HERE TO CREATE


A story can be told in two ways: the way it happened, and the way it is remembered. The storyteller is welcome at every table, though the story may change with each telling. It really doesn’t matter, it is after all, just a story.

Children are the best story tellers, since they have little recall, the stories they tell are usually created in the moment. If you question the story, they are able to embellish it on the spot. When I was a little girl of four, I created four big brothers. When questioned, they were suddenly locked up and fed bread and water. Clearly a mistake. Are these kind of stories a form of wish? The idea that exaggeration somehow enhances our self-image arrives early.

We are here to create, and all stories do not involve overestimating one’s own abilities, though a stretch of the truth often gives flavor to the imagination.

The creation stories of the Native American cultures, Greek and Roman mythology. and the stories of the Bible are all crossover creation stories. Oral tradition is extremely important, for without it, there would be no story telling. Each tribe, like each family, has its own story, of which there are multiple versions. Just as two or more siblings remember the events of childhood in various ways, our own stories take on new luster in time. More often than not, the Native American stories involve animals or humans who transform and do miraculous things, all explaining the unexplainable mystery of life.


“I Am a Child of the Sun and the Rain” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all story-tellers; you tell me your story and I will tell you mine. Those stories may change from time to time either from new experiences or from remembrance, but the things we say are mostly true. Taken all together stories form the glorious tapestry of our lives.

CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?

A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
Where nothing happens.
Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
And a bedroll on the floor
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.

Even the tree outside our windows
seems to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling
in the evening chill.

The pleasant knicker of an Indian pony
through the open window over
heads drowsy with sleep
announced the coming of the dawn.

We sat around the fire pitching our
own stories into the lap of the story teller.
We dropped troubles and pain.
Are they now someone else’s stories?

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THE CHINA CONNECTIION


I miss the sight of the roasted ducks dripping succulent juice into the trough below, and promising the harbinger of good eating. Alas, the Dragon BBQ restaurant is no more. It is only the latest restaurant which has closed with no prior notice. Though this city has a huge influx of Asian people, we don’t seem to have a decent Chinese restaurant. One or two Chinese buffets have come and gone through the years, but they don’t last long. Where do they go for good Chinese food? Conversely, we have many Mexican restaurants.

During the years I took Tai Chi each morning, we had a monthly pot luck picnic. I was the only Caucasian and usually took cake or a casserole. They brought ethnic food including chicken feet. unidentifiable dishes and many delicious steamed buns. Always with an enormous jug of hot tea with leaves floating around. It was a great way to get connected.

A number of years ago I wanted to buy goose livers for a pate recipe, so I went up to Oakland which has a large Chinatown, taking my mother in law for a day’s jaunt. Popping into several markets, I realized that no one spoke English which left me wondering how to connect with them. So I flapped my arms and quacked, hoping I sounded like some sort of barnyard fowl. I never got the goose liver, but I got duck liver and we both got a free lunch.

My mother in law was raised on a ranch in Chico, CA, where they had a Chinese cook, who still wore a queue. A ranch hand, thinking it a joke, cut it off one day. My husband’s grandfather chased the culprit off the ranch, whereupon he and the “Chinee” cook shook hands. Amazingly to my husband’s grandfather, the cook offered him a Masonic handshake. I now have a large porcelain teapot which came with the cook from China.

My MIL was quite fond of the Chinese, partly stemming from the herbalist who cured her mother’s paralysis. Would she be pleased or not with the amount of Chinese immigrants today?

TOBERMORY REVISITED


cat

The cat is the perfect subject for a Saki story. There is something catlike about many of his young protagonists; urbane, poised, a bit smug, and yet underneath it all, a feral streak. So it comes as no surprise that Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), better known by his pen name “Saki”, wrote a wonderful cat story. “Tobermory” (1911). Even better, it’s about a cat who was taught to talk.

Talking cats go back a long time in English literary curiosities. But Saki puts his own stamp on this small but rewarding genre of animal tales. A man named Cornelius Appin has managed to teach a cat, Tobermory,to talk. The cat belongs to his friends, the Blemleys, and it is at Mrs. Blemley’s house party that Appin reveals that he has managed to teach Tobermory the power of speech. At first, the party guests are naturally incredulous, but when Sir Wilfred Blemley fetches Tobermory in from a neighboring room, it soon becomes clear to everyone present that Tobermory has indeed learned to talk.

The guests begin asking Tobermory questions; whether he’d like some milk (yes) was it difficult learning human language (he doesn’t deign to answer that one) , and what he thinks of human intelligence. The woman who asks this last question, Mavis, gets more than she bargained for, with Tobermory replying that he overheard the Blemleys discussing Mavis, and Sir Wilfrid described Mavis a a ‘brainless woman’, (his wife agreed, adding that Mavis was so idiotic that she’d agreed to buy a useless old car off Lady Blemley.)

Seeking to change the subject, another guest, Major Barfield, asks Tobermory about his ‘affairs’ with the ‘stable cat’. Tobermory turns the question around, asking the Major how he would like it if Tobermory told everyone about his affairs, implying that Tobermory knows all about the Major’s extramarital dalliances.) Fearing that Tobermory knows all about their lives, and will expose all their darkest secrets, the guests begin to grow nervous. Tobermory goes on to reveal that one of the guests had admitted that she had only come to the Blemleys party for the food, and she found them dull company. Before he can cause any more embarrassment among the guests, Tobermory spies an old adversary of his, the tomcat from the nearby Rectory, outside, and in a flash he vanishes through the open French window.’

black cat

After he’s gone, the Blemleys discuss what to do about Tobermory, that he cannot be kept alive now he’s acquired this new gift of speech – as he’ll reveal everyone’s secret – they resolve to have him destroyed by lacing the food scraps Tobermory eats with some strychnine. However, although Tobermory dies, he meets his end not by ingesting the poison but by being mortally wounded in a fight with his deadly enemy, the big Tom from the Rectory. Cornelius Appin, the man who had taught Tobermory to speak, tries to impart his teachings to an elephant in the Dresden Zoo, but the elephant. evidently not in a hurry to learn about verbs and nouns, lashed out and killed him.

Tobermory is arguably one of the funniest short stories in the English language, partly because it is about exposing the hypocrisy of those upper middle class people whom Saki, in some of his other short stories, deems ‘respectable’ (the adjective is not meant to be taken as a compliment). Everyone is two-faced at the Blemleys’ party, except for Tobermory, who tells the truth. This gives him his power, like the child protagonists in Saki’s other classic stories, The Lumber Room, and Gabriel-Ernest, and Sredni Vashtar. He cuts through the adult world of lies and ‘respectability’ exposing it for the sham it is. For doing so, he has to die, but even here he eludes the deceitful adults’ plan to poison his food. He dies a hero, vanquished but with his dignity and integrity intact.

Critics have analysed ‘Tobermory’ as a satire on various political groups who were active at the time, chiefly the female suffragette movement. But this seems unlikely, or, if it was really his intent, it is barely evident in the story, where male and female guests at the party are exposed for all sorts of social hypocrisies, and political issues are not touched upon. It seems to make more sense to interpret the story as an attack on hypocrisy itself, with Saki firmly siding with the animal, as he always does, (or in some stories with the child character.) First and foremost we shouldn’t forget that the story is delightfully funny, not just because of its fantastical concept of a talking cat, but because it shows ‘civilised’ society (which always uttered with a wry sneer in Saki’s stories) as, fundamentally, something of a sham. It is the still-faintly-feral Tobermory, in his scrap with the Rectory tomcat, who is the real-thing. Even leaning to talk in the manner of the ‘respectable’ adults cannot make him forget this.

JOHNSON’S DICTIONARY


dr-johnson Dr. Johnson At The Cheshire Cheese

To be honest, the first time I saw this plate hanging on the wall of my mother-in-law’s breakfast room, I thought what a glutton Dr. Johnson must have been, whoever he was. After all, how much cheese could anyone eat? And everyone knows that Cheshire, of course, was a cat.

As years passed, I became intimately acquainted with Dr. Johnson, in a literary way that is, and learned that Cheshire was the cheese we Americans call cheddar. Traipsing around the streets of London later on with Dr. A. , it all came clear; and further investigation showed that Johnson spent a good deal of time writing his dictionary whilst sitting comfortably inside the pub named Cheshire Cheese. And we found it a cozy pub to this day.

Now Johnson’s was not the first dictionary by any means, but it became his crowning achievement; it is more famous than his one novel Rasselas and, although he was also a gicfted poet, it is for his lexicography above all else that Samuel Johnson is remembered. First published in two large volumes in 1755, the book’s full title was A dictionary of the English Language; in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different English grammar. It’s no surprise that it is usually just known as ‘Johnson’s Dictionary”.

Johnson’s wasn’t the first English dictionary; before his, there had been several such works. Richard Mulcaster had compiled a list of English words in the sixteenth century, but without definitions. Lexicography was as much about borrowing and improving as about creating from scratch. Johnson’s dictionary drew heavily from Nathan Bailey’s which in turn had relied on John Kersey’s Dictionary, which had borrowed generously from John Harris’s 1704 dictionary. But none of these were on the scale of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. A far greater size and scope would be what Johnson, in 1755 brought to the table. It would take him nine years to complete, working with several assistants.

Johnson was the first lexicographer to use quotations from Shakespeare, Spencer, and other literary sources. In fact, his intention in writing the dictionary was partly to acquaint people with the language of the literary greats.

Johnson included no words beginning with X, on the bases that no words in the English language began with ‘X’. Xylophone, in case you were wondering, has only been in print since since 1866, and X-rays were another 30 years away from xylophones. Still, this was an improvement over Cawdrey’s dictionary of 150 years earlier, which had failed to include any words beginning with W, X or Y.

The famous definition supplied by Johnson for ‘oats—a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’–may have been borrowed from Pliny, who made a similar remark about the ancient Germans.

The oft-repeated exchange between Johnson and the ladies searching for improper or indecent words in Johnson’s dictionary says that when several cultivated ladies of English society congratulated him for leaving out such words he replied “Ah ladies, you were searching for them?” For one thing, Johnson did include a number of words which would have offended the proprieties of prim eighteenth century ladies, among them bum,fart, arse, piss, and turd although sexually suggestive words were left out, including penis and vagina. He defined a boghouse as a house of office, and ‘to lie with’ as ‘to converse in bed’.

He also left out aardvark, something which Blackadder would later observe. But, in fairness to Johnson, he could hardly be blamed for this either; the earliest defination for the word is 1785, the year after Johnson died.

One of Johnson’s more confusing suggestions: Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

THE BATTLE OF THE SHOPPING CARTS


I wonder, as I do each time I do the shopping at the local Costco store; where do these people come from? My mother and grandmother would stare in confusion to the crowds of people from other countries, all speaking in their own language. and all at the same time.

Costco no longer offers a wheelchair for those of us too lazy to maneuver the aisles, so I take my own walker in order to sit upon whilst waiting for Dr. A to come and relieve me of what part of the list I have been able to stuff into my cart.

The majority of customers I see shopping here are from some part of Asia, however there are a great number of people who seem to be from the Middle East. I am quite happy to realize that I no longer wish to to visit their countries, simply because they are all here.

We continue to be disappointed in the manners of fellow shoppers who apparently have not learned the English words for “Excuse me”, “Sorry”, “Thank you”, and “Yes please”; this last in receiving a sample from the food vendor. I forgive them though, as long as they continue to pick up a word here and there of our language. I would be the same in their country.

I won’t go into the subject of child rearing. It is painful to watch small children scream and slap their parent/grandparent because of the lack of their attention. I was always under the impression that children from another country were quiet and well behaved, as opposed to our own. After all, the ploy my mother used to get me to finish my dinner plate was to make me aware of all the starving children in China, so I always held a certain amount of pity for the poor kids.

In the crowded post office the other day, while a mother was trying to make herself understood at the counter, her rotten little boy was screaming for her attention. As a mother,, grandmother, great-grandmother and former teacher, I admit that I didn’t even try to stifle myself when I glared at him with narrowed eyes and yelled “STOP THAT”! His mother looked around vaguely and patted his head.

I don’t remember that shopping was such an experience in the old days. In fact, my mother had our groceries delivered, and I did the same from the same market when I was first married. The small store we frequented was family owned and hired a couple of high school boys to deliver. I had a mighty crush on one boy while I was still in high school. As is the habit of all people, male or female when hormones begin to be active, I found I needed to go to the store more often than necessary simply to gaze upon the object of my desire. He finally invited me to the movies. In preparation I sprayed myself liberally with my grandmother’s Shalimar perfume, which is either a powerful aphrodisiac or equally powerful bug killer. We took the bus from Alameda to Oakland. both of which put him in close proximity to the intoxicating stench.

He didn’t ask me out again, but he eventually married and divorced the girl who became my maid of honor. We saw him again last year at our 70th class reunion, on his walker with his son accompanying him. He was a nice boy and I’m glad he made it one more time.

THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT


cropped-bird-of-paradise-painting.jpg
“Bird Of Paradise” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Did you ever stop to think how arbitrary the naming of things can be? For instance: has anyone ever really seen a bird of paradise? In the rich history of the English language a word has been invented for just about everything including things we have never seen.

Now and then words go missing when we need them and then unexpectedly pop up again in the night while in the middle of a good dream. Haven’t you wished you could think of a great word to apply to someone who does things which are particularly annoying or irritating–whether online, in person, outside your bedroom window or in tedious meetings at work?

It’s fascinating for instance, to learn there’s a word for people who use overly long pretentious-sounding words. There are several I’m sure, but we can avoid getting unnecessarily sesquipedalian. Do you see how useful it could be?

Girouettism is the practice of frequently altering personal opinion to follow popular trends. It comes from a girouette another name for a weather-cock. Just as a weather-cock changes its position according to the wind, so a figurative ‘girouette’ is a fair-weather sort who changes their metaphorical position according to what’s ‘in’ at the moment. The term dates from the 1820s.

Verbomania is abnormal talkativeness. There is, however, little more to say about this one–ironically.

Word-grubber was eighteenth-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation, unlike the words such a person is likely to use. Many years ago I was annoyed with my father and wrote him a long pedantic and complaining letter. He immediately dashed one off to me using words I never thought he knew. It is universal to believe that we are far more brilliant than our parent, until we are once again proven wrong.

A Buttinsky is a person who constantly interrupts or butts in; it was coined by George Ade in his 1902 novel The Girl Proposition. Ade, by the way was the one who provides us with the first recorded use of the word “bad” to mean “good”, in his 1897 book Pink Marsh. So you see, when someone says another person or musical group is “bad-ass” and means they’re good, it’s really “old-hat”.

Humdudgeon is an imaginary illness or pain, or a loud complaint about nothing. One of its root words is “humbug” or a hoax. You’re in high dudgeon about a humbug. So don’t complain too loudly or people may call you a “humdudgeon”.

One of the great words featured in Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth century Dictionary is bed-presser which Johnson defines as ‘a heavy lazy fellow’.

There must be other annoying words–or rather, perfectly nice words that describe things people do–or things which get your goat.

We borrow from other languages, invent new words, combine words, and still wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t understand us.

GOD’S SPECIAL CHILDREN


My cousin Kendall passed away this past year at the age of sixty-one years as we count chronologically, but he never grew up. Kendall was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and had Down Syndrome. His parents, my aunt and uncle, lived over seas for thirty years, and nothing much was being done at that time anywhere in early education for the mentally handicapped or the parents. Abnormalities in a birth always come as a surprise to parents happily looking forward to a life filled with so-called normal expectations, but to older parents living in a third world country, Kendie’s birth was heartbreaking and unexpected.

Their initial and common reaction was to take the blame. “what have I done?” “How could I have prevented this?”

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
The average IQ of a young adult with Down Syndrome is 50, or equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9- year old child, but this varies widely. Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life, ideally from birth on. In the past, the life expectancy was about 30 years, but now it is about 50 or 60. Down Syndrome is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans, occurring in about one per 1,000 babies born each year. It is a lifelong condition, but with care and support, children who have Down syndrome grow up to have healthy, happy, productive lives.

Fortunately so much has changed in public acceptance of the mentally challenged. A hundred years ago, these people were kept in a back bedroom, and lived out their brief lives alone and unseen. It was assumed that they were incapable of learning, and even their existence was kept a somewhat shameful secret.

Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life. My daughter earned her college degree in the study of the mentally challenged, some of whom had Down Syndrome. Specialized education is a wide open field and now some children with Down syndrome are educated in typical school classes. Some individuals with Down Syndrome graduate from high school and a few attend post-secondary education. In adulthood, about 20% in the U.S. do paid work in some capacity with many requiring a sheltered work environment.

Kendall’s life fell in the middle of an “enlightenment” period in that though he was ubable to participate in an early-childhood education in Saudi Arabia, he was later sent to a school in the U.S. where he lived throughout his life. He never grew beyond the size of a 9-10 year old, and he was always cheerful and happy as a small child, with a big smile lighting his face when he was pleased or when he recognized a friend. These people live at the very pinnacle of innocence. It is we who need the education to accept them for what they are, God’s Special Children

About 35 years ago, a friend with two young sons called early one morning to tell us of the birth of a fourth son. This family prided itself on building good health, strength and athletic ability. Each was proficient in sports. As Dr. Advice answered the phone, I caught a slight change of expression as he said “Maybe God thought you needed a cheerleader for your basketball team.” He had promptly diverted the conversation from one of mixed feelings into one of positive anticipation. Their fourth son had Down Syndrome.

At the time the University of Washington had a concentrated study of the condition, and the mother of this child went there from California and learned what was being done to educate babies from birth. Instead of waiting for several years before teaching basic skills, Blair began immediately being prepared to live in the mainstream of society. Before speech, he was taught sign language, which hastened his communication skills.

As soon as possible, Blair’s mother took him into school classes and introduced him, explaining to the students that he had Down Syndrome and what it was. When old enough, he was enrolled in school and treated just as any other student. He was never made to feel “different” or out of the loop. His mother organized a baseball club made up of mentally challenged children, which developed their concept of team play, and their natural joy in physical activity. She even went to members of the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team and appealed to them for pieces of athletic equipment, which they gladly donated, taking the little team under their wing.

To see Blair today, with his show of confidence and compare him to Kendall, a lot can be attributed to his early training.

Years ago, when Blair was about 5, I received this poem from one of his older brothers while he was a student at U.S.C.

My brother Blair, was born with Down Syndrome, a form of mental handicap. December 1990

BROTHER, by Sean Hogan

Brother so kind, how can it be?
Brother “What happened? How come he can’t see?
Brother I’m sorry; you will never be like me.
Brother your life will set me free.

Mother please, the blame will never be known.
Mother in this life, the harvest can not be resown.
Mother worry not so much for him.
Mother cry more for me and Tim.

Father others expectations may run too high.
Father friends will come, fear, and say goodbye.
Father they say patience and time can only tell.
Father without you, his life will surely be Hell.

Grandpa, has Peter now become your best Friend?
Grandpa, how come you never stayed till the end?

(As Peter denied the knowledge of knowing Christ, Grandpa tries to deny Blair’s existence and relationship to him.)