Small Things in My Hand (part 3) | Elizabeth Gaucher

Oscar never changed, but his prey selection did. When he went from eating animals no one liked anyway to animals we owed cosmic reparations, it was a game changer.  A nest of baby rabbits appeared in the hollowed edge of a tree about 40 feet from the patio. Somehow they managed to live long enough to open their eyes and develop fur, though how Oscar ignored them that long is a mystery. He may have had more than enough to eat closer to the patio, and was just too lazy to slither over to the tree. The mother rabbit stayed close to her babies, and we could see her come and go from her nest. Oscar could see her come and go, too, and one day when she went, he made his move.

My mother saw this and swooped into motion as she had flown to the hutch before. The plan? There was only a goal. Get Oscar away from the babies. She grabbed a rake and snared him across the tines. From the house I could see only a wild woman with a long, surprised reptile on the end of a pole. The snake thrashed like a thick black stocking in gale force winds but my mother was undeterred. She ran with him to the edge of the woods, pulled the rake back over her shoulder and pitched Oscar with all her might over the hill toward the creek.

The obvious and naïve belief was that one can just throw a snake away. We all wanted it to be true, so we believed it. Of course, there are fewer creatures more tenacious than a snake; even the mild-mannered do not leave a place where all of their needs are met and life is good. Oscar was back almost immediately, and so began a daily dance between my mother and the black snake. What awed me most was my mother’s commitment not to kill him. She valued that snake, but he had crossed a line that she would hold, no matter how many times she had to take the fight to him. Those baby rabbits would be saved, and Oscar could go easy or he could go hard. But Oscar did not give up, and my mother eventually accepted that saving the rabbits meant they had to get out of the tree.

Wearing gloves, she took the babies and put them in a box, then carried them into the house. I remember seeing their little eyes shining like ebony beads as my mother held each one in a gloved hand and fed it some kind of milk or formula from a doll’s baby bottle. Their fur was brown, with smaller flecks of black hair. Their ears were tiny, and their little claws scratched the plastic bottle every now and then, making a soft but perceptible sound as they reached for nurture in a safe place.

Memories of childhood events are slippery. A child’s mind often clings to and obsesses on images and events that imprinted an emotion more than they imprinted a detailed fact. Sometimes we delete entire events or rub to blur the details of exactly how something resolved. I do not remember if my mother eventually had Oscar killed, though I am confident if he was terminated she did not do it herself. I do not know what happened to the baby rabbits once they left our bathtub, though I seem to have a memory of their restoration to the natural world. I do not know what happened to Lee or to the hutch, but I know the reasons why I do not make any effort to discover the definite answers to these questions.

The first is that after all this time, I believe any pieces of the puzzle that anyone else has are doubtless as worn by memory loss as are my pieces. There is a degree to which I am not even sure I have these two rabbit stories in the correct order; but I want to ignore that possibility, because even if they are not in the correct order, they are in the right order. The right order is the way we tell our life stories so that they make sense. Human beings often look to life and death in the natural world to sketch out and then paint in our most complex and unresolved stories. What is right? What is wrong? Is listening to fear a healthy way to navigate life? Are there any answers that could ever cover all of our conflicts so that we might know, with certainty, how to live in peace and harmony with the lives around us?

The human narrative tells us we are one with the world but also separate. There is something about mankind that keeps us unable to function seamlessly with the rest of God’s creation. We are forever trying to get back to the garden, but when we get there we still do not seem to know how to fit in.  It’s as if we can’t stop trying to fix something all the time, but those efforts only lead to more to fix.

We can remember, though, that we tried. And we can tell our stories until our lives make sense.


Esse-a-Go-Go: The Post Office Story

When I buy stamps, I always ask for “the writer stamps.” It’s usually a pretty simple request. I ask for the writer stamp du jour, the clerk provides it, I buy it, the end.

On a recent trip to the main office of the U.S. Postal Service here in my hometown, I encountered something different. I’m still not sure what it was, but this is what happened.

The waiting line was long, long enough to engender awkward silences between me and the people standing next to me. We’d start some small talk with the assumption that we wouldn’t be standing there long, and then five minutes later when we were still standing there it was uncomfortable. Every incremental push forward in our line was one breath closer to social relief.

At the window, I made my standard request for the writer stamps. The clerk looked in the drawer and shrugged, “I don’t see any.”

“That’s OK,” I said, wary of upsetting the waiters behind me. “I’ll just take…..”

“Let me go look in the back,” he said.

Well, that’s right nice of you. Hurry back.

Except he didn’t hurry back. He was gone a long time. The people behind me starting pawing the earth. I glanced back repeatedly, smiling weakly and suggesting that I had no idea what the clerk was doing or why.

When he finally reappeared, he had stamps in hand but they were clutched to his chest so I couldn’t see what the images were.  He looked and me and said, “OK, I found some stamps. We do have some.”

What’s the drama?

“First, I want to show you these,” he said. “These are so beautiful and they are some of my personal favorites.”

He showed me a very pretty stamp from the American Treasures series. It was an Edward Hopper painting of a sail boat.

“Now I also have these,” he said.  He revealed the second stamp, a Black Heritage series stamp of John H. Johnson (1918-2005).  I realized to my dismay that the clerk was afraid.

He was afraid to show me a stamp of a black man.

What did he think, that when I said writer I really meant sailboat? That I don’t think African-Americans are writers? That girls only like purty things with pastels and sunshine? That I would call his supervisor for daring to try to sell me a Black Heritage stamp when I’m white and I said I wanted a writer stamp so surely I must have meant a white writer?

The truly strange thing is that to this day as I write this, I’m still not angry with this clerk. He went out of his way to help me. He did what I asked him to do. What stays with me is that he assumed I didn’t want this stamp.  What he did was make me want this stamp even more, and make me want you to want it, too.

Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

This man was incredible, and I never knew his name before my Post Office story. Thank you, strange clerk. You helped me more than you know.

John Johnson. Forever.

(Right about now, I wonder what’s happening at Karan-a-Go-Go…….)

In 2012, the Postal Service® is pleased to honor John H. Johnson, the trailblazing publisher of Ebony, Jet, and other magazines. Johnson overcame poverty and racism to build a business empire embracing magazines, radio stations, cosmetics, and more. His magazines portrayed black people positively at a time when such representation was rare, and played an important role in the civil rights movement.

His unwillingness to accept defeat was a key to Johnson’s success. When he was unable to buy a lot in downtown Chicago because of his skin color, he hired a white lawyer who bought the land in trust. Thus, Johnson became the first black person to build a major building in Chicago’s Loop, where Johnson Publishing still has its headquarters.

As Johnson’s influence, accomplishments, and fortune grew, he received many prizes and honors. He joined Vice President Richard Nixon on a goodwill tour of Africa and served as a Special United States Ambassador for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awarded him its prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1966. Six years later, in 1972, his industry peers named him publisher of the year — a prize Johnson compared to winning an Oscar. In presenting Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, President Bill Clinton lauded him for giving hope to African-Americans during difficult times. A panel of experts polled by Baylor University in 2003 named Johnson “the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history.” That same year, Howard University named its journalism school after him.

The John H. Johnson (Forever®) stamp, designed by Postal Service art director Howard Paine, features a color photograph of Johnson taken by Bachrach Studios. The photographer was David McCann.

The U.S. Postal Service has recognized the achievements of prominent African-Americans through the Black Heritage series since 1978. This stamp honoring Johnson is the 35th stamp in that series, which highlights outstanding individuals who helped shape American culture.

The stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.