MONDAY MEMOIR: TINY-LITTLE-THINGS

RAIN BARLEY DARTS AUG 2017

I’ll never forget the despair in my mother’s voice.  Yet, it had been years since my dad and brother had passed.  Only moments earlier, we’d been laughing on the phone together.  As we talked, she had walked from one room into another.  Suddenly, she burst into tears.  I was caught completely off guard.  So was she.  It turned out to be a tiny-little-thing, but it was a really, big deal.  It was a loose door knob.

My dad had been a master mechanic, a jack-of-all-trades, and a tinkerer.  He fixed such things as loose door knobs, before they happened.  He lived by preventative maintenance for everything and everyone; except for his own health.  So, before he died, he fixed every tiny-little-thing that he could; one last time.  He never had to do it again.  His work was done.  However, those tiny-little-things didn’t go away.  They remained and would taunt my mother.

In only two years, my mother had experienced five major life crises.  My brother’s and father’s deaths were two of the worst.  As it turned out, it had been a tiny-little-thing that killed my brother.  And lots of tiny-little-things (cigarettes) that led to the death of my father.  Still, my mother continues to push through or around the agony.  Her life and work continues.  And she finds joy in tending grandchildren, baking, volunteer work, and her church.

Meanwhile, Keith was struggling with tiny-little-things, too.  One of which had big, blue eyes and long, black eyelashes.  They stared back at Keith in confusion.  A wimpy bellow cried for mercy.  Our cow had calved the day before.  Her bull calf was healthy, but hadn’t nursed.  Instead of sucking the cow’s teats, the calf kept sucking on the cow’s neck.

I wondered if it was partly my fault.  I’d wanted a cow bell.  For Christmas one year, Keith gifted me a trio of authentic Swiss cow bells.  They were three different sizes.  All were a shiny brass and heavy duty.  Each made a clearly distinct and beautiful sound.  They were perfect.  The bell I chose never seemed to bother my cow or her calves.  I just loved it; although, I never wore one around my neck 24/7.

Anyway, when this calf was born, he sucked on the bell; not the cow’s teats.  Our other calves had never had this issue.  It had something to do with what’s called, “imprinting”.  Years ago, I had studied it in both humans and animals.  And years ago, Keith had worked hard manipulating it in horses for training purposes.  However, he had also experienced imprinting difficulties in cattle.  And he hadn’t forgotten.

Keith had been a teenager at the time.  In his family’s herd, it wasn’t just one calf that struggled.  It had been an entire breed.  And there had been no cow bells.  His folks ended up weeding out that breed.  Never again did they want to fight such battles.  I quickly learned why.  We had our work cut out for us.

And at one point, Keith threw his hands into the air and shouted, “I don’t know why I keep trying!”.  The calf’s big resistance was only part of the reason.  Keith is coming to terms with middle age the hard way.  Whether he likes it or not, little by little his body has changed.  He’s a little less strong than he was in years past.  He tires a tiny bit faster.  He has one or two aches and pains.  And his body is minus a degree or two of flexibility.  They’re all little things. But, added together, they’re no longer so insignificant.  In fact, they can be really annoying.

Sometimes, tiny-little-things nag and eat at me, too.  In fact, they deliberately assault me in the garden.  No-see-um bugs feast on the flesh behind my ears.  They also burrow deep into the hairline of my neck.  They are literally, eating me alive.  Yet, I don’t notice their bites, until it’s too late.  My body reacts with swollen lumps that are feverish to the touch.  Afterwards, it’s nearly impossible to turn my head and very painful.

No-see-ums are sandflies.  They’re also notorious in New Zealand.  And there’s a legend about them: “The god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, it was absolutely stunning… so stunning that it stopped people from working.  They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead.  The goddess Hine-nui-te-po became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sand-fly to bite them and get them moving.”

The Maori account, Nga Tama a Rangi, was written in 1849.  Translated, it means The Sons of Heaven.  It details, “many natural phenomena, the creation of woman, the origin of death, and the fishing up of lands”.  Their religion is also explained.  “The Maori people stem from only one source, namely the Great-heaven-which-stands-above, and the Earth-which-lies-below.

According to Europeans, God made heaven and earth and all things.  According to the Maori, Heaven (Rangi) and Earth (Papa) are themselves the source.”[1]  The Maori’s beliefs are interesting.  Like Christianity, it’s not for the faint of heart.  It also details their version of darkness and light, the first woman, birth, sin, death, mortality, the underworld, and afterlife.

Unlike the Maori, I argue sandflies are birthed from the very bowels of hell.  When they’ve devoured me, I haven’t been standing still.  I’ve been busy toiling.  And I haven’t been looking at the beauty that surrounds me.  I’ve been beating away at ugly tasks.  Unfortunately, prevention and remedies have not worked well for me.

Some folks swear by extra clothing, Vicks Vaporub, or Deet.  Others use natural repellents like garlic or oils; citrus, lavender, or eucalyptus.  For treatment, most recommend vinegar, baking soda, Benedryl, and/or ibuprofen.  New Zealand fishing guide, Zane Mirfin says, “Apparently you can also urinate on bites…but that may be fairly challenging especially if you’ve been bitten on the face, or don’t know someone very well.”[2]

My most severe reaction to sandflies happened a year ago.  Keith and I were in the garden together.  We had been working outside, from sun-up to sun-down; all week long.  I had tolerated the long hours and days on end.  I had tolerated breathing the heavy tree pollen and dust.  I had tolerated the dirt baths, from head to toe.  I had tolerated the sunburns on my face and arms.  I had tolerated the thorns, thistles, and blisters on my hands.  I had tolerated my aching feet and back.  And none of it had broken me.  Alas, it took a tiny-little-thing.

As soon as my highly toxic, Deet “protectant” had sweated off, no-see-ums went to work.  They were ready and wasted no time.  Apparently, they worked as hard as I did.  And they wanted overtime, too.  I hadn’t noticed.  Suddenly, I could no longer turn my head from side to side or up and down.  I screamed, “I quit!”.  Streaming tears flooded and streaked my dirty face.

Keith was caught off guard.  He noticed my tears and his strong hands wiped them away.  He asked, “What’s wrong?”.  I responded, “Nothing!”.  But I had not intended to be so snappy and callous.  Keith wanted to know what was troubling me, so he persisted.  “What are you quitting?”, he asked.  For a few moments, there was only silence.

Honest, I wasn’t stonewalling him.  My body and mind were beyond exhausted.  I was in pain, irritable, and couldn’t think clearly.  And my head was spinning.  My mind was searching for answers.  It was much like the “throbber” on a computer that spins, clockwise.  When the computer has had too many clicks all at once, the “throbber” looks stuck.  After a while, you simply need to stop and reboot.

My “I quit” was also like the release valve on a pressure cooker.  The released steam generated tears and there was relief.  In the world of medicine, there are three different types of tears.  “Basal tears” nourish our eyes.  “Reflex tears” protect our eyes from smoke, pollen, etc.  And there are “emotional tears”.  These tears expel toxins and hormones from our bodies.

Humans cry on average thirty gallons of tears a year.[3]  Most women cry about five times every month.  This does not surprise men.  At most, they cry about one time each month.  This is not a sexist statement.  It’s a biological fact.  Women have smaller tear ducts and require more tears, more often.  However, both men and women cry about the same volume annually.

Regardless of how often we cry, none of us need to apologize for our tears.  They’re necessary.  Especially when so many folks are hell bent on destroying others.  Besides, we should all be crying for the return of common sense in our country.  Despite our nation’s differences, it was the one thing that once kept both our families and our country intact.  Tragically, it has been replaced by entitlement and hostile divisiveness, over every tiny-little-thing.

 

[1] (Maori Mythology & Sandfly (no see um’s), n.d.)

[2] (Mirfin, 2012)

[3] (Borreli, n.d.)

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