By Louise Ure
Back when Ken Bruen and I shared Tuesday blogging responsibilities, he sent me a long white feather in the mail. “When a white feather crosses your path,” he wrote, “it means your guardian angel is nearby and watching over you.”
I found another white feather last week … a figurative one this time. It was a small miracle in my life.
Apologies to my Seattle friends for not telling you earlier, but I’ve been up in your fair city for the last three weeks moving my father-in-law into an assisted living center. Bruce’s death had undone him, “purely worn me down” as he described it, and he chose to move to a simpler existence.
That meant that I had three weeks to sell his possessions, get him moved and get the condo ready to go on the market.
He is a big bear of a man, with a face like George C. Scott and the heart of a Teamster. He spent forty years driving a laundry truck delivering linens and uniforms to restaurants, garages and hospitals. Today he has bad knees and a colostomy bag, and pores over every word in the paper looking for signs that his America is still alive.
Cleaning out the condo was not easy. Bruce’s older brother still had three rooms of belongings there, even though he’d long ago moved into his own apartment. And he’s a hoarder. Following the advice from a psychologist, we involved the brother in the decision making on each and every item. Does it go to Goodwill? Does it go to your apartment? Does it go to storage? There were one thousand shirts. Three hundred and sixty pairs of pants. Three thousand CDs. Each decision was protracted. Each item discussed.
Pat and Karen, Bruce’s lifelong Seattle friends, were unflagging in their energy and support, providing physical labor, local resources and expert advice. Karen, an antiques dealer in the city, sifted through every piece of jewelry, every Christmas bobble, every cookbook to determine what she could sell for him and what should go to charity. They made so many runs to Goodwill and the shredding company that the proprietors knew the name of their dog.
My father-in-law, Adolph, sat sad and calm as we loaded boxes, willing but unready to rush into this change.
There were dozens of boxes and bags of papers for the shredder. Old tax records. Paperwork from the estates of his sister-in-law and his wife, dead ten years now. Christmas letters from relatives in North Dakota two decades ago. Birthday cards from Bruce and his brother when they were kids.
There wasn’t room for all the papers at Ade’s new place, but he wasn’t willing to send them to the shredder until we’d had one final look. And so we did. We went through each page of the old tax records and he told me stories about that year, what new car he’d bought and where they went on vacation. We read old Christmas letters and he recounted the story of the son of that cousin, a saddlemaker, and how he lost his fingers when they got caught in the reins of a plow horse. We looked at old photographs and he remembered the night he’d first met his wife, Marian, and how she was supposed to be the blind date for the other guy.
Then came the miracle, the white feather wafting down in front of me.
I opened one old condolence card from April 2000 and read that “as a symbol of prayer, a votive light burns for Marian Goronsky at the Benedictine Monastery in Tucson, Arizona.” Funny, I hadn’t known that Adolph had friends in Tucson.
Then I recognized the handwriting. It was from my mother.
They’d only met once, on that day in 1985 when Bruce and I celebrated our marriage with a giant party in Tucson. The Goronskys drove three days to get there and arrived feeling like alien creatures in the dun-colored desert landscape. Tequila was new to them. The mariachis at the party did not sound like the Lithuanian music they knew.
My father died when I was sixteen, so it was up to my mother to welcome these new additions to the family and they became friends as well as new relations. Fifteen years later, when Marian Goronsky died unexpectedly only twelve hours after successful knee surgery, my mother sent a condolence card.
What she didn’t know is that she was sending it to me.
“Let me share what I know about losing a spouse,” she wrote. “A Greek writer wrote that ‘an excess of grief for the dead is madness, for it is an injury to the living and the dead know it not.’ I don’t know if it’s true, but at least that thought has helped me a lot through the years.”
It’s been sixteen months since I heard my mother’s voice. Sixteen months since I felt her arms around me.
Last week she found a way to be with me again. Thank you, Mom. It will help me, too.
Louise, that was a beautiful post. Thank you. Know you are loved and every day you grow stronger.
That’s wonderful Louise to be able to connect with your mother again. Your post is beautiful and I will be taking your mother’s quote with me.
Oh, Louise… this has been such a shitty year. I’m so glad that you found such solace–well-earned, my dear friend.
Louise, that brought tears to my eyes. Sounds like the slow process of healing is underway, with a little help from an unexpected source.
Louise, what an amazing serendipity that was! I am so glad you found that note – the fact that you were doing such a generous, loving thing for your father-in-law (and brother-in-law) says so much about the kind of person you are. May many more white feathers drift into your path.
What a wonderful moment. Thank you for sharing it with us.
I’m late to respond this morning. thank you PK, Tonya, Cornelia, J.D. and Alafair. The quote comes from the Greek soldier/poet Xenophon. I never heard my mother reference him or those words while she was alive, but I’m sure glad to have them now.
Whoops! I forgot Billie, who as we know, is one of the most supportive and emotionally resonant Murderati followers. Thanks, Billie.
Those are some powerful words from the Greek soldier, and good ones to remember. All the more potent when delivered to you by your mother in the way it was. You’ve got a lot of friend, Louise Ure, and we’re all here for you. 🙂
Ummm….crying here! You always manage to bring tears to my eyes, Louise.
An incredible story, and I truly believe it was your mother reaching out to you. Everything’s connected, right? Your mother’s letter was written ten years ago, but destined to find you now, when you need it most. God is an excellent author.
You’ve made my eyes lakes and my heart as big as a balloon flying over Allbuquerque. Knowing you, I realize your mother was a marvel, but learning about her makes me want to sit on God’s front porch and chat with her.
"God is an excellent author." I love that Stephen.
And Judy, you would have gotten along just fine with her, although one of her favorite sayings was "Happiness is having everything you want. And you CAN have everything you want, as long as you don’t want anything you can’t have." A little too restrictive for you, methinks.
Love and beauty in the midst of such difficulty; what a lesson, Louise. Thank you.
I love your mother’s quote about happiness. (Although, until now, I thought it was Dupree’s mother who said that.)
Been thinking of you a lot lately. I was thinking of the characters you write. Finding inspiration in them for my own wimpy times. How smart and strong and resilient your women are. Calla, Cadence, Jessie. Especially Jessie. She is the ‘original’ Lisbeth Salander, in my mind. In all their cases, the protagonist does not fall far from the author tree and that’s the damn truth.
I am sad that your dad and mom and Bruce and Cisco had to leave so early on in your story. But you have come out the hero, as painful as that may be, and will always remain one for me.
What was it that lovely brilliant author wrote? "You’re always the hero of your own story. Even if that’s not the way it happened at all." You must believe it this time, Louise………….it happened.
My Dear Wondrous Louise
I am so desperately sorry for your loss.
My heart grieves for you
But such amazing strenght you show, are showing and a beuatiful compassion.
As I lit the white candles for you and yours in The Claddagh Church today, I came out, stopped to watch the swans and lo, one single white feather, it’s en virtual route to you.
You and your moving heart wrenching piece are indeed all I ever need to know of miracles.
Thank you, Tom. Hope all is well at your house.
Anonymous, I wear the hero mantle uneasily, but thank you. (And I do love the notion of Jessie as the original Salander.)
Ken, my dear, I rest easier knowing that virtual candles and feathers are on their way. Thank you for your continued caring kindness.
Louise, I honestly think you are the miracle.
People ask me if I believe in ghosts, but what I believe in is what you experienced with that letter. You so deserve that communion and love, Louise.
Toni, the priests would shudder to hear to say it.
Jessie. The Girl With The Jacks Tattoo.
When I was a little girl my mother used to read Keeko by Charles Thorson to me. About the little Indian boy. (I won’t get into a political discussion of Thorson’s cartooning) Whenever I found a bird feather on the ground I would tell my mom that Keeko had been there. You know. The eagle feather. Not a beautiful story of white angel feathers, but as a child I believed in the literature generated magic, just the same.
Sorry. The dogs were barking at something and I had to investigate.
Anyway. You writers create the guardian angels and found feather magic and the courage to be a better person that this reader relies on to ‘get by’. So thank you.
This post was so beautifully written, L. Is it part of a new chapter? Not just in your life……..in your writing.
Well, then they are poorer for it, because there is a grace and a miracle in your words, your voice, your heart, that makes my world so much richer for you being in it.
Alex, I don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe in serendipity.
"The Girl with the Jacks Tattoo" Anonymous? My editors would probably have changed it. Somehow it doesn’t have quite the same commercial appeal. But I love your faith in me.
Toni, you make me smile.
Aren’t these small miracles of communication something? I’ve had a couple personal ones and they literally rock me off my feet with surprise and joy. When I am at a museum and see a painting or a mask or some object that jumps out at me with "Here I am – I was once a real person!" I get that same kind of jolt – the past is never dead if we keep our emotional pores open. The quote your mother referenced is the real thing, Louise. Thanks for sharing it. (P.S. HOW many pairs of pants?!)
Oh Louise…..of course. I was just being silly. "Jacks Tattoo" was a joke. But I remember the description of how Jessie bailed on a barbed wire tat because it hurt so much and ended up with jacks. That always amused me and I actually thought a jacks tattoo was rather cool.
No faith. Just the facts, Ma’am. Your characters are as strong as Larsson’s. BTW. Aside from your wonderful female characters, I particularly love the way you portray the main men in your books.(Not the bad guys..and you DO write some very BAAAD bad guys!) Your ‘good’ men are wise without being genius’, strong without being superhuman, independent yet good supportive companions. Good friends and mutual lovers. I love that they are so comfortable in their OWN skin that they don’t have to crawl under their chosen female’s to feel whole, ya know? After all that you have shared with us here, I can see how much love and respect there was between you and BA Goronsky. To me he was your "Strike". I am glad that at least in your story, "Tonio" Goronsky will live on forever………..and allow women like me to somehow believe that there really are ‘good guys’ out there.
Beautiful post, Louise, as always. Your eye for detail is breathtaking.
How wonderful to know the white feather has acquired a more tranquil meaning.
Susan, sometimes my emotional pores are a little too open.
Anonymous, you are encyclopedic in your memory of the characters I’ve created. I think you know them better than I do.
Yes, Zoe, white feathers have not always been such a pleasurable sign of things to come, have they?
Moments of grace, Louise. Moments of grace.
May you be blessed with many more.
What a beautiful post, and what a marvelous white feather to recognize. You bring tears to my eyes, and I ache for you-and for your father-in-law- dealing with so much loss. Your mother’s note was truly a gift, as was your post-to me.
I apologize!!!! Did not mean to offend. I probably got too personal there and was probably WAY off about your characters. My romanticizing idiocy. Fuck me.
I DO remember some characters in great detail. Only the ones whose authors speak to what I am feeling or going through while I am reading their books. I can also remember scenes and settings and phrases from books I haven’t read since middle school.
Once when the gods were young and only their swarthy servant time was without age, the gods lay sleeping by a broad river upon earth. There in the valley that from all the earth the gods set apart for their repose the gods dreamed marble dreams. And with domes and pinnacles the dreams arose and stood up proudly between the river and the sky, all shimmering white to the morning. –Lord Dunsany, The Book of Wonder That still evokes S.H. Sime bookplates for me. I was really into fantasy during my Dunsany and Arthur Machen phase.
After a few drinks try to stop me from reciting Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. I used to know The Shooting of Dan McGrew, too, but I wouldn’t place a bar bet on me for that one anymore.
I will never again presume to know your characters better than you……………PROMISE!!!
Hanging out on God’s front porch with Judy and Stephen (there’s a song for that)…I wonder if the people in my law office see me wiping my face and think, that Louise Ure, must be her turn to blog this week…
It just struck me as completely lovely and hit my own "mother" nerve and how I miss her. I’ll just sit here and weep for a moment and then go back to work.
Good job getting all that done Louise, I hope it was somewhat cathartic as well as all the other emotions you described. Ade must think he has a little of his son around, when you’re there. And he walked you through his things, not knowing where he was leading you, but knowing he needed to nonetheless to give back.
Yes, Pari, they are moments of grace.
Thank you, Lil, for understanding why I write the post.
Anon, your comments are grand and thoughtful! And damn, your memory is remarkable. I don’t have that gift.
Sorry to make you weep, Allison. I see so much of Bruce in his father that the task was made easier.
Oh, Louise, what horrendous losses you have suffered lately and with exquisite grace. Your post speaks of grief, friendship and hope in the most beautiful way. May each day bless you with a white feather.
Louise, thanks. Your post shined a light on the "innards" of so many who responded. Such a multi-faceted group. Murderati – I bless the day I found you.
Anonymous, you make me laugh – are you Jewish or Catholic – you run to guilt faster than I do. How marvelous was your profile of Louise’s characters. And you are simply a marvel. J.
Louise, a beautiful column that made so many of us pause and give pause to the enormity of life’s journey. On a personal note, I closed my dad’s apartment piece of paper and clothing by piece of paper and clothing, Kleenex by Kleenex. And I can certainly identify with Bruce’s father as he sat watching. When the auction people removed the last of my parents’ possessions from the storage facility, I sat in the car watching, thinking I was viewing my family’s history being toted past me. In some ways, it took a breath away that still has not returned after four years. And now I don’t expect it to. Breathing more deeply has become a way of life. And it isn’t bad, for it allows me to breathe in more beauty.
Mary Lynn and Judy, thank you for such sweet words. Sandy, once lost , I would expect that taken breath to come back. Is it okay that it hasn’t?
Louise, my mom died just about 15 years ago and I still have some of her papers I haven’t gone through. Healing takes as much time as it takes, but your mother’s message is brilliantlly true.
I tell you this by way of saying that we completely understand why you didn’t stop by the shop. We’d have been all-over sympathetic, and I suspect that’s not something you needed to experience. You most definitely had enough on your plate!
Just know that you’re always welcome through our door, and we’ll snag you for lunch or a glass of wine after the shop closes, whatever suits you best. You are always in our hearts (and on our shelves!).
Fran, thank you for understanding why I was so focused on Ade and the move. It would be a lovely release to come see you on the next visit.
" I don’t know if Momma is right, if it’s Lieutenant Dan?
I-I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all just floatin’ around
accidental-like on a breeze? B-but I-I think. maybe it’s both, maybe both(s)-is
happening at the same time?
I miss you Jenny!
If there’s anything you need, I won’t be far away."
I love that movie and have always assumed that the above clip sums it’s IDEA up the best.
Perhaps you too have now also just explained another of it’s elements?