Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Leaving, Hurrying

"One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time."
-G. K. Chesterton

I was scribbling away furiously this afternoon when I was startled by a terrific noise outside the computer room door, one that caused the walls to shudder violently.
It has been happening frequently for the last week and a half or thereabouts when one or the other of us will be hurrying from one room to another at enormous velocity in a quest to finalise the last bits and pieces of our trip to India- which commences today.
In attempting to gain entrance to a room, one of us will not see that the door had closed tightly. As a result, either Spouse or I throw ourselves bodily against the door, which ought to fly open if it had been closed only partly, and which ought to cause quite a blow to one's person if it had not.
Moments ago Spouse failed in his initial effort to get into the room and he caused the door to rattle on its hinges and threaten to disengage itself from the framework of the house.
Soon, I saw the door handle turn, whereupon Spouse entered meekly and silently.
We have of late been dashing about in blind panic, running into walls and doors and wondering who on earth put that couch there, or that fridge there.
How curious that the clock runs at inexplicable, whiplash-generating speeds when one has so much to accomplish!
To the doors and various blunt objects about the apartment, I offer this: never fear. For three weeks neither Spouse nor I will so much as open a door, tread across the carpet or make a sound within the four walls.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Three of Them

"Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week."
-Joseph Addison

One scene in particular stands out from all the others in my tenth year.
I was at Sunday Mass with Mater, in a church streaming with the sunlight of an August morning. During the service the entire congregation poured to the front of the church to be blessed one by one by the priest.
I was standing crammed between my neighbours when I noticed that the lone priest had suddenly been joined by another fellow of identical garb and physical appearance. Soon the pair was joined by a third, following which I grew increasingly alarmed. The image of the approaching priests grew luminous and I thought a rainbow had splintered the air, so vivid were the reds and greens.
Beyond the confusion stemming from the irregularity lay a degree of worry regarding etiquette: I was not certain which priest I ought to look at when my turn arrived.
As it transpired, it mattered little because when I looked around again I discovered I was being propped up by a kind villager with Mater hovering anxiously by my side and the brisk early air brushing my face. Nothing untoward had happened; I merely fainted in front of a few hundred people, but certainly not before being amazed at all the colours and the three priests.
Good reflexes were in abundance that day: my head failed to hit the concrete floor of the church.
Though the memory presumably now belongs exclusively to Mater and I, it is refreshing to think of neighbours that leap in to offer help without a pause or the slightest hesitation.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tuning In

"The principle part of faith is patience."
-George MacDonald

When one endures a bout of illness such as a cold or influenza, and happens to eat particular foods during that interim, and after recovery recalls, at the very scent of the food, the feverish, bedridden days- then the experts would declare that the Garcia Effect is taking place.
It is named after the psychologist John Garcia, a fellow who studied rats, taste aversion and illness, and documented the results of the combination.
Most people, I would wager, have had some beloved meal, a former favourite, turn horribly sour on the tongue following a sickness.
There again, food might be just one element that one develops a distaste for.
Two days ago Mater returned to the hospital for test results. She sat in the waiting room. I have twice accompanied her; the latest was her fourth appointment. Each time, while Mater perched on the edge of the chair, the same programme was airing on the television: a chat show hosted by a celebrity with a habit of being rather upbeat and buoyant and whose figure and lips rarely cease to move while on the screen.
At the best of times, the character could be categorised as cheerful, optimistic and immensely entertaining to a waiting room full of worried ladies.
In Mater's case, however, it being quite the worst sort of repetition, she yesterday declared she never again wishes to see this person on television, despite previously having had little negative opinion on the television programme or its sprightly host.
One would expect no less from a soul experiencing such a troubling series of visits: it was hoped that the news regarding Mater's tests would be wholeheartedly positive, but the doctor's delivery was less than she had desired.
I myself suspect that the good news is merely postponed until next week when a more complete and definitive outcome can be measured.
Good news does not always arrive at the precise moment we need it. Sometimes the timing is slightly off-kilter- like tuning repeatedly into the same television show against one's will due to the random scheduling of an appointment.
I do believe that Mater's confession and my conclusion ought to be added to the Record of Aversions.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."
-Albert Einstein

"An bhfuil cead agam dul amach go dti an leathras, más é do thoil é?"
It had been a handful of years since I last heard those words. Every young person educated in Ireland, I suspect, knows how to precisely ask the teacher if they might be excused to attend the toilet. The weary repetition is necessary to earn that permission, and schooldays would be immeasurably troublesome without it. That said, its very length and verbosity was painful enough, as one would need sufficient time in hand to get the words out and reach the toilet before it was too late.
During one of our recent excursions to a neighbouring city, I found myself standing at a bus stop with Mater.
At length the bus approached and halted beside the gathering of twenty or so travellers. Before anyone could move forward, the elderly driver jumped out and made a dash for the station building. He ran, but not before pausing to ask quietly, in Irish, if we would mind being delayed momentarily as he desperately needed to use the facilities, particularly the leathras.
Of those that were in earshot of the request and of those that understood the familiar chant, none minded in the least, and some of us took note of the cheerful fellow.
Certainly his schooldays were far behind, but his memories had endured. It might be that what we absorb as youngsters stays long with us: not every fragment is worth clinging to but some details can, at the most peculiar times, serve us very well.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Backwards, Forwards

"Luck is tenacity of purpose."
-Elbert Hubbard

Mater put her sweater on backwards this morning, and in the afternoon discovered the error after much inexplicable irritation.
With that nuisance resolved and set aside I reminded her of an old superstition: if a fellow puts his sweater on the wrong way round, it is said that he may make a wish.
Mater made her request in silence.
When I asked what it was she wanted, her response was simple: "that I will have a nice day on Friday."
On Friday Mater will take a train down to the hospital where she underwent recent surgery; the test results of the operation will be revealed and will determine the course of the coming months.
I chided her gently for spending a perfectly fine wish on something that was going to turn out well anyhow and leave her feeling revived, relieved and exhilarated.
There is an abundance of hope directed at Mater, and striving for her well-being. Backwards sweaters are, in this case, quite redundant.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Executive Pizza

"Appetite, a universal wolf."
-William Shakespeare

We spent a long while today at the hospital. I got, as expected, jabbed and prodded and advised and vaccinated, and at the end of it all Spouse and I were both desperately in need of some dinner.
Any scrap, anything would have sufficed, but we were confused, seeking all sorts of restaurant signs where there really were none, and Spouse reminded me of an occasion some years ago in which he was more ravenous than usual.
In downtown Chicago Spouse was accompanied by a starving student friend, and they hovered about the streets, bellies growling, the evening wearing on and patience growing thin.
"Ah," cried Spouse at last, spotting a sign: "Executive Pizza!"
Whatever that sort of name indicated, it primarily meant food, and the pair stumbled in the direction of the neon sign that offered so much promise.
It turned out, much to their bitter discontent, that the word 'plaza' can cunningly disguise itself as 'pizza' when one is especially determined to find food.
It appears to work equally well the other way: Spouse and I drove for miles this evening in our quest for a morsel of food, streaming past a tiny, nondescript place called Financial Bagel and wondering to ourselves who would name a bank after a circular bread.
As it happens, a fellow named Finagel just might, minus the bank element and with the addition of a cafe.
Whole novels ought to be written by famished men out on the road seeking a crust of bread- wondrous and inventive tomes, thunderous, complex works of literature and fragments of the imagination that might never ripen if everyone had their supper on time.

Monday, January 5, 2009

On Pins and Needles

"'I'm very brave generally,' he went on in a low voice: 'only today I happen to have a headache.'"
-Lewis Carroll

With astonishing speed, Spouse and I have concocted a plan which will place us in India in little more than a week from now.
We will be travelling for nearly a month and in spite of the overwhelming number of tasks to accomplish before we set sail, I am looking forward with high spirits to the excursion.
I contemplate the delicious treats I will savour, the warm and welcome change in weather, the commotion of a family eager to acquaint themselves with me- and I would not change places with a single soul.
Except for tomorrow.
Tomorrow I shall require a body-double, a duplicate arm, a doppelganger of tenacious and strong disposition. I will need to be far away when a medical man aims to puncture my arm, my precious, pain-sensitive, intact limb, and pump all manner of vaccines into it.
I am not at all brave in the face of injections and would prefer, given the option, not to do battle with cruel and pointed instruments.
I insist on being the one who eventually boards the airplane and steps into a world of fruit markets and dusty streets and bookstalls and dizzying crowds, the whole of it humming with the promise of adventure, and to be the one who laps up the best of the explorations and discoveries.
But tomorrow, I must be elsewhere; and I am scrambling frantically to find a decoy with which to pacify the needle-wielding, insatiable doctor.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Five Legs

"The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible."
-Albert Einstein

Standing in Mater's kitchen last month, I caught sight of a spider hesitating between the legs of a chair.
I immediately drew attention to the creature, hoping he would be quickly gathered and set down outside.
He was scooped up for all to look at, from a distance if we were so inclined. The spider bore five legs. That fact in itself was not a surprise, given that injuries occur and that the animal world is as violent and unpredictable and cruel as the human one.
What astonished the witnesses was this: there was no place at all on the spider's body for a sixth, seventh and eighth leg: he was a genuine five-legged spider, but not in the sense of having lost three appendages. He was not crippled, not even slightly, and when placed on the ground he ran like the wind away from prying eyes and bewildered bipeds.
I had not heard of such a thing. My childhood education revolved around serious facts and particles of knowledge, one of which assured me that spiders in their natural condition always possess eight legs.
There are, of course, different ways to look at the discovery.
Some will be convinced that the world is altering, that new species of everything are arriving at an alarming rate and that nothing is as it was.
Some will take note of the oddity and suggest it might be a symbol of fortune- good or bad- for the year ahead.
Only Mr. Pentapede can know for certain, but he, presumably having had a sufficiency of intrusive human curiosity, is now nowhere to be found.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Nine Twenty-Six

“Tell the truth, and so puzzle and confound your adversaries.”
-Henry Wotton, Sr.

We might be on a perfectly ordinary excursion to do our grocery or attend the local library when all of a sudden Spouse, at the helm, will sing out "4TD" or "215" or "welcome" or some such sequence unreasonable to my ears.
I will invariably be perplexed, and by the time I determine that he was reading the figures he saw on a licence plate or a billboard sign or a bumper sticker, it is too late and the notice is behind us.
Last week, for a change, it was "nine twenty-six," and we were not on the road. We were at home, Spouse illuminated by the inanimate glow of the computer screen as he peered over my shoulder.
"Nine twenty-six," he said cheerfully, nodding to himself.
It was not nine twenty-six at night, nor in the morning. It was not the twenty-sixth of September. My brain reeled and spun in knots in vain attempts to best him and break the cryptic phrase.
"Tell me," I pleaded at last. "What did you mean by 'nine twenty-six'?"
Spouse, by that time, had retreated to his own computer; he had never intended to set a riddle for me to chew on and had simply been reading something of note that he chanced to say out loud.
"Oh, that was nothing," came the offhand reply.
"Nine twenty-six is the model number for our scanner, right beside you. I was just checking it."
I did not even have the luxurious excuse of claiming that the scanner zoomed past in a blur at seventy miles an hour.
Spouse claimed not to have done it on purpose but when one's neighbour mutters "nine twenty-six" out loud, one always wants to know what it is about.
I might have to set about constructing my own alphabet, or at least a code of my own, in order to thwart Spouse's fun.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Passer-By Method

"The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
-Marcel Proust

Our Christmas tree is enchanting: brilliant blooms of rainbow light, and here and there a suspended memento of old times, in the shape of a ceramic snowman or a glass reindeer.
I have, however, paid endless homage to the tree since its recent retrieval from the cupboard, seeing it as I do for weeks on end. Each year its sparkle and glow seems to fade into the background, its very appearance becoming almost commonplace after a while, and this season was no exception.
That would not do at all, I suddenly said to myself the other day; so I fetched my heavy jacket, stepped outside, crunched through the unbroken snow to the back porch, and looked into my own kitchen as a sort of very unusual passer-by.
It worked wonders. I viewed the tree from afar, as a cold, colour-starved outsider in a drab December scene.
I was drawn to admire its decorative qualities and fine attire of baubles and tinsel, and was thoroughly struck by how much I should like to have such a tree, by the fact that it was my very own and by the regrettable truth that in recent days I had hardly paused to glance at it.
I highly recommend the passer-by method of seeing one's own life; but in such snow-shrouded times a thick layer of clothing is advised.
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