blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was invited to participate in the Next Big Thing by Barbara Gaskell Denvil, whose "Summerford's Autumn" has just been picked up by a big publisher and will be reissued July, 2013. Check out her wonderful, adventurous, romantic and completely historical fiction at:

and also by Smoky Zeidel, whose magical, mysterious books and entertaining and thoughtful blog may be found at:

What is the working title of your book?

Roan Rose

Where did the idea come from?

This is a novel that I’ve been visualizing in various forms since the last Ice Age, when, in my teens, I read about Richard III, The last Plantagenet King. In a way, I’ve owed Richard this book simply because he’s hung out in my imagination for so long.

What genre?

Historical fiction.

 What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I watch the BBC a lot, so I’d pick great young British actors. Ben Whishaw (The Hour) or Aiden Turner (The Hobbit) for Richard, and Romola Garai (The Hour) or Karen Gillian (Doctor Who) for his wife, Rose’s mistress, Anne Neville.  

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

“Poppet, playmate, servant, lover—Rose belonged to her master and mistress body and soul.”

Published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

How long did it take you to write the m.s.?

The book has been in process for more than a decade.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, I can only quote what others have said, which was: “Sharon Kay Penman, with a strong streak of Cecelia Holland.”  That made me happy, as you can imagine.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It harks back to Josephine Tey, who wrote the wonderful mystery, The Daughter of Time. Single-handedly, Tey did more to legitimize the controversy about the King—was he Shakespeare’s murdering monster, or has he been the victim of his successor’s smear campaign? I became a convert to the “Good Richard” theory in my teens. Although my current characterization of Richard isn’t quite the knight in shining armor I’d earlier imagined—research got in the way—he remains a compelling, intriguing character.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Rose Whitby’s fate is changed forever when she, born a peasant on the Yorkshire dales, is taken to Middleham Castle to be companion and bed-time poppet for Lady Anne Neville, one of the richest heiresses in England. This is an “Upstairs, Downstairs” story of love, loss and loyalty, because Rose lives with a foot in both worlds. Divided loyalties are her eternal dilemma.


 Juliet Waldron




Monday, December 17, 2012

ROAN ROSE (Excerpt)

Rose is a survivor. Having survived a regime change and the death of both her Master and Mistress, deserted by her husband, she is living life as a peasant again.

 Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold.  Pease porridge in the pot nine days old…

            Here it was again, the grimy three-legged pot and the peas, oats or cracked wheat, with whey and a drop of honey to dress it up. A thin slice of sheep's milk cheese and maybe a boiled egg, washed down with a swig of bitter ale, was, these days, a feast. As winter came on, I hungered for meat.

Ah, I’d been born at Master Whitby's house--and, lo, and behold--here I was again! Living under the thatch which dripped in a hard rain, cold feet treading a floor of broken flags and packed earth, the border of my plain rough dress ragged and stained, the barnyard smell from the shed behind filling my nostrils.

            When I was feeling very sorry for myself, I'd recall what I'd seen at Bosworth--all those brave comrades of mine, lying blue and bled. At least I’d avoided that.

            At butchering time, I went to Naseby Manor to assist, though it had been years since I'd been near such work. The blood and guts and sorry bawling of the poor cattle made me weep and puke, but I kept at it. In the icy dark, I struggled home with my reward, offal, in a dripping basket.

            Though ready to faint with weariness, I roused Bet and got her to help in slicing the best of our trophy, half a heart and a veiny chunk of liver. That same night, Bett and I and the children sat and gorged, mopping up the juice from a drippings pan. The taste of beef in my mouth made the day of suffering I’d just spent easier.  Overhead, we hung another prize, an ox tail, which, tomorrow, we'd reduce to a fatty, marrow laden soup. It would improve the endless porridge.


View the Amazon page:


Friday, December 7, 2012

How History Becomes Distorted

Recently while researching my first nonfiction title A Fate Worse than Death about rape in the Civil War, I came across a book with an interesting diary entry from Private John Haley of the 17th Maine Infantry. On December 10, 1864, Haley wrote about a colonel in another regiment that was "perpetrating one of the foulest outrages upon two defenseless women." He went on to state that if these women had not submitted to "their infamous proposals" their house would have been burned and the women would have been "turned out into the bleak of December."

In Haley's disgust, he said that if privates had done such a thing, they "would have suffered death. The nearest tree would have been requisitioned." But because the colonel was an officer, he was drunk, "as is his custom."

I wanted to quote the complete passage for my book, but because the edited version of Haley's diary is still under copyright, I felt uncomfortable quoting a complete paragraph, even though the original is a public domain work. Instead, I searched for the original diary, which happens to be located in a small library in Maine, where the former private had lived. The current librarians were wonderful in helping to locate the original entry from Haley's diary and sent me a copy.

Here's the unedited version:

At this place [Virginia] occurred a dastardly outrage, if [the] report be true. Colonel Byles, of the 99th Penn. and his ADJT [adjutant] made their headquarters at a farm house near by occupied by two women alone. They made infamous proposals to them, which being refused, these miserable, cowardly skulks threatened to burn the house unless their demands were complied with. So to save their home, and themselves from being turned out into the 'bleak December,' they submitted.

Had this outrage been the work of privates, they would probably have dangled from the nearest tree in very short order, Col Byles consenting thereto. But there may be another side to the story, women are not all of them always paragons of virtue and these innocent creatures may have been 'as deep in the mud as Col Byles was in the mire.' As who shall say?

One thing we did know, Old Byles, was a drunken old fool and one never knows when an officer keeps in this condition, what crazy and dirty ideas may creep into his brain.

I think even with the snippets that I've posted from the book, anyone can see how the original is much more colorful and ominous than the altered version. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident while researching my book. It hasn't been.

No wonder our outlook on history is distorted.

Kim Murphy

Friday, November 30, 2012

Crone Transformations

1.   trans·form/transˈfôrm/       …….Shape Shifting
Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.
The product of a transformation.
verb.  change - convert - alter - metamorphose - transmute
noun.  transformation - metamorphosis - conversion


This month I have had the ambition of a slug, a lowly caterpillar
The perceptions of an earthworm stuck in dark mud
I yearn for the freedom to walk outside, upright in the sunshine
I crave the wide sky, bright light and wild wind.
This morning I turn my mind to believing in better days ahead
I reach within to find the dreams, the sacred inspiration
The key to transformations:

Transformations take many forms, some rather prosaic, others wrapped in wonder and mystery. Commonplace: the sight of ice cubes melting into puddles, the flood of light as the lamp is turned on at twilight. These changes occur in plain view, one form visibly becoming another. Other transformations are hidden from sight, alchemy that can be perceived as magical. From a fertilized, incubated egg hatches a fluffy baby bird. From the dark earth in spring, planted seeds emerge as vibrant growing plants.
Earthworms, lowest of the low in hierarchies around the world, are nevertheless seemingly capable of regenerating lost segments of their simple tubular bodies.  This appears to be common knowledge inspiring generations of young experimenters to dissect wriggling victims. More mature scientists have published their findings that it is theoretically possible to grow complete worms from partial segments depending on certain variables such as variety and extent of damage to the body. Earthworms perform many actions that insure the survival of mother earth's fertility.
In 1881 Charles Darwin wrote: It may be doubted whether there are as many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have theses lowly organized creatures.
Caterpillars, visually only one small step higher than the earthworm, are an essential stage of the life cycle of butterflies: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa and adult. Butterflies inspire hope and belief in positive, miraculous change in the darkest, coldest winter. Their grace and colourful beauty have enchanted and inspired people from earliest times. In ancient Greece the word for "butterfly" was the same as for "soul" or "mind".
Butterfly symbolism brings to mind the importance of welcoming changes, allowing outgrown beliefs, and negative perceptions to fade away making space for new patterns that bring hope and inspiration.
Transformation, transition, shape-shifting, endings that facilitate new beginnings…. Are these not the domain of the Crone? While seeking a new way of being in the world how can Crone-within guide me?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tempest Eaton, 1621

       On the list of the first Mayflower’s passengers, I am an unnamed servant to John Carver. Then I become Francis Eaton’s second wife. Call me Tempest, for I was a storm in their blood. The Pilgrim fathers needed me to sate their carnal appetites, while they pampered the wives they hoped would give them children with pedigrees.
       We had been there in New Plimouth for one narrow, pinched year of scraping the ground, carrying logs on our backs, cleaning the linens of the dead. And then we had the feast.
       Eaton’s child had not yet stretched my belly big enough for the men to see, but I knew he was inside me. My first male child, my salvation, the surety of marriage into the pilgrim clan. My prayers of thanks were all for the lust of Francis Eaton and the fertility of his loins. While his first wife lay dying he had paid Carver for a turn between my legs. Since Carver’s seed had never taken, I knew this child was Eaton’s. Soon he would know about that too.
       But I was still a servant at the feast. On the second night, I was at the edge of the firelight minding the large kettle when I saw her for the first time. A cold moon cast silver patches into the forest, and one glint caught the shape of her head. Her shape took its form out of the blackness, her eyes glinted red in the firelight.
       A movement from her lips sucked the air from my throat before I could scream, and her hand made a circle and some corners in the air. A trembling warmth started from my feet and traveled up my body.  This strange vibration reached the top of my head and traveled back down, making a slow turn around my womb before racing back down into the earth.
       The she-devil smiled at me, an old Indian witch with wild grey hair. I was awed by the power she commanded, but not afraid. The voyage, the deaths, the rapes, the corpses may have put me beyond fear of anything, but I knew this witch was not going to kill me. She and I were cut from the same cloth.
We were cunning women and survivors.
       That was the second day of the Feast of Thanksgiving in the New World.  On the third day, Massassoit’s men brought two huge deer into the village. Of course it was expected that I would prepare the beasts for roasting. I sharpened my master’s knife for the thousandth time and slit the belly of the buck. As I scooped out the entrails, an overwhelming nausea brought bile to my throat, and I fell to my knees. There was a flash at the corner of my eye. A brown hand holding a black stone appeared before me and began to slice through muscle and tendon as if it were butter. I did not need to turn my head to know it was her. The black blade had a red glow deep within its glassy surface. With shaking hands I continued the work by her side.
       When I turned to open the doe’s soft belly, I looked into the Grandmother’s face for the first time. Fine lines traced the crow’s feet of a happy youth at the edges of her eyes. Deep furrows made steady paths across her forehead, she had known much fear and worry, but the firm unwrinkled jut of her chin bespoke a courage that had never admitted defeat. Her eyes burned into mine, as I had expected they would, but I pulled the curtain across my mind before she could scry me. Her dark face registered a moment of surprise before she pushed my shoulder, speaking softly but very sternly in words that had no meaning to me; however, I knew to stop all movement and await her permission to move again. In a single slashing motion, she split the deer from breast to anus and scooped the uterus from the animal with her left hand. Holding the tiny fetus toward the sun, she chanted rapidly and carried it a small distance into the trees. When she returned, she grunted and pulled my hand toward the doe. We finished dressing the deer in silence. Before she turned to leave, she held a small piece of liver to my mouth and motioned to me to eat it. I swallowed it quickly. She nodded and was gone.
       I knew she was my ally, then. I did not see her again for five long months. By then she would be the only person on this earth I wanted to see.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

To A Scorpio



Oblique rays shine from her eyes
Of a thousand years--pure child.
Many cycles past, an autumnal lady watched
The breakers boom like iron upon Atlantic cliffs—
Her glances a falcon endlessly falling.
Breathless, see how fast she flies!
Lady in a cloak of November,
Magic slinks around you.
--Juliet Waldron

Friday, November 2, 2012

Crone Avatars


It’s All Souls, which means that in many Latin countries, people are out in the graveyards, having a cheerful picnic with flowers, Tequilla and food, sitting upon the graves of dead relatives. In Austria at noon of All Souls’ Day, the Church bells are rung in order to release earth bound souls. Gerstermesse is here, time for families and friends to enter the cemetery with lighted lanterns which will stay behind when everyone goes home again.
 The Crone Mother-of-All-Living has many names.
She is the ancient Irish Shela-na-gig, threatening us with the womb/tomb.
She is Hel, Queen of the Otherworld. (To the Norse, this was a place of renewal.) From here, new souls returned to earth.
She is Ishtar The Morning Star who resurrects Tammuz, the green grain, whose body is eternal sacrifice.
She is Sekmeht, who by destruction brings creation, the oracular Sphinx with bloody claws, crouching in the desert with a riddle you’ll wish you’d never answered.
She is Black Kali, dancing upon our inertia, dancing as we burn to ashes, with her thundering necklace of skulls.

She is Oya, Queen of cemeteries, of psychic explosions and violent storms. (She just paid us a visit!)

It's time for us in the northern hemisphere to ponder the Crone, now, while the veil between the worlds is thin, while mother earth tilts away from our fatherly solar furnace.

In Mexico, the old Aztec death goddess has returned. Dia De Los Muertos is her special time, her power irresistible. She demands not only total respect but the wildest playfulness from her devotees.
Once she was Mictecacihuatl, who, with her husband, ruled theAztec dead, but her face seems to have never left the national consciousness. Now she has come again to fill the poor and the outcast with pride, offering them kindness and good luck. After all, even the richest, most corrupt magnate in the world doesn’t have the money to buy off Death, the Great Equalizer.   
Her names tell something of her femininity and of how greatly she is feared, for she is often referred to only by nickname. As with The Great Dark Ladies mentioned above, she shouldn't be lightly summoned.  She is The Skinny One, Santisima Muerte, The Holy Girl, Catrina. She is Fortune. She is Change. She is a sudden fire bursting through an earth which we vainly imagined was cold, sleeping--safe!  

--Juliet Waldron



Friday, October 19, 2012

Crone Camouflage

There I was, lost and adrift again
My musing dreaming creative minds-eye
Free floating in bright autumn skies
Playing in the drifting shifting patterns
Scattering wind-chased clouds
Layers over layers, forms over forms
Balancing on the edge of non-ordinary reality
I fell, swooping into wonder "What if..?"
Crone identity popularly known as hag, worthless and discarded
Morphed… belief can make such things so
Into secret mysterious power to live disguised
(I'm thinking here of Wonder-woman!)
Camouflaged like an urban fox
Dining well on silly city mice
These thoughts amuse me, shuffling along with my walking stick
Ridiculously slow, my grey head bent in concentration
While all the while within, Life-force energy burns bright
Tonight under the silver moon what magic will we brew?
What miracles cook up in our colourful creative cauldron?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sister, Where Art Thou?


     As Halloween approaches, I find myself thinking about the Weird Sisters of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. These bearded women had quite a jolly time with the ancient Scottish Lord. Their riddles, or lies that sounded like truths told to give men hope and win them to their own selfish  harms, must have been presented very convincingly. If Macbeth couldn’t figure it out alone, he had plenty of help from Banquo. But they were such brats. They blamed their testosterone-charged mayhem on a few old ladies.

     That isn’t the only reason they are on my mind. I recently heard a piece of writing that mirrored my own thoughts about the healers and Crones of my imagination. These are old women who have learned to look ahead, remember cures and the plants and the recipes that provide them. These are women who have been gardening and mending and nurturing their families and their friends’ families for decades. They know who has been born to whom, and where more than a few bodies have been buried. They have heard the secrets, the fears, the wants and the needs of their villagers for generations – from their mothers and grandmothers and maiden aunts. 

      So they are powerful -- not in any physical sense of the word, but that is what makes them more frightening than a typical enemy for the power-brokers of the time. These women have the hearts and the loyalties of their neighbors. They are not to be taken lightly, and as older women they have very little to lose. Besides which the older women become, the less time they have for the trivial and never-ending bickering of the young. They don’t suffer fools – at all! And they aren’t afraid to say so.

      That is why I think about the secret, black and midnight hags who meet these silly soldier-boys on the heath. I believe the 'witches'  burned at the stake in the 1600's had value and purpose. They are not caricatures on brooms. They are enjoying their last years while sharing their wisdom. There they are, picking their herbs, rhyming a few charms, and cataloging their aches and pains, when two sweaty, bloody young men show up, talking about their killing and how they will gain from it. They tell these grandmothers to stop what they are doing and give them some attention. How many times had the women had to do that in the course of their long lives? So the fun begins. The grannies probably start out with a few harmless puns, seeing how well they can confuse the strutting cock o’ the walks. And then the old friends continue, egging each other on and one-upping each other.  It must have been a source of laughter for the old biddies for days!

     Until  they find out how well – or ill - it has worked. The words take on lives of their own, and the game loses its levity. Fair has become foul, and they have a confirmed mass-murderer on their consciences. He sorely lacks any subtlety of mind and hasn’t even a shred of human compassion. It is time to scare the britches off the bugger and leave him to pay for what he has done. So next thing they know, they are bubbling, toil and troubling with a purpose. And that is when she catches them.

      Witch number 1’s favorite grand-daughter comes traipsing along and herds them home. “Mom, they were at it again!” she informs number one’s daughter.

      Witch number 2’s daughter comes from her house and hurries across the lane.“What did you get up to this time?” she demands, one hand on her hip. “Was it newts in the bucket or mice in your pockets? I swear I can’t let you out of my sight. You’re turning into a regular mud-grubber.”

      Then it is Witch number 3’s turn to be chastised. “Auntie, all the good you do with your cures will be for naught. The neighbors will see you muttering about nothing, and then we won’t sell a posset for a pin-cushion. And how will we find money to eat then?” Noting her dearest Aunt’s sad face, she relents. “Ah, don’t fret now. Let’s get you home for some tea and start our supper. We have a little beef and some nice cabbages in the larder. Nobody noticed your silliness today.”

      And as the younger women turn toward their homes, a short conversation takes place behind them.
“When shall we three meet again?” whispers Sister 1.
“Not till after breakfast tomorrow, I guess.” says Sister 2.
“ Oh, bother,” sighs Sister 3, “I wish they weren’t so set on taking care of us.”
Then each lays a choppy finger on her lip, nods to her dearest friends, and limps her way home.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Companionable Dead

I’ve spent a lot of my life fixating upon dead heroes, which means, as we turn into October, I’m entering my favorite other-worldly season.  (Maybe “hero” isn’t quite the word, but “famous historical personalities” is unwieldy.)  Richard III came into my life early, just pre-teen, via a discarded paperback, “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey, fished from a wastebasket in the lounge of a 1950’s Barbados hotel.  For some reason, this mystery story about a man whose chosen motto was “Loyalty Binds Me” and whose reputation had been unjustly blackened, started an obsessive fire in my brain which is, even 50 some years later, burning hotter than ever.   

Richard started life in 1452, which is a long time ago—560 years at Fotheringhay Castle now nothing more than a heap of earth where the original motte and bailey stood.
As you can see from the picture, 500+ years without a caretaker doesn’t leave much behind! Richard Plantagenet was born on October 2, which makes him a Libra. If the Tudor spin doctors are to be believed, he was a seriously out of balance child of this supremely balanced heavenly sign. If the skeleton just recovered proves to be that of the King, it appears he did have a deformity, scoliosis, which would have caused one shoulder to be carried high.  He only lived thirty-two years, but he (or his evil shadow) has left quite a mark on World Consciousness via Shakespeare’s popular blood-and-thunder melodrama.

This blog is not about King Richard, though. It’s about time, of which we humans don’t get a large slice. (I’ve been flailing around more than twice as long as this particular dead hero but have made not a jot of difference to the greater world.)  Still, King Richard, his fair wife, Anne Neville, and others of that bloody late medieval cousinage have been wandering about, arguing, loving and fighting in the theater of my consciousness since childhood.
When the excavation in that Leicester car park came up with a skeleton--scoliosis, battle wounds, and all—it restarted the whole royal parade, complete with banners and drums, inside my mind.   More than that, images of the past come bleeding out, a moving picture of antique glory superimposed upon the ordinariness of daily life. I feel closer to these semi-imaginary dead than I do to my neighbors. After all, these haunted royal shadows have been the constant companions of my chronically uprooted life, from tropical beaches to Cornish cliffs and all the way to this present slough of suburban senior despond. I wonder if, when I'm old and losing what's left of mind, those companionable ghosts will stand by my bed, extend their hands to me.

Juliet Waldron

Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing:  Roan Rose

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Two Hunters

He wants to bring down the stag,

Unaware it’s meant to live.

females are expendable;

young males must live to propagate.


He flings it bleating into a bag

Eyes rolling, tongue askew --


‘it screams like a doe,’ he sneers,

with words that sound right in his ear.

But all his hunting is on video --

he doesn’t know.


I know a man who hunts,

Tracks triangular footprints through sere autumnal fields

Shotgun on shoulder, knife in hand

Taking life as dispassionately as god.


I’m not allowed to hunt by his side,

To steady throbbing neck

for knife’s cold kiss,

To inhale fog, burn landscape on my retina,

Seep cold into my bones,

Watch his broadshouldered back stalk life,

Because he doesn’t want me.


So I unwrap the bag and watch

As he unfolds himself, bolts free.


And now I wait at home,

Brew bitter soups of wormwood, comfrey and rue,

Soothe the fears of old and young

And huddle into winter,

Dreaming of dandelion greens, rose hips,

And blood glittering on grass like a benediction.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Canyon de Chelly

In researching my books for The Dreaming series, I have often been found following the paths of the Virginia Algonquian-speaking Indian tribes. Even though the Anasazi aren't in any of my books, on a recent trip to Arizona, I followed a similar trek because of my mission for studying the Native people. Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning "Ancient Ones." They were the ancestors of the modern day Hopi and Pueblo tribes. The highlight of my trip was a visit to Canyon de Chelly, which is located in the middle of the Navajo Reservation.

Roads wind along the rim of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d'Shay) and nearby Canyon del Muerto. Overlooks provide stop offs to view the canyons and ancient pueblo ruins. Most of the trails are off limits unless one is accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide. One exception to this rule is the White House Ruin trail.

The trail is an improved Anasazi path from the rim that weaves down over 600 feet into the canyon. Part of the trail goes over and around sheer rock with magnificent views, and there are a couple of rock tunnels that give brief relief from the intense sun. Because the return trip uses the same path, it's important to bring water.

At the bottom of the canyon are two cliff dwellings. As with similar historic sites, at one time the ruins were left in the open, but too many tourists decided to take souvenirs, spoiling a hands on view for the rest of us. As a result, the ruins are now fenced off.

The dwellings date to approximately 1200 AD, and the Anasazi reached the upper cliff area with ladders on the roofs from the lower dwellings. Petroglyphs can also be seen. The Anasazi first began growing crops in the canyons about 2500 years ago. Unlike the Navajo farmers of today, the Anasazi didn't have horses or sheep because these domesticated animals, except for dogs and turkeys, were brought by the Spanish. Dogs were kept as guardians, pets, and to pull heavy loads. Turkeys were mainly kept as a source of feathers and as pets. They were also excellent for keeping bugs out of the gardens.

No one really knows why the Anasazi moved from the area, but tree ring dating suggests there was a prolonged drought. Today, tourists can remain in awe of the wondrous dwellings these people built. If I have a chance to go again, I'd love to take a tour from a Navajo guide. Not only would I learn about a more direct account of the Anasazi, including closeup views of other dwellings, but I would hear about the struggles of the Navajo too.

Kim Murphy

Friday, September 7, 2012


We had some good news here yesterday. A deep cool rain brought some hope of survival for parched ground and shriveled plants.
I was given a date for my surgery…
We've been praying for rain-relief after a long dry summer that has turned the fields to blowing dust, and the green lawns into harsh brown mats. The river is lower than it's been for years; revealing rocks rounded as old bones. The geese march across mysterious patterns set in concrete mud. Their hunger overrides their customary caution.
I was given a date for my surgery…
 The trees have been dropping leaves for weeks in a foretaste of the autumn losses. The Mountain Ash we planted a few years ago looks like it won't survive despite weekly watering. Even the cedars, deep rooted in maturity are looking rather haggard.
I was given a date for my surgery…
The days are getting shorter. Conversely the fearful restless nights are even longer. Morning pills are taken now in darkness while waiting for the slow easing of the gloom. With the dawn the thousand contentious sparrows that live in our hedges emerge to share their stories. Do they ever think of winter coming, stone cold ice and snow? … And after that, spring's resurrections?

Friday, August 31, 2012

My Legitimate Rape

At age  18, I take a ride with a guy I kind of know through some friends. We are going to meet up with them at a bonfire by the river. When he pulls into a dark path along the railroad tracks, I know something is wrong. When he turns to me and says, “Get undressed,” time stops and my mind starts racing. Can I outrun him? Where will I go? How will I get home? Then a car going the other way on this narrow lane stops to ask if my driver needs help… with me.  So I am grateful when the other car leaves, and I quickly undress and hope it keeps me safe from something worse. And it does. And I go home.
I sit in my room and decide to just go on as if it didn’t happen, so I don’t hear someone say it was my fault and go insane or kill myself.
At 19, it doesn’t matter who I have sex with. At 32, I get married and I am glad I will be with only one man for the rest of my life. At 34, I sometimes feel uncomfortable having sex with my husband in spite of the fact that I love him very much and trust him consciously.  At 38, I begin to have depression and anxiety attacks and don’t know why. At some point I remember my experience  and start to learn about what that did to me emotionally. I talk to my friends and learn that many of them have been raped. Fathers, uncles, brothers-in-law, step-fathers, boyfriends, even husbands turn out to be rapists. I wonder if I know anyone who hasn’t been raped. I begin to think there might be a potential rapist in every man alive. I study  men and realize it probably isn’t true of them all. Just too damn many. Just one is too damn many.
At 53, I hear a man talk about definitions of rape. I am not surprised by this because some men are what they are – potential rapists. (A man who has neither knowledge nor concern for the health and emotional well-being of women in general is a potential rapist in my estimation.)  I think about what this conversation means to me. My rape was not ‘forcible.’ I wasn’t restrained or beaten. I didn’t get pregnant, but at the time I knew I could have. I felt that God spared me that because I never could have gone for ten months with my rapist still inside me. The fact that people might have said my rape was not legitimate kept me from admitting it to myself. I don’t know how much that had to do with the distortions in my views about sex. I do know that many of my problems are closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder.  And I know now that my rape was ‘legitimate.’
At first I want to grab this man who is having this conversation in the news and rub his face in shit, like a dog that needs to learn a lesson.  Then I want to scream until I can’t scream anymore. But, once again, I stop myself because I don’t want to go insane and kill someone else. And I realize it is all in vain. There will always be men and women who have no concern for others and believe that anything they say is true. Having never experienced rape, they will minimize it and blame it on the victim. And these egomaniacs will say these things and young women will hear them and think that they are right.
I just want a world in which people who care for others and take responsibility for what they say are given equal time to share on a global stage. And I want a world in which every woman knows that rape is whatever she says it is. The rest of the world may not define it the same way, and may not prosecute her rapist – after all, there is no justice for this crime. But rape is anything that defiles her sense of self. And it matters.  And I want every woman who has been raped to tell another woman, and make sure she understands. So we can heal.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lactation in the '60's

I wanted to breastfeed for many reasons, even though it was a minority choice in 1965 America. First, I’d heard horror stories from one of my aunts whose babies were allergic  to all but the most exotic formulas. Second, it was an “old-fashioned” choice, and my love of all things  “historical” was in this case a powerful motivator. Moreover, my husband and I—both of us 19-- were receiving grudging charity from relatives. Money was in short supply, and so breastfeeding also seemed a practical notion, a cost-saver and proof of commitment.

Fortunately, a lovely lady Chris had baby-sat for let me borrow her copy of the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, from the La Leche League, or my knowledge, when my son was born, would have been just what I could glean from reading the few pages devoted to it in Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care. There was a battlefield aspect to a decision to breast feed back then, which started on the delivery table where, as soon as my baby delivered, a nurse came at me with a needle.

“What’s that for?”

 “To dry up your milk, honey.”

“No thank-you. I’m going to breast feed.”

 Long pause, hostile glare. “You wait! You’ll be sorry.”

You probably won’t get this out-front negativity from a delivery room nurse today, but there remain plenty of obstacles to nursing. First and foremost, I think, is the easy availability of formula. Formula is much improved over fifty years back, when they were just beginning to pre-package it. The hospital sent me home with twenty-four 4 ounce bottles—just in case.  As I’d never even held a baby before I took this one home, I was understandably unsure about my ability to handle the job.

I’d had my baby in a Boston Woman’s clinic and roomed with seven other women who’d also just given birth. We had curtains which could be pulled for privacy. Nurses brought me my baby at the appointed time—every four hours--and I’d  stare at him, wondering when the milk would come. Poor guy—he lived on sugar water for a couple of days. Finally, as both baby and I wept, an elderly nurse came in to ask me what was wrong. I was afraid my milk would never come, I said—this with boobs like rocks and a steady leaking of something creamy. The nurse said, “That’s it, honey. The colostrum! Here, do this...” and she helped me get my boy latched on.

When we left the rigid routine of the hospital—five days, back then--things got easier. I could pick my son up whenever he cried, and as feeding was about all I knew to comfort him, he was fed. My husband still had a scale on which he’d weighed his model airplanes, and this was now pressed into service for the baby. We still had a bottle bred fear that he wasn’t getting enough, simply because we couldn’t see milk going in. The scale, my husband reasoned, would solve this. We would weigh him before, and again after, he nursed. It didn’t take long to lose our fear that we might starve him. Sometimes he would gain as little as three ounces, but more usually, he’d gain five or six.

Early on I had a cracked nipple, but I used a salve made of sheep’s lanolin, and, as La Leche League instructed, carried on through the pain. A public health nurse who came for the first couple of weeks was encouraging and helped me through that.  Our apartment—this was during the hottest summer in Boston in 90 years—was crisscrossed with laundry line, on which I dried one or the other of my two nursing bras and a host of pocket handkerchiefs which were doing duty as nursing pads. (You could find pads back in 1965, but again, they were expensive.) We were saving Chris’ small salary—he was in charge of a mini-computer at a bank--to help him get back to college, and also paying our apartment and food expenses.

How proud I felt the day I gave my bottles of formula to the gal across the street for her baby! It may seem like a small thing now, but, despite the cloud of cultural doubt which surrounded women who nursed in those days, successful breastfeeding represented a big step toward self-reliance in my new role as a mother.

Monday, August 13, 2012

You Have to be Tough to Get Old

A Guest Post from BWL Author,
Lorrie Unites-Struiff

Many of us Crones have (or are working through) this one. The kids grow up and leave but your caregiving responsibilities are far from over. Suddenly, unexpectedly, you find yourself in charge of one or both of your parents, or, maybe even your spouse.

For some people, “The Golden Years” are not the relaxing, traveling and fun years televisions and magazines say will be ours when we become seniors. Many have said this to me. Now I find myself in full agreement.

My mother had Parkinson’s and I took care of her in my home for three years. Eventually came the time I could no longer help her and placed her in a care home. She died six months later on Christmas Day.

Two months ago, I had to place my husband in a care home. I could no longer take care of him properly, even with the help of in-home hospice care. You see, he has Alzheimer’s, COPD, ruptured disks in his back and horrible stenosis of the spine. Together, these diseases cause him much pain, and sometimes he falls when he walks. I couldn’t pick him up, nor knew what would happen next in the middle of the night with his Alzheimer at home.

I’m sure many of you have gone through this and know what I’m writing about. As he got worse, I became scared, exhausted, tired of the arguments, and so much more. I couldn’t function as a human being anymore.

Now, I go visit him almost every day. The care home I chose happens to be a very nice one. I see how the staff treats the other patients with kindness and smiles. At times, they must use the sternness of authority. But never in an unkind manner.

When I enter the home, I see John lying in his horizontal wheelchair who can’t move a muscle except for his mouth, and I watch the uncontrollable movement of his arms and hands.  He’s such a sweet guy who loves when I sit near him and we talk. He smiles and we have a small conversation until his wife comes in to sit by his side. He has a great attitude. Jane appreciates me taking the time and is such a sad woman. We chat occasionally. We are both visiting a loved one here every day; it makes us sisters in sorrow.

There is Mary, curled up on a couch in the big living room, sound asleep. The other couches and chairs are occupied by men and women in various degrees of  withdrawal and illness. Some stay in their rooms. A man goes by with a walker that has a bunny rabbit attached to the grip. He looks so mean, but is really nice and says hello to everyone.

And oh, there is Sally who is seventy-five years old. She came into my hubby’s room one day and asked if I had a phone. She said she had to call her husband to make sure he picked up their young son after school. I told her I didn’t have a phone. Five minutes later, she returned with the same question. I gave the same answer. The next time she came into the room, I immediately told her I didn’t have a phone. Sally put her hands on her hips, gave a snort, and said, “How did you know what I was going to ask?”

Minnie the Moocher, as she is called, is always asking visitors for cigarettes. If you bring in a big bottle of soda pop, she’ll come in with a glass of ice and ask for some. How can you say no?

They all wear ankle bracelets that set off alarms if they open an outside door. Then you see the aides come running.

When my grandchildren go to visit Pap, our eighteen-year-old grandson likes to walk the unsteady patients down the halls and back. Did I tell you I’m proud of him? My seven-year-old granddaughter feels it’s her duty to go around and give everyone a loving hug. Seeing the patients’ eyes light up when she does it is a joy. Then we have our seven-month-old bruiser of a baby boy whom everyone wants to hold.

My daughter will allow it, but she keeps a steady two hands on him while they do, for safties sake. He’s a lively baby but endures the handling by strangers and gives them big smiles.

These, my friends, are not the “Golden Years.” They are the sorrowful years to watch your loved ones fade away slowly. My aunt has a saying with which I will end my story:

“You have to be a tough bird to get old.”

Lorrie Unites-Struiff—author

Gypsy Blood available at Amazon.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Civil War Doctor

Mary Walker
Even during a sesquicentennial year, most people think of battles and generals when the Civil War is mentioned. Like all wars, it seems that women are all but forgotten. Originally, I had planned on blogging about the roles of women during the war, but I discovered the topic was too broad. Many of the heroic women deserve their own story. Last time, I wrote about a female soldier, and I'll continue with Dr. Mary Walker. She was the only woman who served as a surgeon and was the highest ranking female during the war. She is also the only woman in history to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Born in New York, she wasn't the first woman to graduate from medical school, but she was the only woman to graduate in her class of 1855. She married another medical student and kept her maiden name, which was very much against tradition during the era. She and her husband set up a practice together. Like many feminists of her time, she began wearing bloomers and tossed out her corset.

After four years of marriage, Dr. Walker and her husband separated. Divorce was almost unheard of, so years passed before it became finalized. In the meantime, she moved to Iowa. When the war broke out, she volunteered for the Union Army. In the 1860s, no female doctors existed in the army, and she was allowed to practice as a nurse.

The war dragged on, and Dr. Walker went to the battlefields of Tennessee, where General Thomas accepted her as a surgeon. Men of all ranks protested. In spite of the complaints, she was commissioned as a first lieutenant and assistant surgeon. She frequently crossed enemy lines to give aid to civilians. In April 1864, she was captured by the Confederates.

As a prisoner of war, Dr. Walker was sent to Richmond, Virginia. Later in the year, she was included in prisoner-of-war exchanges and released. Afterward, she worked in a female prison in Kentucky and a war-related orphanage in Tennessee. At the war's end, she was awarded the Medal of Honor for her service.

After the war, Dr. Walker went on the lecture circuit tirelessly working for women's suffrage and other women's rights. She had taken to wearing men's clothing and was arrested for it on several occasions. Ahead of her time, she was often considered too extreme by many of the well known suffragists.

In 1917, the U.S. Congress created a pension for Medal of Honor receivers, and in doing so, they withdrew the awards from many of the recipients. Dr. Walker's award was one of those withdrawn, but she continued to wear her medal for the rest of her life. She died two years later. Despite the controversy surrounding her choices, she remained proud of her achievements as a physician and women's rights advocate.

In 1977, Dr. Walker was posthumously rewarded with the reinstatement of her Medal of Honor.

Kim Murphy

Friday, July 27, 2012

Crone-within Whispers


Living with trees Crone-like enjoying days/nights of freedom
Betwixt and between  Past/future. There/then
Listening to silence, to birds, to squirrel chatter
Noticing leaf green, tender green, cedar green, spruce green
Shade green, muted green, shifting towards grey
Early morning cool green shadows under leaf shaded skies
Robin song, haze blue, breeze blue
Crow calling, hawk circling
Once, twice.
Pup moves to my side.
Last defiant call, close, close.
Pup quivers.
Later a trail of large bronze feathers
 tell the rest of the story
Somewhere young foxes have
 full bellies, bright eyes, a splash of red.
Crone-within whispers
cycles circle round