Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Without Patricia

This holiday season I am reminded of the past, of how much time changes. I am reminded of how much the passing of time changes everything. My grandmother died this year. For most of my life she was Christmas Eve. Only Christmas Eve, our once a year visit.

No judgement anymore. It's just truth. It was her choice.

I don't think saying the truth is necessarily speaking ill of the dead. Because the truth-of-what-we-do is not always kind. I mean no ill will, which I sat because I am not sure everyone in her life feels the same.

My grandma and I managed a relationship at the end. The death of her second husband freed her in ways she may not have seen, but we did. I did. I met and got to know the better version of her. It was a true gift.

I smile at that notion, as gift-giving was not her strong suit. I'll come back to that.

O Holy Night is playing in my office. I am not Catholic anymore but I have always loved this song. I remember a Christmas Eve, captive in the back room off of my Grandma's basement. where the cigarette smoke was so thick and constant we sat in a cloud. Some of her inebriated friends were there. Sweet enough as they meant to be, there was always drama associated with their drinking as the night progressed.

Some years were hard.

One of the hard ones, I was pushed into entertaining, into singing for everyone. I didn't want to. I never liked being myself at the center of attention. Give me a different skin, a glamour, or let me hide in the light of a spot.

I sang through every holiday song I knew. O Holy Night was one I sang well and really enjoyed singing. I think about that night, now that I cannot aspire to singing anything so grand yet. That register may never be mine again. I try to be grateful that I can sing at all. I mostly am. But I still think about it. When you can no longer do something you loved to do and could do well you're bound to think about it.

The song is over but now I am thinking about that night and my complicated relationship with the loss of my Grandma. Now she is gone. Now she is everywhere.

After my accident, she sent her stuffed Santa Claus along with my mother, to cheer up my rehabilitation room. I've put it out every year. After my Nancy Drew books and this one black, pink, and teal sweater I got from her circa 1989, that Puffalump Santa Claus is one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got from her.

Gifts were not her strong suit and she was always nervous about it, apologizing almost before you had the box open, eager to both defend her choice and dismiss it as a viable present. It was like she considered a test of how well she knew us from our annual visitations. The last thing she did every night was give my mom the envelope of receipts for everything.

I didn't live home after college so I didn't go over to her house for Christmas Eve anymore but she didn't forget about me. My present would be waiting at my parents' house. They were always a little random. Sometimes I couldn't even get my coat off before everyone would be pressing me to open it. What ever would it be this year? One year there was this super soft pair of leather gloves but I liked but they reeked so strongly of cigarettes my parents had banished the bag to the outdoor porch and I--oops--left it behind.

One of the last gifts was a pair of crocheted-to-look-like-ballet-shoes slippers that I returned to the store. I figured I would use the money from the gift to buy supplies for a womens' shelter. I was angry. The gift felt thoughtless, next to what my siblings received. Like she didn't know me at all. And at that age it hurt. I was taking it out on the slippers. It hurt because it was true. It was also true that she was okay with that at the time. We both were.

I got $1.25 in exchange for them.

I may never have laughed so hard in public. The hurt melted away. Why should she spend more money on someone who hadn't maintained contact with her? What part of her actions had taught me to expect more from her? That laugh was sobering. I grew up a few years in that moment. I humanized her as more than just Grandma. She was also Patricia-who-was-trying.

Maybe it's only funny with forty years of context. I laughed so loud the cashier thought I was having a breakdown. She apologized that it wasn't more. I shrugged it off and told her it was fine, that I was lucky to get anything at all.

I know my Grandma cared. I know she worried for me after my accident. She started sending me holiday cards, which I tucked away, not knowing last year's would be the last one. I even have a birthday card from her, which I got on my actual birthday.

I'm smiling, thinking of them.

My wife and I have a little tradition that originated with my family. We'd go out to dinner, a treat for us, and in between the restaurant and my Grandma's house we would drive through residential areas and look at the decorated houses, listening to holiday music on the radio.

As my wife and I drive through the West Side, looking at the houses, I think about all those years of looking at lights on the way to her house. I realized this year that we bring our ghosts with us, wherever we go. They're not always bad. And I'll happily carry her ghost with me on those drives, something meaningful to me.

I'll talk to her know when I want to, even if they're just words spoken to air. There is power in words spoken and unspoken. I will change the pattern. There's still time to get to know each other a bit better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Dream Visitation From Zami

One of the easiest methods for spirits to communicate with us is through our dreams. People with vivid and active dream lives are extra sensitive to this energy and more likely to experience and recall them. Everyone perceives the sensory nature of visitations differently. In sharing my own, I hope to help others discover their own methods of connection.

A year ago our 22 year-old tiger cat passed away. Zami was with me for most of my adult firsts. She was our companion, more like a third partner. Even the cranky-old-lady-who-slept-twenty-three-hours-a-day's loss left an emptiness in our home. It ebbed when I wasn't looking. The new silence became the new normal. And life continued on.

Then I had a dream last night. In it I was walking through our living room and I looked over to see her curled up and sleeping beneath our tree. I got halfway across the room before my sarah-brain noted that I wasn't having a hey-look-my-dead-cat-is-in-this-one, but rather a Holy Shit Spirit Zami is Visiting! 

For me the difference is obvious, like the difference between the quality of a show shot on videotape versus a movie shot on film. Only the spirit visitor is one version overlaid atop the main dream. They're impossible for me not to notice.

And there Zami was. I approached her tentatively, afraid she'd vanish after I noticed her. I called her name and she opened one eye at me before closing it again, ignoring my presence. (That's another way I knew it was her, lol.) And then I touched her. There was a pang for a moment, as if I had forgotten how she felt beneath my palm and the memory woke again in me. 

I touched her and she leaned into it as her fucking-loud-ass-purr-machine revved into overdrive. When she was alive she could purr so loud for so long that when she stopped in the night it would wake me. 

In the dream I was crying. It hurt. You move on but you never get over it. I forgot how visceral her loss was until I was touching her again. For a moment it feels like a horribly awful trick, not a gift. I miss her so much. 

My heart hurts thinking about it now. But I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't wish it away for I am reminded of how much I loved her and how much I love her still.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Alive Through Me: Charles Evan Ruston & Ruth Ireland

I have a collection of family photos going back to my 4x great-grandparents. But they’re not just photos of dead people. I know their names. I know some of their stories. I know their lives before marriage. I see those pictures and I know who they are to me. In this series, Alive Through Me, I will be sharing the known stories behind those faces.

When I do my ancestor work I do so with the four main branches of my line, my mom’s mother and father, and my dad’s mother and father: Art, Riddle, Ruston, and Eaton. What Polish ancestry I have comes from the Ruston line but the Rustons themselves were from England.

Why they came here is a fantastic story. I’d like to introduce you to my 2x great-grandparents.

Charles Evan Ruston was born July 4, 1847 in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, England to the far north of London. His parents were Richard Ruston and Anna Richardson. Richard was a wealthy land owner who employed a lot of hands. He would later own a popular department store of some kind.

Charles was the oldest of four siblings. He had three brothers and a sister; Frederick, Allpress, Emily, and Thomas. Charles was baptized at age 13 and a year later he is possibly listed as a pupil in another home in Oundle, Northamptonshire but appears back home by age 24.

Ruth Ireland was born in May of 1861 in Doddington, Cambridgeshire, England to William Ireland and Phoebe Lenton. She was also the oldest of four children, followed by Emma, Louisa, and Phoebe. I am guessing her mother might have died in childbirth with Phoebe as they share a first name. Whether that’s true or not Ruth must have lost her mother before she was a teen because at 12 years old she became sister to a fifth child, her half-sister Kate Ireland.

In 1881 Ruth is listed as a visitor in the parish of St. Benedict. She was a maid in the household. This is the year that everything changed.

On a free-European-Parish-records weekend on Ancestry, I learned that the household Ruth worked for and the Ruston family attended the same church. I know that Charles and Ruth married in England and then came to America. All in 1881. He was 33 and she was 21.

There is more to the story, of course, passed down through generations. Somewhere in between the tales lies truth but I will share what I know as I have been told it. As I remember it being told to me. Ruth caught Charles’ eye and they fell in love. Richard Ruston forbid his son from marrying the maid as the well-to-do man’s son was destined for a better marriage match. If Charles married her, he would be cut off.

Charles and Ruth did marry and soon after boarded a boat for America.

In the new world they settled in Lockport, NY. I do not know what brought them that far from the coast. I don’t know if they knew someone in Western New York, or if there were hawkers trolling for laborers at the dock when they disembarked, or if they arbitrarily pointed at a map.

Curiously, I do not know how many months into 1882 their first child was born, a daughter named Maud. But that knowledge may be a clue as to why the sudden marriage and relocation.

Six years after Maud, their son Frank William was born. He is my Great-Grandfather. After another eight years, their daughter Ruth was born. Neither of my Great-Aunts married before 1940, which was the last census I could find. Maud was 57, working as a secretary for the YWCA. Ruth was 43, working as a clerk at/on Cupson Road. Ruth Ireland, listed on the census as Mrs. Charles Ruston, was 78.

92 Saxton Street
Charles had many jobs in America. In 1900 and 1905 he was listed as a farm laborer.

In 1913, their son and my great-grandfather Frank William Ruston married Minnie Estelle Wicker, the daughter of a wealthy family.* [Huh. I just made that connection. The more ways I write about my ancestors the more fully fleshed they become to me.]

In 1915 Charles worked as a grocer but in 1920, and on, he was a laborer with Harrison Mfg. When I was a girl it was called Harrison Radiator, but still manufacturing. Charles and Ruth owned their own home at 92 Saxton Street in Lockport.

Ruth & Charles, back center, and their American family. Great-Grandpa Frank on the far right. Grandma Ruth in the front with the doll. Great-Grandma Minnie took photo. Maude is between Charles and Frank, and due to resemblance, I might say the seated woman on the left may be the other sister Ruth.
Charles died in 1933 and Ruth lived on with her two daughters. As far as my research shows, Frank was the only child of theirs to have any children, making Ruth Emma and Richard Wicker their only grandchildren.

Charles never kept his lineage a secret. It appears as though he even named his son for his father—or maybe a beloved brother. A couple generations back, cousins travelled to England and pointedly stopped at the Rustons to say hello from the American cousins. But the family had kept their promise to cut Charles off. Even though he shows clearly as Richard’s oldest son on the English census reports, none of the family members would acknowledge relation to any Charles Evan Ruston. It’s entirely possible that they feared previously-hidden family members were looking for their share of the Ruston money. Despite how much my cousins tried to say to the contrary, they were turned away.

The Cambridgeshire Rustons may have clipped off a branch of the family tree but thankfully there is documentation that proves what a man’s pride tried to hide.

*At the time of their wedding, father Charles was working as a farm laborer. I imagine that the marriage into one of the more well-to-do families of Lockport was a boon in some way. Minnie was the only child of Hiram King Wicker and Emma Angeline Whitcher. Hiram was a well-off store owner, one of the first fire chiefs of Lockport, and the head of the Masonic Lodge.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Open to the Ancestors

Tonight is Samhain. It is All Hallows Eve. It is a night where the walls between this world and the next are thin. This is the night where the dead bleed through and if you wish to connect with them, you can listen to them, you can sense when they're present, and you can entice them to come. You can also make simple offerings to honor their place and presence in your life.

Because They Were...You Are.

I pour water in the glass cup on my Ancestor Altar. I light a candle in the fossil candle holder. It is the lighthouse guiding their way to me. I light more candles for specific prayers. I take in a breath and as I exhale I open my heart. I open myself to spirit world. I am not the lighthouse.

I am the light.  

I open to my Grandparents:  
Richard James Riddle & Donna MacDonald, my beloved dead
Mark Dutcher Eaton, my beloved dead, & Ruth Emma Ruston

I open to my Great-Grandparents:
Harold Riddle & Elsie Elizabeth Durant, my beloved dead
Robert Joseph Art & Margaret Loretta Burke
Frank William Ruston & Minnie Estelle Wicker
Royal Levant Eaton & Hattie Eva Smith

I open to my Great-Great-Grandparents:
Frances & Lafayette are in the center, front.
Lafayette Riddle & Frances Ann Gillette
George is peeking out in the back, behind Elsie & Harold.
George Frances Durant & Emma Louise Burnah
George Art & Katherine Pils
Frank Burke & Eliza Conners
Ruth & Charles are in the center back.
Charles Evan Ruston & Ruth Ireland [both from England]
Hiram & Emma are the center couple.
Hiram King Wicker & Emma Angeline Whitcher 
Bennett Eaton & Theresa Cordelia Tenney
Silas Parker Smith & Hattie Eva Dutcher

I open to my Great-Great-Great-Grandparents:
Marquise DeLafayette Riddle & Sarah Clickner
Levi & Jane are seated in the second row.
Levi Gillette & Jane Berry
Albert Durant & Rosella LaValley [both from Quebec]
Samuel Burnah [from Quebec] & Mary Fortin
Adam Art & Catherine Blume [both from Germany]
John Pils & Mary Burzee [both from Germany]
Thomas Burke & Ellen
David Conners & Mary Dowd [both from Ireland]
Richard Ruston & Anna Richardson [both from England]
William Ireland & Phoebe Lenton [both from England]
Thaddeus Rice Wicker & Cynthia Lusk
Bailey Harrison Whitcher & Ordelia de Lozier
Solomon Gould Eaton & Hannah Ann Treadwell
Philetus Tenny & Malvina H. Targee
Ammi Smith & Sophia Sears
Reuben Feagles Dutcher & Eliza Marsh Bird

I open to my ancestors, known and unknown. I open the front door. The air is cold and tinged with winter. I invite all who wish us no ill to enter and celebrate the night.

I ask my Ancestors to welcome in the spirits of the Recent Dead, of my Grandma Patricia Ann Art and my Uncle Norm Herbert Eaton. I ask them to watch over our friends Joe Croteau, David Zander, Zachary Grover, Dick Huntington, Leigh O'Neill, and Morwen Two Feathers.

Leave offerings of food and liquor, of earthly things that smell strong and potent, of tobacco and candies. Leave them fresh, filtered water. Listen to the whisperings of the shadows. Feel peace fill your heart.

Let the candles burn low. Pay attention to your dreamings. The dead have things they wish to say.

Blessed Samhain. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Watched Over by Hiram King Wicker

When I was recovering in the bed of the Burn ICU I was existing in the blurred edge of reality, still alive and drugged beyond comprehension but also floating near the edge of death. There were spirits around my bed, standing still and holding vigil while the medical staff watching in and out of them. One spirit stood back, a statue in the center of the room he oversaw the other spectral visitors. I recognized his eyes from family photos. He was my 2x great-grandfather Hiram King Wicker.

Hiram was one of three sons born to Thaddeus Rice Wicker, originally from Connecticut, and Cynthia Lusk of Niagara County, New York.

After the Civil War, Hiram married Emma Angeline Whitcher and settled in Lockport. Hiram and his brother William owned and operated a feed store along the canal. He was a practicing Mason and, according to the markings on his gravestone, at some point he was in a position of authority within the organization. But there was another piece of information I knew about Hiram that was lost in my recovery haze.

I didn't remember until a week ago that H. K. Wicker was one of the first Fire Chiefs of Lockport, NY. A man in California, an avid collector of antique fire badges, sent me a photo of a badge he acquired that belonged to Hiram Wicker. His initials were engraved on the back. I had forgotten.

Of course he came to my aid acting as patriarch and overseer. Of course the man who saw it as his responsibility to keep his town safe from fire and destruction came to attend to his 2x great-granddaughter in one of her darkest moments. Those who love us never truly leave us and he was a man devoted to his family and those he considered in his care.

I'm not trying to convince you that ghosts are real. That ancestors walk with you. But they walk with me. I own my experiences. I am trying to show you my world, what I live as normal. Because the world we all live in is bigger than we can comprehend.

Hiram and Emma had one child, Minnie Estelle, who was the mother of Ruth Emma, who was the mother of my father. Hail the Wickers. Hail the Whitchers. Hail the Rustons.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Preparing the Way for Spirit to Come Through

Autumn has finally found us here in New York State. As we turn towards All Hallow’s Eve it feels as though winter will not be far behind. Indoors, I make preparations to honor my Ancestral Dead and welcome them into my home and hearth. I do this every day but at this time of year I will do it more formally and intently on a night when the lines between the living and the dead blur.

I see movements out of the corner of my eye, things tucking behind chairs and bookshelves that aren’t there when I look for them straight-on. I feel people entering the room behind me but no matter how certain my body is that I am not alone I cannot see anyone with my naked eye. And my scalp prickles as if a hand has gently touched me. It warms beneath another palm. I no longer reach up to check because I know it is not a physical presence.

This is how I live every October. The blurs are what I refer to as wayward spirits, harmless travelers drawn towards memories of being alive. The closer we get to Samhain the brighter my inner lighthouse gets. The room lurker is currently The German Guy who has made another appearance. I know he belongs to my maternal Grandma Art’s side. As she passed this last spring I am not surprised to see him come to sit with me. And the hand on my scalp is my Great-Grandma Elsie. Always. She is my spirit traffic cop. She is never far.

I leave her cups of tea and horribly salted chicken wings. She lived with us in the summers and was alive until I was seventeen. There is a space in my heart that was shaped by her, a part of me that remembers how she molded me. She saw what others in my family did not see and now, from a grown-up perspective, her experiences with a difficult son dictated her advice to me.

You can’t let the bullies stop you from living your life.

That goes for spirit bullies, too. Sometimes, if you are sensitive to them, they can crowd the room and demand attention. So when I clean my Ancestor Altar and refresh it for the season I call in peaceful spirits here that do not wish us harm. I take a shot of some pungent liquor and make an offering at the edge of our property for those spirits seeking offerings with no regard for the living.

There is room for them all to be honored…just...out there. Not in my home.

On Samhain we feast a Dumb Supper with our ancestors, setting a place for special guests and one place for all the rest to come and join. Together, the collective of us living and dead will say a final farewell to those who have passed since last year and I will ask the Ancestors to safeguard those who may not yet be at peace and to watch over their families.

Some years the names of my Recent Dead are few. This year, the list is long, and the losses are heavy. My Grandmother. My Uncle. One of my wife’s closest friends. My primary doctor and friend. Three members of my spiritual community, the loss for one of them is still rippling out through our hearts. It will be felt for years.

I wish them peace even as I grieve the loss of them, the loss of their physical presence, of their wisdom, of all the time we’ll never have to repair or strengthen wounds and hearts. And I am left to figure out how to move on from unfinished work.

But not alone. Those Who Have Gone Before aid me in my grief. The Ancestral Dead, the centuries of others who have felt such loss, have been deceased long enough that they can hold space for my sorrow. When I am open to it, in my darkest moment, I do not feel alone.

For some people the thought of ghosts is isolating and frightening. We often feel such a way about things we cannot explain. I’ve always trusted what I am experiencing more than just my eyes. We do not see everything and we do not see everything the same way as everyone else. It makes our personal experiences valuable.

Open your heart to the thinning of the walls between this world and the next. Do not try to quantify or qualify. I will tell you that yes, your loved one is gone. And they are alive. And they are reincarnated. And they are with you. All of that is true, all at once, right now.

Now they are gone. Now they are everywhere.

How will you honor them this year?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

An Evolution of Spirit

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” ~ Nelson Mandela

I talk pretty on my blog about kindness and compassion. My words are honest and I work every day to live by them. But I wasn’t always this person. We are born with open hearts, and then the world happens and shapes us and we spend the rest of our lives fighting to get back to that original place of faith in humanity. Every year I get closer. But I like people to know how different I was, to understand how much I have changed. Because if they do not perceive my change, how can they believe themselves capable of the same transformation?

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” ~BrenĂ© Brown

I used to be an anger ball. By that I mean I was very quick to anger. I was angry at the violence I had suffered. Angry at the people around me who found relief by taking out their pain and insecurity on others. I was angry at the hardness of a world I did not seem to belong in. I was no better. I curled in or lashed out, always one of two extremes, as a way of taking what I needed from the world to survive it.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ~Mark Twain

I didn’t know there was another way. I was a heavenly body on the inside of the circuit, the sun that the solar system revolved around. I didn’t see that the world was smothering me because I put myself at the center of it. All I saw was that I was suffocating. And I couldn’t see a way out.

“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” ~Buddha
I was at a crossroads, my own personal Equinox. I was disconnected from myself, from the earth beneath me, from the sky above me. I could see the forest of trees but not the roots of them entwining and holding each other up. I didn’t know how to bend. I didn’t know how to flow. Everything was fire and lava. I wasn’t living in the world, I was burning my way through it.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

When we feel lonely we push out at the world, keeping it further at bay. I pushed everyone away before they could leave me, before they could hurt me. I thought pain was inevitable and that was the face I gave.

“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” ~Mary Oliver

It wasn’t what I wanted. I was at a crossroads and I made a choice. I turned away from chaos and insanity, from trying to fit in and struggling to breathe. I let go of the anger that was eating me from the inside out. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just released it in small breaths. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I gave it up to the universe. I rediscovered faith and turned my attention to finding a path that felt firm beneath my feet. I took the time to get to know myself.

“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” ~Danielle LaPorte

I had defined myself for so long by what I didn’t like, what I didn’t want, and what I thought I was supposed to want, that I found I didn’t know what it was I did want. What did I like? Who was I? I first heard an answer in a ritual in the dark in the mountains. Deep in the core of you, what are you? I quieted my soul and listened, and the word that came from my mouth surprised me.
“Light,” I said, with tears in my throat. And later, the overwhelming answer I found was kindness, goodness, compassion, and joy. When I removed the protective layers from my heart, I discovered the brightness I had been searching for all along within me.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” ~BrenĂ© Brown
The world I live in is a better place for having me in it. I believe that. I feed it my hope and my optimism and my compassion. It does not mean I am perfect. It does not mean my heart is not weighed down by the violence and evil that men do. It does not mean that I do not cry in the quiet nights within the safety of my walls. But I cry because I am connected now. I feel part of the earth beneath me and the sky above me. I feel part of the roots connecting the trees beneath the surface.

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” ~Beau Taplin

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~Iain S. Thomas

Do not be ashamed of the ways the world has tested you. Do not be ashamed of the times you have fallen, of the times you have failed to get it right. What matters is that you picked your head up. What matters is that you picked yourself up and you kept going, even though you did not have faith that what lay ahead was better. It is not our perfect moments that define who we are. It is the moments we are imperfect that shows the spirit that lies beneath the flesh and bone. It is how we carry ourselves through those moments that reveal the soul of us.

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” ~Buddha

We are meant to follow our own paths. It is never too late to change tracks and find your way back to you. Our original state is harmony and peace. The world is hard but there are others in it, lighting candles in their hearts against the dark, struggling to grow despite the resistance. Every action is a choice. When you stand at the crossroad, open yourself to compassion and hope. You just might be surprised where you find it.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” ~Cynthia Occelli

[Originally posted September 24, 2014.]
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