Traveling through Grief

by Patricia McGregor

Anthony’s dead.  These are the two words I hear as soon as I wake up.  Anthony’s dead.  If I’m not concentrating on something else, these two words creep into my mind.  Sometimes I play with them.  I mentally say them as a question, an exclamation, I shout them, whisper them, deny them but nothing changes, Anthony’s still dead.

Anthony McGregorMy mother had passed away at the end of March and I thought I’d be an old hand at this funeral business. My mother was 89 and in poor health. Anthony, my younger son was 33. An accident caused the loss of a productive life. As a gerontologist he was supposed to look after me in my old age. 

I was worried that looking for photos for the memorial would be painful.  Surprisingly it was not.  As a photographer I have six or seven albums of the children so my brain was kept busy as I relived the past. Together my family and I made the final cut.  We remembered and laughed. There was Anthony, in the red rubber boots he loved, sitting on the potty.

I hoped if I saw Anthony the words would go away. Regardless, I had to see him one last time.

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Suddenly Seeking Sunshine

by Jean Kepler Ross

I was trimming my geraniums the other day, preparing to bring them inside for the winter.  As I worked on my plants out in the garden, I appreciated the warmth of the sun on that beautiful fall day and thought of a woman I encountered once in Siena, Italy, on another sunny fall day.

photo via Flickr.comMy husband and I were on our honeymoon, a five-week tour through Italy.  We arrived in Siena by train and found our way to the plaza where the famous Palio horse race is held twice a year.  We ordered lunch at an outdoor café and my husband went to look for lodging while I guarded the suitcases (I loved that job).

All of a sudden, an elderly woman with white hair and crinkled skin sat down in my husband’s chair.  I tried to explain to her that that was my husband’s chair and could she please move.  The woman just said, “sole.” My Italian isn’t very deep, but I gathered she was enjoying the sun.  I didn’t know what to do, but I again told her that that chair was for my husband and we were having lunch.  She said to me, “He can sit over there,” in English and kept sitting next to me with her face held up to the sun.

I am usually a peaceful person but I felt so upset with this woman that I actually felt like pushing her out of the chair.  What kind of manners were these? We were customers at the café and she was intruding on our romantic fantasy. After indignantly repeating that that was my husband’s chair, I gave up and the two of us sat next to each other quietly taking in the sun.

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Living With What Is No Longer Mine

by Bethany Ball

While walking across the Mont Blanc Bridge in Geneva this spring, I saw a beautiful, chic young girl saunter by. The bridge, dividing the two centers of Geneva, is the perfect place for people watching. It's long and the walkway is narrow. The foot traffic is swift. Audis and BMWs and buses buzzed by, carrying bankers and watch executives from the old city to the new, or maybe to the Alps to rest and relax.

photo via Flickr by Jonathan ZiapourWhen I saw this girl walking past me, I had my usual response. Appreciation mixed with a little envy and curiosity: where did she get that gorgeous scarf and where could I find one just like it? Would I achieve the same affect if I wore the same clothes as she did? My son and my husband were tagging along behind, my husband trying to console my son who was crying. He was jet lagged and wanted to go back to the hotel where a magnificent box of Legos, bought as a gift by his grandfather, was waiting.

At the moment that I saw the beautiful girl, I was furious with my son. But the sight of her had buoyed up my sagging, jet lagged spirits and brought something else into focus: beauty and beautiful objects and youth. Perhaps it was because I was there with my son, now six years old. There was no pretending anymore that I could ever be as young and carefree as that girl. Or that any outfit I put on would transform me into youth. That world belonged to her now, not to me. My world was just behind me, dissolving in sniffles. I reached my hand out to my son and he ran and grabbed it gratefully. He was six years of my new reality, condensed in the form of an intelligent and sensitive young boy.

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Fresh Eyes

by Jules Older

When you live in a place, after awhile, you lose your fresh eyes.

© Jules Older. 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CAIt doesn't mean you're dumb or insensitive or unaware of your surroundings. Unless you work hard to correct it, sure as fog, sooner or later you're gonna misplace your awareness of what you see and smell, hear and taste on your way to work or walking home from school or going out for the Sunday paper.

Sometimes it’s actually a relief. As one travel-writer friend sighed about her blissful oblivion to her hometown surroundings, “Ah, the luxury of not seeing!”

But, ah the pleasures of seeing through fresh eyes. Everything is new, everything is fascinating. Every pungent smell from a Chinese grocery, every touch of salt spray on a beach, every clang of a cable-car bell and visual surprise of a public wall mural — they all capture your attention, alert you to what makes your new home different from the old place.

My old place is rural Vermont. More, it’s the coldest, snowiest, most isolated part of Vermont, the northern end of the three northern counties known collectively as the Northeast Kingdom. That’s where I've lived since 1986, that’s where I was a justice of the peace, that’s where I grew garlic and basil and tomatoes. Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom: where I've shoveled snow off the roof and cowshit out of the barn. The old place.

The new place is San Francisco. Yeah, I just moved here.

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Hidden Encounters With Saudi Women

by Patricia McGregor

Even in our black abayas and scarves it’s obvious that we’re foreigners. Saudi women rarely venture on to the streets. This is a man’s world. I know the women are somewhere and I’m determined to make contact.

photo by Dave G. HouserWe travel in a full- size tour bus; an escort of police cars, with flashing lights, and secret security men, with big guns, drive ahead of and behind us. No one can miss us.

This works to my advantage. Not being allowed to drive, women stare out of their car windows. We make eye contact.

As my face isn’t covered, it’s easy for them to see my smile. All I can see are their eyes smiling back at me. Some women even return my subtle wave. One lifts up the corner of her veil to get a better look.

Thank goodness for malls and washrooms. It’s there that I get my chance. Curious about me, the women initiate conversations as they touch up their makeup. Why I am here, school, their great shoes, my beaded abaya, Canada. We laugh. I have a brief encounter with woman after woman. As a new grandmother, I admire their babies and show pictures of Claire. We smile and a bond forms in spite of the language barrier.

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