Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

BY ANY OTHER NAME

 

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

 

 

Beth knew the answer.

Beth knew the answer.

 

"...a rose by any other name..."

“…a rose by any other name…”

My mother’s two years as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City were rich with stories that took place long before I was born. This is the third story from that time period.

Remember the large group picture of my mother in the back row, posed with the other staff and the kindergarten students? My cousin Beth was visiting that day, so she was included in the picture, too. What the picture doesn’t show is the intense argument she had with one of the little boys in the class. “That’s my Aunt Mary,” Beth told him proudly. “No, it’s not,” he replied indignantly. “That’s Mrs. Shepherd.”

“No, sir.”   “Is too.”   “Uh-uh.”   “Uh-huh.”   Back and forth it went.

My mother made it a teaching moment for the whole class: names can show our relationship to other people ~ Mom, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Mrs. Shepherd, or a nickname like Mary Ibbeth or Mary E.   Names can also make it clear what we do or who we are to others ~ teacher, writer, friend, neighbor. We can have many names, and if someone tells you, “Don’t call me that,” then be polite and don’t use that name.

Writers—including my mother, before the dementia—know that literature has many examples of the importance of a character’s name. “Call me Ishmael,” the opening line of MOBY-DICK, is a classic example. In Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, much importance is attached to the character learning his name and who he is: “Kiss a lover ~ Dance a measure ~ Find your name ~ and buried treasure.”

Jarod Kintz, author of   99 CENTS FOR SOME NONSENSE, had a different perspective. “Male or female, if my name were either Don or Dawn, I’d be up at sunrise to celebrate the glory that is me.”

W.C. Fields said this about the name issue: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”   Which he might have taken more seriously if he’d been bullied on the play ground. Or he might have shrugged and said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   Oh, sure; children aren’t ever hurt by name calling.

My mother never saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, but she enjoyed T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was the core of the musical. “…Before a Cat will condescend…To treat you as a trusted friend…A cat’s entitled to expect…These evidences of respect…And so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name.”

The story of my cousin Beth arguing about whether my mother’s name was Aunt Mary or Mrs. Shepherd makes me smile. This Christmas Mom’s dementia is so advanced that I doubt either name—or any of the others—will mean much to her. She fades in and out of life as a child on the farm, and sometimes scenes from working with my dad or raising children.

For those of you who have a loved one in a similar situation, I wish you the simple joys of being together: gentle humor, genuine acceptance, delicious foods and holiday music. In difficult situations, feeling love and hugs are more important than remembering names.

"...and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name..."

“…and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name…”

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, kindergarten lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, teaching, writing

HOPE SMILES

A good daily reminder for the new year. (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

A good daily reminder for the new year. (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

Remember: "Good things come to those who work while they're waiting."

Remember: Good things come to those who wait…and especially to those who also keep working while they wait. (Or, to thank Judy Berman for this comment: “Good things come to those who hustle while they wait.” Thank you, Judy!)

Dear Mom,

It’s almost that time again, to sit down with pencil and paper and write a few New Year’s Resolutions. (Always use a pencil, so you can erase and make changes, right?)

You weren’t a big fan of resolutions. If I asked what your resolution was, you would say something like, “Each day I want to make things a little bit better,” or  “Every day I will think good thoughts about —–, or say a prayer for ——,” or “Every day I’ll be thankful for that day.”  The closest thing I found  to a quote about resolutions was when I was cleaning out closets after I moved you and Dad to your assisted living apartment and I came across an index card where you’d written this:  “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier…’ ” ~ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. And below that you’d written Yes, Hope really does smile.”

In addition to the messages under the pictures, here are three of my favorite hopeful messages for the new year.  Our blog friends are welcome to add their resolutions or favorite quotes, too.

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” ~singer, musician Brad Paisley

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes…Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do It. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” ~ author Neil Gaiman

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.”   ~Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

This year, tell your own story, leave your own mark. (Canyonlands Natl. Park. Navajo Tse'Hone--"Rock That Tells A Story") Photograph by Jim Warner

This year, tell your own story, leave your own mark. (Canyonlands Natl. Park. ~Navajo Tse’Hone–“Rock That Tells A Story”) Photograph by Jim Warner

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

HOPE SMILES FROM THE THRESHOLD

happiness and tranquility

telescope

 

 

Dear Mom,

This time of year reminds me of the New Year’s Resolution “trade” we did one year when I was growing up. You made my resolution: “Marylin will REALLY clean up her room, even under the bed.” I made your resolution: “Mom will see that a clean room isn’t the most important thing.”  We laughed and decided it was a pretty good experiment.

At this stage in my adult life, I have three favorite quotes about New Year’s Resolutions:

“I hope that this year to come, you make mistakes…Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes…Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do It. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” ~Neil Gaiman

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” ~Brad Paisley

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language – And next year’s words await another voice.”  ~T.S. Eliot

When you and Dad moved out of your house and into your care apartment, I saved boxes of your notebooks, Grandma’s recipes, and files of writing submissions and records. Tucked in a file of newspaper articles and columns you’d kept over the years, there was an envelope filled with faded, fragile newspaper clippings. One was a New Year’s Resolution by Ann Landers. There wasn’t a date or newspaper header, so I didn’t know if it had been written by Ann Landers herself, or by Eppie Lederer or Ruth Crowley, who wrote the column for many years.  But it was an excellent New Year’s Resolution, one definitely worth sharing:

“Let this coming year be better than all the others. Vow to do some of the things you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t find the time. Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories. Vow not to make a promise you don’t think you can keep. Walk tall, and smile more. You’ll look 10 years younger. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I love you.’ Say it again. They are the sweetest words in the world.”

You could have written this advice, Mom. Instead, you lived it, along with many other wonderful actions, and that has made the difference in many other lives.  Thank you.

For all of us:  2012 has been a year of joys and sorrows. Individually and collectively we have celebrated life, faced fears, and grieved losses.  On the eve of 2013, may we embrace the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

"Be Glad of Life" pillow sampler (photos by Marylin Warner)

“Be Glad of Life” pillow sampler (photos by Marylin Warner)

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for