Monday, September 28, 2009


[Photo: February 2008, MOMA museum reflection self portrait in a shiny airstream trailer included in an exhibit. Would a magpie be attracted to a shiny airstream? For sure a peacock would...they love to preen or maybe fight their reflections.]

Let's go back a bit. It's March, I think, 1999. I don't have any online journals from then and I can't find any computer files from this time. I have typed in some paper journals from the '90's but none include this exact time period. So the following is from memory. Faulty, faulty memory.

I was reminded this morning of magpies when I read one of my favorite online journals and John Bailey posted a little haiku (or, at least a poem, I never remember poetry rules) in today's entry that involved a magpie.

Anyway, it's March 1999. I am in a rehab center in the Denver area with my parents, visiting my sister. There is snow outside and there are large black and white birds flying around. It's pretty. Those birds were magpies and they were the first I'd ever seen. I'd heard people called magpies because they were attracted to every shiny object that came along. But I guess I'd never looked the bird up in a book and seen how striking the bird was, large and black and white. I wished I had a picture of them against the snow. My dad enjoyed seeing them, too, and knew what they were I think. He loves nature and new things and always loved seeing things and going places where you might see something new.

The life of our immediate family had undergone a sea change in the December before (1998). My sister had suffered a cranial aneurysm. By a miraculous chain of events she got to the hospital and survived a repair of it. Unfortunately she developed subsequent ischemic strokes and suffered some brain damage and partial paralysis during three weeks of ICU. Now she was in a rehab facility learning to walk again and use her right arm and undergoing cognitive therapy and such. My parents were old enough at this point (they were 77 and 82) that I vetoed them visiting my sister for months. My brother-in-law and my grown nieces were providing the support my sister needed. They didn't need to worry about old folks falling on an icy patch, etc. This had made for a solemn Christmas at our house in Austin. As I remember it we got continued news of complications from Denver. We did the little things that make a holiday (eating, drinking, working a jigsaw puzzle, exchanging gifts) but our minds were on my sister for sure. My parents had trouble swallowing that she was so ill. Parents never expect to see their children in that condition, even if the child is fifty-five.

Finally, in March they were set on visiting my sister in rehab. Of course, it was still winter in Denver. I was still working. I must have taken some vacation. I arranged for us to fly up there and rent a car and stay in a hotel. I determined that I'd look after the parents so as not to interfere with my brother-in-law and nieces, all ready if not overwhelmed by the now months of the ordeal at least not needing another thing to worry about. I don't remember if I flew to Dallas and met my parents there. I do remember renting the car and getting a Subaru Forrester with four wheel drive. The weather wasn't bad. A little snow, no blizzards or really slick roads. I delivered my parents from door to door.

I remember being so glad to actually talk to my sister and see that she still had her voice (although its timber and pace was changed forever), lots of cognitive ability and a drive to get better. The insurance company was trying to dismiss her from rehab as having recovered as much as possible (before she walked again, which she has been able to do for the last decade) and when an insurance rep visited, she reached up with her right hand to shake hands with the woman. The woman did a little double take, knowing it was a left brain injury but having read that she wouldn't recover use of her right side. Sure my sisters arm and hand were weak and spastic but she lifted it from the sheets toward the woman's hand. (She got her reprieve and learned to walk with a cane and use her right arm more.) Dad accompanied her to one therapy session and my mom, niece and I chatted in the room. We somehow started talking about a relative who had divorced and were trying to remember the first spouse's name or something like that. We could not remember. We asked my sister when she came back. She knew right away. OK, I thought, a lot of long term memory intact. Still it hurt to watch her struggle to play checkers on a giant board with Velcro pieces.

When you are in the midst of a struggle like that, if focuses your attention. We'd been feeling that even hundreds of miles away but up close we joined the local relatives in a scenario that heightened everything going on with one woman's therapy and dampened everything outside that reality.

Then I looked out the window and saw the magpies. My dad identified them, probably. Maybe he told a story about seeing magpies somewhere before. The world outside intruded on our myopic view. Things might not get better but they would change and there was a world outside this crisis.


Louis said...

This is a very nice piece of writing.

Linda Ball said...

Thanks, Louis. I meant to look up magpie in the dictionary as part of what I loosely call 'research' while I was writing. Well, I did later and I saw one definition: "an incessantly talkative person; noisy chatterer; chatterbox"; that immediately made me fear that someone else would know that and compare me to it! Instead, I get this supportive comment from you. Made my day!

Susan Gatlin said...

Thank your sharing your family's story and hope your sister is doing better now. The magpie poem reminds me of my mother somehow, always writing poems, not attracted to shiny things much. Just noticing things other people didn't. I think that's a bit of you, too. Thanks

Linda Ball said...

My sister is doing about the same which is to say that her life changed but she survived and can walk (albeit with a cane) and do many things.

Annie in Austin said...

Your story stands on its own as a fine piece of writing, Linda, but the medical details bring back memories from the 1970's, when my husband's mother suffered a cranial aneurysm and amazed the doctors just by surviving. There was improvement, but the family dynamics changed forever.

I love your photo - maybe there's a kind of Remedios Varo thing going on with the background patterns and body angle?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose