photo by Sheri Dixon

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dream. 9/20/20

 We lost a national treasure when the light dimmed and quietly went out in the sharp, intelligent eyes of Justice Ginsburg. In an extraordinarily dangerous time, her passing made our path just a little darker and our loads just a little heavier. 

She always told the truth and always championed those without a voice. Depending on where you were on a variety of hot-button issues, you either adored her or abhorred her, but there was never a lukewarm response to the Notorious RBG. 

RBG passed away two days ago.

I did not sleep that night. I tried, but I just couldn't. Sadness, trepidation, the accelerated overall anger, worry and disgust of the last four years of a nation deep in the throes of a DJT presidency and global pandemic, all overwhelmed me and I just couldn't do it. I was exhausted with grief, but could not settle into blessed unconsciousness. 

Last night I slept, and had an odd and random but starkly lucid and detailed dream. One of those dreams where you are sure you've been at it all night but it was probably only a few minutes. One of those dreams where you wake up and think, "Wait. It wasn't finished" and you get up, pee, and go back to sleep even though it's already time to get up...and the dream unpauses and continues. 

I don't know if my dream had one thing to do with the death of RBG or anything other than a subconscious desire to turn back time. Normally, this is a bad idea, since a huge chunk in the center of my life was the stuff of nightmares. Only the first 14 years and these last 25 years have been worth a damn, other than the birth of my elder two children. I'll happily claim and keep those. And part of these last 25 years have been overshadowed by the deadly health issues my husband (finally got a good one and that's the one who gets smited? That's some Grade A bullshit right there.)

But the dream was insistent enough that I messaged my brother to see what happened to the house in the dream and powerful enough that it brought back a lot of memories and history and pesky enough that it's 5:45pm and it's still right in the front of my brain. 

So, while other people much more eloquent and much closer to the Force of Nature that was Ruth Bader Ginsburg are writing beautiful eulogies to her, you get to hear about my dream.

Because for some reason, my anger has been a little less volatile today; my despair a little softer. I have no idea why. Regardless, here you go.

Important background. From the time I was two till the time I was twelve, we lived in a little rent house on a shady street in the blue collar town I was born in. It was an older house, probably built in the 30's or 40's, with a front porch and big trees in the front yard. There was a living room that flowed into a dining room that flowed into the kitchen. Two bedrooms and one bathroom were off to one side, entered from the dining room. Most of the dining room was taken up by my mom's spinet piano and a standing bird cage with a parakeet in it.

There was a one car garage and a tiny back yard with a big stockade fence along the back lot line. This fence was lined with hollyhocks that came up every year. The north side of the house was lousy with lily of the valley. The other side of the fence was the yard of a huge old tudor-style house whose lot took up fully half of the city block, with the eight other smaller homes and their tiny yards clinging to it like a litter of puppies.

Our town is the original home of companies like SC Johnson, JI Case, InSinkErAtor, and Western Publishing, as well as Hamilton Beach. Lots of factories and lots of wealthy factory owner families. 

The Wustums had two daughters who both got married around the same time- each to another wealthy family's sons. Mom and dad Wustum told their daughters that they would build each of them a home as their wedding gift. One chose a gracious white columned Southern style home and the other a rambing tudor home. They were across the street from each other. This was back in the 20's, so by the time we were renting our tiny house, both couples were at or near retirement age. 

All of us kids had been told (by older kids in the neighborhood) that Old Man Cushman in the tudor house was a mean old man who yelled at kids who dared go into his yard and made trouble for them with their parents. By then, the house was well-covered up in vines and the yard was a mature jungled wilderness. Off to one side, he had beehives. It was a dark and forbidding hulk.

When I was 4 years old, I discovered a hole in the fence in between the hollyhocks just big enough for me to squeeze through. I'd been watching Old Man Cushman tend his garden and he had a big fat aged Labrador Retriever who followed him around. 

I liked dogs. 

I did not have a dog.

I wanted to pet Old Man Cushman's dog.

Old Man Cushman was (I knew) very wealthy, but I never saw him in anything other than one of those one piece worksuits mechanics wear. His was tan. 

He glowered at me from under bushy eyebrows and over grizzled whiskers and asked what I wanted.

"I want to pet your dog."

I petted the dog and then asked what he was doing. 

That was the beginning of many afternoons at the Cushman's. 

His yard was sectioned off in three main areas. There was an area for all of his many types of rose bushes, an area of lawn, of course, and my the back under the trees and up to the fence, were about 20 different varieties of violets from all over the world.  Hanging from the tree nearest the house was Spanish moss that he brought inside every winter. 

I'd help (as much as a child helps) him in the garden, and then we'd go inside, where Mrs. Cushman (also very wealthy, remember) would be wearing her plain serviceable house dress and apron and would always have lemonade and some sort of fresh-baked cookies. 

In retrospect (actually it just hit me this morning) I can't help but wonder what the fuck my mom was doing during the times her 4 year old daughter disappeared from a tiny back yard??? I do know eventually, she made an official visit to be sure I wasn't being a pest, but really, mom? 

The house. Oh, the house. I loved the house. There was a formal living room and dining room, a butler's pantry that led through to the huge kitchen, a sweeping staircase that went upstairs to the master bedroom and connecting bathroom and three other bedrooms and a shared bathroom. Almost half of the second floor was a big open area that had been used as a play room, project room, movie room. In the attic were huge bundles of cedar shingles. When they'd built the house, Mr. Cushman had bought enough shingles to repair or replace the roof three times.

The Cushmans had traveled extensively and the house was filled with things from all over the world. If it was too rainy to garden, I'd help Mrs. Cushman dust all the accumulated bric a brac. 

Considering his fierce reputation, no one trick or treated at the Cushman's, even though they were always ready with name brand candy and Mr. Cushman dressed up as a mad scientist and put a spiked collar on the old Labrador. I always did, much to the horror of the rest of the neighborhood kids. They'd warn me not to- say he was a terrible crazy man who would probably yank me inside and kill me. I just rolled my eyes, skipped up to the cobwebbed and scary music adorned porch and ring the doorbell, then skip on back with my pillowcase full of candy. 

Eventually, my parents bought a house and we moved away. Mr. Cushman died and the Widow Cushman married the founder of SC Johnson and moved to his big house (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) out on Wind Point on Lake Michigan. Both Mrs. Cushman's sister and brother in law passed away and their big white house was turned into an elegant funeral home. 

The big old tudor quickly passed from one family to another, with the price dropping each time. When my (first) husband and I were looking for houses, we went through the old Cushman Place. It was a wreck. The yard was a mess and there were no rosebushes left. The violets had been overrun by other weeds and been strangled out. The interior had not been kept up and neither had the roof; there were water stains on the ceilings and walls. 

The realtor said, "I have to tell you that no one stays here long because they say it's haunted." I just smiled and said, "It's OK. I know him." Then I looked at my husband and said, "It'll be fine as long as you're nice to me." Needless to say, he did not allow me to buy the house.

It was finally sold as a commercial building and was used as a law office for a while and then a beauty salon...things that did not require anyone to be there after dark. 

OK. All caught up. Now to my dream.

Ward and I had moved back to my hometown and had bought the old Cushman Place. It was still a wreck, but I was ready to bring it back to its old glory and grace. 

We had friends visiting us and I was giving them a tour, telling them the history of the house and the people who had built it. 

I can see it. Every detail, every leaded window and marble mantle. The mint green kitchen and forest green butler's pantry. Smell the cedar shakes in the attic even though they've long been replaced with standard shingles. Bring back the violets and hang out the Spanish Moss. Dust the mirrored and jeweled elephants from India and smell the fresh cookies out of the industrial-sized oven and eat them with my feet swinging off of the plastic-padded silver chair pushed up to the formica table. 

That was over half a century ago. 

And I can still feel the kindness and gentleness, the quiet manners of the Cushmans, who were the kind of people who couldn't stand pretention, or self-promotion, or the flaunting of excess in any form, and as I'm typing this I'm thinking maybe that's what that memory was for. 

To remind and reassure me that people like that still exist. Justice Ginsburg was one. With her tiny frame and plainly-styled hair, she would wear things that were classic, and understated, and perfect, just like she was. She spoke the truth quietly and without drama, but in a way that meant business, with serious intelligence and passion. 

The brash harpy who inhabits the Oval Office is not real. Nothing about him, his family, or his belief system has lasting value. He's a storm to be weathered, and then he'll be gone. Nothing more. 

It's hard while we are in the middle of the insanity of America today to see it, but our nation is still full of compassion, and intelligence, and steady justice.  

The storm will pass, and take with it the dregs of what too many thought was strength and power, but is really cowardly cruelty and empty pride. 

It's going to get worse before it gets better, and we will always have to be on guard for the safety of those around us. We need to push back against the darkness, and darkness has a way of creating a great ugliness when it's challenged. 

We need to keep pushing, not out of hatred for what is now with us, but with a never-ending determination to get to the other side.

*Photo of the old Cushman Place, now a beauty parlor. Thank you, Mr. Cushman. I love you.