My Favorite Art Places: Meow Wolf

I visited Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe in March 2018, and I really have no words to describe it, so I will just let the pictures do the talking. I will say that it is now one of my favorite art places in the world, truly exemplar in the participatory arts experience. The day earlier I visited a lovely, traditional and albeit a little boring art museum with few visitors. For Meow Wolf, I stood in line for 45 minutes, paid over twice as much and didn’t regret a single moment or dollar. This immersive arts experience is truly a beacon of the future; accessible, technologically rich, quirky, multi-layered. . . you know, when Teddy Roosevelt rode the Cripple Creek Short Line, he claimed that the scenery “bankrupts the English language.” Now I’m in no way comparing Meow Wolf to the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, but in a very different way, Meow Wolf bankrupts the English language. Even the pictures do it no justice. It is something that must be experienced.

For more pictures, see my New Mexico Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/flowercat/albums/72157667257387328

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Happy 14th Anniversary to Billy!

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Me and Billy last week

I have spent the last two weeks honoring the people and animals in my life who have passed on. I haven’t done this to be a bummer or to dwell in sadness; rather I wanted to honor them, to celebrate them, to relive moments both happy and sad through memories and photos. Yes, it was also a way to deal with the grief I have over losing them, whether that grief is new or residual. I recently learned that grief never goes away, only our relationship to it changes. These people, these pets will always be in my heart, they will always guide me, but I want to be ready to step forward along my path without holding onto any unnecessary sadness, woe, grief, pain, or guilt.

I try not to dwell on the negative (I try, it doesn’t always work but it’s part of my practice) because in life we have both gains and losses—without the dark we cannot have light—all of it creating the beautiful tapestry of our lives. And so I welcome a new year, 365 days of new opportunities to live life to the fullest. Each day an opportunity for lessons. There is much that we cannot change and control. There is much that I fear in this new year; the future of humanity looks bleak. But the best I can do is live my life in the way I want to live it, without letting fear and doubt hold me back, and especially fear and doubt in which I have no control over the outcome. I have spent forty years as a worrier. I think that’s enough.

I do want to dwell on the positive a bit here. Sixteen years ago yesterday, I lost my beloved grandmother. I never thought I would look forward to a new year again. Two years later, I found my true love. It was only a few months after I had lost my cousin Kirk that I started at a new job. And there he was at the desk next to me. To make a long story (that involved me doubting myself, doubting love, doubting life, having to get rid of the insanely insecure control freak I was dating but involving Billy’s unwavering faith and love and commitment) short, within one month we were together. On New Year’s Eve 2002, Billy left what is now a quite rare and valuable Kid Robot figure on my doorstep when I was out with my friends for New Year’s Eve. When I got home, I freaked out because although we both liked each other, I had decided what was best for me was to be alone and not date anyone for a while. So on New Year’s Day, I decided to return the Kid Robot and tell Billy that I couldn’t date him. I went to his house, his sweet little house with no furniture except for a computer, desk, chair, and bed. And I saw Billy, acting so nervous to see me, and I knew he loved me and that I loved him. I was scared because I had never had a good relationship before and I thought I was doomed at love, but when I saw Billy at his home, so sweet, so trusting, I had to give love a chance, I couldn’t let fear and doubt stand in my way. So New Year’s Day became our anniversary. Fourteen years ago, it’s hard to believe how fast the time goes. I can’t imagine how anyone could put up with me for fourteen years! He’s still sweet and loving and patient and unwavering and wise and so much more!

We took this picture not long after getting together. Billy bought a digital camera and we hooked it up to my TV. We took some of the funniest pictures ever; this is one of the normal ones. We were so young!

We took this picture not long after getting together. Billy bought a digital camera and we hooked it up to my TV. We took some of the funniest pictures ever; this is one of the normal ones. We were so young!

Joy often follows intense pain. Last year, one week after losing my stepfather, my dog Winnie had to have emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. She only had a 30% of living, and she is napping in the sun right now. Twelve years ago, one week after losing my grandfather, my dad got terribly sick went into ICU. We almost lost him, but the experience changed his life. He’s now about to go take a bike ride on this cold, January day because he loves riding so much. It all makes you realize what’s important, who’s important, not to take life and those you love for granted. I’m so grateful to have Billy, my now husband of six-and-a-half years, in this same little house now filled with too much stuff. I’m grateful to have my strong, amazing, loving dad in my life, to have my sweet little spunky Winnie still here. And also my mom, my brother, my Grandma Cook, my dog Emma, my cat Boogers, and other family members and friends (to many family and friends to name individually), mentors, teachers, guides, and of course, those in my life who have died, but I know are always with me.

There is so much in each life to be grateful for if we look for it. Every moment holds the opportunity for gratitude. Find the people, the animals you love and hold them close. Make “thank you” your mantra. Make love and compassion your guiding stars. Happy 2017!

Grandma Feis, August 23, 1911 – December 31, 2000

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Oh, Grandma Feis. I look at her face, and my heart just melts. Her picture exudes all that she was: kind, caring, compassionate, loving, generous, classy, filled with gratitude and faith, life-loving, sweet, fun. Ella Mae was the quintessential grandmother; I could always count on her for encouragement, a hug and a kiss, a cookie, complete and absolute acceptance of who I was, unconditional love. If you think of the most sentimental, Victorian poem about the virtues of mother, it wouldn’t be sentimental or a reach with Grandma, she was all that and more. I’ve heard the story from family members that there was someone (I think hired help of some sort but I’m not sure) who said about her family: “Nobody’s perfect but the Karrs, and the Karrs are perfect.” Yes, Grandma was one of the perfect Karrs. Okay, nobody is perfect, and Grandma did have her flaws—although I had to think for a moment to find them—so I’ll say this, Grandma was practically perfect in every way. Not in a stuffy British, Mary Poppins way, but honesty practically perfect.

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Grandma loved life and loved people. I don’t remember her ever not liking someone. I don’t remember seeing her express any ugly emotions like jealousy or anger. She never whined or complained around me. Grandma truly did like every person because she was able to see the good in everyone. I think that must have come from her deep Christian faith. She could look beyond the pretense in everyone and see the God in them. She seemed to be able to tap into the ocean of universal love because she poured out love and understanding, wisdom and acceptance. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for her family or friends. And everyone who met her seemed to love her as much. All that I’ve ever heard anyone say about Grandma is absolutely glowing and gushing.

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Grandma was a phenomenal cook. My cousin recently commented that all of Grandma’s recipes had cream of mushroom soup in them, and they really did. I’m not a huge fan of cream of mushroom soup, but I think her food tasted so good because we could taste the love in it.

Before she was married, Grandma was a school teacher in a one-room school house in Nebraska. She had pictures of these classes in her photo album, and sixty years later, she still remembered these students. Grandma just loved children. When I think back to how bratty I could be, she always responded calmly and sweetly and with a sense of humor. The Christmas that I was six, I received a stuffed E.T. doll. Grandma agreed to crochet a sleeping bag for E.T. I guess I called her all the time and would ask, “What are you doing?” She’d respond, “Making dinner” or something, and I would say, “Get crocheting.” She just laughed. She did get crocheting, and not long afterward, my E.T. got his sleeping bag. I remember in fourth grade telling her how I got in trouble at school. My friends and I filled our mouths with water from the drinking fountain, didn’t swallow it, and then spit it down the back of the shirt of a girl we didn’t like. Now as a teacher, if I had heard about this, I would have been furious. Grandma laughed and said, “You girls have so much fun.”  Another time when Grandma was probably in her eighties, a little girl visiting them with her parents or grandparents (I don’t remember who) asked Grandma while looking at her stomach, “Is there a baby in there?” Grandma laughed and said, “Well, if there is, it’s been in there for a long time.” I’ve had kids ask me that before, and I usually feel nothing but indignation. Hi, I’m a long ways from being perfect.

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Grandma used to be popular with the boys when she was young. But she settled down when she married her true love, my grandpa. He matched her spirit. They were the perfect, loving couple. Grandma and Grandpa were married for over sixty years. They raised four kids together, had eight grandchildren and now have countless great-grandchildren (I think around 15?), and now one great-great grandchild.

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Okay, I promised that Grandma wasn’t perfect. She did have a tendency to worry, but it wasn’t extreme. She was a mother after all. She was also a bit too keen on turning her children into teachers. I heard that my dad once told her that he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. She told him, “No, you’ll be a teacher.” Dad never became a teacher—it just wasn’t him. But sometimes I think he wishes he had been because all his teacher friends were able to retire much earlier than him. The ironic thing is that being a school teacher is what I became, and that’s not really who I am either. So I’m living my Dad’s unlived life based on my Grandma’s expectations of him. Or I’m trying to be my Grandma when I’m really not. But that’s again just showing how unperfect I am. Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Grandma was human, of course, but truly as close to being perfect as you can be.

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Grandma had lymphoma on and off during the last ten or so years of her life. She fought it bravely, never giving up, never complaining. She had courage and trust in her doctor to try new treatments. At Christmas of 2000, Grandma hadn’t been feeling well. She was weak from her lymphoma, she seemed sad, worried, anxious. She needed a new calendar for 2001, so my brother and I got her one for Christmas. I remember her looking through it and looking forward to what the new year would hold. On December 30, she seemed really anxious. The doctor had tried her on a new medication, and I guess it had some bad side effects. I had recently had a similar experience. I tried a medication that made me extremely paranoid and anxious. I took myself off that medication, and I thought that’s what Grandma was going through. I advised her to see if the doctor could switch medicines or take her off it. I thought I was being wise and speaking from experience. Grandma looked freaked out, and I took her hand and told her, “I promise it will be okay.” I have regretted those words ever since because it wasn’t okay. Or maybe it was because twenty-four hours later she was no longer suffering. But I have had guilt for years because I promised Grandma something that I had no business promising. She had never deceived me, and now I had deceived her on her last day. I’m much more stingy with my promises these days.

The next day on New Year’s Eve, Dad called me in the morning to tell me that Grandma had collapsed and been taken to the emergency room. In the past few years, Grandma had spent a lot of time in the hospital, including three years before when she spent over six weeks there, when she was so close to death that everyone proclaimed it a miracle that she survived. After sitting in the waiting room for hours, it became clear that this time would be different. Along with me and Dad, Grandpa, two of my aunts, one uncle, and one cousin were all at the hospital that day, and we took turns going back two at a time to see Grandma. When Dad and I went to the room to see her, her organs were failing, she rambled on, talking about being in Hastings (the town in Nebraska where they used to live, where my dad was born). She wasn’t in her mind anymore, but Grandma looked at me, looked past me as if she were looking at my aura, and smiled in an otherworldly way. Dad noticed that she smiled at me and told me this to help me feel better, telling me that Grandma always had a special place in her heart for the babies of the family (him and me). Later that evening, I heard word that Grandma spoke of being in Blue Hill, Nebraska, that town where she was born and grew up, and we figured her life was passing before her eyes.

We spent the day at the hospital, a blur of hours passing at glacial pace, of hopes that grew fainter and fainter as time, hope, food, and drink felt inconsequential. Our visit in the emergency room was the last time I saw Grandma. Later, she would be hooked up to a breathing machine in the ICU. I didn’t want my last memories of Grandma to be of her hooked up to a machine, so I waited in the hall while the rest of the family stayed in the room with her. I’ve sometimes regretted this decision, wondering if fear and weakness kept me outside, away from the family, but I still think in my heart of hearts that I made the right decision at the time. While I don’t think I could pinpoint the exact second that Grandma passed from this life to the next, I slowly felt an emerging strength in that hallway and knew that some of Grandma’s spirit and energy passed into me (not feeling selfish about it—I knew some of her energy passed into all of us), and I knew that Grandma would still always be with me, looking out for me, helping me through dark times and celebrating in happiness, just as she had always done.

Feeling empty and lost, we had nothing else to do, so everyone went home to try and get some sleep, only two hours before the ball would drop on a Happy New Year. I went home with Dad that night because I didn’t want him to be alone and didn’t particularly want to be alone myself. As soon as we walked in the door, Dad pulled out an old Joan Baez record and played the song “Blessed Are”:

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No other song would have been more appropriate to express the emotions of our day. Joan Baez’s golden voice struck at my heart and the reality that Grandma was gone. I’d never see her again, never feel her soft, comforting hug, never have her angelic smile melt away my sad moods. Now I can’t hear “Blessed Are” without crying, but that night and for years afterward no tears would come.

I miss Grandma every day, but I feel honored to have had her in my life for the first formative years. I strive to be like her, to show others her sense of patience, compassion, love, and acceptance, no matter what, for who they are. But also her sense of humor, sense of fun, and absolute love of life. Grandma did love her life. Grandma was love.

It seemed cruel to lose my beloved grandma on New Years Eve. How could I ever look forward to the new year again? But then two years later, New Years became happy again. . . (to be continued)

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Other Beloved Pets

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My family about two years before I was born: my dad, my brother holding Samwise, my mom holding Pandora, Molly the fox terrier, and Red Mountain Mandy the Brittany spaniel.

I want to honor some other important pets, many of whom I only knew as a young child, so I don’t have too many memories of them. Much of what I am writing today is reliant on what my dad and my mom told me. Still, all of these pets are beloved, and if upon death, we are greeted by all of those we knew and loved in life, I am sure that these dogs and cats will be there among the mix to greet me.

Red Mountain “Mandy”

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The black-and-white pictures are all ones that my dad took and developed. Scanned from his prints.

Mandy was a legend; a dog among dogs. She was my dad’s show dog, perfectly trained. She won ribbons and trophies, but mostly Mandy was a bundle of fearless energy. My parents took her hiking and camping, and Mandy would run and run, probably be over at the next mountain, but when my dad whistled to her, she would always come running back. My dad said that she would jump from rock to rock, places with such scary drops that no other dog and few people would try to traverse. She was a natural hunter, putting my dad’s friend’s trained hunting dog to shame.

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Mandy was the puppy of my dad’s cousin’s three-legged Brittany spaniel named Katie. My aunt, uncle and cousin adopted one of her sisters, Lady. She was a loyal member of the family, very sweet, she seldom barked, was seldom interested in other dogs, she was a bundle of boundless energy. She was also crazy. My mom said that she ate her favorite blouse off the clothesline when Mandy was old enough to know better. Mandy was her inspiration during her time as a jogger; even as an older dog, Mandy kept a challenging pace but always stayed right by Mom’s side; she was so well trained.

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Mandy was a survivor who had many close calls. She was hit by a car once, completely run over by a car another time (the driver stopped but Mandy was gone—she had run home), she fell off a thirty-foot cliff, she ate fishing bait, hook and wire getting it caught in her mouth—luckily they found a vet nearby.

Mandy lived to be about fourteen years old; I was around eleven or twelve when she had to be put to sleep. I don’t remember her too well, but she has always been with me. When I was grown and at the Humane Society wanting to adopt a dog, I met a red and white spotted Brittany mix, who I fell in love with right away, my dog Emma. She was never as spunky and athletic as Mandy nor as well-behaved, but they are equally crazy!

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This is not a very good picture of Mandy (I took it when I was probably 11), but it shows her beautiful coloring.

Everstar “Star”

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Another bad picture that I took as a kid. The windows were boarded up with cardboard because this was my dad’s darkroom.

My dad has always thought that German Shepherds were among the very coolest of dogs. So he adopted Star when I was around eight. Poor Star was abused by her former owners and was never quite right. Dad likes to say that she saw into other dimensions. She did. She was a bit of a spooky dog but super sweet.

This is a weird picture. I feel like a mean bully spraying my poor dog with the hose, but I seem to recall that she enjoyed it.

This is a weird picture. I feel like a mean bully spraying my poor dog with the hose, but I seem to recall that she enjoyed it.

Star loved played fetch, and I remember spending a lot of time when I visited my dad playing with her in the yard. She even wrote me a letter when I was homesick at camp (okay, it was my dad) telling me that she had been busy filming her newest movie, Everstar III: Everstar Takes Pueblo. She enjoyed hiking with my dad and going for rides in the truck. She lived to be about ten or eleven until her hip dysplasia got too bad and she had to be put to sleep. I was in high school at the time, and I remember sitting in Trigonometry with my scientific calculator, writing messages to her and telling her how much I missed her instead of doing the assignment. I still have a tuft of her fur wrapped in a jewelry box and pink satin ribbons that I cut off my toe shoes.

I have no idea why I was sleeping on the floor here. I think I was sick. But wasn't Star the sweetest to watch over me?

I have no idea why I was sleeping on the floor here. I think I was sick. But wasn’t Star the sweetest to watch over me?

Pandora

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My mom got Pandora when she was just a tiny kitten, right after my parents got married. Pandora was a natural mother; she raised many litters of kittens, her own and also the kittens of her friend Cassandra. My mom has told me that once there were so many kittens from two litters that Pandora held kitten school for them. Pandora’s mothering abilities extended beyond kittens though. She used to also watch over me and my brother when we were sick. Pandora was a sweet, affectionate cat who lived to be fifteen years old.

Pandora as a tiny kitten.

Pandora as a tiny kitten.

Molly

Molly was a big, sweet terrier who was Mandy’s sidekick. When Mandy was a puppy, Molly was the alpha dog but then my mom found the two dogs in the backyard one day, and Mandy had Molly by the scruff of her neck. Mandy became the alpha dog after that. Molly didn’t live very long. I think she died when I was three or four.

Samwise

Samwise was one of Pandora’s kittens. On the day that we were moving from Albuquerque to Colorado Springs, he ran away, and we had no choice but to move anyway. I hope he found a good home!

Woody

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Woody was the cat that my mom and Dale adopted to keep my step-grandmother company after her husband and our cat Cleo died. Woody came from Safe Place, an organization that helps find homes for pets whose owners died. Woody was ten years old when he came to their house, and he and Dot loved each other. She would always say, “He’s so much company.” I do think that Woody helped extend Dot’s life. He was the nicest cat. He lived to be nineteen or twenty, five or six years after Dot died. Mom and Dale were in the middle of moving to a new home, and knowing that Woody was in poor health, they kept putting off moving him. Finally, they decided that it had to be the next day. The next day when they went downstairs to get Woody packed up to move, they found his body. Maybe his spirit is still in the basement of that house, sitting in the spirit of Dot’s lap.

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Maggie

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My mom and Dale adopted Maggie about a year after Renny died. Renny was part border collie, and they wanted a dog like Renny. Maggie had much more border collie in her, and she acted like it. Maggie was a super smart dog with a keen herding instinct, she also had a lot of energy. Maggie loved to ride around with Mom and Dale in their Eurovan—they never kept Maggie at home because you never knew what kind of mischief she would get into. So the Eurovan became Maggie’s mobile dog house. She loved riding in the car.

I dog sat for Maggie at my home one time when Mom and Dale were out of town before we got dogs. I had to keep her in the backyard, and I worried constantly about her, knowing that she was smart enough to get out of the yard, but she never did. I wanted her stay to be fun for her, so I tried to do the things that mom and Dale would do for her. I took her for a walk in the park, and she nearly pulled me over. She was also a bit of a bully around other dogs, and I had difficulties pulling her back. I took her to the dog park, but after an angry woman yelled at me, “Control your dog!” and I knew that controlling Maggie was impossible, I didn’t take her back there again. I had a new appreciation for Mom and Dale and how they handled Maggie. She was certainly a stubborn little bundle of energy, a true spit fire.

She and my mom both survived a car accident on the interstate. The ambulance came for Mom, but she refused to leave because they couldn’t guarantee what would happen to Maggie, and she didn’t want to leave her dog. So I came and got Mom, took Maggie home, and then we went to the hospital. Mom had a neck injury. Luckily, Maggie did seem to be injured. I had been so worried when Mom called to tell me and I didn’t think to ask if Maggie was okay. They were both super lucky. Maggie lived to be twelve years old.

Kirk, June 2, 1965 – September 11, 2002

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My cousin Kirk. He left this world too early, at a mere thirty-seven-years-old, from cancer. And for years, I have struggled with his passing, trying to make of it when, of course, I come up empty. There is never sense to be made of it. Kirk was a father of two daughters, his youngest only a year old, and the stepfather of another daughter whom he loved like his own. He had not been married to his second wife for long, he had a very close-knit family, was well-respected in his career, and had tons of friends. Fourteen years later, Kirk is still well-remembered, well-loved, and painstakingly missed. It just doesn’t seem right to have him taken so young when he was so full of life: everyone he knew recognized his big heart, his good nature, honesty, and fun-loving nature—he was also hilarious—when he shined his fire in your direction, he would give his full attention, his full self, and so you would feel honored, heard, important.

Kirk was eleven years older than me, and we didn’t see him as often as some of my other cousins at family reunions because he was off saving the West from forest fires; he was a hero. Kirk had worked for the Forest Service for seventeen years as a hot shot crew firefighter and team leader. We missed him at these events. When he was able to get together with the family, it was always more fun. It’s weird to know that I am now older than him. I am still amazed that Kirk, a fire fighter, died exactly one year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, a day when so many of his brothers lost their lives in the line of duty. The further tragedy is that the day was also his parents’ 42nd wedding anniversary.

Because my dad’s side of the family is so large, so full of life and energy and fun, and I’m quite the opposite—introverted, self-conscious, neurotic—family reunions were always difficult for me because I felt lost in the shuffle, sometimes forgotten, always awkward. It’s not their fault: I generally feel like this anyway. It didn’t help that I am the baby of the family by quite a long shot, so all my older cousins had a special bond, they were at similar stages in their lives, and I always felt left out. I’m not blaming or making excuses, this is one of the challenges I’m supposed to work through in life. But Kirk wanted everybody to feel included; he never forgot about me. At the wedding to his first wife, I was eighteen. Even though I wasn’t a big college drinker, Kirk brought me alcohol to make sure I felt included, that I was having fun. This small gesture made me feel like I wasn’t the forgotten baby of the family—I was important, I was a grown-up.

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This is the only picture that I could find of just me and Kirk. I remember sitting on the sidelines of our family reunion, feeling glum and awkward, but Kirk shined his light in my direction and cheered me up.

Kirk’s funeral was one of the amazing things I’ve ever experienced and one of the most difficult. I was going through a period of intense anxiety, plagued by panic attacks and severe depression, and the trip to Arizona to his funeral, being away from everything that was safe for me, with the added grief of losing my cousin was one of the most difficult times in my life. For the whole trip, I felt extreme pain and pressure in my chest. I wanted so much to cry and cry away the pain, and I just could not do it.

Kirk’s funeral was standing room only. Throughout the day, Dad kept saying, “This is the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen.” And it was. If I weren’t in such emotional turmoil, I would have been stunned by this service. Later, it would strike me what a marvelous spectacle Kirk’s funeral was, what a testament to an amazing, well-respected person. Close to one thousand people attended this service. In addition to family and friends, firefighters, forest service workers (many of whom hadn’t even met Kirk) attended because he was part of their brotherhood, their kinship. Hot shot crews from southern Arizona and New Mexico stopped by the funeral on the way back home (quite a bit out of the way) from fighting a fire in California. I heard many firefighters saying that Kirk brought the rain, for how could the worst drought in years all of a sudden end in four to six inches of rain that very week?

I sat and listened to the service and looked out the beautiful picture window at the view of the mountains, trying to both take in and protect myself from the bounty of emotions all around me. Many friends gave rousing speeches at the funeral. Friends sang songs and read poems that they wrote for Kirk, some of them unable to get through their readings without breaking down in tears. I learned so much about my cousin at his funeral, things I should have known if I hadn’t always been such a self-involved teen and young adult.

I remember two speeches in particular: Kirk’s good friend gave a speech in which he told about the time that the woman he would later marry met Kirk and said, “He’s like an angel who came down to remind us to have fun.” This seemed like the perfect tribute to Kirk. Kirk’s brother gave the most stirring speech of all. He said in trying to come to terms with why his little brother was taken so young in life, he had the epiphany that it was in Kirk’s nature to take a bullet for other people who may not have been able to handle it as well. Kirk was a hero, a martyr, but who did he take the bullet for? “Maybe it was for me. Maybe it was for me,” he said.

The most impressive part of the funeral was the procession to the cemetery. Flagstaff policemen blocked off traffic for one hundred and twenty firetrucks and easily as many cars to follow the hearse to the cemetery. The “obstacle” took a good thirty minutes to make it the mile or two to the cemetery. As we rode with the funeral procession, we passed by firetrucks, the members standing outside and saluting the coffin with their hands over their chests. At the cemetery, Kirk’s brother made sure that he shook hands with every firefighter in attendance. It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring spectacle, something that I never would have wanted to miss despite my sadness, anxiety, and needing to be alone.

I came home from Arizona a changed person and worked on myself, making changes in my life to become happier, more confident, more at ease in my surroundings. Kirk was my inspiration; he wouldn’t have wanted me to live my life in fear and depression. He would want me to live life to the fullest, and I have tried, despite my limitations.

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I feel compelled to tell a story that I haven’t shared with many people. Two years ago, I was at a similar turning point in my life to where I was during Kirk’s funeral. Feeling stuck and at a dead end in my job, I was desperate for answers. I went to the Metaphysical Fair. There I decided to talk to a psychic. This psychic was quite profound and gave me answers and directions for my career that I had not considered, that made perfect sense and that I am still exploring. When I brought up the idea of moving away from my hometown, the psychic’s eyes started to roll back in his head and he asked me if there was a male family member that I had recently lost. I answered, “Not recently. My grandpa’s been gone for ten years; my cousin for twelve.” He replied, “This is your cousin.” I’ve never experienced a channeling before, and I greeted it with a lot of skepticism. I wanted to be logical and tried to remember what Kirk might say, to compare it with how the psychic looked and sounded, but of course it was the psychic’s face and voice. He said some generic things like I love you and want what’s best for you. The rest of the family will be okay without you. He said that I needed to go to New Mexico or Arizona (which I thought peculiar since the psychic didn’t know Kirk was from Arizona.) Then he said something that made me pause and wonder, “Get the hell out of Dodge.” And that did sound like something Kirk would say. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if the psychic was just a really good actor, tears came to my eyes and I felt that Kirk was with me; I felt important and heard again, the way he used to make me feel. Plus, Kirk would have totally thought it was a hoot to be the spirit speaking through a medium. I suddenly had direction again; I no longer felt like I was sitting on a bench along the path of my life. Kirk had helped give me the courage to hoist myself on the back of a horse, and I was trotting along my path again.

After my grandma’s death, I immediately felt a shift, as if she became part of me, an angel, a Bodhisattva, or just a transference of energy, whatever you call it, I felt that Grandma was watching over me. With Kirk, I didn’t kid myself. Of course he would be watching over his daughters, his parents, his brother and sister. I was a no one really, so when Kirk died, he felt lost to me. Whether or not the clairvoyant was legit, I realized that day that while Kirk would look after his immediate family first, he loved his whole family and wouldn’t forget to look in on all of us from time to time. At the Metaphysical Fair that day, I bought a bobble-head Calavera so I would never forget that I was supposed to follow my dreams to the southwest.

I had been planning a trip to the Ozarks to see the fall colors with my husband Billy, but after my experience at the Metaphysical Fair, I changed my reservations and decided that we needed to go to Arizona instead. Something was waiting for me there. It would be a short trip so I couldn’t see the rest of my family who all lived in Phoenix now. Billy and I left on Halloween and arrived the next day in Sedona to find El Dias de los Muertes celebration—I had completely forgotten that it was Day of the Dead, which put my Calavera bobble-head into perspective. We attended the second night of Dia, and it was one of the most amazing celebrations I’ve ever attended, beyond words, truly. I lit a candle  there for Grandma and Grandpa Feis and for Kirk.

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Beside the celebration, we hiked and visited Kirk’s grave, which I hadn’t visited since his funeral. Next to him now lies his wife Jessie. That was difficult. Our trip was nice but not like the skies opening up and giving me answers. Billy did get the flu, which made the second half of our trip not so fun. Both Billy and I decided that, for us, Arizona was a nice place to visit but we wouldn’t want to live there. I wondered at the purpose of this trip, but I did feel lighter in my heart, like it brought me some closure that I needed. Perhaps that was the whole purpose, to go to Kirk’s grave and thank him. But more was to come.

Returning to Colorado, I had forgotten about a get-together of yoga teachers that my mom and I were supposed to attend the next day. I almost didn’t go because I was tired from my trip. Mom was an active yoga teacher, and I had taken the teacher training ten years before, taught a little, and then got too busy and told myself that I wasn’t a very good teacher so I stopped. I gave in and went to the get-together and am glad that I did because it changed my life. One of the teachers announced that she was moving out of state but was nervous to leave her position as an adjunct faculty member teaching yoga at the community college. When she heard how unhappy I was with my job, she decided that she would recommend me for the position, then I could be happier teaching yoga and she wouldn’t feel so bad leaving. I had never even considered teaching yoga again, but then I realized that it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Everything fell into place there. At the mere chance that this might work out and because I felt rusty teaching yoga, I enrolled in a second yoga teacher training program. Since graduating, I’ve had classes at three studios fall into my lap (and had to turn down classes because I’m too busy, much to my disappointment)and I did get the job at the community college, without even interviewing, just based on the other teacher’s recommendation. I’m now about to start my fourth semester there. I don’t have enough classes to earn a living and am still at my unhappy job, but even miracles take time, right? I love teaching yoga now, it has given me confidence, a path, a community where I feel accepted and respected and no longer feel like an awkward outsider, and I feel more settled staying in my hometown, not searching for the opportunity to run away and move somewhere else.

So what does this long-winded, meandering story have to do with Kirk? I still don’t know what to make of it myself, but I do believe that his spirit, or perhaps just my memories to him, helped me find closure, find confidence, find my path. As I’ve said, that’s just what he did. He made you feel important and truly alive, and perhaps even from beyond the grave, that’s what he’s doing for our family, for his friends, perhaps the whole community. I think he truly is a Bodhisattva. I keep that bobble-head Calavera on my altar now to honor a man who influenced me during his life because he truly lived without fear, he loved without fear, and he was indeed like an angel that came down to remind people to have fun. Thank you, Kirk. I think having fun is what we all need right now.

Dot, August 12, 1915 – March 13, 2004, & Lew, August 23, 1911 – June 26, 1999

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Dot and Lew were Dale’s parents, my step-grandparents. They were sweet, quiet, gentle people, the nicest people you could meet. And while I wasn’t extremely close to them—I was thirteen when my mom and Dale married, so they never helped raise me, plus they were shy and I was shy; however, I did, for nearly ten years, either live next door to them or in the same house. I saw them often, and we shared many meals together. They were always at our family celebrations. They were always nearby if I needed them, like the time I locked my keys in the car not long after getting my driver’s license. It struck me recently that I am probably one of the few people who even remembers them, and I feel that they deserve honor and recognition.

Dot and Lew lived in New York for most of their life. Lew was born in Danbury, Connecticut and Dot was from Brewster, New York. Lew lost most of his family to the Spanish flu at a young age, which cut short his education. He worked in a hat factory. Dot was a horsewoman and an amazing cook. She made the absolute best spaghetti sauce that I have ever tasted! Whatever she cooked was always a treat; even my least favorite vegetables tasted great bathed in butter and garlic. Lew had a very picky diet. He could not stand tomatoes, so he never got to appreciate his wife’s amazing spaghetti sauce. When we ate spaghetti, we always picked up a sub sandwich for him. He ate organ meats every day, which shocked us; how could he still be so healthy on that diet? Of course that was in the day of the low fat diet, now organ meats are not the nutritional devil that they once were thought to be. Lew was soft spoken and spoke kind of like he was caught in an Andy Hardy movie, “Gee, that’s swell.” I found it sweet and endearing. Dot loved animals and didn’t even own a pair of pants. For her whole life, she always wore a dress. Dot was an excellent driver, she always drove their Cadillac to the store and to appointments; Lew was a terrible driver and drove seldom and only with no one else in the car.

They moved to Colorado to be near Dale, their only son, when they were about in their seventies. Dale moved them into a home that he owned in Cascade and later he bought the house next door. That’s where we ended up living. Once in Colorado, Dot and Lew kept to themselves; they never really made any friends. Cascade had its problems for Dale, and he began looking for a home in a quieter community, plus Dot and Lew were getting older, so it ended up that Mom and Dale sold both of the houses and bought a bigger house in a gated community outside of Manitou Springs. They added a kitchen to the basement so Dot and Lew could live independently but so they would be closer to us in case they began to need more care. They did live independently and quietly; they were ideal housemates. We rarely heard a peep from them, but I think this move was good for them. In Cascade, Dot and Lew always liked Renny; he stayed in their fenced yard a lot. Dot would give him scraps of the turkey or ham she was making, and he would get to follow Lew around the yard. But now living with us, they got to knew Cleo as well. It didn’t take long for Cleo to venture downstairs to take advantage of the scraps of meat that Dot fed her and to sit in Dot’s warm lap and purr and to sleep in the plentiful sun from the south-facing French door in their apartment. Dot’s love of animals was reestablished, and she ADORED Cleo.

Cleo and Lew both died suddenly within one month of each other, and Mom and Dale knew that Dot needed another animal friend to keep her from being lonely. So they turned to Safe Place, an organization that helps find homes for pets whose owners have died. There they adopted ten-year-old Woody, a sweet and huge yellow tabby, so Dot had a new friend to feed and to provide a warm lap. Dot and Woody doted on each other, and he kept her company for the next four-and-a-half years of her life.

The strange thing about Dot and Lew, in relation to me, is that their collective lifespan is almost identical to the collective lifespan of my paternal grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Feis. Grandma Feis and Lew (both the oldest in their marriages) were born on the exact same day in the exact same year. Dot and Grandpa Feis (who both outlived their spouses) died within one day of each other.

I loved Dot and Lew, and thinking back on their lives, I find their quiet, gentle, simple way of life refreshing. In our current society, the ego rules; everybody wants to stand out, to be special, to be noticed, to do something different. Dot and Lew only made small ripples in their lives, but I think they were just as happy that way. I think our whole society could learn something from them.

Is it so small a thing to have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done?

-Matthew Arnold

Flower, 1982 – September 16, 1999

scn_0004Out of the whole litter of her co-worker’s kittens, my mom fell in love with the little black-and-white one with the white stripe down her back. I was six-years-old, and I feel in love with her, too, once Mom brought her home. I wanted so desperately to play with her, but she spent days hiding behind the toilet. We called her Flower after the skunk in Bambi because of that little white stripe that took up her whole back, but as she got bigger, the stripe stayed the same size.

This isn't a good picture, but you can kind of see Flower's stripe in it.

This isn’t a good picture, but you can kind of see Flower’s stripe in it.

Flower grew into a skiddish, shy little kitty, who only showed her adorable personality around me and my mom. Flower slept in my bed every night. She was a pretty heavy kitty, and she liked to lie on top of my stomach, even when I was a little girl. But I didn’t care. Flower was my very best friend. In fact, she liked to lie on everything, the puzzle we were trying to put together, the book I was reading. For a shy kitty, she was very insistent on being petted. She would get right in my face and tap my hand with her paw so that I would pet her. In addition to the stripe, Flower had some distinctive characteristics. She had a large mole on her chin, and her tail was bent about an inch down from the tip, so if there was a kitty under the covers in the dark, I could tell if it was Flower or Cleo by feeling her tail.

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Speaking of covers, Flower spent half of her time in bed under the covers. Mom and I called her Mrs. Lump when she had this guise. We liked to sing to her, putting her name in songs: “Oh, Flower is a pretty cat, and she’s a witty cat. . . ” If we wanted Flower to go outside or come in, she wouldn’t do it if she was being watched, so we would have to hold the back door open and look up at the sky and say something like: “Oh, what a beautiful day. I wonder where Flower is. She’s such a nice cat and would really enjoy the weather today. . . ” Then Flower would be able to sneak in or out. Flower didn’t enjoy being outside all that much though, and after my mom and Dale married and we moved to Cascade, Flower never went outside again. Cleo sneaked out from time to time, but Flower preferred the safety of the indoors. Flower and Cleo made another move with us to a community right outside of Manitou Springs when they were thirteen-years-old.

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My mom and I had a lot of fun playing with Flower. Whether Flower had fun remains uncertain.

I grew up with Flower as my sidekick, and when I went away to college, I couldn’t wait to come home and see her, have her lie on top of my stomach and purr and purr. As she grew older, she spent more time being Mrs. Lump. I moved back home after college, but after having my taste of freedom, I had difficulties adjusting to living at home again. I liked staying out late, but Dale grew tired of me waking him up at 1 or 2AM when I would get home (and rightly so). My mom and Dale had recently purchased a house near downtown that they were fixing up to be a rental house. The insurance company didn’t like the fact that the house was vacant and wanted to charge more money to insure it, so I moved into that house while it was being remodeled. I just had to tolerate workmen coming and going during the day. It was closer to work, and I could come and go as I pleased.

I’m not sure how it happened, but Flower came to live with me in that house. She was sixteen by that time, and I worried that the move would be difficult for her, but Flower was a changed cat living with me. She no longer hid all the time; she wasn’t shy. Maybe because she was too old to zip away under the bed when someone came over, or maybe because she knew that I was in a rebellious stage and that she needed to keep an eye on me, but Flower would hang out with me and my friends when they came over. My friends declared what I always knew, that “Flower was the coolest cat.” With the chaos of my life at the time, I loved having Flower as my roommate, she represented the comforts of childhood, of home.

When I moved into my own apartment a few months later, an apartment where I couldn’t have cats, Flower moved back home with Mom, Dale, Cleo, and Renny. She only lasted another six months after that. I’ve often felt guilty, she seemed so young living with me. Did she miss me? Would she have lived longer if I had found a different apartment where I could have cared for her? I doubt it. My life had become even more chaotic, and there were lessons that I had to learn, lessons that even Flower couldn’t protect me from. I knew that Flower wasn’t feeling well, that Mom was concerned and wanted to take her to the vet but Flower hated going anywhere, so Mom gave it time. That morning slept in until noon on a friend’s couch after a late night when I had a dream that Flower was a kitten, running through a field of grass. I think that’s the moment she died because Mom and Dale came home from work that day and found her. Both she and Cleo, who passed only four months before, are buried outside of the house near Manitou, a house that is no longer owned by the family. I wish I could go visit their little graves again.

My current cat Boogers is a tuxedo cat who acts a lot like Flower, except that she is much more active and wild. Boogers get pixilated (in the old fashioned, possessed by the pixies way, not the techie, graphic way) and runs around the house like a banshee. Flower never did that. While Boogers was a feral cat and has never grown to be as affectionate as Flower. I sometimes wonder if Boogers is the reincarnation of Flower, but it’s probably just a genetic trait of tuxedos to be skiddish and a bit crazy. And I love my Little B, but I miss my Flower; I think she will always be my favorite cat.

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