Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Family Gatherings"



          My siblings and I talk weekly. The habit, established years ago when you paid for a long distance phone call by the minute, resists change. I usually contact my sister during the week. We chat about family and friends. Although each of us have only met the other’s friends a few times, over the years the life events of these people weave into our conversations. We spend time discussing world events and allergy seasons. We share with one another the grind of our jobs (both retired teachers who now substitute to keep out of trouble.) My sister lives in a small Texas town and participates in her church, political party events, and the “this-n-that activities” of her community. We divide our worries and our woes and multiply our joys. These phone calls ebb and flow with a life of their own. Sometimes they last only a few minutes. Other days we drain our phone batteries.
          In contrast, talks with my brother have slipped into such predictability that variations bring unexpected pleasure. I call my brother during the weekend. We enjoy a little contest on who will call first on Saturday without it being too early. These tête-à-têtes time out to fifteen minutes, give or take. My brother loves following weather, so a hurricane in the Atlantic will swirl us into a longer conversation. If I need to download a problem, he offers a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear. If he faces car trouble or a plumbing problem, we’ll figure out a way to fix the situation. As he is single, he sometimes needs another pair of hands to handle household challenges, but I know he’ll never ask for help. Every few months, I suggest that I visit. Sometimes my sister will rendezvous with us. Sometimes my husband and son will make the trip with me. All of us feel it’s important to help my brother maintain the family home.
          Getting to spend weekends or holidays with my siblings always proves a challenge. My sister and brother-in-law spread their holidays in several directions:  their son, daughter-in-law and grandkids; my brother-in-laws siblings; my brother; and my family. Many holiday choices are dictated by my brother’s work hours. If he has consecutive days off, he’ll head for San Antonio. Often times, he only gets a single day at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and so he’ll make the shorter two hour drive to my sister’s house. It isn’t unusual for them to have Stouffer’s Lasagna as a Thanksgiving meal. When my brother has more days off and decides to come to San Antonio, we celebrate the event will special holiday treats and trimmings.
          Over the last few years, my sister and her husband have tied themselves to their town because of responsibilities for one of their community obligations. My brother-in-law runs the local KC hall, and someone almost always uses it on Thanksgiving. His responsibilities include inspecting the hall after the event. This year, my sister convinced him to delegate some of his duties. She called yesterday with the wonderful news that, although they wouldn’t make it up for Thanksgiving Day, they’d arrive on Friday morning! My nephew and his wife and kids have other plans, and so they won’t be adding to our holiday, but we like that different branches on our family tree begin their traditions with family and friends.
          During this week, television sitcoms revel in the mishaps and mayhem of dysfunctional families gathering for Thanksgiving. I appreciate the humor mixed within the discord, but feel especially blessed that our holiday will embrace a laidback air of “adulting” with shopping during the day and nice dinners and drinks in the evenings. 

Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Food Poisoning and Politics"


  Last Tuesday, my psyche took a full-frontal attack that left me dazed throughout the week.  I arrived home shell-shocked after a rough day at work. One look at me, and my son suggested we eat out for dinner instead of settling for Plain Jane meatloaf. 
  Desiring to give myself a boost, I proposed that we try a new restaurant that had opened recently just around the corner. My nephew thought it would be fun to join us, and so we waited for my husband’s 5:30 arrival before heading out.
  David grabbed the first available parking spot as we could see that the new place already did a booming business. Our chippie waitress highlighted her personal favorites, and we decided to begin our meal with fried pickles paired with a Ranch Dressing and the restaurant’s special blend.
  By 1:30 AM, I knew the wrenching intestinal pain that wracked though my body could only be food poisoning. Some tiny microbe sent my entire gut into “Warning! Warning! WARNING!” alarms. That toxin, no matter how minute, drove my system into protective hyper-drive. 
  For the next seventeen hours, I flushed out every sweet potato French fry, fried pickle with Ranch dressing, and burger bit that lingered in my stomach and intestines.
  My body defenses knew to purge this danger.
  It responded rapidly to the threat.
  It won.
  And while this germ battle raged within, I barely noticed national events. My peripheral senses picked up another visceral response occurring, but on a massive scale. As protests grew, my foggy brain toggled through Facebook and Twitter feeds, and I realized many Americans simply don’t understand the psychological and sociological necessity for hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets to protest against an election they know they cannot change.  
  Protest in our country is not unpatriotic.
  Protest is not the product of childish, whining people who need to “put on their big boy pants” and “grow-up.”
  Protest provides our political “bodies” one way of purging something harmful and dangerous.
         For many of us, the placement of someone like Trump into the White House represents the beginning of an infestation of venomous mindsets. We know our election process put this man into power. We know we’ll honor the change because this transfer of power is one of the fundamental strengths of our country and the Constitution.
          But, like my gut forcing out poison, the discord of protest can possibly end with a cleansing.

Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

   

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Reunion






“So, what have you been doing for the last forty years?”

I’ve been daughter and son, spouse, parent, and grandparent
I’ve been married to my best friend
I’ve been single
I’ve been divorced
I’ve been widowed
I’ve been builder, nurse, mechanic, educator and designer
I’ve been firefighter, soldier and homemaker
I’ve been  caregiver, dancer and artist
I’ve been writer, lawyer and singer
I’ve been traveling and planting roots
I’ve been in my family home and living abroad
I’ve been loved 
I’ve been alone
I’ve been stubborn and caring
I’ve been angry, hurt, lost and regretful
I’ve been generous, open-minded, and loving
I’ve been surviving heartbreaks
I’ve been wallowing in happiness
I’ve been living my life

“What about you?”

Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman












Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Free at Last!”





  This summer, I trashed the constraints of my bras. I cast aside straps and snaps. I threw away underwire and extra support. Instead of breaking my budget on undergarments I resent, I purchased soft chamois, seamless sports bras, and colorful t-shirts that snug against my skin. I triumphantly enjoy my liberation. After pulling a twelve hour day, I no longer run home to strip out of my bra and into something comfortable.
  When I confided to one friend my new found freedom, she gasped, “Why would you stop wearing a bra! Isn’t that bad for you?” And although I told her about all of the research I’d done; and that society plays more of a role in our undergarments than physical necessity, she simply shook her head and stated that she’d never go anywhere public without being held “firmly in place.” 

  I’ve waited for someone to run after me, pointing and crying wildly, “Hey, Lady, where’s your bra?” but my modest t-shirts or cute chamois under my blouses and tops fill the bill. 


Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Journey of Grief"

          The night of my father’s unexpected death, we gathered at my parents’ house in League City. I don’t know who suggested that we watch a movie together to take our minds off of our loss, but before I knew it, I was stretched out on the floor in the family room watching Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. It didn’t take long for us to burst into uncontrollable laughter at scene after scene.
         And in that raucous, rolling mirth and uncontrollable giggles nestled the first knowledge that we would recover from our unexpected loss. Grief, of course, shrouded us for months and months; yet, that first evening of laughter meant the world would go on. Our lives would change forever, but we’d find myriad reasons to smile and laugh again.
         Our personal grief entangled the next day with the September 11th terrorist attacks. The television, on in the background as we dressed to go to the funeral home, suddenly caught my sister’s attention. 
            “Did that plane just hit a building?” she asked.
         The surreal elements of our personal lives halted as we stood to watch the initial reports, before the second plane hit. We left the house and hurried to the appointment to make arrangements for Dad’s funeral, knowing immediately that the attack would affect our lives immediately.
         At the funeral home, the television ran in another room. The director’s phone calls to Fort Sam Houston Cemetery went unanswered. Mom, able to collect herself as she listened to the news, commented that all of Dad’s friends at the sheriff’s department would go on alert. She made an immediate decision not to have a viewing. We picked out an urn. The director finally reached the National Cemetery at Ft. Sam only to be told that we couldn’t schedule any plans until after the crisis had passed. Mom gave instructions for Dad’s cremation, and we all decided that David, Paul and I would drive back to San Antonio with his ashes. We’d schedule a service later.
         I’ve always admired my mother’s strength, but never more than that day. When she called the Department of Defense to inform them of Dad’s death, the young officer handling her call burst into tears. I sat on the floor, holding the checklist of numbers to be called, and listened as my mother consoled this young man. He had friends in the Pentagon.
         I marveled that my mother, so wrapped in her own loss, could take a moment to consider the shock and loss felt by a stranger. 


          Over the years, I've learned the power of laughter. Maybe if people took a moment each day to giggle or grin, or to belly laugh until they cried, our world would hold a touch more optimism. 



Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Kirk or Picard?"


            I love the entire Star Trek franchise. Only nine when the first series debuted, I recall propping up my head against a stack of pillows, my favorite blanket in hand, to watch the adventures of the Enterprise and her crew. My sister’s love for Chekov mystified me as Spock captured my attention with his devotion to logic and science. I dismissed the antics of the plastic characters in Lost in Space while I longed to join the journey “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

            The rash and brash cockiness of James T. Kirk hooked me from the first episode. I loved his assertive leadership and boasting attitude. A Cavalier risk-taker, Kirk’s impetuousness influenced my playground spunk. I emulated his swagger in mock battles. I mimicked his self-confidence as I bossed other kids around. I fought against “aliens” and outwitted opponents with a mixture of wit, charm, and arrogance that guaranteed my popularity in the neighborhood. Small for my age, I learned from Kirk that acting first and thinking later edged my ability to hold my own among the older kids. With flailing fists or whipping jump rope, my brazen attacks against villains may have landed me in trouble with my parents, but no one messed with Lizzy during my Captain Kirk phase.
            As an adult, a different captain of the Enterprise captured my interest. Star Trek: The Next Generation aired its first episode in 1987 with Jean-Luc Picard in charge. This captain didn’t have Kirk’s devil-may-care defiance. Picard, who learned from his youthful mistakes, provided a rational and diplomatic leader for his crew. He often displayed his boldness with subtle nuances that appealed to my grown-up Lizzy. Picard liked music, and art, and books. He understood consequences to his actions. He tried to think first and then act, very different from my childhood idol, Kirk. Picard entered my life when I had matured into relying upon negotiation to solve playground problems. His tact and discretion became traits I admired and wished, sometimes desperately, to claim as my own.
            So when the question arises, as it inevitably does in Geek conversations, “Which captain of the Enterprise is better, Kirk or Picard?” I have my reasons for loving both. The child in me clings to Kirk with his youth and energy while the adult in me would love to sit and sip Earl Grey, hot, with Jean-Luc.   





Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, June 13, 2016

"Defeated"



 Whenever our world takes a dive into nastiness, my optimistic nature turns mulish. I pep talk myself into believing things will improve since I cannot imagine anyone would plunge our society into darkness. Who chooses politicians spewing hateful philosophies over ones espousing tolerance? Who supports dogmas that foster divisiveness over creeds that call for unity? Who supports a legal system that demoralizes the victim and worships the criminal?  Who willingly supports doctrines that leave citizens battered, bloodied and dead?
     My logical brain cannot comprehend that other people foolishly make decisions based upon emotional rhetoric instead of factual evidence. When I hear these people speak about their “gut feelings” that guide their judgments, my own stomach twists into knots. They add into the mix the prejudices of their religions, biases of their socio-economic class, and abhorrence to all that appears different from themselves, and end up with infectious hatred. 
  Applying heat to this festering hostility will bring things to a head. But can we withstand  this first step in treatment?
  I long to lance these boils, push out the pus that poisons and destroys, and slather on purifying, healing balms. In my optimism, I envision scenarios of miraculously curing our diseased nation. Yet, I fear that the contagion runs too deep, and all I feel is defeated.

Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"I Want to Give You the World"

I want to give you the world  
with its promise    
with its pleasure     
with its plenitude   
I want to give you the world      
without the doubts    
without the debt   
without the desperation     
I want to give you the world   
with its splendor   
with its sunrises  
with its surprises    
I want to give you the world     
without the worry      
without the weaknesses     
without the wantonness   
I want to give you the world    
with its hope     
with its humor     
with its happiness     

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Springtime In Texas"




            If I could, I’d pause this time of year and let it linger for month after month. The cooler nights mean I slide my windows open and slumber with scents of honeysuckle and rose. My air conditioner stands silent and still as soft breezes waft into each room. Outside, a polarized filter refines leaves, deepens the sky to cerulean, and cuts daylight and shadow into razor-sharp relief. A trip down any road takes me to fields of wildflowers, a photographer’s paradise. Point and shoot. Perfect moments stretch out eternally. 


Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman





Spring 2015

Spring 2015

Spring 2015

Spring 2015

Spring 2015

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"Haiku Experiment"

The Experiment    
distilling daily dreams—thoughts    
one drop at a time    
July 4    
Morning view outside    
velvet red upon green stalks    
symmetrical rose    
July 4    
Daily poetry    
huge mountains of words to climb    
an endless challenge    
July 13    
Twelve days of poems    
forcing creativity    
through the sieve of words    
July 14    
Impatience is gone    
vanishing within a smile    
the mood shifts again    
July 23    
Happiness and joy   
are acorns planted in fall    
and rooted in time    
July 27    
The poetry helps    
by healing my tattered soul    
bandaging worries    
August 2    
Plunge into a book    
evade all-consuming thoughts    
escape tomorrow    
August 3    
Night’s muffled sighs sound    
distant humming of autos    
gentle songs of sleep    
August 5    
Today’s words are forced    
curbed and restrained emotions    
cotton wraps my mind    
August 8    
Retreat into sleep    
play out other worlds and lives    
leave yourself behind    
August 8    
Hold onto sunshine    
gently cup it in your hands    
optimistic thoughts    
August 16    
Sleepy Saturday    
singing soft lullabies    
snoozing silently    
September 11    

Copyright 1999 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

For a six month period in 1999, I challenged myself to make my journal entries through some form of poetry. Often, the day's events seemed best expressed through haiku. These are just a few entries from my experiment.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"Forgive and Forget"

Over time, the walls of self-defense become chinked with wear   
Overgrown by ivy, flowering each spring with climbing roses,     
The origins for brick and mortar fade in memory     
The enemy’s conniving and manipulation forgotten with each
          passing season     

Over time, the story of the their cruelty mutates     
Into a softer narrative of the human frailty found within their souls  
And the need to forgive and forget their heartless and vindictive 
          natures      
Grows because I must repair my damaged spirit      

Over time, the protective barriers seem superfluous      
My internal longings to belong create false hope      
That “this time” will prove different—better      
That somehow they’ve gentled with time      

Foolish me—to pull down the walls, to retell the tale        
To desire their love    

Foolish me—to provide them opportunity, to crush me     
Under the weight of my forgiveness      

Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman   

Friday, February 19, 2016

“Harper Lee and Me”


hour after hour, day after day, year after year    
the cadence of her words     
rose and fell in my classroom  

in Jean Louise’s coveralls  
walking in someone else’s skin   
I meandered through Maycomb’s streets  
treasuring two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of 
    good-luck pennies
I led my students  
into that courtroom  
and stood in respect  

and I wept     
every single time  

hour after hour, day after day, year after year  
the cadence of her words  
rose and fell in my classroom  

“What would Atticus do?”  
wove into my discussions  
became a refrain   
became ingrained into who I am as a daughter, as a wife, as a 
                mother  
defined my humanity—   
my Gestalt 
I am a part of all I have met   

and so I wept   
every single time  

hour after hour, day after day, year after year  
the cadence of her words  
rose and fell in my life   

until I became the writer
with a draft of a novel in my desk 
and another tucked upon a closet shelf     
the lives I created guided by conscience      
renderings of myself in stark black and white  
so I understand a watchman  
and crossing time to set things right  

and I wept  
once again  


Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman