Not an Ordinary Morning

We’re out walking the dog this morning, early. OK, Gerry’s walking the dog; I’m not awake yet so I’m stumbling along trying to stay upright. Cars pass, you can hear them coming from behind. But one comes up and stops, window open, and driver says, “Hey Jamie, Gerry!” and I jump and screech. (I have a strong startle reflex. Long story, another time.) Our friendly neighbor drives on. I never got a good look at her. Uh, good morning, friendly neighbor!

We walk on. This friendly cat waits and greets us on many of our walks.

But that’s not all. It was quite a morning! Unidentified neighbor trying to be friendly scares the life out of me, Gerry and Suzy make a new friend, and later a woman is driving around looking for her dog. She stops and asks Gerry if he’s seen a black labradoodle. Yes, he has—on our neighborhood Facebook page. He pulls it up on his phone, shows her—Yes! That’s the dog!—and she jots down the phone number. All this before 7:30 a.m.

Never did find out who the friendly neighbor was.

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Laddie, the Extraordinarily Good-Natured Cat

(Obituary)
We let Laddie go today. He held on hard to life in spite of his increasing age (he was 18) and growing infirmity (arthritis in his rear legs). He’d brought two squirrels, two birds, and a vole inside as love offerings in the last two months. He patrolled the neighborhood every morning; he kept to his routine of chewing lemongrass after breakfast, which required getting up on the deck rail. He was still going over the six-foot fence a couple times a day until yesterday. This morning he declined to get out of bed, and I understood. He died in my arms at 8:50 am. To say we are heartbroken doesn’t begin to describe it.

• • •

That this is a much shorter obituary than Bean’s means nothing other than I am so sad I can’t bear this pain. Laddie was a spectacular cat, beloved by anyone who knew him. And many did, because he never met a stranger.

He was always eager to please.

Oh, the Humanity

I love this: “to be peopled at all was a high-order gift, but to find people beyond your people was nothing short of miraculous” (emphasis mine). Yes, indeed.

And now he was here, in her house, in Oak Park. She should go check on him, sequestered in the living room with the men, but she knew if she rose she would subject herself to more ridicule. Her sisters—with her at the table, fighting about someone she’d never heard of—were delighting in the amount of teasing there was to be done about Grace’s first boyfriend-holiday, ignoring her protests that he wasn’t her boyfriend.

“He’s just my person,” she’d insisted to Wendy, earlier. “Or, not, like—just a person.”

“Careful,” Wendy said. “You’ll flatter him to death.”

But he was in her house, among her family—her other people—and this was emboldening, somehow. Her life had always been abundantly peopled—by her doting parents, by her indulgent sisters—but she now felt accompanied in a way she never had before, by a person who was choosing to feel beholden to her instead of simply scooting up the built-in rope of familial obligation. And it was striking, how much less alone that could make you feel, because of course to be peopled at all was a high-order gift, but to find people beyond your people was nothing short of miraculous, finding a person away from home who felt like home and shifted, subsequently, the very notion of home, widening its borders.

—from The Most Fun We Ever Had (Doubleday, 2019) by Claire Lombardo

The End of the Immigration Affair (Almost)

We’ve been waiting for Gerry to get his permanent green card since we applied for it in the summer of 2017, ninety days out from the date the conditional green card was due to expire (21 October 2017). Well, as you know, the current “president’s” administration is understaffed, inefficient, and way behind on everything (not to mention anti-immigration); they sent us a letter extending the temporary green card for another twelve months. No new card, just a piece of paper. When it got to be October of 2018, they sent us another “oops” letter extending the card another six months, to April 2019.

Meanwhile, after three years of legal residency (from his date of entry: 21 October 2015), Gerry was entitled to apply for citizenship … which is something else you do ninety days out. So in July 2018 we paid the money and filed those papers.

As of April 2019, we’d heard that the citizenship application had a case number; we had not gotten another extension letter for the temporary green card, and we were a little nervous. But our attorney said the expired letter date didn’t matter: “You are legal until they send you a letter telling you you are not legal.” Um, OK.

And then May happened: some action at last. Our attorney got an email saying Gerry’d been assigned a date to appear for the citizenship interview. (She was thrilled: “I think you are skipping ahead a whole year in the process!” she said excitedly.) Meanwhile Gerry got an email saying his permanent green card was being processed. The card never showed up, but we gathered up the materials we needed for the citizenship interview. Proof, proof, and more proof of our life: I’ve been setting photos aside since July 2017, and we pulled together IRS records and on and on, the sorts of documents we have already submitted twice.

The citizenship interview was today.

Gerry had decided last month to go ahead and pay our attorney to come with us, because the whole process has been so unpredictable, so arbitrary, so haphazard and random. We are so glad we made that decision.

Surprise! It’s a Green Card Interview!

She met us at the USCIS (US Custom and Immigration Service) office in Nashville where the interview would happen. As we waited, she told me a story about how there are three agents who handle the interviews; two of them are very nice. The third had threatened to throw her out of his office because she’d smiled at her client during an interview. (She smiles and laughs a lot.) “He’s an asshole,” she said.

Guess which one we got?

I also am a person who smiles and laughs a lot, and it’s a wonder I wasn’t thrown out right away. This guy—early-mid thirties, short, bearded, carries a backpack rather than a briefcase—spoke very, very fast and in a low mumble. I had trouble hearing him. And right away he asked us something about our relationship that was so silly, so ridiculous (I wish I could remember what it was) it made me giggle-snort.

He gave me the stink-eye; I made a mental note not to smile or laugh.

And so we proceeded. Although he had two large binders’ worth of photographs and documents such as birth certificates, passports, material establishing that we live in the same house—all the documentation we had to submit for the first two stages of the green card application—he made us relate our entire story, pitting us against each other, asking and re-asking the same questions as if he was trying to trip up one of us. It was a never-ending barrage of questions, with no direction. He’d ask a specific question, which we would answer, then he would just sit there staring at us for a few beats. Finally he’d say, “Go on,” as if we’d failed to read his mind.

That was the green card portion of the interview—the one we had not been notified to prepare for. (The citizenship application—the one we had been notified about—does not require my presence.) For example, we’ve been submitting copies of our joint tax returns to CIS for several years, but on this day this guy wanted proof that we’d paid the taxes (our CPA handles it, so no, we didn’t have a nice little thank-you letter from Uncle Sam), and he wanted recent proof that we have joint banking accounts. He questioned strenuously why Gerry’s name was on the title to our car along with mine, if Gerry didn’t drive. He questioned repeatedly why we bought a house together all the way back in 2007 since we didn’t marry until 2014. (“We were planning for our retirement,” I snapped, growing weary of him.) He wanted the deed to our house to confirm joint ownership, even though we’d brought the most recent city and county tax bills, which had both our names on them. (We’d even brought the bank statement showing we’d paid off the mortgage.) These (IRS proof of payment, deed to house) are all things we could have brought with us had any of us known we’d be having the green card interview.

It was a needlessly confrontational, exhaustingly adversarial conversation. He was like a dog with a bone, and we were the bone he was determined to chew up. Our attorney inserted herself a couple times; her comments reminded him that as he knew (he had all the official correspondence, after all) we had not been notified to prepare for a green card interview. He truly was an asshole, and the whole time we sat there I was reflecting on what it must be like to have brown skin, to not understand the language as well as we do, and then get this guy for the interview! Thank goodness our attorney was there. Thank goodness we could afford to hire her. And what a sad, miserable little life that guy must lead. I wonder if he’s ever traveled outside the country.

That said, if anyone ever utters the words extreme vetting in my presence, I will give that person a piece of my mind. (They know who they are.)

And Now For the Citizenship Interview

Mr. Miserable was done with me, and I had to move to the second row of chairs, away from his Big Desk in the Tiny Office. Woo. Now the interview was straightforward: a series of questions about character (already asked and answered on paper a year ago). Have you ever been arrested, for example. Again, asked in a very fast mumble; if English were your second language, the potential for misunderstanding and giving the wrong answer would be very high.

Then the actual citizenship questions. A year ago we’d been given a booklet with the one hundred possible questions about US history, US government, and so on. These are things I learned in high school, although I’m told they don’t teach civics in public schools anymore. Applicants are asked ten questions of the hundred; to pass you must get six right.

Gerry only needed to be asked six.

You also have to say at least one sentence in English, and you have to write a sentence in English. (In this case: “The American Indians were here first.”)

At the end of all this, Mr. Miserable said, “I am recommending you for US citizenship. You will be informed when to appear to take the oath. It will be sometime in the next three months.” And that was that. No “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson,” as the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) agent in Dublin had said back in October 2015 when Gerry got his immigration visa under a different presidential administration.

Until the oath ceremony, Gerry’s still in limbo. His green card has an expiration date of 21 October 2017, so it’s no good for ID. If he needed to travel outside the country prior to his oath-taking and the arrival of a new passport (how long does THAT take these days?), his Irish passport would be flagged. There is a stamp that USCIS can place in the passport to “keep him legal,” should anything arise, but naturally Mr. Miserable declined to do that for us, although he could have right then. (He will if we need it, he said. But no favors, you see.)

Doing the happy dance right outside the door.

We Are Delighted, Of Course

We left the building with our heads down (Gerry muttering “Prick!”) but when we were outside, we laughed and took a photo. We stopped at Famous Dave’s on the way home and picked up some barbeque, the way two little old people might celebrate. 🙂 This long journey is almost over … and we are looking forward to Gerry’s opportunity to vote in the 2020 election.

But again, I want to stress this: we had an attorney to guide us through the process, a knowledgeable one who gave us great advice. We both speak the language, and we are white. Additionally, I have been around the block enough times to not be afraid of assholes. But just imagine someone who is truly foreign trying to navigate this process with Mr. Miserable.

• • •

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 35, 40 ESV)

There Was a Crooked House …

We were recently in Rhode Island, celebrating my son and his beautiful wife and their adorable baby girl. They live on Aquidneck Island (think: Newport) which is gorgeous, but also a very expensive place to find lodging in the summer months, due to tourism. (Example: the hotel room we booked when we were there in December tripled in cost for June.)

Soooo … we booked an Airbnb on the mainland, about 20 or so minutes away, in Bristol, which is a lovely town. Historic. Walking distance to everything. Nice.

The house we stayed in, as it turns out, is 144 years old. Photos were lovely, and we didn’t have a bad time there. But we don’t have that much experience with houses that old. (We do now.) Like the very steep stairs. Like the crooked, creaking floors. No, no, I get it—houses settle. But I can be a little unsteady and bumped into walls more than I’d like. And then …

Well, I think that old, crooked house may have … a presence. You know I’m not the type of person who gets too worked up about these sorts of things, so I don’t say this lightly.

I have had three of these type of experiences before this one. And by that I mean—it happened, I thought it was interesting, and then I went on with my life, you know?

First was at my post-divorce home (a duplex). When I moved in at age thirty-eight-ish, my neighbor, Joyce, was in her mid-fifties; she had a son, Trevor, in college. Joyce was an RN, and a cool old broad, if you get my meaning. Then she went into heart failure; the only thing that would save her was a heart/lung transplant, which she refused, knowing a little bit about it. So … she slowed down, and eventually after some months, she died in the house. Afterward, Trevor lived there for about a year, then moved to Nashville for work and put the house up for sale. A young man moved in (his parents bought it for him), and we had a friendly relationship.

One day when I got home from work, John was waiting in the front yard for me. “What did the previous owner look like?” he asked urgently. Before I could speak, he said, “No, wait, let me tell you,” and then proceeded to describe Joyce in great detail. The Joyce I’d known. For three nights running he’d been woken up by the light on his aquarium, which he kept in his bedroom (the bedroom Trevor had slept in), being flipped on. So he went to sleep with the light off, woke up with it on—and a woman who he described and was Joyce, standing next to it. She would approach his bed and lean over him. The most recent night John said the venetian blinds in that room started going crazy, getting banged around; he showed them to me and they were nearly ripped off the window. John also told me that in the last few days things on tables in other parts of the house had been moved. Now, I’d never discussed Joyce with John. There’s no way he could have described her as he did. So … I believed him. I suggested he speak to her. I suggested he tell her that Trevor had moved to Nashville, and that he was John. That Trevor was fine.

I believe he did that. We never discussed it again. And Joyce never crossed the firewall. I lived in that house for fourteen years without incident.

So that’s the first episode. Here’s the second:

I worked for a time for a man who had a thing for old houses and believed fervently in ghosts. He wanted a house with a presence, and felt he could sense them. He had bought and sold several of these houses, and lived in them. One day we had a staff meeting/team building get-together at his current home. We’d been given the tour; we’d talked about ghosts in particular rooms. I felt nothing; I don’t think I have the sensory perception for this particular thing.

Later, some of us were sitting around and one on the team came down from the upstairs bathroom, her eyes big as saucers. “Is there something strange about that bathroom?” she asked. She’d felt very weird. Well yes, our boss said. Their cat would sit at the doorway for hours, looking in, but would not cross the doorway. They would wake up in the middle of the night and the light would be on. A few in our group leaped up and ran upstairs to see (I have no idea what they thought they’d see or feel); I did not. I’m not particularly frightened but not really interested in it either.

What’s interesting to me in this story is the presence in the bathroom had not been mentioned on our tour of the house.

My only other experience that falls into this category involves a death, and my current home.

One of my oldest and dearest friends became ill with cancer and died about eighteen months later. I’d been out to see her—a four-hour plane ride away—over the holidays, and knew it would not be long. I spoke regularly with her on the phone, but often she did not make sense. Four months later my phone rang around midnight; it was her husband, telling me she’d gone, just an hour before. At that time, my husband was still in Ireland, so his half of our Tennessee bed was empty.

After I hung up—I have no idea what I said to my friend’s wonderful husband; I’m not particularly eloquent in the middle of the night—I lay back down, sad and restless, and eventually fell asleep again. During my sleep, all night, I had the sense that someone was sleeping beside me in the bed. In those long early-morning minutes when I was climbing out of sleep, especially, the feeling of a presence in the room, in the bed, was very strong, and I knew it was my friend. I wasn’t afraid; I was comforted. Just before I awoke completely, I “saw” her arise from the bed and walk out of the bedroom door. She turned around and smiled at me as she left.

Now, this house in Bristol: I’d had a dehydration episode of dizziness earlier in the afternoon, so wasn’t feeling great. Stumbling all over this crooked floored-house. Went to bed at 9pm. We both read, then G turned out his light (we were in tiny adjoining bedrooms) and I read a little more. After I turned out my light and settled, I heard what sounded like someone walking on the stairs (right outside my door, which was open, as was G’s). I thought it strange because we’d gone to a lot of trouble to find the lights before we went to bed, because the bathroom is downstairs. So wouldn’t G have turned on a light (or used his phone flashlight), rather than stumble down (very steep stairs) in the dark? That night I awoke at 2:28pm (I checked my phone) and went downstairs myself.

I didn’t think much about any of that until the next night when, as soon as our lights were out, the footsteps on the stairs started again! WTF, right? Also, I heard a light metallic tinkling like the hinged metal drawer pulls on my grandmother’s 1924ish bedroom furniture, which is in our bedroom at home. Odd, yes? Welp, when I got up that morning, guess what—there is a metal hook (half of a hook and eye, intended to keep the door closed, since the house is so akimbo) hanging on the doorframe. When I brushed it, curious, that was the metal sound I’d heard in the night.

Additionally, I awakened at 2:30am, right on the dot. It seems significant that this happened two nights in a row at the same time, because under normal circumstances, I rarely use the bathroom at night. Perhaps once every six weeks. (Thank you, CPAP machine.) So was something waking me up? I don’t know. I don’t really want to know, thankyouverymuch.

On the third night I was not awakened at 2:30am, nor did I hear the creaking on the stairs … but on the fourth night (and I slept downstairs because it was so hot upstairs) I was again awakened at 2:30am. That same night, the fan in G’s room fell over in the middle of the night. And—it seems odd to mention this, but it’s just another puzzling thing—I’d left my computer open with a browser window pulled up and in the morning it was for an Amazon Alexa, something neither of us had looked at. So there’s that …

I’ll be frank: the house is very conveniently located, but I can’t say I’d stay there again.

But Wait, There’s More! Explain This, Ghostbusters.

I bought a pair of earrings to go with the dress I’d planned to wear to the Rhode Island party. But I liked them so I’d worn them a lot before we ever got there. The party would be Saturday.

On Friday morning I got dressed (the upstairs bedrooms were very small and the stairs very steep, so luggage, dressing, bathroom—all of that stayed downstairs) wearing these earrings, and we drove from our place in Bristol to my son and daughter-in-law’s place, where my son’s in-laws were also staying. (On the way we stopped at a little pullout/scenic overlook so I could take some photos. Six or seven minutes tops.) We drove to a restaurant, Fieldstone’s, for breakfast. While driving back from breakfast, I put my hand up to my ear, and noticed one earring was missing.

Phooey.

We looked at at the kids’ place—we’d been there a half hour or so before the restaurant—I looked at our place, and I called the restaurant. Nothing. So … it was gone. I sadly put the one remaining earring into the little fabric bag, one of many I put in a zip bag for travel. And that was that.

I carry the zip bag in my purse for day-of travel purposes. We got home late on a Monday night and fell into bed. On Tuesday morning, the first thing I did was unload my travel purse and switch back to my day-to-day purse. I carried the zip bag into our bedroom and laid it on the bed. Next to it I lay clothes I pulled out of the suitcase that I would rehang, like a sweater. And there all of it lay until evening, when I went in to start hanging things up. Which I did.

When I turned to the zip bag, to unload it and put it up, I saw an earring laying on top of it, just as you see in the photo (which I have recreated).

That seemed strange. I immediately opened the zip bag and searched for the single earring. How had it gotten out of the bag? But it was still inside. So this is my missing earring. The pair is reunited.

I can come up with all sorts of reasons why I now have a pair again: it was stuck in the clothes I wore that day, for example. (Except I shook them out on that day. Also I folded them afresh when I packed to leave.) Or it fell off my ear as we were leaving the house that morning and fell into the suitcase, where it lay for the next three days. I just didn’t notice it was gone until later. (Except that’s just not the Earring Way. They lull you into complacence with their presence for hours, then fall off on your way home.)

But set that aside. What I really can’t explain is how I walked past the clothes and the zip bag lying on the bed several times during the day and never saw an earring lying on top of the zip bag. It wasn’t there. I have gone over and over my actions (hangers, clothing) trying to figure out how an earring could fall out and land so neatly. I just can’t explain this.

I don’t really think it’s a ghost, y’all. And I realize telling this whole, detailed story makes me sound a little silly or a little insane. But the earring was lost … and then it reappeared in an odd place, after a whole day of traveling. Also, Gerry had nothing to do with it. You tell me.

Who Dat? Old Family Photos

One is reminded (when looking at old family photos) that back in the day, you took a photo and couldn’t be sure what you had snapped until days or weeks later when the film was developed. Was the lighting OK? Was it fuzzy? You just didn’t know. And film wasn’t cheap, so you didn’t take three (or ten!) photos of the same thing to make sure you got a good one. Most of my father’s photos are in focus but he didn’t throw out the bad ones, either.

I have no idea who the adults in this photo are. 🙂

My parents kept a little 3×5 metal file box of addresses (for the Christmas card list) because their air force friends became family to them—and they kept in touch, year after year after year. They kept in touch if they moved away but they hung out if they were stationed together.

This couple appears in several of the family slides; I can’t remember their names but I know we were close to them. He was a pilot. I seem to recall a story of airplane hijinks (flying under bridges? flying under something, something the US Air Force frowns on). He met her while he was stationed in Italy and married her. That’s me* in his lap, Jill in hers (probably early 1957). What intrigues me about this photo, though, is that marvelous carved wooden partition. That sure wasn’t our house!

*Notice I’m wearing a dress. Until I got older, I was always in a dress. Ninety percent of these slides, I’m in a dress, a dress sewn by my mother.