Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Dividing up treasures

Half of the silver

My mother, sister-in-law, and I all chose the same Towle Old Master silver pattern. I never married but didn’t let that stop me getting pretty things. We grew up using the silver every night for dinner, not saving it up for only special occasions, and I wanted to be able to do that in my own home. My mom bought me some place settings from estate sales, I bought some, and my grandmother would sometimes give me a teaspoon or fork for my birthday.

I gave 4 of my place settings to my oldest nephew when he got married, but have rarely used any since moving to Texas. I added mine to my mom’s set carefully wrapped up in anti-tarnish cloth when I moved here, but it’s not doing anyone any good just sitting in a drawer. So as part of my house transition, I decided it was time to pass it on to the next generation. Not being a fool, I checked with my brother and sister-in-law to be sure what I wanted to do was equitable.

Today I spread all the pieces out on the dining table and started dividing them up. There were actually almost 16 of everything, which was more than I’d realized. Each of my nieces will get 8 place settings. But then there were the odd things that I never had in my set (spoons for iced tea and soup, little individual butter knives, pickle forks, etc.) and larger serving pieces that were a combo of Old Master pattern (large spoons and fork, pie server, gravy ladle) and miscellaneous pieces that I’d inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother. I randomly divided these between the two piles.

Most of me is happy that the new generation will have and use these, and hopefully will think of us when they do. But part of me wants to cry to part with these pretty silver things that I never use but know where they came from and (mostly) what they’re for, including the tomato server and sugar sifter. I just love them. But it’s not fair to them to be wrapped in a drawer and ignored. So I will polish them up, wrap them carefully in anti-tarnish cloth, and pack up to give for holiday celebrating – and hope that the pretty things don’t get mangled in a disposal. But if they do, well, my mom did that as well. It’s just stuff, even if it’s shiny.

I’m keeping a few things, though. I just couldn’t part with the silver sifter or the little sterling swords for appetizers or the baby set to give when the next baby is born. But most of it is divided up, hopefully fairly. Next decisions will involve silver and silverplate bowls and platters. I do not need two intricate silver breadtrays, Revere bowls, or the well-and-tree platter. I think the nephews are getting silver for Christmas, too.

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It’s Been a Year

Bill Myers, Emerald Bay, 2012

Daddy died a year ago tomorrow. I’ve been marking the days this month of where we were a year ago – not crying, not anguished, just aware. I’m remembering how difficult his last month of life was, with diminished mobility and speech, increased confusion, and his confounded stubbornness that he was getting up even though his legs couldn’t hold him, that he was going home even though I couldn’t care for him here.

He ended his life in one of “those places” that he swore up and down he would never be in. When we explained to him that’s where he was, and that if he didn’t like it, he should have seen the places we didn’t take him, he wrinkled his face, saying, “Pffffffffft.” They took good care of him there, though the sight of the mattress around the bed in case he fell out in the night really threw me.

Daddy asked me in a window of lucidness where his grandparents were buried, and what did his will say, and was it finalized. He wanted to know things were in order, and he told me that it had been a good life and that dying wasn’t a bad thing. He went downhill from there.

Holding Daddy’s hand

I’m grateful to Hospice. Whenever I see Hospice nurses in blue scrubs out and about, I want to run up and hug them and say “Thank you.” Sometimes I do, which they may find odd, but especially now I have excess emotion and they made such a difference. They spoke gently but with blunt honesty about what happens to the body when it starts to shut down, about how our perception of it was just that; his body was doing the business of dying. That meant it was hot, that breathing changed, that he probably wouldn’t talk much. But that he wasn’t in pain and would at some level hear us even when he couldn’t respond. I sang “Amazing Grace” and “You Are My Sunshine” to him, and was with him when he died.

Today I spent time with someone in my community who is facing the same situation with a parent who probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. Because of my experience with Daddy, I was able to talk about convening a care coordination meeting with the facility staff, and bringing Hospice in early to help the transition, because Hospice staff bring additional skilled eyes to evaluate and support both patient and family. We also talked about cremation, and what services a funeral home provides, and how obituaries get to the paper. Things to get in order BEFORE there is a death, because so much happens then that it’s hard to keep track of details.

Daddy gave me that present of understanding this end of life stage, and the ability to talk about it calmly and with compassion. I miss him every day, though I don’t miss having the house climate be too hot for me or the TV volume up so loud I can hear it anywhere in the house. He was a kind man who loved his family with all his heart. People here speak so fondly of him that it sometimes brings tears to hear about random acts of kindness done that made a difference. That’s a pretty good legacy.

I’m holding on to the image that was on the prayer chain when he died, that “Bill is driving around the golden streets of heaven in a golfcart with his beloved Peg.” That’s Daddy. I love you, Daddy. And I miss you.

Bill, Anne, and Tom Myers
T-Bar-C Ranch, 2012


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Happy Birthday, Mommy

Today would be my mom’s 88th birthday. She was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the youngest daughter of Marion Cooke and William Flanders, and grew up with her sister Jane Anne in Newark, New Jersey in the home where their father grew up. I don’t look like my mom but I inherited her organized mind and gift for languages and music.

Mommy was one smart cookie. She went to Montclair College High School, a demonstration school for the state teachers’ college, commuting by train for six years. At age 17 she took the train again, this time south to Duke University, a place she’d never seen and knowing no one in the state. She met my dad on a double date with other people and they never dated anyone else again. She left Duke after two years with a diamond ring on her finger and went to Katherine Gibbs School for a year for practical secretarial training.

Mom was very disciplined and organized; in Myers-Briggs terms, my guess is that she was ISTJ. She was a stay-at-home mom until we were in Kentucky and my dad’s job changed, but she was busy with Brownies and Girl Scouts, as a den mother for my brother, involved in church Circles, working with and eventually running the PTA. She cleaned house and did chores on a weekly schedule (Tuesdays were bathroom days) and she started taking piano lessons at age 31 because she always wanted to play better.

And Mom was always thin. It drove me crazy because I definitely was NOT thin, ever. She never made a recipe without making changes to lower fat and calorie content, and almost never offerered dessert unless we had company or it was a birthday. I hate zucchini because we ate so much of it, and will never eat cottage cheese because it was a diet food so I had to eat it all the time.

So our relationship was rocky, and Dad stayed out of the whole “you need to lose weight” thing because that was between mothers and daughters. I’ve seen pictures of myself back in those days, and really, I was pretty. But I never believed it of myself and I internalized some pretty negative things that I know now were not meant to harm but did so anyway. It’s hard to separate myself from those emotions and be objective.

I lived over 1500 miles away from my parents for almost my whole professional life, focusing on my career and my own world. Trips home involved scheduling time off which wasn’t always easy, and making plane reservations – and therefore NOT using that time for vacation. For years we combined that by me seeing them in Park City, Utah, where my parents went for the month of August.

Mom and I took a trip to Austria and Switzerland together in 2001, leaving 10 days after 9/11. The whole idea of the two of us without a buffer for two weeks was a bit of a challenge but it was a chance to mend and see each other differently. It was a wonderful trip and I’m tremendously grateful now that we had that time, because Mom’s health went downhill not long afterwards.

She had COPD and her world shrank as her breathing became harder. She was hospitalized in 2007 with infection after an appendectomy (she self-diagnosed appendicitis by Googling symptoms), and her world was different after that. She was softer, quieter, more kind. Mommy knew her time was limited and drew on her strong faith. She died in 2014, three weeks after my niece’s wedding, when she had a chance to see all her family together and happy.


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Requiem for my parents

Saturday night I sang the Durufle Requiem in concert with about 80 other people plus orchestra. It’s gorgeous music and is based on chant motifs that move lyrically from voice part to voice part. I sang it once before in Boston with the Trinity Choir, which served me well with this new performance.

I realized on Friday, as I sang along for the eleventy millionth time to a recording, that I could let go of that and just sing it. It’s in my bones now and I barely need the score to know those weird notes to pull out of the air after 8 bars of time signature changes. Being able to just sing it freed me to feel it and realize that I was singing this Requiem for my parents.

Mom’s birthday is this week and Daddy’s was two weeks ago. Mom died in 2014 and Dad passed away last May. We had memorial services for both, of course, but their ashes have been sitting on the dressers at my house waiting to move to their final resting place at Cathedral in the Pines. Dad wanted Mom’s ashes nearby and since it was a comfort to him, that’s where they stayed. He would talk to her sometimes, as would I. Last spring he was finally ready to let her go so we bought the plaques for their “condos” as he and Mom termed their niches in the columbarium, but he passed away before we could actually inter the ashes. And it was too hot and logistically complicated to do it when Daddy died.

We are finally seeing them to their final rest next Friday, and my brother and I have cooked up a service from elements of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist traditions. I mostly just want them to be at rest and not in my closet (I moved them off the dresser when I got my baby kitties, since nothing is safe with them around). But I feel like I’m back in the limbo time between the death and the service. I want to get this done. I want it to be over, for them to be at rest. It’s the last thing I can do for them, other than just live my life well.

So keep them, keep us, in your prayers.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And from the Durufle Requiem:

IX. In Paradisum
In Paradisum deducant Angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

Chorus Angelorum te suscipit
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.


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The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.


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Cousins of the heart

We all have them, those people who are related to us not by blood but by love and shared memories. They are as much our relatives as those with shared DNA. 

Our related clans in 1951

My life was graced by a special tribe in New Jersey, two sets of sisters who shared their childhoods and stayed connected as young marrieds with small children. We children grew up sharing the beach at Manasquan and visits in between summers until both Flanders sisters moved too far away to come back for summer vacations.

Letters kept me connected to my godmother and I made a visit to London to visit Cousin Carol while in college. We sat around and shared endless cups of tea the same way our moms had sat for years over cups of coffee. As we grew older, we stayed in touch mostly through Christmas cards. But now with Facebook, I’m reconnected. I love seeing pictures of their children and grandchildren, of their travels, new homes, and worry over illness and sad times. 

The last of that senior generation is gone now  with the death of Uncle S this week, just a few months after my father’s death. We children who are no longer children are the senior generation now. Our children don’t know each other, the way we grew up knowing each other, but it’s important to me to not lose the connection I have to those far-away cousins of the heart. 


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Poppa & Sade: William Jesse Keel & Sarah Annis Peal

SCAN0056

Sarah & Bill Keel, 1942, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad grew up living with his mother’s parents in rural Martin County, North Carolina. He called them Poppa and Sade.

Poppa was William Jesse “Bill” Keel, born 22 August 1872 in Bear Grass, Martin County, to James L. Keel and Elizabeth (Betsy) Bowen, the second of their ten children. Bill was raised and worked on his father’s farm with his brothers and had a fifth grade education.  He was a strong man who loved to hunt and fish as well as farm, and had a big laugh.

Sade was Sarah Annis Peal, born 7 September 1874 in Cross Roads Township, a small community next to Bear Grass. She was the second of seven daughters born to William Ashley Peal and Jane Elizabeth Stalls and was named for her paternal grandmother, Annis Gurganus.  Sarah was a farmer’s daughter who was well educated for the time, going to high school for three years. She was a tiny woman with fine bones and a sweet smile.

Sarah Peal and Bill Keel married on 6 January 1892 in Cross Roads, probably at her home; she was 19 and he was 21. Their families knew each other; both of their fathers were general farmers in the county and both attended the Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church, which Sarah and Bill attended for many years after their marriage.

They had eleven children but only four survived infancy: Mary Magdalene (Maglene), Susie Lanier, Edgar Durand, and Rachel Aldine. The first ten babies were born between 1895 (James Willie) and 1912 (Sarah Naomi). Daughter Rachel, born in 1921, was a “bonus” baby and only seven years older than my father, who was her nephew. The babies who didn’t survive were buried in a private family plot behind the “old home place” farm. Their graves now are covered by leaves and their names mostly forgotten. But Sarah recorded them in the family Bible so we have them:

Keel-Family-Record-From-Bib

When their daughter Susie Lanier Keel (my grandmother) married in July 1927, what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t attend. Since she was probably pregnant at the time, it is possible that they disapproved of either the marriage or her husband. The newly-wed Myers were living on the Keel farm seven months later when their first child (my father) was born. Both generations lived together in the same house for the next twenty five years, first with Bill Keel as head of household and later, Bill Myers as head with his in-laws in the home. Poppa Keel farmed and did road construction work until they moved to Williamston in 1925.

SCAN0022My dad remembered that his grandmother did almost all the cooking for the combined household while his mother worked as a seamstress to bring in extra money. Poppa Bill Keel took Daddy fishing and also hunted to provide more food for the family; their farm cousins kept them well supplied with produce but protein was expensive. Bill Keel was the man in charge of barbeque whenever a hog was butchered; those were always social occasions with many family and friends to share the food and the occasion. They were poor and lived simply.

Sarah Keel died at home in Williamston on 28 June 1948. She was 73 years old. Her beloved husband Bill Keel died almost exactly four years later on 26 June 1952. He was seventy nine years old and had been in ill health for five years. They are buried together in Williamston’s Woodlawn Cemetery next to their daughter Susie Keel Myers.