A Surgery Surprise

Mary Oliver

Mary J. Oliver, July 29, 2011

As I reported in my post Life Postponed this January, I haven’t been feeling well for quite awhile.  I finally did get in to see a surgeon on February 21 for a consult. He promised to   call the following week to set up  gall bladder surgery sometime in the near future.

My body couldn’t wait that long.  I had a horrific flare-up on Friday, February 24.  The pain was almost unbearable in the afternoon, but  I “toughed it out” that night.   I have a high tolerance for pain, which has not worked in my favor this time in my life.

Saturday morning I woke up with a fever, so I phoned the on-call nurse.  She told me to report to urgent care, where I was seen very quickly. After an interview, an EKG, check-up and blood tests, the doctor spoke to Dave and me.  He said my white blood cell count and bilirubin was way up and I needed to report to the emergency room.  I thought, “Well, I’m finally going to get this ugly old organ outta me!  It may be a more expensive way, but it will be OVER!”  We were pleased that I was getting the attention I needed.  After an ultrasound of the gall bladder area, I was admitted to the hospital and hooked up to several IVS.

It took a day or so to get my blood count and bilirubin in better zones.  Once this was settled, I went to surgery at 8:40 a.m., Monday, February 27.  Surgery to remove the gall bladder is usually a one hour operation.  When I woke up in the recovery room, there were two nurses hovering around me.  Even without my glasses, I could see the clock hands pointing to noon.   Too woozy to fully take that in, Dave joined us on our journey to room 731 at St. Joseph’s Hospital–where my sister and I were born, where one of my sons-in-law was born, where my mother died 22 years ago, where my youngest grandchild was born almost six years ago.

Dave was a acting weird.  He was pacing the floor, stretching his limbs and finding it hard to sit still.  He told me that Dr. Panian, the surgeon, would be in very soon to talk to me about the surgery.  Meanwhile, I was chattering away about the Academy Awards ceremony I watched the night before.  I generally hate awards television, but it was the only show available on the hospital network that I was even remotely interested in.

Dr. Panian arrived around one o’clock.  He told me that the operation had been much more difficult than expected because the gall bladder had become hard, dried out and fused on one side to the stomach wall and the other side to the duodenum.  He had to enlarge the slits for the laparoscopic surgery.  With the laparoscope he detected a spread of cancer cells from the gall bladder to the side of the abdomen and across the duodenum.  Considering the sites where the cancer had spread, this was an inoperable cancer.  My prognosis, with palliative chemotherapy, is one to two years.

Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bl...

Anatomy of liver and gall bladder

Image via Wikipedia


Dr. Panian had talked to my husband after the surgery, so Dave knew all of this. He  had volunteered to tell me, so Dave had tried to mask the knowledge and keep me as “Mary, who did not know she had cancer,” as long as possible.

One side of my brain doesn’t think it is real, but the rest of me feels assaulted by bad karma.  I feel cheated out of the opportunity to grow old with Dave–which we had promised ourselves when we got married almost 16 years ago. I don’t want to leave my two daughters now that we are in fulfilling times in our lives.  I want to watch my three grandchildren grow up.  I still have plans and projects that I will not see through to the end. I will miss the change of seasons, my cats, the wildlife around me.  I’m not ready to leave yet.

Covered Bridge near Yellow Springs, Ohio

We will be talking to the oncologist this week to decide the course of therapy.  My nasty old gall bladder had placed me at the bottom of the surgery list.  My cancerous gall bladder puts me right at the top.  It is unusual to have gall bladder cancer at all, but a 64-year-old having it is very strange.  Dr. Panian told us the only cases he encountered were in women in their mid-seventies.

I am fortunate to have a loving husband and sister, as well my daughters, relatives, friends and friends of friends to offer up prayers and good wishes.  In the midst of tragedy, there are blessings.

Yellow Crocus between bricks


A Blogging Award!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that jeandayfriday nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award!  It is my first award for blogging and I’m very pleased that my New Year’s promise to write and promote my blog more this year has produced a positive result.

I have a few friends who are contemplating starting a blog.  I’ve advised them to do what I have started doing this year:

  • Write regular posts.
  • Read and follow other blogs.
  • Like and comment on the blogs you read.  It’s like “bread cast upon the water.”  This active participation includes you in a special blogging community.
  • Use WordPress.org!  I have been very pleased with the ease of using the WordPress platform, as well as the quality of blogs I’ve found here.

Thank you,  jeandayfriday, for awarding my blog the Versatile Blogger Award.  It has been a pleasure following your blog and I appreciate you recognizing mine.

The rules for this reward can be found at the Versatile Blogger Award blog.   The first rule is to share seven facts about myself that may not be known to people who follow my blog.  Hmmmm…  That might be hard to do since family members, as well as online-only friends, read my blog, but let’s see what I can come up with…

  1.  I was a girly-girl when I was little.  I loved all my dolls, stuffed toys and wind-up toys that, in those days, required a detachable key.  My sister and I kept track of all the keys in a special can.  My first doll was named Lima Bean because I loved that particular legume.  I used to drag her around by her hair.
  2. I am a Denver, Colorado native.  That may not astound people who do not know this state, but it is comes up often in conversations.  Just yesterday the dental tech brushing my teeth asked me if I was a Denver native.  I answered, “ys ilnk ws bne hrjghj,” because her buzzing toothbrush was in my mouth.
  3. When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to become a translator at the U.N. I began with Latin in junior high and took it for four more years. I started Russian in high school, followed by German the next year.  I continued with German and Russian for another year in college.  Once I was asked to speak the modern languages, not just read and write them, I figured out I wouldn’t become a translator.  I was way too shy and self-conscious!
  4. I taught Air Force Effective Writing at Bitburg AFB in Germany when I was 22 years old and wife of a sergeant.  The class was designed to help Air Force personnel write performance reports and other written communication with good grammar and appropriate language.  I was given a slide projector, a carousel full of slides and a cassette player with the dialog that accompanied the slides and expected to fill two hours a day for two weeks.  The class included staff sergeants to colonels, every one of them older than I was at the time.  Some of them had master’s degrees—while I had just graduated from college a year before with a degree in elementary education.  Let’s just say, I earned every penny I was paid, which was about $300.00.
  5. The townhouse my husband and I have lived in for over fifteen years is the longest either of us lived anywhere (house-wise that is) in our entire lives.
  6. I have owned 11 cats in my life.  Two of them are in my household right now.  There have been 6 male cats and 5 females over the years.  In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a cat fancier—but I’m not crazy and I don’t take the magazine [Cat Fancy].
  7. I LOVE British costume dramas!  I can’t get enough of them, including DOWNTOWN ABBEY.

The next rule asks that I nominate new awardees with the Versatile Blogger Award.    I hope that I have picked bloggers who have not already been recognized!

50 Things Before I Turn 50           Much more than a bucket list.

Before Morning Breaks               Chuckles, giggles and laughs!

The Nature of Things                    Great photography and writing

For the Love of Pete                      Flash Fiction, Vintage-Themed Stories, Photos

Going the Distance                        Family, Faith, Healing

Older Eyes                                     Creativity, Writing, Aging

Stories I Share With Friends           Writing, History, Reflections, Happiness

the single cell                                  Writing, Opinion, Humor

Thoughts, Ideas, Words                  Family, Aging, Genealogy

Pam’s Planet                                  Change, Family, Loss

These Are Days                              Life, Change, Photography

Granny1947’s  Blog                        Humor, Photography, Aging

Stories About My Life                      Memoir/Blog, Nostalgia

Seasweetie’s Pages                        Change, Photography, Gratitude

Thanks to jeandayfriday and a recommendation to read/follow any, or all, of these blogs!

Why three hedgehogs?

Harris family coat of arms

I am closing my family history blog titled Three Hedgehogs and Other Family History Oddities.  I don’t have time for two blogs I discovered, so I’m moving the few posts here to my established blog.  You might wonder about the blog name, so here is the post that explains it:

I don’t mind if you wonder about my choice of hedgehogs as a title for a genealogy and family history blog.  I know they are cute and very popular–who can resist their little faces and their spiky outsides?  They don’t look fierce, like they are going to bite you.  Furthermore, they can run quickly and roll up into little balls when chased.

When I discovered there are three hedgehogs on the Harris family shield, I was  puzzled.  Where are the lions, tigers, bears or horses?  Bulldogs maybe, or wolves–but hedgehogs?  Relatives of the shrew and the mole? What is grand and mighty about them?   After googling the word hedgehogs,  I found out rather quickly.

In ancient Greece, the poet Archilochus established what has become  known as “The Hedgehog Concept.”  That is, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  Lyn T. Christian writes an excellent description of the theory.  She bases her summary on Isaiah Berlin’s application of this idea to writers and thinkers, in his 1957 essay, “The Fox and The Hedgehog.”  This essay was later extended to successful businesses in Jim Collins’s best-selling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, HarperBusiness, 2001.

“The essence of the hedgehog concept lies in the two animal’s unique qualities. While a fox is very cunning, fast, sleek and crafty, the hedgehog is a waddling, frumpy looking compact armadillo/porcupine mix. The fox, as Berlin writes, knows many various useful strategies. The fox can wait for perfect moments to pounce on its prey. It can devise complex plans of attack and maneuvering. The hedgehog knows only one big thing. It knows how to stop, drop, and roll up into a tiny impenetrable ball of spikes. Anytime a hedgehog senses danger it does this one big thing impeccably well. The hedgehog in the long-run triumphs over the foxes of the world.” (Lyn T. Christian, 2003, soulsalt.com)

You can apply the hedgehog concept to your life.  Described as “Simplicity Within the Three Circles,” here are the three questions to ask yourself.   They are from  chapter five of Collins’s book.  Use these to  find your “inner hedgehogs.”

1) Determine what you can be best in the world at and what you cannot be best in the world at;
2) Determine what drives your economic engine;
3) Determine what you are deeply passionate about.

I plan to do this and write the results in a later blog entry.

Hundreds of years ago, when the Harris ancestors developed this shield, the hedgehog fable must have been passed around in tales told around the Great Room fire.  I like the idea that my ancient ancestors respected the simple strengths of this prickly creature.  Hedgehogs are more than cute!  They are small, but mighty in their unique way.

When I Was Annie Oakley

Oakley circa 1899

the real Annie Oakley Image via Wikipedia

“Aim at the high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.”   — Annie Oakley

One of our favorite programs on PBS is American Experience. If you are not aware of this program, let me highly recommend it for excellent, in-depth American history features.  During January 2012 the theme was The American West.  Some of the weekly shows included George Armstrong Custer, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and my childhood idol, Annie Oakley.

I discovered Annie in the early days of television.  The show Annie Oakley premiered in 1954, when I was seven.  I was crazy about her and believed everything portrayed on the show—that she was a deputy sheriff, had a younger brother, Tagg, and was a great sharp shooter.  I even had Annie Oakley pajamas!  My dad always claimed they would keep me up all night with all the horse ridin’ and guns a-blazin’.

Aunt Emily visiting from Illinois, with Beth and Mary Julia 1954 I believed I was Annie Oakley!

A few years later, a Sunday supplement to our newspaper featured an article about the REAL Annie Oakley. [see picture above] Was I horrified!  She wasn’t a cute lady with pigtails wearing buckskins!  She looked very plain—even ugly—compared to Gail Davis, the actress who portrayed her on TV.  That was the end of Annie Oakley for me!

Gail Davis as Annie Oakley

Fortunately, American Experience featured a wonderful biography of my forgotten heroine a couple of weeks ago.  It reignited my admiration for this woman.  Annie was born in 1860 to a Quaker family in Greenville, Ohio, and endured a poverty stricken childhood after the death of her father.  She was put out to work very early in life and suffered considerable rough treatment until she finally returned to her family and honed her sharpshooting skills.  She supported her family from the age of nine by shooting game.   Possessing superior eye-hand coordination and a sturdy grip, she could out shoot every man around her.

Annie was a petite 5 feet tall and only 15 years old when she went to Cincinnati to participate in a sharpshooting contest where she met and out shot Frank Butler, a well-known sharpshooter.  They were both attracted to one another, married and traveled the vaudeville circle as a shooting act.  Eventually they joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and traveled the world with horses, buffalo, American Indians, teepees, cowboys and other sharpshooters.

Approx. second half of 1880s poster showing An...

Wild West posterImage via Wikipedia

Annie was one of the featured members of the Wild West Show because she was so small, and feminine, yet amazingly competent with a gun.  Unlike some of the other acts with women, she always dressed conservatively in clothes that she made.  They covered her body and accentuated her ladylike personality, even though she could shoot better than anyone else, male or female.  She always had a star on her cowboy hat and shooting metals displayed across her bodice.

As her acclaim grew, she used her reputation to promote charity for young women, widows and orphans and advocated that women learn to handle guns and shoot straight.   She was quoted as saying, “I would like to see every woman know how to handle [firearms] as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”  So many women took her advice that she was able to offer President McKinley the services of “50 lady sharp shooters” should a war between Spain and America occur.

In 1902 Annie and Frank left the Wild West show for a quieter life.  Annie took up acting in a play written for her.  She continued to enter shooting competitions and winning.  In her later years she suffered two series injuries that could have ended her shooting career.   One was a spinal injury obtained in a train wreck, the other a leg injury in a car accident.  Both times she overcame the injuries and returned to sharpshooting in contests.

Annie cherished her hard earned reputation.  When the Hearst Corporation spread an untrue story about Annie Oakley being arrested for stealing to support her cocaine habit, she fought it in the courts.   In fact, an actress claiming to be “Annie Oakley” was arrested for this crime, but she had given a false name.  Annie took part in 55 court cases for libel to clear her name, which she did at considerable cost to her time and finances.

Annie Oakley continued her sharp shooting into her sixties.  She died in 1926 from pernicious anemia at the age of 66.  “After traveling through fourteen foreign countries and appearing before all the royalty and nobility I have only one wish today. That is that when my eyes are closed in death that they will bury me back in that quiet little farm land where I was born.”  Indeed, she was.

Annie Oakley, with a gun Buffalo Bill gave her

Image via Wikipedia

Annie Oakley is a relevant role model for today’s woman.   She took charge of her life and lived it with integrity and pride.  She encouraged women to be more than the role that had been defined for them.  She worked to improve the lives of women and children who were impoverished.  She gave encouragement and material help to young women who needed it.  She never compromised herself.  I was wise when I chose to admire her at the age of seven.  I wish I had not let a bad picture discourage me from finding out more about the real person behind the invented legend.

Annie Oakley

She actually was an attractive woman! Image via Wikipedia

The E. E. Rockfields in New York City, 1904

Mayme Rockfield with first born daughter, Louise 1909

Mary (Mayme) Egan Horne   30 Nov 1879–26 Feb 1974    

Everett Earl Rockfield   21 Feb 1879–2 May 1943

Everett Edward Rockfield, abt 1899

My grandparents were married in August 1903.  The wedding was held in Columbus, Ohio.  Both Mayme and Ev were in their mid-twenties and the next-to-the-youngest and youngest members of their respective large families.

After their wedding, Ev got a job in NYC working for Railway Express.  What an adventure this would be for a newly married couple that had never ventured outside of Ohio!  They packed their wedding gifts and clothing in steamer trunks and headed east.

The Rockfield's New York City apartment, 1904

Mayme must have had great fun decorating their first home in the latest fashion.  These were still Victorian times, so lots of “stuff” was required.  A cozy corner was a must in the interior design of the day.

In the first picture, note the curtain on a rod stretched across an alcove.  A lamp is placed on an upended trunk.  Framed family pictures are hidden in the dark of the enclosure, but would be illuminated by the lamp when lighted.  Another trunk has been placed horizontally in front of the vertical trunk with more of the curtains thumbtacked on to it.  I doubt if this corner was designed for actual sitting—except for the cat!

Pillows are scattered around with casual elegance.   Some are lacy, others stamped with Gibson girl portraits and others covered in silk.  Patterns abound!  One floral carpet has been laid over another floral carpet while another floral pattern covers the walls and a different one adorns the ceiling.

Two swords are crossed at the top of the display.  Mayme’s father attained the rank of Captain with the Union army during the Civil War, so one of the swords is his.  Everett was a Mason and became a Knight Templar, so the other sword belongs to him.

Two decorative columns hold classical busts, one adorned with beads around its neck.  A classic Gibson girl framed picture hangs on the wall.

English: Pen and ink drawing of the Gibson Gir...

classic Gibson Girl Image via Wikipedia

In front of the display two fencing swords are crossed and two fencing masks sit behind the swords, one of which is upended.  I suspect the cat!  Most surprising is the rumpled rug.  Again I suspect the cat, sitting in blurry elegance on a pillow in the cozy corner.

Mayme saved this cat from certain death when she dashed into the apartment to drag her out from under the bed after someone threw a firecracker through the window and set the apartment on fire.

The second picture shows a large portrait of Mayme’s parents in the mid-1860s shortly before their wedding.  A restored version of that picture hangs in my stairwell.  Another framed family portrait is displayed as well, with the busy cat on another column stand.  A decorative cloth is arranged on the hearth and more photos reflected in the mirror.

The vase was a wedding gift.  That vase still survives.  I remember it in my home from childhood.  My mother hated the vase when she was a little girl and tried to break it.  Fortunately, it survived the attack and has graced a home in our family ever since.

I’ve always enjoyed these pictures and the little peek into my grandparents’ lives at the beginning of the last century.

I’m grateful that my mother saved them and took the time to tell me about it and add little notes for

My Love/Hate Relationship With Facebook

facebook engancha

Image via Wikipedia

My Facebook timeline informs me that I joined up on November 19, 2008.  Since then I have had a love/hate relationship with this social site.  I joined because my grownup daughters talked about it all the time and communicated a lot through their posts.  They also posted pictures that I would never have received until I became a user as well.

  • I love posting on their walls and downloading pictures.  It is easier for them and for me to be on FB because there is an easy, central location for sharing.  Of course, we have other communication resources as well nowadays, i.e. our smartphones!
  • I love finding old friends and keeping up with relatives on FB.  That has been fun for me, even if we don’t write lengthy private emails (something that we can also do on FB!).  We keep up with each other’s activities, and acknowledge life’s ups and downs.  I was especially pleased when my sister joined in May 2011!
  • I love the fan pages where we can like a movie, book, celebrity or television show as well as causes, hobbies or other interests.  Many of these likes mean updates and opportunities to share unique points of view or “funnies” on our FB page.
  • I love being able to link my blog to my FB page so that people who do not ordinarily read blogs can catch up with my latest posts.  I also like being able to share a post from a newspaper or NPR on my FB page.

There are probably more reasons I enjoy FB, but I can’t think of them right now.  This list covers the most important points, however.  To summarize the reasons I love Facebook:  it provides a template for sharing where I am in my life at this moment in time.  The new timeline layout does this especially well.

As far as my hate relationship, I don’t have that many to list.

  • I hate how it hooks into my childhood and teenage mentality.  I thought I’d grown beyond worrying about how many “friends” I have or how “popular” I am.  Unfortunately, no.  I’m not a highly social person and have never been, even as a child.  I always had one or two close friends and that was it.  I’m not shy, but I am an introvert.  The things I like to do are mainly solitary—reading, knitting, writing (blogging), needle felting.  People know who I am, but do not consider me a friend necessarily.  Nevertheless, in low moments I have looked for “friends” to fill out my numbers.  It amazes me how many friend requests I have made that have never been answered!  Then I wonder, “What is wrong with me?  I only have 35 friends, and so-and-so has 100!”
  • I hate the moments when I want to clean out my “friends” list.  What perversity!  I feel competition to plump up my numbers, and then complain about people who are not really “friends.”   I do have people on my list who never respond to posts on their walls or personal messages from me.  I visit their pages and they seldom, if ever, posted at all.  Maybe they are too busy, or they are only there because their kids are.  I think this urge to cull the list comes from the part of me that is so like my father—exactitude.  How can you call someone a friend if you never communicate with that person?  If that person never communicates with you?  One of my daughters suggested that people may like reading my page, but they don’t respond.  I think, “They could at least “like” a post or a status update!”  That’s what I do unless I don’t agree with or approve of a post.  In the end, I am who I am.  I review each person every few months and end up “unfriending” one or two.  I guess it is a good thing I don’t have 100 “friends” after all.

A few other reasons I have “unfriended” a person on Facebook, besides non-communication:

  • writing every post in capital letters–like they are shouting!
  • profanity
  • constant internet game updates

To summarize my hate relationship with Facebook—it is a social site and has its social ups and downs.  In the end, there are far more reasons to be there than not.

Now that you know about my FB relationship, you can friend me at:


Maybe you have some reasons of your own for “unfriending” a  FB friend.  Please share!

Some blog posts that inspired this blog post:



Life Postponed

Family and close friends know that I have not been feeling well for several months now.  Actually, it has been about six months since I have started suffering from digestive problems that have become more severe as time passes.

When Dave and I returned from our Oregon trip in late September, I knew I had a bladder infection.   I waited about a week before going to the doctor because we got home right around my birthday.  I wanted to visit with a friend from out of town. The next day my older daughter treated me to a birthday brunch. The following day my other daughter and my granddaughter treated me to High Tea at the Brown Palace Hotel.  Then it really WAS my birthday, so Dave and I celebrated on THE day. By that time, the infection was severe and I ended up on a 14-day course of Cipro.  The medication worked, even though at times it felt like a case of the treatment being worse than the ailment!

When I received the word that I was okay, I began my exercise regimen at the fitness center and was feeling good.   Three weeks into my workout schedule, I noticed sharp pains in my right side.  Indigestion had not gone away once the bladder infection was cured, so I now suffered from severe nausea, the sharp pains in my side and back and terrible heartburn.

All of these symptoms cropped up as the holiday season began.   Their severity varied, so I adjusted my diet and decided to ride out the holiday season.  If I had something seriously wrong with me, I wanted to postpone knowing about it until after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and my older daughter’s early January birthday.  Holidays are such a hustle and bustle under normal conditions, why complicate things?

I proclaim today, the 21st of January, that delaying is not a good idea.  When I finally got in to see my physician, the medical offices were as crowded as the post office before Christmas.  Everyone in my part of town had postponed medical appointments like I did.  Added to that, many new enrollees in my medical plan arrived for checkups, prescriptions or blood tests.  A few days later I was in radiology for a CAT scan.  It was crowded there as well.

The results of my test showed gall bladder problems, a blockage in the duct between my gall bladder and pancreas, a thickening of the gall bladder wall, inflammation and fluids where they shouldn’t be.  Okay, I already suspected gall bladder trouble, so I wasn’t surprised.  Let’s take care of it!

Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bl...

A "sausage" view of the innards I'm writing about...I never was curious about it until now! Image via Wikipedia

My Doc sent a referral to Gastroenterology and I called to make an appointment.  The first available appointment is February 21st!  When the scheduling nurse told me that, I said, “You are kidding!  What if this gets worse before then?”  Her reply was, “Go to the emergency room if the pain increases or if you begin vomiting.  You can always call about cancellations between now and your appointment.”  I waited for her to say, “Good luck!”  She didn’t.

I have called every weekday since.  I set my iPhone alarm to ring its most annoying sound, reminding me to speed dial Gastroenterology.  I know my medical id number by heart.  Pretty soon the staff will know my voice and my request.  They are unfailingly polite and friendly.  I feel rather ghoulish calling so much, waiting for a time to open up.  If one does, is it because someone else went to the emergency room—or died?

What has this taught me?   Don’t postpone medical problems.  Everyone else does, so you will be with the pack rather than ahead of it.   Now I find myself putting my life on hold as I wait for surgery and to finally feel better.

Wanna-Be Cowboys

Today my younger daughter, Jennifer, and my three grandchildren are visiting the National Western Stock Show .  I guess I should have been more diligent about taking my daughters, Jennifer and Julianne, to the Stock Show every January when they were young since Jen considers it a yearly event for her daughter.  She values the experience for her child and enjoys it enough to take her two nephews as well on a rare day off.

Julia, Andrew and Beck at the National Western Stock Show. 16 Jan 12

I remember my own visits to the Stock Show while growing up in Denver.  We went to the rodeo several times.  It is always held indoors, since this is Denver, Colorado in January!  There are three venues near what used to be the stockyards.

I think I got my fill, though, as a teacher of second graders for six years.  The National Western Stock Show was a regular field trip for that grade in the Denver Public Schools.   We had guides who helped us lead 30 or so youngsters through the throngs of visitors and around the cattle, sheep and horses.  Still, I always worried about those children who lagged behind or wandered off.  There’s always one!  The children I taught didn’t usually attend the Stock Show with their families, so this field trip was a good educational experience for them.  Even though they always held their noses with the first whiff of the animal droppings, they came back to the school very excited about the animals and cowboys, trailing an earthy stock show fragrance.

National Western Stock Show Parade - 17th Stre...

Herding longhorns down 17th Street Denver National Western Stock Show Image via Wikipedia

English: Downtown skyscrapers in Denver, Colorado.

Denver SkylineImage via Wikipedia

My sister-in-law has visited Dave and me in Denver several times.  She lives in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.  On one of those trips she mentioned her surprise that people from Denver consider themselves Westerners.  When Dave told me that, I was surprised.  Of course we consider ourselves part of the West—the Wild West even—although throughout my lifetime Denver has been trying to be considered MORE than a “cow town.”  Anyone who visits Denver today will see a city that has grown beyond the “cow town” image.  Maybe that’s why Connie was surprised that Denver’s citizens consider themselves Western, not Midwestern!

My mother’s family came to Denver from Columbus, Ohio in 1920.  My grandmother’s younger brother, Edwin, had moved to Denver for a job opportunity selling mining equipment.  My grandparents and family followed a few years later.  Eventually, the entire Horne/Rockfield side of the family had settled in Denver.   The legends and myths of “The West” were clear in their minds, as you can see by these pictures.

My Ohio to Denver family saw themselves as pioneers when they moved to Colorado. This is taken in about 1925 in Indian Hills, a mountain community outside of Denver. It is almost in the suburbs now.

My mother (the tall "Indian") with her cousins, parents and sister at their cabin in Indian Hills. circa 1925 They look rather grumpy here. A fascination with western lore, the many westerns on TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced Baby Boomers around the country. When I visit antique stores and look at old pictures, people in cowboy clothing prevail.

World War II brought my father to Denver.  Lowry Field, as it was called in those days, provided technical training for the Army Air Forces involved with armaments, i.e. gun sites and the loading and dropping of bombs from the air.  He fell in love with my mother, Denver and the mountains and returned here after 3 years as a Bombardment Officer in the Mediterranean Theater.  This is where I was born and my love of Denver began.

English: Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado

Lowry Field Denver, CO World War II era Image via Wikipedia

A fascination with western lore, the many westerns on TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced Baby Boomers around the country.  When I visit antique stores and look at old pictures, people in cowboy clothing prevail.

Aunt Emily visiting from Illinois, with my sister Beth (pointing the gun) and me, Mary Julia 1954

Last year I wrote a post titled The Code of the West in which I referred to a set of principles developed for a curriculum unit in a local school district.  I believe this code applies to our lives today as well in the past, whether we live in the west, the east, the north or the south.  These are universal principles.

The Code of the West
▪   Live each day with courage
▪   Take pride in your work
▪   Always finish what you start
▪   Do what has to be done
▪   Be tough but fair
▪   When you make a promise, keep it
 ▪   Ride for the brand
▪   Talk less and say mor
▪   Remember that some things aren’t for sale
▪   Know where to draw the line

                                                                                                                 Happy trails to you!

O, Tannenbaum and Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday we took down the Christmas tree.   It has always been a tradition to take it down on New Year’s Day—a tradition that extends from my childhood.   We always felt sad when we were children to see the decorations disappear.  To dull the melancholy that came with the end of the holidays, my mother would put the tree out by the incinerator (now banned because it pollutes the air).  We would decorate the tree’s branches with cubes of dried bread strung on thread.  That did help us feel better.  My sister and I never knew what happened to the tree after our bread cube ritual because we were swept back into the school routine.  It was probably cut into pieces and burned.  The smoke from hundreds of incinerators is one of my memories from childhood that my children never experienced.

Christmas Tree Fort 1958 -- Holly Hills, Arapahoe Country, Colorado

One year when I was still in elementary school, all of us in the neighborhood gathered up our discarded trees and made a Christmas tree fort.  You can tell it was a warm day because we are all in tee shirts.  What a scraggly bunch we were!  I guess we were beyond the bread cube strings by that time.

My entire family now owns pre-lighted Christmas trees.   Oh, we modern city dwellers!  We don’t have to worry about taking our trees to a local Christmas tree dumpsite where it will be mulched into ground cover for the city or county gardens.  Instead, we take the ornaments off, pull the tree apart, fold the branches up and wrap them with the enclosed pipe-cleaner style wires.  These we stack back in the box and store them in our crawl space.  Easy-peasy!   By the time the ornaments and other traditional items are wrapped and put in boxes for storage and the house is vacuumed and dusted, we are ready for a new year.  It feels good to be cleaned up, but the house seems a little empty and dull now.  Hanging the new calendar does help a bit.

Missing the brightly lighted tree, the angels, Santa Claus, elves and nativity scenes is undoubtedly what welcoming Christmas back in December is all about.   If the holiday season lasted all year, it would soon fade into the background!

There were many debates this year about the crassness of Christmas shopping and shoppers, the mixing of the religious with the secular, keeping Christ in Christmas and so on.  Whatever the arguments, the beginning of winter, the changing of calendars and the singing of Auld Lang Syne return every year.

Kitchen calendar

Cat Calendar

I’m Remembering A Sunny Christmas: Redux

English: A Christmas tree lit and decorated, s...

Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m reposting a blog entry from last year.  It was one of my early posts, but I think it bears repeating because I didn’t have many followers back thenThis year we had a sunny Christmas too, but it was also a white Christmas—that is, there was significant snow on the ground.  Our Christmas was different this year for other reasons as well.  Our grandson Andrew was sick with the stomach flu for several days, including Christmas Eve.  My daughter, Julianne, did not know how this was all going to turn out and didn’t want to expose us to the lingering germs.  She texted us about 9:30 p.m. on the 24th with the news that Christmas was off for the following day.

 As it turned out, we are having our feast and gift exchange today, December 27th, with everyone well  and my other daughter and her family back from Omaha and able to join in all the fun.  We will have an extended Christmas season in 2011.  That’s fine with us!

Andrew, Christmas Day 2011, with new skateboard

REPOST: I’m Remembering A Sunny Christmas (2010)

Andrew skateboarding on a snowy Xmas day 2011

 On this sunny day with no snow on the ground, we still enjoy Christmas.  Everyone thinks Colorado is perpetually covered in snow, but that isn’t true in Denver.  Some years, maybe–but I don’t have nostalgic memories of snowy Christmas days from my childhood.  Yes, I am a Denver native and I grew up here!

The persistent rumor that Denver is like the mountains isn’t true.  We are high, dry and sunny most of the time.  The Christmas days I remember when I was a child include running around outside without a coat, wondering what to do with the sled stored in the garage.

When I was a child, we spent Christmas time driving to different people’s houses to visit, admiring the gifts spread under the tree and eating tasty snacks.  When we were young we enjoyed a big dinner with all the old relatives coming over.  Eventually they didn’t travel, so we went to them on Christmas Eve day.

When I had young children at home, my parents came to our house.  My daughters and stepsons would watch out the window until they arrived, then jump up and fly out the door, crying, “Grandma, Grandpa!”

We unwrapped gifts for hours it seemed, since there were eight people sitting around the family room.  No ripping into gifts for us!  Everyone watched the person opening the gift, waiting for that pleased look of happiness and surprise.  The wrappings were neatly disposed of, the presents set in each family member’s personal pile.  Then the next person would unwrap.  The youngest person in the family always handed out the gifts.

Some years my mother brought the turkey, all cooked and cut up, while I prepared everything else.  I usually concocted a fancy dessert.  My specialty was Baked Alaska, created several days ahead of time, with the finishing touches done just before eating,

After we finished dinner, my parents and I would sit around the table and talk. The kids would drift away to play, but mother, dad and I would reminisce about the old days.  The candles would burn down to stubs, leaving wax on the tablecloth.   The short winter day dimmed to dusk.  This ritual is what I miss most at Christmas, especially since both my parents died around Christmas time, many years ago.

Christmas is nostalgic for many folks.  Maybe that hint of nostalgia makes the holidays that much richer.   A few tears for those who are gone–mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, children…

They exist in other places and times, maybe in another city or state or country.  They may be only a memory, their bones in a grave under a headstone,  or their ashes blown away by the wind.  However, for as long as we live,  they are the beloved wisps of memory around our Christmas tree.

I have worked for years on a poem about the losses time brings.  I end  my 2010 Christmas thoughts with this work, dedicated to my parents.

Mary Elizabeth Rockfield Harris                 16 Sep 1915-4 Jan 1990

Roy David Harris                                  25 Aug 1911-14 Dec 1997


“sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt”

“these are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart”

Virgil, The Aeneid

Little did I know of time,

when wishing for tomorrows,

these moments I was living in

would never be again.

There would never be again an

hour when growing shadows

dimmed every dear face

gathered near, the candles

weeping their demise

upon  the white linen.

There would never be again a

time when sunlight streaked the

faded carpet, while you sat beside

me, dust motes between us

swirling to the rhythm of our words.

The  hope of our tomorrows lost,

too soon today becoming yesterday;

Sunt lacrimae rerum–

these are tears for all those things

that will never be again.

©2010 M. J.