Saturday, November 12, 2011

"The Stream"

The stream of people flowed   
in and out of museums   
up and down hundreds of marbled steps   
Laughing loudly,   
children dashing around the Mall   
Vendors with ice cones,   
lemonade, chips and pretzels   
We flowed with the stream   
hot and tired   
from walking all day   
Our voices rose on the summer’s breeze   
happy, vibrant, alive   
Then we came to The Wall   
with mirrored surface   
and name after name after name   
after name   
The stream slowed   
it ebbed   
Voices hushed to soft whispers   
butterfly touches   
caressing the carved names   
We stood,   
fingers woven together   
searching through our reflected images   
for another reflection   
The stream stopped   
losing its motion   
it shimmered in the silent   
deep pools   
Our heads bowed   
we sighed   
Our breath caused motion   
and the stream trickled    
It flowed past the wall   
and spilled onto a   
grassy area   
where past and present   
water the future   

Copyright 1996 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Veterans Day"

           “Is that Daddy?” queried four-year-old Lizzy as she pointed her finger at a man dressed in green fatigues.
         The young mother squeezed her daughter’s hand tighter as she answered, “No. I’ll tell you what you need to do. Look at the caps the men are wearing. Your daddy’s cap is dirty.”
         Ten-year-old Paula nodded in affirmation. “Dad needs a new hat.”
         Restlessly, the two children watched as airmen purposefully strode across the tarmac. Suddenly, Lizzy tugged free of her mother’s grasp and dashed toward a man wearing a dirty hat. She wrapped her arms tightly around his legs in the tightest bear hug her little arms could muster. The young man attempted to disengage himself from the small child, his face growing red as he scanned the area.
         “Elizabeth Anne,” the girl’s mother dashed forward. “This man isn’t your daddy!”
         “But his cap is really dirty!” Lizzy exclaimed earnestly.
         The airman pulled his cap into his hands, embarrassed by the child’s observation and confusion.
         “My husband’s been on a long TDY,” the mother explained.
         “I understand completely,” the man said as he sidestepped the little family and continued on his way.
         Hand on hip and head shaking in disapproval of her little sister’s faux pas, Paula pointed to another cluster of men approaching the fence line. “There he is!”
And there he was! Dad with a brand new cap cocked on his head. He jogged away from the other men and scooped his girls into his arms.

Karl F. Abrams--circa 1948
         For years, my family teased me about the time I flung my arms around the man with the dirtiest cap, converting the story into a running joke that I threw myself at men. As an adult, though, I realize how much that childish mistake must have stung both of my parents. My mother did her best to talk about Dad when he left on long trips, but keeping his image strong in the mind of a four-year-old proved an almost impossible task. Tight on money, my parents didn’t have many photographs of each other around the house. After my mistake, my father gave me dashing picture of himself from when he first joined the Air Force to keep in my room.
         For Veterans Day, we pause to honor the men and women who serve in our military, but we should also reflect upon the sacrifice the families make. When a young man or woman decides to serve our country, his or her entire family becomes a military member. The soldier misses birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries. The soldier misses that first step, the lost front tooth, the touchdown, and the first broken heart. Every moment of every day, the families of these men and women ache for the lost moments. Our tributes to these veterans must recognize the full scope of their sacrifices.

copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, November 10, 2011

“Call of Duty”

         Just short of midnight, we entered the line that stretched from GameStop to beyond Old Navy. Ahead of us, clusters of teenagers waited patiently as laughter exploded over the antics of one youth. He’d commandeered a shopping cart to use as an impromptu chair and comedy prop. Every time the store’s rep called out a number for a prize, he bellowed a whooping, “What?” and dissolved into girly giggles when the rep repeated the number even louder into the PA. Directly ahead of us stood a man in his forties, mutely engrossed in a texting conversation.
         Behind us grouped an assortment of young men, strangers chatting about their hopes for the newly released game. I missed the transitional phrases that led these men to discover that they shared a link other than their common passion for a game, but in seconds they began swapping tales of their own duties and responsibilities during their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. One man, cherub faced and clean cut, revealed his rank as a Tech Sergeant. A taught-wired man, with tattoos covering his dark arms, piped in that he’d left the military on disability. He constantly danced from foot to foot as he regaled his captured audience with his wartime experiences.
         Heaviness filled me as I listened to these very young men rattle off places like Baghdad and Fallujah, or Kabul and Kandahar. They spoke of first, second, and third tours. They bonded immediately over memories of welding metal plates onto the Humvees for extra protection, and they discussed the merits of different guns with almost comical descriptions. The sergeant revealed that he did his tours as a medic. Another link, it seemed, to the young veteran. The conversation shifted subtly at first to more personal stories. The veteran told of trying to aid soldiers cut in two, of picking up severed arms and legs, of ministering to a toddler who’d pulled boiling oil over herself. He talked about his hidden disability, PTSD. He mused that the military recommended he leave because he’d become too desensitized.
         The words and worlds of these young men hung over me as I leaned against the wall, listening to their tales. I felt ashamed that my generation pulled these men out of innocence and into a lifetime of nightmares. I looked ahead of me, at the teenagers laughing so carelessly and realized that many of them will enlist into the military out of duty or necessity. The comedian with the shopping cart may end up carrying unseen scars within a few years. His youth and jubilation could fade; his soul become damaged.

 Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

“The Mist”

Stepping outside,     
I paused and raised my face to the mist.   
Her cold hands slapped my cheeks crimson,     
making me gasp in surprise.   
I hunkered down my shoulders,   
drawing the collar of my coat tighter to fight off the unexpected chill.   
The predawn sky hung heavy with haze that whispered into my ear,     
“Go back to bed.”   
The street lay in waiting silence with its lights haloed weak and pale.   
The fog muffled my steps as I crossed the slick sidewalk.   
She entranced me with her ebbing dance as I inhaled her essence.   
She engulfed me with her silken touch as I stepped deeper into her embrace.   

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

“The Optimist”

I cannot spend my days counting losses   
focusing on withered branches and leaves   
opening my heart to your dark decay   
I refuse to bear your broken crosses   
over my threshold—into my beliefs   
by allowing your destruction to stay   
like a hurricane that swirls and tosses   
my gentle soul upon wild waves that heave   
and boil, pulling me under and away   
to the mirage of  dead albatrosses   
where your empty eyes gaze restless and grieve   
for the simple joy of a sun drenched day   

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Thoughtful Day"

I stood alone against the sun,   
a shadow of distant warmth,   
feeling each bursting molecule’s     
cold flame.   
I whispered my name into the wind   
and it echoed through my heart;   
it rippled across the silent seas     
of youth.   
I danced across the horizon,   
walked slowly down the hill,   
and sat at Priam’s palace   
of old.   
I wept for all lost gods   
and watched the fresh spring flow   
down into the whispering ocean   
of hope.   
I climbed the hill again,   
gloried in the setting sun—   
called goodbye to the day’s     
loud silence.   
I stood alone, I whispered,   
and I danced, I wept and   
then I climbed high into    
the stars.   
Copyright 1976  Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"But Strong in Will"

The little girl stood alone at the train depot. Her eyes cast downward. She noted the rough wooden planks. Self-consciously, her small hands ran across the placard around her neck. “EDNA THOMPSON.” Her name printed in bold black letters. Men and women hurried around her, ignoring the pleading look in her eyes. Her lips trembled as she fought back tears. Eventually, the passengers loaded suitcases and supplies onto wagons and into cars and vanished toward town. No one approached her, so she perched upon her suitcase, a small brown bird.
The train pulled noisily from the station, puffing steam and wailing its sad song. Moments after the last car rolled past, a station manager came from the ticket office, a broad smile on his face. He said nothing, just took the girl’s small, cold hand into his own and started to lead her into his office when a wagon turned the corner and approached the station. He paused, still holding the child’s hand, and smiled his greeting to the travel-worn couple.
“This package belong to you?” he asked lightly.
“Sure does,” the tired man nodded. “Had a wheel break. Sorry about being late. She cause any trouble?” He jerked his head toward the little girl.
“Not a sound out of her yet,” the station manager stiffened at the other man’s stern tone, but he still lifted the girl up into the wagon bed. “No trouble at all,” he continued.
“Good. Kid belongs to my cousin. Seems my cousin up and died a couple of weeks ago, and her husband can’t keep all the kids. Had eight, ya know,” he paused and looked back at the silent child. “Hope this bundle won’t be too much trouble. Doesn’t look like she’ll be much help on the farm, though.” He gave a quick whip of the reigns and his horse trotted off taking the little girl further away from everything she’d ever known.
One episode from Mom’s childhood that she revealed to us, her own children, when she was in her seventies, like it was a postscript attached to the end of a misplaced letter. I’d known that she spent nine years living with various foster care families. She’d told the stories of the Walkers treating her like a live-in maid and nanny.
I spent my childhood ironing sheets, Dad’s square military handkerchiefs, and table cloths because Mrs. Walker punished Mom for pressing the collar of her shirt on the dresser instead of using the ironing board. The punishment was ironing for the family of five until Mom turned seventeen and graduated from high school. She never wanted to touch an iron again, and somehow I thought it was the best household chore to have!
I knew of her eldest sister’s drowning followed a couple of months later with her mother’s illness and death. I knew the stories of Mom’s alcoholic father who lost custody of all the kids. I knew about one brother going off to war and deciding England was more home than the States. About the other brother who went off to war and was shot by the Germans, spending time in a German P.O.W. camp.
I knew about her losses, and hurts, and insecurities not because she flaunted them, but because they snuck out when some other life event paralleled her childhood.
Unhappy childhoods cast shadows into adult lives. Mom felt lonely and frightened most of her youth. She didn’t understand why her father couldn’t stop drinking and bring her home. Shyness and insecurity became ingrained into Mom’s personality. She worked hard at being the nice neighbor, the mother who volunteered for every school function, and the wife who had dinner on the table fifteen minutes after Dad crossed the threshold. She became the perfect mother for the three of us kids.
With every ounce of her energy, Mom gave us children the childhood she never had. She never took off to visit her family without taking all of us with her. When we moved from state to state, or base to base, she made certain our bedrooms moved with us. We each had our own furniture and decorations that allowed us to feel at home even after a move. If one of us needed something for school or an extracurricular activity, she did without. For years she had enough clothes to get her through the week—one nice dress, a winter coat, and one pair of shoes.
Her mission to provide for us a safe and secure home focused us as a family. When Dad left for war, potential trauma and conflict became minimized because she provided us a home filled with love and laughter. Any tears she cried, she did behind closed doors and away from us. We never sensed her loneliness, fear, or insecurity because she put our needs ahead of her own.
Many friends and neighbors worried about how Mom would survive after Dad’s sudden death. She’s seemed a shadow cast by my ebullient father. Yet we, her children, knew the steel hidden beneath her gentle nature, and none of us doubted her resilience. When she decided to move back to San Antonio, rent her own place, and decorate it to her tastes, we weren’t surprised by her independence.
Today, at eighty-one, Mom fights another hardship—Huntington’s Disease. She’s a first generation carrier of the disease, with an unusually late onset. Nothing about her illness has been text book, but everything about it is heartbreaking. Mom’s years of calm acceptance of life’s tragedies trained her for the strain of her present days. Huntington’s Disease affects all aspects of a person’s life. For Mom, her cognitive functioning remains clear and strong—allowing her to enjoy the irony in The Daily Show and admire the boldness of The Colbert Report. If she’s not stressed and has her anxiety under control, she’s able to enjoy her daily routine.
That routine, though, gradually constricts and confines. Feeling unbalanced and “askew” when moving, Mom slowly restricted her environment. Mom raised us to be true to ourselves; and her dancing movements caused by chorea didn’t keep us from eating out, going on vacations, or embracing public activities other HD sufferers avoid. After two years in an assisted living facility, we decided to move Mom into our home. She’d slid slowly from utilizing a walker for long distances to shuffling around her small apartment with her walker, but falling frequently. When she moved in with us five months ago, she could manage getting out of bed, to her wheelchair, and into her bathroom on her own. Now she needs assistance with all three of those areas.
Huntington’s Disease has no cure and minimal treatments. Mercifully, Mom’s severe anxiety attacks disappeared a few months ago. Her short and long term memory remain intact, too. Her body, though, betrays her. The chorea that pulled her arms, legs, and torso like a puppeteer controlling a marionette no longer plagues her. Instead, rigidity slips into her life. Her muscles resist movement, and positioning her reminds me of moving a life sized Barbie doll. Already, speaking challenges her, so we’re learning to phrase our conversations to where she can respond with short phrases. Eventually, all of her muscles will refuse to move.
We measure our future in months now, but we know eventually we’ll count the days or hours. Fortunately, I picked up some of the pragmatism that flows through Mom’s veins. The challenges that remain before us are just another part of life’s adventures. At least this time, Mom won’t stand alone.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Edna Thompson Abrams
August 28, 2010