Endings and Beginnings

Eric C. Miller about 5 years old, painted by Irene Bowers

I began this post in early December and realized as I was writing it that it dredged up deep feelings of sadness. I could not finish it. Perhaps it was the accumulation of pandemic isolation and the uncertainty and stress due to some serious health problems my husband experienced last year. I decided it was too sad for the holiday season.

Then I decided it was important for me deal with some unresolved grief.

In December of 1962, my first year in college, I came home to Wallowa, Oregon. On December 21, I welcomed a baby brother into our family, Eric Christopher Miller. i went back to school and was only home for short periods during the next few years. I got married between my junior and senior year in college when Eric was three. I wasn’t around him much and didn’t know him well. But from my mom and dad and my other two brothers I knew him as a kind soul, creative, musical, and artistic. My younger brother, Carl, can speak more to that as he is a couple years older.

Carl and Eric built a motor scooter and tore up the field around their home where they lived in Toutle, WA.

Eric at 14

Eric died in a car crash in 1979, in which my brother Carl was severely injured. It was a difficult time for my family. I had just delivered my son, which was a joyous occasion overshadowed by the death of my brother. In those days my doctor would not let me travel with a newborn, so I didn’t get to participate in the grieving process with my family. My other brother and his wife helped my parents in the aftermath of Eric’s death and Carl’s recovery.

When Eric and Carl were little, my mom took them up to Mt. St. Helens in the summer to go sledding. Mom and Dad and the two boys often picnicked at Spirit Lake. My husband and I visited them two years after we got married and joined them at the lake. We saw Mt. St. Helens in all its glory, its snow-capped peak towering above us.

The year after Eric’s death, Mt. St. Helens erupted, and that cataclysm eclipsed our family’s loss.

Eric’s death devastated my parents, and as people sometimes do, Dad idealized him. I’ve included a copy of something he wrote and framed. I love the story about how Eric wanted a space in the garden to grow candy bars. He was the one who ate all his Halloween candy by the next day, while Carl worked on his until Christmas.

It took a long time to process Eric’s death. Because his birthday was so close to Christmas, the end of the year has always brought conflicting emotions. I believe part of my recent sadness stems from missing family and friends. They help us deal with sadness and pain. My husband and I are fortunate to have children who still like us. They each came several times last year to help us deal with my husband’s serious medical issues, and they keep in touch via video chat. My husband is healing and life is getting better for me and everybody.

Years after Eric died, I wrote a poem eulogizing him. I’m not a poet, and I never submitted this anywhere, but writing it helped me express my grief.

My mother told me once she didn’t like people asking her if she was over it. She often said you never “get over” the loss of a loved one. You learn to live with a new normal and you hold fast to happy memories.

Here we at the beginning of a new year. I have realized how grateful I am for family and friends who have been so supportive. I will reach out to all and make sure they know how important they are in my life. And I will hold fast to happy memories. Every day is a new beginning.

THE ROAD TO PARADISE (Spirit Lake Highway)

Before the eruption, on a quiet, misty morning, 
I watched spirits rise from the lake
and listened to the whispered elegies of Douglas firs. 

At the end of the road, old Harry Truman
thumbed his nose at the government and the world.
The world wept when Harry and the land and
57 strangers were eulogized on television. 

I’ve stood on that highway between the tombstones
and the tourist traps, and read the epitaph for a death
that went unremarked in all that vast calamity. 

There in Nature’s rejuvenation,
the mountain rises from its ashes—
mindful requiem for a brother.

Eric’s grave overlooking Silver Lake in Washington. Mt. St. Helens beyond is obscured by haze.
My father wrote this about Eric.

Endings and Beginnings

Memories of Dad

Digital scrapbook page by Trilby Plants

My father, Roy Neil Miller, was eccentric. He created his own reality. But he loved us kids. I was the firstborn and a tomboy. My brother was fifteen months younger than I. He wasn’t interested, so Dad taught me how to fish, although I never got the hang of fly-fishing. On the Blackfoot River near Missoula, Montana, when I was eight to ten, I caught a lot of gooseberry bushes. I didn’t catch many fish, but I ate plenty of berries.

I was the trout measurer. They had to be six inches long. My father had a good eye, but sometimes he put some in his creel that weren’t quite long enough. If they were a tad small, I stretched them to make the limit in case someone from the DNR came around checking. One summer we camped on the river outside Missoula, Montana, while we waited for an apartment in grad student housing. My mother fried the little trout almost every morning for breakfast. You could eat them bones, tail and all. They were delicious. At night my dad heated stones in the campfire and brought them into the tent in a bucket to keep us warm at night.

There were bears aplenty in the area. Dad said that if we saw one, we should take shelter in the car. But he was at school most days with the car. There was a rock formation near our campsite that formed a natural walled in area. Mom said we should go there if we ever had to escape a bear. Mostly, the bears left the campers alone because everybody took precautions.

We kept food in a large aluminum suitcase Dad hung from a tree. One night a bear decided he wanted what was inside. He made a great deal of noise and woke us and the other few campers nearby. The bear severed the rope, and the suitcase crashed to the ground. But the bear couldn’t get inside the suitcase. He batted it around for a while and then gave up. For years my father showed people the claw and teeth marks on the suitcase. He considered it a badge of honor to his survival skills that the bear didn’t get our food.

My father earned two master’s degrees from the University of Montana, one in English and one in education. Second semester of my fifth-grade year, Dad became the school superintendent of the tiny school in Ismay, Montana. There were eight kids in my classroom, fourth through eighth grade. I was the only one in my class.

My sixth grade pin from Ismay Grade School

It was there in eastern Montana that my father became a rockhound. He taught me to hunt agates. I got pretty good at spotting a likely rock at a distance. I opened and closed the cattle gates, and, undaunted by prairie dog holes, he drove his Packard across the badlands, following two ruts of what looked like a little-used road. It turned out once to be a cowpath that diverged in two different directions. So he drove across the scrub grass with no guidance, always knowing where we were going. Serenaded by grasshoppers that hummed of drought, we walked in sun-baked gulches where dinosaur bones jutted from layers of ancient rock. In the dry washes he constantly told me to be wary of rattlers. They were everywhere. I found petrified wood whose crystal rings measured hundreds of million years of frozen time. I pounced on rough stones and imagined that when Dad sliced them with his diamond saw, there would lace and moss hiding inside the translucent quartz.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

We cooked dinner on a campfire and slept under northern lights with curtains the colors of jasper, aventurine, tiger eye, and carnelian fluttered above us. I still have a piece of agate jewelry that came from a stone I may have found. It’s a pin with an oval-shaped agate. In it, a black tree is silhouetted against brown and gold striations that look like the colors of the badlands: a lasting souvenir of memory.

Dad got the school in Ismay to buy a telescope. On cold winter nights when the sky was so clear it seemed the stars were close enough to touch, he set it up on the hill beside the school building. He showed the solar system to all who came, kids and adults. I saw the rings of Saturn and the faint lines on Mars. Jupiter was a mysterious ball of swirls with a barely visible red spot. Instead of a misty streak across the sky, I saw the Milky Way’s stars and nebulae. I knew I was looking into the past beyond the age of agates and dinosaurs, and I wondered if there were others out there looking at us. My father always thought there would be others.

When my father was around 24, he was in the Air Force, stationed at Lackland AFB in Texas. He told us how he was asked to pilot a C-47 carrying desperately needed iron lungs to a hospital somewhere along the gulf. He volunteered, along with a crew, and they flew through a terrible tropical storm. One of the machines broke loose and dinged the side of the plane, but they made it safely, and half a dozen people survived the illness.

I received the polio vaccine because of my father. He often told about his experience delivering the iron lung machines. When we lived in Ismay, he contacted the state health department and had them come and administer the new Salk vaccine to everybody who wanted it.

My dad wasn’t perfect. In fact, he was a bit odd. But he was a decent person who did the best he could for his family. He died in 1999 after speaking to a local VFW group. Mom said he talked about his experiences as a pilot in WWII. My brothers and I didn’t know until after he died that he was in Air Force intelligence and flew missions over Germany taking photos of different areas.

I made the digital scrapbook page in his honor. The photo is one I took in 1994 when he was standing in the doorway of a garage he’d bought and had moved to the house he and Mom bought in Iron River, MI.


Why I love Contemporary Fantasy

Faerie, Magic
Guliver from Pixabay.com

When I was five, my mother read Gulliver’s Travels to my brother and me. All my brother remembered was that Gulliver urinated on the Lilliputian town to save it from a fire. I remembered the fantastical element of tiny people living their lives in what amounted to another world. I also remember a book from my childhood about brownies and fairies and magic.

I loved the idea of magical creatures co-existing with people who for the most part were totally unaware of them. Except for a select few who, for some reason, were given the gift of seeing the invisible.
In my stories I see what is invisible to others, whether the world of faerie, or aliens.

As do all stories, my contemporary fantasy, Circles in Time, came from a “what if” idea. What if a modern man met a fairy? Irish mythology is peopled by fairies and other magical beings. I chose the time of the Tenth Century because little documentation has survived from that period except for myth and legend. This makes for fertile ground for planting the idea of Siobhan, a fairy woman wronged by a clan chieftain, who is rescued by the queen of the fairies and sent to the future to escape and heal.

Siobhan returns to her time. Even though damaged by her interaction with human society, she seeks legitimacy for her son among the humans, in the stronghold of the clansman who forced himself on her, the father of her son.

Thus begins Siobhan’s spiral of bad choices. Choices that culminate in her summoning a forbidden spell whose consequences follow her descendants through a thousand years of history.