what they do, too.  They like having a union that regulates working conditions, and says if you work overtime you get time and a half.  What do policies like that do?  They create more jobs, and make employers think twice about overworking the employees they do have, because it costs more.  Oh, unions won't work for science. Science is so different!  Believe me, baby, if you wanted a union bad enough, you'd find a way to make it work.

Listen up:  Philip Dray, author of There Is Power In A Union: The Epic Story Of Labor In America, will be on Fresh Air this afternoon, to put the Wisconsin union battle in a historical context. Listen live at 3 pm or audio available online after 5 pm.  Read the little blurb about the show - it's fascinating.  Here's the piece that was a real shocker even for me.

[quoting Dray]: Every city in America has these large brick armories in the city. I used to think they were there for soldiers to gather to go abroad but those were built in an era when authorities wanted a place where soldiers could gather to bring down local labor unrest.

Yeah, they didn't teach me any of this history in school.  Certainly not in the coal patch public schools. They did not tell me how the tax dollars of our forebears went to constructing buildings for the express purpose of gathering troops to suppress the formation of unions by those same forebears.  Well, not the tax dollars of the Blair Mountain coal miners, per se.  They were paid in scrip, which could only be spent at the company store.

If you have a few extra dollars in your pocket this month, consider donating to a union to help fund organizing struggles, general strike funds, etc.  You can become an associate member of the United Mine Workers of America for $5 a month.  Write to your congressperson and insist that Blair Mountain be placed on National Register of Historic Places, not ripped apart by coal companies.  Speak up when someone is union bashing and say you wish everyone had the kinds of benefits and job security that a union can negotiate for its members.  Don't be a crab in the barrel that the plutocrats and Rethuglicans are constructing for us all.

My grandparents lived through the union-organizing hell of the past.  Let's not go back there in Governor Walker's handbasket.

9 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »