Tag Archives: Biographical

I Became an Expert Fruit Pirate

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This is a not-nearly-as-tall version of Scotch Broom (See below for the Scotch Broom reference.)

New Start–123
I Crossed the Rural Road to Brave the Creek

I crossed the rural road to brave the creek
With its terribly clawed crawdads
But barefoot feet wet I pressed on to a sandy
Stretch studded with cactus and yucca spears

And I toured towards the much taller than I
Scotch Broom patch of yellow flowered thicket
With the inner (for pow wows) clearing
Featuring fallen logs for Indians to sit upon

A wary warrior (It was scary at dusk)
I was thinking each clicking cricket
Was perhaps a rattlesnake
Yet Sir Bold Boy advanced

Until he chanced to glance under a rock:
Where there was hiding a horned toad
And I ran back to the road
Screaming that I’d seen a dinosaur

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
This is a continuation in the saga of my youth, which turned me toward Sufism. Last time I was still describing the “orphanage” farm I was early relegated to. But as I hope you will see, it was a mighty interesting place, and experience.*

On this farm there was fruit growing everywhere but it was forbidden that any of the children should steal any. Foster children, that is. There were other children belonging to Mrs. Hunt’s family. I already mentioned Sandra Sue, the granddaughter, that I’d had a crush on. But, most notably, there was also younger and scrawny Donald Lee, another grand child. And of course Donald Lee had carte blanche to raid any tree, and eat the fruit in front of me to show what he could have and I could not.**

It was a small farm, but it was too big to police. So I always figured, let them prove it in court. Or even, let them find witnesses–so I became an expert fruit pirate! And the truth was, there was an incredible amount of fruit, and often in out of the way places, and daily available, was the cover of darkness. Actually, I think the rule was mostly designed to minimize thievery, forcing it underground.

There were upsides besides, to this abundance of fruit. And there was an exception to the child no eating fruit dictum, during harvest times. For instance finally we could roam marauding-free up and down the berry aisles, eating with impunity. Just so we returned regularly (albeit with massive purple stains around the lips) with our pots filled with ripe berries.

Another upside was Mrs Hunt set her female kitchen crew to prodigious canning exercises. There were stored row on row of mason jars full of pre-sugared fruit, ready to pour into a pie crust. It was mass production, and so every night we had desert, most memorably, berry pie.

Of course this surfeit of food didn’t stop me from getting a reputation, after dinner, for raiding the pigs’ slop bucket. What can I say? Pirates have no shame.

There was another upside to all that fruit. Perhaps you have heard the rumors that on a farm everyone eats well. Well, it at least was true out there, in Live Oak Acres. Every night there was roast beast, or (especially) fried rabbits. It was horrible to hear, but Mrs. Hunt regularly tied them up to a clothes line by their hind legs then sawed their heads off with a butcher knife. And once she put me in a pen with a flock of ironically-named ring neck doves, and told me I would be locked in there, until I’d wrung the neck of all the doves so she could freeze them (she had wall to wall freezers). I only remember my predicament. I don’t remember how it got resolved. I think it got repressed.

I don’t remember either (later story down the road) the moment when I began denying Jesus. Repressed again, I expect. But more on that later, if I stick with this mini-memoir. (I started out a fierce Jesus lover, but later fell under the fiercer influence of my atheist older brothers.)

Yes, we ate well. Though not so much as vegetarians. And not only because Mrs. Hunt raised her own meat, (pigs, the occasional Brahma steer, rabbits, chickens, Guinea fowl, pigeons and doves). But also she (who must be obeyed) had a Seventh Day Adventist brother (they are by rule vegetarians) who loved to hunt and because he couldn’t eat the deer himself, he donated his umpteen carcasses for his sister to freeze; and so we ate a lot of venison too.

(It was refreshing how her brother kept to the spirit of the Seventh Day thing . . .)

I guess I should mention the wild quail we ate a lot of. They would land en masse in a field back of the main orchard, and Mrs. Hunt’s son loved to take his shotgun to that shooting quail in a barrel exercise.***

This (small) “farm” was set like a jewel in a frame across the street from a creek with crawdads in it and beyond that, desert-like sandy land with yucca everywhere and in the far corner of Mrs. Hunt’s property was a big cluster perhaps thirty yards across of six foot tall Scotch Broom, which we named “The Green Weeds.” This was penetrated by trailing entry points like milk canals in oatmeal, and had a central clearing with fallen logs to sit on and pretend we were Indians. The photo seen above is of Scotch Broom, though of a stubblier, shorter variety.

Yes, physically, it was a child’s paradise. Natural beauty everywhere, rural roads, few cars, five hundred yards between the houses, and if you hiked toward Sled Hill for fifteen minutes you could indulge in daredevil entertainment. It was a pretty steep hill with matted straw in the summertime, which was slick to the runners of sleds which could be made to go I guess thirty miles an hour hurtling downhill. You could just take your pick of the best sleds always waiting at the bottom because why take them home? There was no fear of theft as they were only useful on this hill, and too heavy to cart around, anyway. They were all hand made out of old lumber and the rails were nailed with tin strips to make them slick.

And there was nearby a dammed-up creek swimming hole and in heart of the summer Daddy Bill would put the kids in the back of his pickup and take us all screaming to the swimming hole.

And once over Sled Hill, it was a two mile walk down a rural lane (there was an apricot tree growing wild on the side of the road. What fun!) to the two room country school house I went to for first through third grade. I had the same teacher for the second and third grades, because there were only two classrooms, and three grades in this school.

This teacher, Mrs. Hicks, knew who I was ward-wise, (of the court) and she would often invite me to hang with her at her house, helping in the garden. She was a mother away from home to me and even now, I am crying with gratitude just remembering her fresh-from-the-garden tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. Of course I am easy, when it comes to tears.

Well, again, times up. Mini-saga continues next time.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell
PS: Need I mention that I was terribly lonely?

* Interesting like the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Just kidding. Sort of. And also bearing in mind a favorite Hazrat Inayat Khan quote, “For every loss, there is a hidden gain, and for every gain, a hidden loss.” Implicit in the context of this was the fact that the gain doesn’t necessarily equal the loss, and vice versa. In fact, there often are vast discrepancies.

The corollary to which reinforced frequent Sufi wisdom, which says best not to get too excited when you get a “gain” nor too depressed when you receive a loss. Hard to tell how you came out. A very useful thing for keeping an even keel. (Sufis are big on that)

** This is not the worst I received at the hand of the spoiled brat Donald Lee. We often went without shoes, and Donald Lee, for instance would follow close behind with a shovel in hand, which he used to jab violently down just behind my bare heels. Kind of like in the westerns when they would shoot at your feet and tell you to dance. Of course I was a year or two older and bigger than Donald Lee, and so sorely tempted to just punch him out and have an end on it. But if and when I did, he would run to the formidable Mrs. Hunt who of course believed her beloved grandson over me whom she used to regularly accuse of stuff, saying “Evidently it was Eric. He’s the ring leader!”

And then I was banished from television at night, a punishment I wished was a whipping instead, especially when Disneyland was on.

But there was a dénouement to this. Three years after leaving, to supposedly live with my mother again (wait til you hear about that one!) I came back for a visit, and Donald Lee had every aspect of being ashamed and apologetic for his erst treatment of me. Also interesting . . .

***He was drafted into the army, sent to Germany, but soon got a dishonorable discharge for having attacked a black man with a razor, and justifying it because he was “only a nigger.”

Fortunately, It Was a Matriarchy

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New Start–109

At the Orchard End of the Orphanage

I remembered the peach blossom breeze
At the orchard end of the orphanage
And I wondered how it would be different

If my mother hadn’t put me there
But then I thought of later when my mother
Gave me a fistful of wistful for her lost first love:

She was earnest to explain to show me
In the mirror where my now brown eyes
This time would have been blue

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Taking up where we left off last week, bearing in mind that my rationale for so much biography in a blog dedicated to Sufism a la Rumi, is how it impacted my “religious” * choices. In other words, it gives background for understanding the later pull that Sufism had on me.

Last time, I wrote about being abandoned by my mother to live in a foster home. But that was just for the first year, and then I was moved. It’s funny–I have no memory of moving from Mrs. Murray’s in Oxnard, California, to the “orphanage” in rural Live Oak Acres, a “suburb”of Oak View, which was a “suburb”of Ojai, which was a “suburb” of Ventura. This is to say, truly the epitome of California rural rusticity, circa 1952. This “orphanage” was run by a large Wagnerian woman, (whose shotgun could shatter glass**) aptly named Bertha, a refugee from Oklahoma in the thirties, who had found an interesting niche in the economy. She had a mini-farm with a cow, pigs, rabbits and chickens, plus an orchard full of fruit trees, and umpteen rows of trellised grape and berry vines. She was paid fifty dollars a month (1952 dollars) for each child she “raised.” That was not counting of course the value of our labor, mostly on the farm premises, though sometimes especially in the summer, we were farmed out to local growers to pick walnuts etc, with Mrs. Hunt receiving so much per filled burlap bag.

So, all the children had “chores” we had to do. For one of mine, I had to get up and feed and water 100 or so rabbits each morning before going to school. That was before sun-up. In the winter, I had to break the ice covering the water dishes and clean them and refill them with fresh water. I remember once, no water would come from the spigot, because the water pipe had frozen. I was only eight but I knew ice was brittle and could be smashed to bits by a hammer or a rock. So I reasoned, I would take a big rock and bring it down hard onto the old water pipe, to shatter the ice and make it flow again. But all it did was break the pipe at a rusty joint, which tragically turned out to be above the last cut-off valve. So I was staring at a pipe with an exposed cross-section of ice. But I knew that when it melted, the water would flow from the giant fed-by-a-well water storage tank fifty feet up in the air (gravity-aided to provide water pressure for the farm). And there was no longer any shut-off valve to stop the entire tank-full from flooding the adjacent farm yard. I mean it must have been ten thousand gallons. We were wading in mud, which also was my name at this point.

Fortunately, it was a matriarchy.

Only women had any power on the farm. Mrs. Hunt did have a husband, denombre Daddy Bill. (Note, she was “Mrs. Hunt” and her husband was “Daddy Bill.” ‘Nuff said.) When he was home from work, all Daddy Bill did was smile and watch wrestling on television. And as to the power pecking order, There was of course Mrs. Hunt (Bertha) and under her was her trained eighteen year old, Clara, and under her, a lieutenant, a twelve year old girl named Betty Michael (In the south the girls often had a boy’s name also attached, as in Jimmy Sue, or at least two girl’s names stuck together) and under her was Sandra Sue, Mrs. Hunt’s grand daughter, age nine. (I had a crush on Sandra Sue. But I digress) Now this Betty Michael, fortunately, had a crush on me, though I was only eight years old, albeit reputedly cute. That may be in dispute and so to settle it (you may judge) here is (just below) a photo of me close to that age.

eric-as-child

Me at age eight or nine

Anyway I remember Betty Michael sitting opposite me with big lovesick eyes saying, “I wish you were 25!” (In the south they married young girls to older men)

Anyway, I had Betty Michael coming to my defense, saying I’d not known any better and was just trying to do my job without waking everybody up for a consultation.

Well well . . . It appears once again, that I am out of time.
And so, to be continued next post.
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Religious. There’s that controversial word again. Maybe you aren’t aware of this but there is a lot of prejudice against “religion.” Not that a healthy skepticism isn’t vastly merited judging by the corrupt usage the word has fallen into, historically. Just to give an example I refer you to the Spanish Inquisition. Which unfortunately is far from an isolated incident.
And then we have Saint Francis, and even Jesus, as gentle souls who should not be classified in that group.

And then you have for instance Albert Einstein, who gave a nod to religion by saying that indeed he was awestruck by the “mysterious” of this world, and our place in it, not to mention the universe. And he added, “And in that sense, I am a religious man.”

** Or at least, ceramics. Witness the time someone for a joke purloined a ceramic rattlesnake from her mantle and put it in the tall grass hard by her handmade stone house. Having caught a mere grass-eclipsed glimpse, she ran for her shotgun and blew the thing to smithereens.

I Could Be Bought with Pie

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A Child’s Christmas

New PR-139

The Cure for Alone

I was a lonely child
But I loved Christmas:
It was a distraction attraction
From no friends

I loved the red candles and the songs
Connoting Jesus though as a baby
And I’d no affinity for babies then
But that didn’t matter

I had an affinity for holy
For the music that evoked that
Lit a candle to love which always
Has been the cure for alone

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Yes this is a Sufi blog, in keeping with a Sufi website named after the most popular Sufi in the Western world, Rumi (as in rumi-nations.com).
But the blog posts, quotes, stories, and quotes, if they have one overriding common theme, is that it is in daily life (or should be) that we gradually hone ourselves to that “Razor’s Edge” Somerset Maugham referred to in his famous eponymous novel.

And that is why so much of my poetry is personal, derived from life experience. And interestingly (along these lines) my poetry these days, universally deals with what I call metaphysical issues. Chief among which is (have I mentioned this?) the search for happiness. Yes, Sufism is (as per the title of one of my blog posts) “The Science of Happiness.”

And this blog, as in my poetry, has no other touchstone but my own experience.

Pardon my roundabout way of justifying what I will now do. I will fill you gentlefolk (reader-wise) in on some biographical recollections which perforce have shaped my own personal search for happiness. Not to mention that I have lately embarked on the project of writing my memoirs. And dear readers, (aka guinea pigs) I do confess I plan to practice (here and there) on you all. And since I have often been assured that I have led an “interesting life,” I trust it will not bore you, and that I won’t stray much from metaphysical themes. Since this is a metaphysical (read Sufi) blog and website.
And so, like Charles Dickens did, I will begin with my childhood.

As for the tale of my childhood, I wish I could make it more of a swashbuckling narrative like the chapter in Huckleberry Finn, “We Ambuscade the A-rabs.” But that would be too protagonist for a situation like mine which was more passive as in, “I didn’t know the pie was bait and had a hook in it.”

I remember I went with my mother one day to buy me a little rug for me to sleep upon at nap time in kindergarten. For some reason I was excited about that rug, a little red riding thing like Santa’s suit. And afterward my mother asked me if I would like to meet her friend, a Mrs. Murray. I was a friendly kid (my mother used to call me her little dolphin because I was so playful), and so naturally I said sure. And it even turned out there was pie involved. And at that age, I could be bought with pie.

And after my pie and milk, my mother asked if I wanted to spend the night at Mrs. Murray’s. Of course I was also an adventurous boy who liked new things, and who thought maybe in the morning there would be more pie and so I said, sure!

And it was five years before I slept again under my mother’s roof.

This Mrs. Murray was a paid foster mother. Paid by the state of California to provide my room and board. Because, behind the scenes my mother had petitioned for me to be put in state custody and as such referred to as a “ward of the court.” If I had cleverly invested a dollar for every time in those years I heard those words, I’d have a secure retirement nest egg now.

I was too young to have explained to me the necessity for this, but in retrospect it is clear that my mother was going nuts trying to keep afloat financially with meager employment, and raise four rowdy boys, all without child support.

Boys like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Independent boys.

Loud boys.

Rambunctious boys, whom my mother was ill equipped to train.

I used to joke when people congratulated me for some mental feat. I would reply, “My mommy didn’t raise no dummies!” And then I would add, “Of course, my mommy never raised anybody.”

You see my mother had converted to Catholicism briefly in her youth, and apparently the rumors that the church encourages anti-Malthusian measures are true, such that my mother cranked out four boys in a span of six years. And one miscarriage! And who knows? Maybe down the lonesome road I’ll have some Hell-escaping advantage for having been baptized a Catholic! But this was too much for my Quaker father, who was no doubt aghast at the necessity to support and raise four children. (It would have entailed a job!) So first he got a vasectomy, and then to make double sure, got a divorce.

And though he never paid child support, to be fair, he often visited, and played his bagpipes, and shouted, “Hoot mon!.” (He had kilts and tassels and everything. He was taught by his Scottish stepfather.)

My mother was an only child. Her father had really wanted a son (to teach football and baseball to; he had been a star athlete in three sports in high school) and his wife hated sex,* which made problematic any prospects for more children, and so Grandpa Logan (affectionately referred to as Grambogie which name he may have suggested himself for his resemblance to Humphrey Bogart) took it out on his fat and only daughter, sneering at how she “waddled.” He no doubt had felt cheated, having waited patiently for marriage with his incredibly beautiful wife** only to discover that she hated sex. I imagine it was a surprise to her as well. I do remember her oft repeated refrain, as she got drunk at night, (after my grandfather’s death) that though she loved Logan for 39 years and missed him terribly, “Thank God I’ll never be bothered in bed by a man again!”

But back to Grambogie: I’m not sure how much abuse there was and of what exact nature, but I remember one story of her being abused physically while her mother sat in the corner cowed and afraid to intervene. So I once asked Mom if Grambogie had ever hit her and she didn’t answer, just started to cry.

She had only gotten married to escape her father.

I fear this has reached installment size. Story continues next week.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

PS–I have a firm conviction that to understand my youth, you must know somewhat of the roots of it. It’s a “twig is bent” thing, you know.

*And thereby hangs a tale of no sexual desire caused by typical African genital mutilation, but performed by her doctor father in rural Michigan circa 1900. (He’d come across her at age three playing doctor with her six year old sister. The Calvinist thought to himself, if this is what’s going on at this tender age, by God they’ll be whores for sure, and took remedial surgical measures) I may or may not later go into this horrific tale. But it’s outside the drive chain of the story just now.

** At age seventeen I was perusing a wooden boxfull of old family photos and came across a picture of a seventeen year old girl of ravishing beauty. And that was in black and white, not showing her dynamic red hair. I had butterflies in my heart just looking at her. I asked who it was and someone said, “Oh, that’s Grandma Dorothy.” Join me in remembrance of the strange incestuous guilt twinge that inspired.