4

Suffer the Little Children…

The ever-expanding sexual abuse scandals involving the Catholic church have been in the news for days now.
It’s time to re-post part of a piece (“A Tale of Two Pedophiles”) in which I wrote about my encounter in the late 1980’s with Father Oliver O’Grady.
Unfortunately, it seems nothing has changed in the wake of that scandal:

Thoughts of Jaycee Dugard brought up my brief brush with one of the worst pedophiles the Catholic church has known to date.  His name is Father Oliver O’Grady, who spent years being shuttled from one diocese to another even though the hierarchy of the church knew he was molesting children.  He finally wound up as the parish priest in a small town in Calaveras county, California.  I was working as a dental hygienist for a local dentist and Father O’Grady happened to be one of our patients.

The dentist I worked for was a devout Catholic.  My employer was, on the whole, a nice fellow who felt strongly about his convictions.  He had anti-abortion posters hung quite visibly in his lab where patients would see them as they were escorted to their dental chairs.  Some patients took offense at being subjected to something like that in a dental office and angrily left the office–and in some cases they left the practice itself.  To me, this dogmatism on his part was like wearing a pair of blinders which allowed you to see only what you were supposed to see.

Often the dentist, his assistant and I would have lunch at a nearby sandwich shop.  On some occasions the dentist’s wife would join us.  At one of these informal lunches we were talking about water wells; a common topic in rural areas where having a good well is essential to life itself.  I happened to mention that a neighbor of mine, whose father was half Native American, taught me how to dowse for water with a forked branch.  The usual term for that was “water witching”, a skill that even the men who worked for our local electric company, PG & E, knew how to do.

My employer turned to me and said, very serious and straight-faced, “Isn’t that witchcraft?”  At first I thought he was kidding, but quickly realized he wasn’t.  I was nonplussed and stammered something about “No, it’s just something you feel.”  The dentist’s wife was in our little group and she tried to smooth things over a bit, but I have to say I was taken aback that someone in our modern age would bandy about the charge “witchcraft.”

Now, post-Palin anti-witchcraft blessing ceremonies, I’m no longer surprised.

I mention all of this in regard to Father O’Grady only to make the point that while my employer was looking behind the dental chair for imaginary witches, here we had a man who was actually doing unspeakable things with children.  Father O’Grady was a figure of authority and power, as was the diocese that sent him to this unsuspecting little hamlet.  Everyone in my office fell all over himself in deference to this man when he came in for his appointments.  It was “Father this…” and “Father that…” but no one had the slightest clue that he had been molesting children for years and the powers that be knew about it, but kept it hidden.

The sadly laughable thing about it was that he was such a little milquetoast of a man when I finally did meet him.  I took an immediate dislike to him because he would not look me in the eye.  What kind of a priest won’t look you in the eyes?  Aren’t the eyes windows into the soul?  Father O’Grady’s soul was hidden from view.  There was too much ugliness there.

Father O’Grady as he looked sometime around when I met him.

2005_07_13_Russell_BlindEye_ph_Oliver_OGrady

It was several years after I left that practice that the whole story surrounding Father O’Grady came to light.  I could only imagine what they thought at my old dental office.  Had real evil replaced the imaginary?  I somehow doubt it.  Excuses were made all along the line for the transferring of O’Grady from one place to the next, without punishment or warning.  The man involved in Jaycee Lee Dugard’s abduction seems to have had every break in the books also.  It shouldn’t have taken so long in either Garrido’s case or Father O’Grady’s for someone to step up and put a stop to the abuse.

The kids deserved better.

8

“It’s Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile” Revisited

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about receiving a sign from my deceased parents letting me know they were okay, entitled “It’s Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile.”

Today I found myself back in that same gift shop. I had decided to walk around in town and soak up the Christmas spirit before things got too crazy with tourists crowding the sidewalks. We’d had rain and colder temperatures earlier in the week but today was sunny and around 60 degrees. A perfect day for poking around in the stores.

I must confess that I was more than a little hopeful that I would have some kind of reprise of my last experience in that shop. I was already in a very nostalgic mood after gawking at a large collection of Shiny Brite ornaments in another store.  They reminded me of the ones I’d lost to the storage locker thief.

And here, again, were my old friends, the Christmas stockings with the 50’s Santa on them, propelling me back in time to when I was a kid, lying under our Christmas tree at night, gazing up at the lights and breathing in the wonderful scent.

I went over to the card rack just to see if they still had that same card with the Oldsmobile on it, but they didn’t. Of course not. It’s been a couple of years and they had put new cards in its place. Kind of silly, really, to expect the same experience, wasn’t it?

As I made my way around to the front of the store, I stopped at a table with some interesting small books on display. One set was called “The Little Book of Saints.” I’m not Catholic, nor were my parents, but the cover intrigued me. It looked like (and was) a copy of a vintage holy card. I love artwork like that, so I picked up one of the books out of several in the stack. It had a padded cover that felt smooth and soothing in my hand.

I noticed it had a pale blue satin bookmark attached at the top. It was marking one of the pages that was not quite in the middle of the book. I opened the book to see what saint it was and found that it was St. Jeanne of Valois.

The patron saint of those who lose their parents.

Oh…my.

I picked up a couple of the other books and found only one other one had a specific page marked with the satin ribbon. Most had the bookmark pulled down just inside the front cover.

Why did I pick that particular book and not the others?

Because I needed it, I guess.

 

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15

In Memory of “The Comeback Cat”

We had to have TLC, the subject of this post from 2011, put to sleep today because of cancer.  I thought it would be fitting to repost this as a tribute to her.

When we bought our place here twelve miles outside of town a couple of years ago, three cats came along as part of the deal.  For whatever reason, the previous owners didn’t want to take the cats with them when they moved, so we said we’d take over their care because we like cats and it’s always a good idea to have some outside cats on patrol when you live in snake country.

We suspect they all came from the same litter because two of them are solid gray in coloration and one is a combo of white, gray and orange.  Two are neutered males and one is a spayed female.

The female has kind of been through the wringer physiologically, because besides being spayed she’d also been declawed and her tail had been cut off right down to its base, with barely a little stump remaining.

For want of much imagination at the time when we moved in, we named her “T.L.C.”, for tail-less cat.  The other gray cat is “T.C.”, for tailed cat.  The white/gray/orange cat we call “Nemesis” because he tended to pick fights even though he no longer has any “habichuelas” to contribute testosterone to the mix.

It seems he was neutered after he was an adult, so I guess old habits die hard.

T.L.C. apparently had been an indoor/outdoor cat.  We learned this early on because she knew how to open the front door by jumping up and hitting the door latch hard, which resulted in the door becoming ajar enough for her to gain entry.

Although T.L.C. had been declawed, we already had an indoor cat and we were afraid the two wouldn’t get along, so T.L.C. has remained an outdoor kitty and despite some attacks from Nemesis, she’d done pretty well.

She even has a “husband” now in the person of Roadie, one of the two cats we rescued after they were dumped on our road as kittens and were living in a drainage culvert.  She and Roadie (who was neutered at six months of age) get along famously and he’s been kind of her protector from any of Nemesis’ advances.

But…shit happens, as they say.

A couple weeks ago I noticed that T.L.C.’s left eye was watery and she seemed to be squinting a little more than what she does when she’s in her Love Mode—getting right up in my face while “making biscuits” with her soft paws.

I looked at her eye as best I could and didn’t see anything obvious or any bleeding.  She didn’t seem to be in distress, so we just figured she might have scratched her eye on one of the spiny plants that naturally occur here in the hill country.

Her eye appeared to improve for a while, but then it got worse, so I started using some antibiotic eye drops that I had for my Himalayan inside cat.

(Eyes seem to play a big role in my life–from my Mother’s macular degeneration, to Neferkitty’s chronic dry eyes and conjunctivitis, and now T.L.C.’s dilemma.)

This last Friday (ironically the 13th) she had a lot of discharge coming from her eye and the pupil didn’t look right so I took her to our vet, a really nice guy who’s been in practice for many years and who has a wonderful bedside manner.

He took a good look at T.L.C.’s eye and said “You’re not going to like this, but the eye has to come out.”  He then showed me how her eyeball had become somewhat shrunken in the socket and that’s why the pupil looked distorted.  He thought she’d either been deeply scratched by another cat or her eye had been punctured by something sharp.

Either way, it had become infected inside and was losing fluid.  Since the pupil didn’t seem reactive, he felt that she wasn’t seeing much of anything, if at all, out of that eye.  He didn’t think it could be saved.

He tried to reassure me by saying that cats do very well with just one eye, but I was too busy mentally kicking myself for being a Bad Mother.  (And not “bad” in a good way like 70’s icon John Shaft.)

The vet gave me an antibiotic liquid to give T.L.C. twice a day and said to continue with the eye drops three times a day over the weekend.  We scheduled her surgery for today, Monday, at 8:30 in the morning.  *Sigh*

We isolated T.L.C. in the room off the carport so I could give her the meds. easily and just to keep her as comfortable as possible.  Through this whole thing she never stopped purring and wanting to be petted.

If it were me, I’d be pissed.  But that’s the beauty of pets—unconditional love, whether we deserve it or not.

This morning, after a little over two days of antibiotics, we were surprised to see that the discharge had lessened to just some wateriness and that the pupil seemed to be more normal and appeared to be reactive to light.

But still—over the weekend I’d done a lot of Googling about her condition and thought that maybe this was just wishful thinking on my part.  I really, really didn’t want her to have to lose her eye.  She’d been through a lot of physical trauma in her life and still was the sweetest cat.

I reluctantly left her off at the vet’s office at 8:30 and did some errands in town for a couple of hours.  Just after I got home the phone rang and it was the vet.  My first thought was, “Oh, no…something bad has happened during surgery…it was cancerous…or worse…she didn’t make it through the operation.”

My mind tends to work that way.  Just ask my husband.

But, thankfully, no!  The vet said that he had wanted to take another look at her eye before his assistants prepped T.L.C. for surgery.  He said he was amazed (his word) at how good it looked.  He had even thought that maybe it wasn’t the same cat!  So he called off the surgery and wants to continue with the eye drops to see how she does.  He said the puncture wound may have sealed itself (it happens).  That, along with the antibiotics, may have been enough to allow the fluid in the eye to restore the shape to the eyeball and reactivity to the pupil.

She isn’t entirely out of the woods yet, but he feels that she certainly is doing so much better that she deserves a shot at preserving her eye.

Hallelujah!

T.L.C. is home and back in her recovery room, having a welcome meal of kitty crunchies and is being spoiled rotten.

We’ve decided that her name “T.L.C.” now stands for “The Lucky Cat.”

8

It Bears Repeating: Richard’s Story

(I originally posted this in 2010, but with the recent outbreak of the measles virus and the continued resistance of many parents to vaccinating their children, I offer it once again.  It won’t change the minds of those who can’t look beyond the “science” of Jenny McCarthy, but it does bear repeating.)

Polio.  Perhaps to someone born after 1957, this word probably doesn’t evoke much more than hazy images remembered from a high school history book or health class.  But to people who were born prior to that year, it was a word that held an icy grip on the hearts of parents and families across the nation.

The polio epidemic of 1952 was one of the worst outbreaks in the U.S., with 58,000 reported cases that year alone.  The following year saw over 35,000 victims.  Nearly everyone either had a family member affected by the disease or knew someone who had been touched by it.  The cause and the transmission of polio weren’t widely understood.  Parents lived in fear of summer vacation because that time of year seemed to be the peak season for infection.  Mothers kept their children home and inside, away from any possible contact with others.  Public swimming pools were closed.  Some people even resorted to keeping their windows sealed tight, out of fear the disease was somehow borne on the summer breezes.

In 1953 I was about six years old and my older brother was ten.  Our neighbors across the street had four children, two of them grown and on their own.  The youngest, Richard, was thirteen and was often a playmate of my brother’s.  Richard was an active, happy-go-lucky kid of the 1950’s.  But that all changed forever.

In July of 1953 Richard and his family had just returned from a camping trip.  My brother had gone over to Richard’s house and the two of them were having fun playing in the family’s travel trailer.  A day or two later, Richard woke up with a stiff neck and back, which worsened over the course of the day.  A visit to the doctor resulted in his being taken to L.A. County General Hospital to the communicable diseases ward, filled with many child patients just like him.  As his condition deteriorated, he underwent a painful spinal tap, a tracheotomy and was put on a respirator.  All this without ever being told exactly what it was he had or what he could expect.  He was later transferred to Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, California, which was located in our hometown.  (“Rancho,” as it has come to be known, became the hub of polio treatment and continues to this day to be an important center for rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries and other neurological conditions.)

Richard spent many months in an iron lung, the tank-like device that breathed for him because he couldn’t do that for himself.  Eventually, he regained that ability and was finally allowed to return home.  He wore a full set of leg braces on each leg, enabling him to walk, but with difficulty.  He graduated from high school in 1959.  Because of his disability, he was prevented from working full-time but made up for that by becoming a writer for publications on medical disability issues and by working with medical students who needed to know more about polio and its effects. He is also president of The Amigos Fund which raises money for patient care at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital.

Despite all that polio took away from him, he still remained a positive and optimistic person.  However, in the 1980’s Richard encountered something that had begun to affect many polio survivors:  post-polio syndrome, or the onset of deterioration of the muscles and nerves that had been affected in the initial disease.  There are several theories about the cause of this, from the over-use of muscles compensating for the effects of polio to a possible reawakening of the virus responsible for the disease.  Whatever the reason, currently there are over 1.1 million polio survivors living in the U.S. and many are facing the same situation.  Richard subsquently required an electric wheelchair in order to be able to get around.  He also had to have another tracheotomy so he could use a portable respirator.

In one of those strange flukes that are so common now with the advent of the internet and “Googling,” I connected with Richard after all these years and found that he is president of a non-profit organization called The Polio Survivors Association.  His website is www.polioassociation.org.  It provides much needed information about post-polio syndrome to anyone who is interested.  There is also a forum for survivors run by the Salk Institute called Polio Today at www.poliotoday.org.

The average age of polio survivors is about 64.  The doctors who initially treated these patients are gone now, leaving a void in the understanding about the vagaries of this disease and its aftermath.  Richard will be celebrating his 70th birthday in June and remains an upbeat person, even while facing the loss of all the triumphs over polio he fought so hard for in the past.

Here is a brief video slide show set to music which he created for YouTube about his experience with polio.  Please take a moment to watch it and then give thanks for your health and for those determined people who pioneered the polio vaccine. Unfortunately, many parents today take this for granted and are against vaccinating their children for any childhood illnesses.

They need to watch Richard’s story and reflect on the lessons it holds for us all.

3

For My Dad, On Veteran’s Day

Here are some photos of my dad from an earlier post I did on my family history.

I find this photo particularly poignant.  I managed to date it to Dec. 25, 1942 from the headline on the newspaper my Dad is reading.  He would be going into the Coast Guard soon to serve during WWII.  He had the opportunity to get a job at a factory that supplied the war effort and essentially sit out the war safely at home, but he wouldn't do it.  He didn't feel he could face his children if he didn't "do his part."  My Mother (on the right) is about 2 or 3 months pregnant with my older brother.  My Grandmother is on the left, lost in thought.  To me, this scene reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I find this photo particularly poignant. I managed to date it to Dec. 25, 1942 from the headline on the newspaper my Dad is reading. He would be going into the Coast Guard soon to serve during WWII. He had the opportunity to get a job at a factory that supplied the war effort and essentially sit out the war safely at home, but he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t feel he could face his children if he didn’t “do his part.” My Mother (on the right) is about 2 or 3 months pregnant with my older brother. My Grandmother is on the left, lost in thought. To me, this scene reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

 

My mother found her own hunky dude in the form of my father, Jack, seen here on his Coast Guard ship during WWII.  His ancestors came to this country from the Alsace region of France, probably in the early 1700's.  (That region typically veered back and forth between the control of France and Germany until finally coming under French rule in recent times.)  My Dad's relative during the Revolutionary War provided meat to the troops, so we qualify for membership in the DAR for that "patriotic assistance."  They say an army travels on its stomach....

My mother found her own hunky dude in the form of my father, Jack, seen here on his Coast Guard ship during WWII. His ancestors came to this country from the Alsace region of France, probably in the early 1700’s. (That region typically veered back and forth between the control of France and Germany until finally coming under French rule in recent times.) My Dad’s relative during the Revolutionary War provided meat to the troops, so we qualify for membership in the DAR for that “patriotic assistance.” They say an army travels on its stomach….

 

Jack Coast Guard

When I was a kid, my Dad would let us play with the semaphore flags he had brought back from the war. Sometimes he would demonstrate how to send certain messages and occasionally, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, he would spell out words that we knew had to be “naughty,” but we didn’t know what they were. My mother would just say, “Oh, Jack!” and laugh along with us.

 

My parents' union was "blessed" first with the arrival of my brother, Tim, in 1943 and then with me in 1947.  Get a load of the noggin on that baby!

My parents’ union was “blessed” first with the arrival of my brother, Tim, in 1943 and then with me in 1947. Get a load of the noggin on that baby!

Dad passed away in 1998 at the age of 82.  His generation had to deal with the Great Depression and WWII.  They had a job to do and they stepped up and did it.  Many never returned to their families.  We were among the lucky ones.  Thanks, Dad.

18

Nepenthe and George

Nepenthe:  (Greek: Νηπενθές) is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a “drug of forgetfulness” mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt.

Figuratively, it means “that which chases away sorrow,” or grief and mourning.   So, literally, it means ‘not-sorrow’ or ‘anti-sorrow’. In the Odyssey, Nepenthes pharmakon (i.e. an anti-sorrow drug) is a magical potion given to Helen by the Egyptian queen Polidamma. It quells all sorrows with forgetfulness.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven“:

“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

My mother has been living at The Hotel (basically assisted living with nicer furniture) since just before Christmas.  She’s adjusted pretty well, given the fact that she’s not a social butterfly.

More like a reclusive caterpillar who’d like to cling to her favorite chair like it was her personal cocoon.

I visit her every couple of days to pick up her laundry and attempt a chat.  Her memory has been coming and going like the Spanish language Tejano music station signal I try to get on my car radio.

Some days it comes in strong, other days it gets mixed up with a hard rock station.  Makes for some interesting song segues.

So it is with my mother’s memory.  People and places get jumbled up in her mind and some get forgotten altogether in the neural pathways of her aging brain.

Last week she was somewhat agitated and confused when I came to see her.  She asked me if I had a boyfriend.  I’ve been married to the same man for almost 36 years now but even with prompting on my part, she drew a blank.

Didn’t seem to bother her though.  To use her favorite catch-phrase:  “Whatever.”

At that same visit I found her almost obsessively pouring over some baby pictures my nephew had sent her of his new baby girl.  I’d looked at them the last few visits, but she must have asked me about five times during this visit if I’d seen them.

So I got to thinking that maybe she might enjoy looking at some photos of the house she and my Dad lived in together in Laguna Beach for over 25 years.  (No, they weren’t rich.  They bought the house for a whopping $22,000 in 1967 when Laguna was still an artist colony, soon to be a hippie enclave.)

The photos were in some of those horrid magnetic photo albums popular about twenty years ago.  You know, the kind where the cover was all poufy and padded and hand-done in material with lace around the edges?

I’d methodically gone through each one and carefully stripped the photos out before they became permanently affixed to the pages like fossils trapped in amber.

I bought a small, modern photo album with transparent pockets to slide the photos in and brought it and a stack of the Laguna Beach photos over to The Hotel earlier this week when I went to visit my mother.

I handed her the stack of photos and after she looked at each one I slid it into a pocket in the album.

Now, when I was concocting this little experiment, I’d had some twinges of misgivings about the whole thing.

What if seeing the photos of her lush flowery garden, with her and Dad smiling as they sat there together, brings back the sadness she must have felt when he died?

(A year later she sold that house to move to Texas, a place she does not like.)

At first, she wasn’t sure whose house and garden she was looking at, but bit by bit, some of it came back to her.  She recognized my father, but didn’t really comment on him.  In one of the photos of them together, she thought I was her, although we don’t especially resemble each other.  (At least, I tell myself that.)

So I left the album with her and after a couple of days I returned for another visit.

The housekeeping gal wanted to clean her room, so we went out to the spacious living room in the front of The Hotel and parked ourselves on a couch and a comfy wing-chair.  I had suggested we take the album along so we could look through it again.

There was one photo of George, my parents’ cat, who lived to be something like 17 or 18, although his exact age was never known.  My folks had gotten him at the Bluebell Cattery in Laguna Canyon Road, a cat boarding place that was run by a little old white-haired lady who always wore a gray cardigan covered in cat hair.

She looked like a cat herself.  Guess it takes one to know one.

George had been left there by his previous owners who’d gone off on a trip to Europe and never came back to get him.  His former name had been “Sundance,” so maybe that gives you a clue about the mind-set of the people who callously left him.

But The Cat Lady kept him and my parents adopted him and changed his moniker to “George.”  It seemed to suit him.

My father was particularly devoted to George, but my mother was almost as attached.  One time, after my parents had given a small dinner for friends, George went missing.  There were coyote sightings in the hills above their house and my mother was frantic.

About eighteen hours after George disappeared, my mother decided she better put the dishes from the dinner away in the low credenza in the living room.  When she opened the cupboard door, there was George, lying on some napkins, blinking in the light as if to say “What?”

He’d gone in there when she took out the dishes and she’d accidentally closed the door on him.  So he just took a nap until he was eventually discovered.

When my Dad died, George was her constant companion.  She would sleep with my Dad’s bathrobe on the bed and George would sleep on top of it.  I know that cat missed my Dad as much as she did.

During the next six months, George started to lose a lot of weight and the vets couldn’t find a reason why.  Finally he became so weak that my nephew had to take George in to be euthanized.

Personally, I think George died of a broken heart.

When my mother saw the photo of George, in his cat collar and I.D. tag (which was still in my mother’s jewelry box when we packed her things), I thought there would be a rush of recognition and sad feelings.  I cringed, waiting.

But, nothing.  “Oh, a pussycat,” was all she said.

I asked her if she remembered George at all, the cat she and Dad had for so long, but again she drew a blank.

She just went on turning the pages.  She did remark that the neighbor just down from them was drunk most of the time.  That she can recall!

Maybe it’s just as well.  You can’t be sad about something you don’t remember.

Dementia, for her, is not unlike Nepenthe:  “That which chases away sorrow.”

6

I Am a Happy Wanderer…

This from the Huffington Post and NYT:

A new study by Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth, confirms something we’ve all suspected: most of us are mentally checked out a good portion of the time.

This study shows that just under half the time, 46.9 percent to be exact, people are doing what’s called “mind wandering”.  They are not focused on the outside world or the task at hand, they are looking into their own thoughts. Unfortunately, the study of 2,250 people proposes, most of this activity doesn’t make us feel happy.

The study was designed to find out what kind of activities people did throughout a day, and which made them happiest. Mind wandering was just one of 22 possible activities people could list. 

Researchers found that people were at their happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

People reported that their mind wandered no less than 30 percent of the time, during everything except love making.

I’m sorry, were you saying something?