Tag Archives: Biographical

The Grim Tale (of the First Domino)

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Grandma Dorothy and the four grandsons (I am the one just to her left)

 

PR–264

Great Aunts Can Can in Antique Parlors

There is always a beginning:
Some room to be furnished
Makes you want to stock it

Burnished beautiful with antique furniture
A chiming rhyming clock perchance
As in my case of jinned up romance

At age ten visiting above my great
Aunt’s mantel-placed masterpiece
Of six foot tall walk-in marbled fireplace

When then I sat entranced and enthralled:
Was it my first meditation?
I got a nose for fire underneath

With climactic prismatic (crystalled) flames:
Danced high leg kicks licks
With home smell made of wood

As only cultured great aunts can:
Can in antique parlors in which
One could never be alone

Or bored which now I think on it
Are the same things
(Sans escape on angel wings)

~.~.~

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,
I was planning to start–continuing with the Biographical trail I recently started on–with more stuff about my mother who when last seen was abandoning us boys AGAIN. I even posted such a promise on Facebook, including a suitable introductory poem. But it turns out that what’s most logically next up story-wise has popped up, so I will postpone that poem for later when I get back to my mother. It’s just I figured some expository stuff about my family should come first (which will help to explain the crap that came down family-wise).*

Alas, I have no photo of Aunt Edel, (Our child’s nickname for Edith) the great aunt of the poem above. Childless herself, she used to invite each of us boys for a summer visit in her classic antique Spanish style mansion with the two story high living room, giant Monterrey beams, and a six foot tall walk-in fireplace, just under the old (original) Hollywood sign, hard by the Hollywood reservoir. The house she sold to Aldous Huxley (where he died.)

So I have to make do with a photo of her sister, my Grandma Dorothy (see above) The photo is from my high school days, living with Grandma Dorothy and my three brothers, all shown here in our front yard, (circa 1964) in Sun Valley, California. (Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley) I am the one just to Grandma Dorothy’s left. The rest, your left to right, are:

Older brother Jim,** the certified musical genius (Regents scholarship to UCLA)

Mike, the eldest, thought the smartest, til Jim beat him (by a nose) at the SAT’s.

Robin the youngest, who tragically choked on peanut butter at age four and had to have a tracheotomy to save his life but alas, probably not so much his original amount of brain cells.***

And what can I say about Mike? Personally, I think Mike had the hardest childhood. Sure we (I and Robin, the youngest) were put in an orphanage from five to ten years old (in my case). And Jim the next oldest had a bit of idyllic by comparison, living with a family charmed by him who wanted to adopt him. But appearances sure can be deceiving, since he later went insane and died young.

And so the oldest was Mike. Who had skipped a grade. Yep he was the smart one. But he had to get stuck with living with our grandfather (see below in re him).**** I should mention that there was no grandfather on my father’s side, that we had ever met. In fact we only met his mother once, when I was twelve, on a visit north to Sacramento where his family had a bakery, which we visited. But we were frustrated that for all the wonderful smell in the bakery they wouldn’t even give us a cookie, explaining that there were already too few for the customers. In fairness, we were assuaged when she gave us each a silver dollar. My basic point though is my father was the black sheep and so we never had anything to do with his side of the family.

Continuing with my biographical background:

In important ways the pathology of my family goes back to the turn of the century, in rural Michigan, where my Grandma Dorothy and her sister Edith (called Aunt Edel) lived with their country doctor father.

My mother was an only child. Her father had really wanted a son (He was a superman of a high school three sport athlete and wanted a son to show the manly ropes to) 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, (we lived with her when I was in high school) 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!”

I do believe in a family domino theory and my family certainly showed that.

Okay you may say so what happened back then in the turn of the century rural Michigan?
And here is the grim tale (of the first domino to fall):

Grandma Dorothy’s father was a surgeon, but mostly a country doctor. He was a strict Calvinist sort of guy and when he came across his two daughters (aged three and six) exploring each other’s genitals, he reasoned thus:

If this is what they are doing at this tender age they will Grow up to be whores for sure!

And his remedy was pretty much the same as African genital mutilation. He performed clitorectomies on both of them.

Which was why Grandma Dorothy hated sex.

Grambogie felt cheated out of a hot wife, and took to drink and other women. There was a rumor I had a half uncle in New York city.

You may surmise the major influences in my life came at least a generation removed from the usual. And these two sisters, Dorothy and Edith*****, my mother’s mother and aunt, played an outsize role in my youth. Of course an odd thing about such relationships is by the time your youth is played out, these older ones have died. And for instance in the case of my beloved Aunt Edel, died thinking I didn’t love her. She didn’t understand about adolescent rebellion and that it certainly was not an index of love. But she died before I got my head on straight enough (as my old Sufi preceptor Lud used to call it) to explain such stuff to her.

On that sad note, I sign off, pending next post.
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*This reminds me of something I remember from my English History class: The professor was asked to succinctly summarize British history. His answer was: “Well, it was one damned thing after another.”

**Died age 39 from complications of schizophrenia

***Died from suicide, age 22

****And just to encapsulate the issue, I heard that Grambogie (all his life obsessed with proving his manhood) had held Mike’s hands under the hottest available tap water, so he could see what it amounted to “to be a man.” And after years of that, Mike had some sort of Stockholm Syndrome like when Grambogie would be yelling at us boys, (“How stupid can you get?”) and Mike, he would just obsequiously say, “Stand by!” And yes, I do give him credit for the wit of it. Indeed Mike was clever. For instance we were all punsters due to the malign influence of our father, but I am proud of Mike who came up with the world champion triple pun. Jim was telling us about when he was in France and wanted to get a traditional harvest time job of stamping up and down on the grapes to extract the juice, for wine use, etc. but alas! There was suddenly a machine that did the stamping, and all you had to do was open a spigot and the juice would flow out. And Mike said, “What kind of spigoted machine is this, trying to stamp out the juice?”

*****As you could extrapolate from these two sisters, in my family there were age difference gaps you could gallop a herd of wild horses through. I had on this account an unusual family constellation. Because my mother was an only child, and her father was an only child, and her mother had only the one sister, with no children, we had no cousins. Of course there were a few Cousin Winifreds, (third cousins three times removed, etc) And so, all family members were old. Fortunately, as a child I charmed old ladies. Later when at ten I heard that also in Pasadena (California) lived my 80 year old Cousin Winifred, I upped and visited her. Introduced myself, and by golly, I got cookies.

Another oddity about my childhood due to being surrounded by old people, was that visiting their houses, hearing them talk, it was like a masterpiece theater thing showing how people used to live in the 1920’s etc. They all still had their same old classic cars (belike rotting in the garage), and style of lamps and old radios you see in the Thin Man movies. My great grandmother, whom I despised (but that’s another story) wore a whalebone corset. And hearing a (nightly) drunken Grandma Dorothy sing “Ain’t We Got Fun?” (a depression era hit saying that fun was more important than poverty) I was thus immersed in a bygone era.

To a Child, New Stuff Is Inherently Interesting

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Yellow Rose Heart

New PR–337

An Obscure Divine Signature

Do you ever wax nostalgic about the wind?
Me I remember walking over a bridge of light
When I was eight the muse was slumming

And I was humming the song
The Yellow Rose of Texas
While thinking of a yellow rose

And I remember it was some
Sun-drenched wind
That etched it on my heart

Like a yellow diamond might
Leave an obscure divine signature on
The stained glass in Sainte-Chapelle

~.~.~

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,
I had been meaning to get back to the story of my youth (good practice for my memoirs!). I have been distracted lately with metaphysical issues, but I dimly remembered a promise to get back to my personal tale (which after all, was the one that led me to Sufism, and then finally, this blog stuff.) In fact I just did some research and found I ended last September 23’s (see archives!) post with these words:

“But there was a dénouement to this. Three years after leaving (the orphanage), to supposedly live with my mother again (wait til you hear about that one!) I came back for a visit, and Donald Lee (Mrs. Hunt’s spoiled grandson) had every aspect of being ashamed and apologetic for his earlier treatment of me. ”

Yup and so now comes the tale of my orphanage exodus.

Perhaps you will recall that my mother did come to visit me every two or three weeks. No doubt it would have been more often but the orphanage was out in the sticks, and it probably took her an hour and a half to get there.

And interesting things happened on her last visit to me there. I had gone to church on my faithful bicycle Hiawatha, which involved a steep hill on up to the metropolis called Oak View (a suburb of Ojai, which was a suburb of Ventura, California. My mother lived further on of course, in Camarillo. She needed to live there because she worked as a “psychiatric technician” at Camarillo State Hospital (the one dedicated to the non-criminally insane).

Anyway on the way back from church, going downhill on the steep slope out of town, I pedaled as fast as I could and prayed (both to Jesus and my bicycle–See, even then I was a pantheist!) to make me go faster and faster. But I had little reckoned on the sudden gravelly hairpin turn at the bottom of the hill and I went flying and landed unconscious. A nice man came by in a pick up and shook me awake and put my bike in the back and drove me to the orphanage, and guess what? Waiting for me (and yes, my younger brother Robin) was my mother who was all smiles and enthusiasm saying this was the day we were finally all going to live together again (me, Robin and the two oldest, Mike and Jim) with her in scenic Camarillo.

But I wouldn’t let us leave before first saying good-bye to Mrs. Hicks*, my sanity-saving surrogate mother and teacher for both the second and third grade. I wanted to give her a good-bye gift and my mother convinced me what would be a good one was her half-used deodorant stick. Later I got a letter from Mrs. Hicks, wishing me well and saying my note and gift had given her “a warm feeling inside.”

I was to attend Pleasant Valley elementary school. They called all of the seaside town of Camarillo area “Pleasant Valley.” And rightly so, what with the sunny breezes and the nearby seascape. In fact the above ode to a yellow rose poem, was written with the memory of hearing the famous song (The Yellow Rose of Texas) in my head as I crossed the overpass bridge, with just such a sun and wind at my back.

Our time there didn’t last, but it lasted long enough for me to fall in love with a nine year old girl denombre Ellen Jones. I had fought for her for six months trying to wrest her from a certain Brian Muldoon. And finally, just before summer vacation, she said she was mine! (Cue in the ecstatic trumpets!)

But there were flies in the ointment (I guess that killed the medicinal properties?).

Mom told us that our Dad had gotten married again and he and his wife wanted to have us stay with them for the summer.

Which was okay. But we were not close with my father** (a story for perhaps another time) and certainly not his wife, a sophisticated Barbara person***. But she was a bit cool, and unfairly favored her own son from a previous marriage. Another spoiled brat named Robby Jano.

But to a child, new stuff is inherently interesting, so it wasn’t so bad.

And so the summer passed, but no sooner were we back sighing with relief, that Mom said “Don’t bother to unpack. You are going right back. It was all an experiment for them to size you up during the summer and then decide if they wanted you to live with them or not, and they did. And you can’t stay here. I work nights and need to sleep during the day and you guys are just too noisy.”

Which seemed dishonest and unfair. Because she had never complained, certainly not enough for us to suspect that our staying or going hung in the balance. But a night of tears and pleading and promises did nothing, and so we were sent right back. I think that was the straw that finally sent reeling my love for my mother. Though I was still to live with her off and on, for the next few years, alternating with the father, and finally Grandma Dorothy. More on that (perhaps) later.

But she let me come back for a last date with Ellen. (we went to the county fair). And we wrote for several years . . .

This girlfriend separation stuff had also brought me tears when a one named Penny at age six (my bright spot in the orphanage) moved away.

I remember seeing her drive away looking at me out the back window, just like in the wonderful movie “A Little Romance.” (Diane Lane’s first, age 13, and Laurence Olivier’s last. Age 80?)

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Have I mentioned my second and third grade teacher, Mrs. Hicks before? But even if so she is worth mentioning again. She knew I had no mother at hand and so pitched in, inviting me to help her in her garden on week ends and summers, and who fed me a version of ambrosia she called tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches (tomatoes we picked from her garden!) ‘Nuff said.

** To epitomize why: when I was threeish years old, and he was still with us (He soon after this incident divorced my mother, and largely disappeared from our lives. Until later of course–see above for an instance), a neighbor lady had given me a tootsie roll, which my father confiscated, saying it would spoil my appetite for dinner. But he let me put it in the refrigerator for a dessert later. But when after dinner I came for it there he was in front of the fridge eating it himself.

***Who interestingly had lived in China ‘til she was sixteen (her father was one of the later famous missionaries who were jailed by Mao Tse Tung, but then he got dramatically released as a “humanitarian gesture.” Not much of one because his cancer was so advanced he died in his wife’s arms in the Philippines, which was as far as he could make it. (His wife and daughter–my father’s bride–had escaped the Red Army and got to the states, during the Chinese Revolution. The story of their brief reunion was front page news in the U. S. : The Dramatic deathbed visit by the grieving widow.

A Handy Houdini Escape Ploy

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Grandma Dorothy and the four grandsons (I am the one to her left)

 

New Start–146
(Published in Ascent Aspirations)

Opening Stone-Henged Doors

Open sesame speak friend and enter
Roll the stone from Jesus’ tomb

There is always a latch trick
To opening stone-henged doors

When they work the tricks
Are slap your head simple

And when they don’t work
It’s at least amusing excusing proof:

You’ve let the situation get
Complex on you

When you’d been warned
Not to get any on you

Complexity that is
The opposite of Zen

~.~.~

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,
As followers might know, lately I’ve been waxing biographical. But people always say, can you give me an example? And if I were asked the question, how do I account for my (lately, if yes, belatedly) happy state, well, I being an honest boy would reply, it was from my version of Sufism. Which begs the same question, wanting an example showing how those two things might be connected.

And the only example I have at hand is my own life. And it has struck me that (at least to me) the path through that thicket was damned interesting, and instructive, such that now I can make a few observations.

So you see I have come full circle and so let’s circle back to my childhood-acquired Sufi inklings.

The nice thing about childhood is you have nothing to compare it to. If you are in an orphanage, (Yo! I was, as you would know from the preceding blog posts) and other kids aren’t, it’s just like getting used to the fact that some other kids have rich families (Better Halloween costumes and all). And too, it’s like the Lillian Gish line in the movie Night of the Hunter (Four stars! Charles Laughton’s only and yet masterful directorial attempt!) where she tells what she most admires about children: “They abide.”

So back to the story:
I guess I could tell about when at age eight I dressed up as a girl for Halloween and couldn’t use any restroom. Mostly to please (the Wagnerian honcho lady) Mrs. Hunt’s nine year old grand daughter Sandra Sue, who dressed me like a girl doll. When I tried to go into the boys’ bathroom, a man stopped me and admonished that little girls weren’t allowed. Fortunately the Halloween party was at the country school house and there was, just outside, an assortment of hidden places to pee.

Or I could talk about my infatuation with Sandra Sue and how we played post office but just when we got to holding hands we went for a walk at dusk and she sat down on a cactus and we had to go right back where she was sequestered by fellow females gathered to pluck the quills from her butt. (I kid you not)

It seemed after that that either I had painful associations, or it was too cacti-infected anticlimactic, but the upshot was no more Sandra Sue for you know who.

I hope your romances end better . . .

But this is all high school. I guess I should just mention the heart stuff and move right along.

I hope I have not painted an incriminating picture of Mrs. Hunt, the very large and intimidating matriarch who ran things in those parts. In actual fact the main (Dickensian!) punishment was having to go to bed early and not watch television with all the other kids. Each night we would lie on our stomachs on the living room floor in front of the television and lick salted lemons, and raw potatoes too now I think on it. The punishment was extra draconian if it involved not seeing Disneyland on Sunday night.

No the sins there were not so much of commission. More of omission, I believe the Catholic church calls them.They weren’t even sins, as in tell me in what real world venue is a Mrs. Hunt going to be a mother? But she never even smiled sweetly at us, with the notable exception of an imitation of life when the welfare lady turned up. (More on that anon). Quite a contrast occurred however between her behavior with us ward of the court kids and her genuine and obvious affection for her own family’s children, who lived also in our midst.

As I implied, the county child welfare lady would came round to check up on us. Stupidly, she didn’t just drop in. No, she made it by appointment and in the few days before she showed, Mrs. Hunt put on a semi-sweet vaguely convincing sweetness facade. And she always smiled beamingly upon us in front of the lady. But we were hip to the threat behind her eyes, if we should tell any stories about peach tree switches or the rampant unfairness with which she treated us, especially compared to the kids in her own family. (Who could do what they wanted to us with an impunity bought of knowing they could lie and always be believed . . .)

And yet justice demands we not call it Dickensian. C’est trop fort.

But we had to get tough, fend for ourselves, and cry every night for our mothers.

As for any religious impulses, I was big on Jesus.* Just like the negro slaves turned that way. When you have nothing in this world, you hope for a good next. And say what you will, what with all this talk about God being love and its corollary that when you see love in action it does say “God is here!”

And if you really feel that in your blood and bones, it’s a handy Houdini escape ploy. I refer to the wonderful glow of gratitude that you have been granted such exalted company.

More on this anon, or as my beloved Grandma Dorothy used to say when she retired, “I’ll see you anonymous!” (If you’ve heard that before, sorry but I never tire of it.)
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*I was always talking to Jesus. It was a regular, if one-sided conversation. (Especially there when I felt I needed to go faster on my bicycle. Maybe next time I will tell about how I got that for Christmas.)

And I’ve heard that’s a good thing. At least it seemed so to me while reading in the (to me) inspiring and very short book about and by Brother Lawrence, (A monk from five centuries ago) called The Practice of the Presence of God.

Of course, I also talked to my bicycle. (Hey, company is where you find it)

But for heaven’s sake I was just a child. I am reminded (in my defense) of C. S. Lewis who was very pleased when he asked a boy what he liked about Easter. The boy replied, “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” Lewis thought Jesus would be flattered to be put on a par with a child’s love for chocolate.