Monthly Archives: March 2024

Vintage Postcards: Happy Easter from the Egg People!

Big Egg Heads and Horrible Elves.

Vintage Postcards..they never disappoint. I thought we would start with what appears to be the work of a single illustrator – the Giant Egg Heads, and the Elves Who Torment Them.

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

Poking a blade of grass into the nostril of a giant egg person who clearly has allergies!

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

Tarting up a giant egg head with provocative red lip paint and card symbols! So these little elves are procurers, egg panderers.

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

Tugging the moustaches and yanking the spectacles of a giant egg head person! These elves are are sadists, procurers, and jerks. What is with these elves? What did the giant egg head people ever do to them?

Happier Eggs, strolling.

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

Look at this happy little egg lady, out for a stroll. She’s working her eggs, pattern-mixing and all! She’s so well put-together that the hares are looking at her through binoculars, which is weird because she’s not that far away, and they look kind of snotty. I don’t really care about those sarcastic rabbits because I feel like this little egg lady is really looking good.

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

Just a couple of eggs, out for a stroll. Well, more than a couple, since these egg people are articulated like wasps. I’m not sure why they have zombie hands.

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

This egg stroll looks like a would-be egg people love triangle. The more military eggs seems to be sweet on that hardboiled egg lady in the middle. She only has eyes for her child, the tinier ovum who bears her a little nosegay. Because eggs love their baby eggs, as you can see below.

Random Eggs

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

Isn’t that a cozy scene. It’s weird enough to see an egg knitting booties, but she looks a little old to be a mom. Aren’t eggs supposed to get, you know, too old? Or is that just human eggs?

Playing Cards. Is that part of Easter?

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

I thought I’d close with some Easter Pulchritude.

Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain
Vintage Easter Egg postcard, public domain

You’re welcome. Happy Easter.

A little cancer talk, and a little more talk about books.

Disclaimer:

A vintage ad for Hanes stocking.
One way to achieve discretion! A pile of books!

Bear with me, folks. This starts out heavy and ends up happy.

For readers here, it probably seems as if there is nothing I won’t discuss, but that is not true. I’ve written about losing my mother twenty years ago, but not the small cell carcinoma esophageal cancer that killed her.

I’ve only referred obliquely to the medical crisis my birth father endured five years before he finally died of metastatic prostate cancer, and haven’t written at all about the pain he suffered at the end.

I haven’t talked about my father’s lung cancer, which he was too weak to treat with surgery, so they killed off the spiky tumor with radiation and called it good. That is not what killed him (that was what they used to call galloping emphysema).

I haven’t spoken in depth about the kidney cancer and rectal cancer that were part of the constellation of illnesses that eventually killed my beloved Brother Steve; the first dealt with by removing a kidney (they were both useless but one was cancerous) and the second treated with radiation because like Dad, my brother was far too weak for any more surgery.

I also haven’t talked about how I spent a good portion of last year helping my sister deal with breast cancer. I didn’t write a peep about it. That’s possibly out of consideration for her privacy, and probably because it was all so damn hard. I don’t know. But for the record, it was estrogen-responsive, with a small, contained tumor that nonetheless released micromets to several of her lymph nodes.

Lumpectomy, removal of affected nodes, radiation, and she was done. Does that sound easy? I think if you had another kind of breast cancer, and you had to have mastectomies and chemo, it probably sounds easy. It was not. It was hell for her, emotionally and physically.

All I could do was be there for every scan and consultation, driving her here and there, waiting with my nephew during the surgery, just being present as best as I could. My nephew took her to all the radiation appointments. I came for the last one so I could watch her ring the bell that signaled the end of her treatments. 

This year.

She had six-month scans on Thursday, and everything came back with “no evidence of disease, see you in a year.” There was a little party in that imaging facility lobby in the Phil Knight Cancer Center, let me tell you, with me sending a photo of this little sheet of paper to my girls and my nephew.

Maybe that’s why we were in such good moods when we saw the surgeon. In fact, I would say that my sister and I were downright boisterous when he arrived to look over his handiwork. This has not been our mood in general while consulting with this doctor. There have been times when the atmosphere has been suspicious, disappointed, downright furious.

There is nothing like a no-evidence-of disease to lift the room.

He was explaining my sister’s minimal asymmetry and estimated her cup size. She said, “You’re good at that. I bet you’re a hoot at parties.” I said, “Yes, is that your party trick, like the guess-my-weight at the fair?” and he absolutely cracked up.

He can be boyish, this surgeon, with a gee-willikers enthusiasm for the technological gizmos that make his work easier. This attitude is sometimes at odds with the emotional state of his patients. But in general, he’s fun, for a surgeon. Perhaps that’s why he sat down facing me and said, “If you want to know what I’ve done with my spare time, I wrote a book. It’s about the fifty worst movies of all time.”

Well, I had my phone out and Amazon up in a heartbeat, and before he’d finished issuing his disclaimer that he loves bad puns, which might inhibit my enjoyment of the book, I’d found and ordered it. Then I told him I’d written one nonfiction book called Shopping at the Used Man Store. He loved the title.

So after additional exchanges of publishing information and general bonhomie, he told my sister that the physician’s assistant would be right in to check her out, and he’d see her in a year.

A year. Can you imagine? A year. We were nearly crying with relief. So we sat there, relieved and waiting. And waiting. And wondering what was taking so long.

Finally, the PA arrived, and let us know that they’d been busy looking up my book? And that’s why we’d been sitting there? And apparently now the medical staff is going to be reading about my internet dating adventures? In a book that is so explicit, frank, and unsparing that my husband—my loyal and supportive husband who has read every word of all five Gentry books, and that is a LOT of words—refuses to read it?

Well! Wow!

I came home in a panic and decided to reread the book, and I decided that was fine. It’s actually hilarious. The only problem is, I wrote most of it when I was in my forties, and published it in my fifties, and now I’m in my sixties. I’m not exactly the toothsome specimen I was back then, so reading about all these men who called me beautiful makes me think, “What, were they all blind?”

And then I remember that I was twenty years younger, in my prime, really, that second bloom of beauty many women have in their forties that gave rise to the term MILF in the first place. Which made me glad I wrote all that down, to be honest. Because that bloom is past and now I have a record of how I wasted it on a bunch of pointless internet dates.

Anyway, I have another point.

Which is that I’ve read a couple of undersung nonfiction books this past year that I enjoyed, so here they are.

June Underwood

Sculpting the Mist: Reports from Elderhood, 2019 – 2021

I believe this book was drawn from letters to her daughter, and it’s a thoughtful, intelligent look at that part of aging where everything is more fragile; health, bodies, bones, memory.  I’m not there yet, but of course I will be in ten years if I’m lucky. Part of this was written during the pandemic shutdown. I feel like the truest accounts of that strange time will be found in memoirs like this. Fiction will make it beautiful, but the strange, daily parts are best captured by regular people living regular lives.

It’s not all aging and COVID, though. It’s a portrait of a very specific Portland neighborhood—Montavilla—which I loved reading, since Montavilla has really changed in the 40+ years I’ve lived in the Portland area. The author’s love for her daughter shines through the entire book. She’s also an artist, so you have insight into her creative process.

Orrin Onken

Why Old People are Mean: Essays on Aging, Retirement, and Life

I first read Mr. Onken years ago, when my sister pressed her copy of Malady Manor on me. She said it captured the process of alcoholism and recovery better than anything she’d ever read. I was writing Kathryn Mumford at the time and my sister thought it would help. I’m not sure the story of a disbarred/reinstated attorney in Portland, Oregon was exactly key to writing Kathryn’s recovery, but I loved it.

Why Old People are Mean is a slim collection of his best Medium pieces, written after his retirement from practicing elder and family law. His deadpan sense of humor is just my style. Orrin Onken is the only reason I still subscribe to Medium.

And of course I must plug my own book! With the proviso that I am also old now! You will laugh, you will cry, you will crawl on your belly like a reptile.

cover of "Shopping at the Used Man Store" by Karen G Berry.

Shopping at the Used Man Store

This is me at my worst, which might be my best, don’t you think?

Oh, and! The good doctor’s book has not arrived yet, but I am fairly sure my husband I will both love it:

Bombs Away: Fifty Old, Bombs Away: Fifty Old, Often Bad, and Mostly Forgotten Films, in No Particular Order

I hope you enjoy all these books, and please, if you haven’t, get SATUMS because it’s so damn funny. Thank you.

Gates

1.

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

I’m reading Through the Garden by Lorna Crozier, the Canadian poet, writer, teacher—this woman has worked hard at her craft for decades, and it shows in whatever I might write after her name. She uses a mix of memoir and poetry to portray a passionate marriage with another writer, Patrick Lane. His death is the framework on which she’s told the story of their life together (with cats).

She stopped me cold with her thoughts on gates.

All gates herald a transition: a movement from outer to inner and back again, a passage to something that needs protection from invaders, a step into a space defined as different and more valued than what is on the other side. They’re an invitation but also an impediment. Signalling a need for privacy, this gate would make visitors pause, hesitate, delay, before they walked through. Some might choose to turn around and not enter the private enclosure presaged by such an imposing construction. Just as well. Something is being protected, secluded, differentiated from what’s on the other side. Something is being sanctified. Is the time we have left what is being sheltered? Isn’t there a holiness to our diminishing days?

Yes, I thought, yes, that’s it, that’s perfect.

As his health failed, she and her husband commissioned a Torii- style gate built with special timbers that required curing, and a complex hand-forged latch that took months to arrive. They were intentional about the design and construction, making it perfect as if as if they had all the time in the world. They did not, of course, but that was no deterrent.

*

When I bought this house in 1988, there were two gates into the backyard. The fence on the east side stretched between my neighbor’s sturdy, enviable, indestructible cyclone fence and my house. My fence’s gate was originally wide enough to allow the entrance of a vehicle, but the growth of trees eventually blocked the path. That fence/gate combo blew down, and then it fell down, so I leaned it against the house with a shrug and carried on with my life.

On the west side of the house was a narrower span of fence, also with a gate. It connected to the house on one side and on the other, a post planted right next to a big, thriving, shiny-leaved laurel hedge. Those laurel hedges really grow. They grow and grow and grow! Eventually, this hedge ate the gate.

So much for my gates.

*

You might wonder, is my yard open? No, not really. The east side is currently gated with a really shabby combo of sagging wire fence and a hinged panel from a portable dog yard. Some sagging wire fencing runs around the west side and joins up with my back neighbor’s sagging wire fence to create a putative barrier we call “the dog fence.” So technically, my back yard is both fenced and “gated,” with materials that do very little to keep out the wildlife that wants in.

The fence is only tall enough to impede very small dogs with no interest in athletic leaping. I have no dogs, but I keep it for my grand-dog, Marlowe. He inspects the fence boundaries when he visits. He reinforces ownership with liberal marking.

It’s a lot of work to create a scent barrier, especially now that he’s getting older, but he does his best to let the coyotes, raccoons, skunks and rodents know that the yard belongs to us. He understands this part of Lorna Crozier’s words: All gates herald a transition: a movement from outer to inner and back again, a passage to something that needs protection from invaders, a step into a space defined as different and more valued than what is on the other side.

I appreciate him. He is our protector.

*

Oddly, these crappy gates and fences don’t bother me. With all the critters out there, you’d think I’d be interested in having a fenced back yard, but instead, I want to fence off a little space between my house and garage. This is the area I see when I sit on my postage-stamp-sized front porch. It has vexed me from the beginning, when it was a small grassy slope with a three-foot high maple tree.

Over the years, I tried different ways to make this space into something besides a shaded place that was impossible to mow. I planted many bushes that died in this space, and also many flowers that died. The only thing that’s grown is the maple tree, which is now over thirty feet tall. We are continuously hacking off limbs to keep it from ruining the new roofs.

Even though it’s currently a mess (let’s face it, my entire yard is always a mess), I have come to love this space. I hired an absolutely insane woman to build me a retaining wall here, and even though the dirt is bad and the maple is a gutter-clogging, roof-ruining nuisance, it pleases me. I sit on the porch and look at the planters full of weeds and the weeds poking up through the gravel beds and the weeds growing in the pile of decorative rocks I have yet to spread and…I smile. I imagine all sorts of things I could do to improve it, and I never do those things.

I even had the idea to build a fence on its far side, a fence that would stretch between the front corner of the house and the back corner of the garage, connecting them to enhance the sense of enclosure. The east side (where my porch is) would remain completely open. The fence would make it nice and cozy. I would want a gate there, too, a pretty gate that would lead into this half-finished area of wrack and ruin.

I explained this to my oldest daughter, excitedly sketching out my ideas, and she listened. When I finished, she simply asked, “Why?”

I really couldn’t come up with a good answer.

*

My daughter’s question is a valid one. It’s a needed interrogation of a flawed idea that appears to hold no value at all, because there’s nothing on the other side of this imaginary fence and gate. Just that tremendous laurel hedge and a strip of weedy gravel (I specialize in weedy gravel, it’s my landscape design signature). I’m not sure why this area would need to be reached through a gate that literally no one would ever walk through.

No one walks around over there besides the owner of the laurel hedge on his yearly trek to keep it trimmed. He owns the property next door, where the hedge originates. He used to ignore my side of it, and it cost a lot to have it cut, so I could only have it trimmed every few years (hence, it ate the gate). I think he became afraid that I would cut it back to the property line, which would possibly kill it. So he took over trimming, which is fine, but there’s always that awkward space of time when I can see him in my back yard on the other side of the dog fence, clipping away.

This is awkward because he is awkward. I am the opposite of awkward, but I stopped saying hello to him because he is so pained by me. He’s never once made eye contact, let alone had a conversation with me. Luckily, I got married five years ago and he will speak to my husband. His big conversational gambit was, “Are you the property owner?” Apparently the property had no owner during the previous decades, but there’s a man here now, so whatever.

When he’s in the backyard, I close the shades.

*

Back to my idea of a fence and a gate. I still want my gate, which leaves me over here grasping for an explanation.

I think it has to do with this part of Lorna Crozier’s thoughts on gates. They’re an invitation but also an impediment. Signalling a need for privacy, this gate would make visitors pause, hesitate, delay, before they walked through. Some might choose to turn around and not enter the private enclosure presaged by such an imposing construction. Just as well. Something is being protected, secluded, differentiated from what’s on the other side.

Protected, secluded, differentiated. I think I understand. What’s on the other side is just…me. I would be inside this gate. I am less concerned with what’s without than what’s within. The gate would not be there to keep anyone out. It wouldn’t enclose a secret garden, because gardens need weeding and I’m clearly terrible at that. But it would feel protected, I think. A different kind of garden. The gate would be there to enclose me, to mark off and protect a place I love.

Who knows.

It might even sanctify the holiness of my diminishing days.