Old Life, New Life, and Benazir Bhutto


This morning, my clock radio woke me with the unhappy news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. I’m not well-informed about the politics of our “ally” Pakistan. I know I don’t trust Pervez Musharraf any further than I could throw a tank. I know I feel a little soiled, a little jaded, every time I hear Dubya go on about what a great partner Musharraf is in our “War on Terrah.” It doesn’t seem to matter that Musharraf’s government presents only the flimsiest pretense of democracy, and only when it doesn’t inconvenience Musharraf.

Benazir Bhutto, as the leader of Musharraf’s chief opposition, was many things. She was loved and revered, discredited and exiled, and tainted by corruption. Who can say, entangled as she was in the political strife inherent to Pakistan, what Bhutto really was. I can only believe that to have become Prime Minister of an Islamic nation—even an unsuccessful and ultimately deposed Prime Minister—she must have been a remarkable woman. I admired her. And I feared for her life when she decided to end her exile and return to Pakistan. May she rest in the peace she was fated never to know in this life.

I considered posting a quick tribute to Bhutto this morning, since I thought I didn’t have to work until 11 am. My life being what it is, however, half my crew crapped out on me today, so I had to give up any nobler aspirations and run to the café.

I get to work, and thoughts of Mrs. Bhutto are still swimming around in my head. I say to my counter girl, “So they killed Benazir Bhutto…!” And she says, “Who?” I say, “Benazir Bhutto.” Totally blank face. “Do you know who Benazir Bhutto is?” “Uh, noooo…”

Okay. Counter girl is only nineteen. But she is also in her second year of college. What made me think a college student must have somehow heard of Benazir Bhutto?

Toward the end of this exchange with clueless college student counter girl, my cook walks through the door. Cook is in her late thirties, never struck me as being particularly well-educated…but I also know she is a total internet junkie. “P, do you know who Benazir Bhutto is?” “Who?” No surprise there, really. Apparently, cook zaps right past the news blurbs on her home page…

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had such a hard time letting go of my “old life” and embracing my new life as a (completely lost-in-the-weeds) entrepreneur. And I’ve been trying to figure out what my problem is. Though I’m inching closer to the total immersion I think I need in order to be successful, I really feel like I’ve been dragged to that place kicking and screaming. After today, I have a little better idea of why that is.

I work in the freaking Twilight Zone. I’m surrounded by people who have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world beyond the ends of their own noses. For someone who has spent much of the last four years nurturing and immersed in her personal political identity, this is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. I feel like I’m finding a life, but losing myself. And I’m not entirely sure that’s a trade I’m willing to make.


Christmas 2007

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Around Thanksgiving (was that only last month?) I predicted a hard holiday for my family, and wished for Spring. It did indeed come to pass, that sad and difficult season. Thanksgiving was a non-starter…we were even then in that watching and waiting pattern that establishes itself as a loved one dwindles. Mom passed away on December 3. Her memorial service, and our ability not to tear each other to shreds in the preparation of it, was the single shining moment for the Baldwin family this season. We sent Mom to her rest with love and dignity.

We didn’t feel like celebrating the holidays, but we thought that not celebrating would be too sad and empty. After the funeral, and the unhappy task of cleaning out Mom’s apartment, sifting through her prodigious angel collection and her sixty years’ accumulation of costume jewelry brought us the comfort of fond memories. Each of us chose one or two pieces to hold and remember. By mid-December, that business was mostly concluded, and we tried to scrape together some kind of family holiday. But we just…ran out of gas. Yesterday saw some of the sniping and the anger and the tears that we had worked so hard to avoid.

In the end, maybe it would have been better to just…give Christmas a pass this year. It was so hard not to compare last night’s somber little celebration to “The Good Years” and find it pitiably wanting. No one was really in the mood to count our blessings and put a good face on it. Mostly there was a lot of food that nobody needed, and a few presents that nobody really wanted. Christmas 2007 is just about over now, and nobody in our family is going to miss it, I think.

Hard to believe that the bright spot of my life the last few weeks has been…the café. That thing which has been more inclined to kick my butt than feed my ego for the past nineteen months…

This may be the worst Christmas since the Grinch licked his evil lips over Whoville, but Old Town Café is chugging along at a record pace. Not world record, of course, but record in relation to our own history. The first week of December, while I was in Eugene tending to my sad family business, my crew piloted the good ship OTC to its highest December sales week in its three-year history. And we’ve repeated that performance in each of the last two weeks. As of today, we’re showing a 1% increase in sales over last year’s total December sales, and we still have six sales days remaining. And I haven’t laid out one dime in advertising money all month. I’m having a hard time believing we’re the same restaurant we were one year ago.

Oh, do I remember the goings on of a year ago, though I’d rather forget. 2006—the year of the chronically sick, reliably unreliable and/or disappearing employees, and sales so bad it didn’t really matter whether I had employees or not. The year of no mercy, which threatened to chew me up, spit me out, and grind me into the pavement. The year where the best I could say of it, as it dwindled into its final hours on New Years Eve, was that I had survived. (And yet, I felt giddily victorious to be able to say that much…)

Last year, my family was my life preserver, the thing that kept my head above the waters of my foundering business ship. This year, my business is the thing that my hands are grasping as the waves of grief and loss toss me about. I suppose I should be grateful—and I am—that there is always something to keep me afloat. But I’m still hoping that next year will be a little less tempest-tossed.

Vanity, Thy Name is…Uh, What’s Thy Name Again?

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Even had it not been for the sad events of the past couple of weeks, this holiday season was destined to be different from the last several.

I just couldn’t consider tearing every room in my house apart and reconstructing the “Christmas Zone” I’ve enjoyed over the last few years. And not really because I don’t have any time to DO the decorating (though I truly don’t…) More because the thought of UNDOING the decorating come mid-January left me absolutely cold.


No five trees in the house; we’ve cut the population to two. And neither of these is in my bedroom. The bedroom will remain holiday neutral this season. No tree, no snow-kitties on the mantel, no candles in the fireplace, no glitter stuck to my face when I wake up.

Nor will the family room get bedecked this year. Hardly seems worth it, since we spend about two hours a week relaxing there anymore.

The living room will harbor one barely over-decorated tree. Easy up, easy down…

Worst of all, one of my favorite holiday indulgences has finally been made redundant by the hands-on nature of living the dream…


My Mother’s Hands

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All through preparations for my mom’s funeral, I knew that what I needed to do was to give of my talent, from my heart. An artist would paint, a photographer would snap, a seamstress would sew…and I–needed to write. Something. But the words refused to come.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday went by… I understood the imperative, but could not find the inspiration.

The funeral was this morning–Friday. It was now or never. No time to fuss, no time to edit and re-arrange and tweak. And it came, in a rush…

I remember my mother’s hands
Not elegant nor slender
But stout and strong and
always busy

My earliest memories are of those capable hands
Wielding a dust cloth, a dish rag, a scrub brush,
Feeding laundry through the wringer washer
pegging it out on the line to dry
Dipping a spoon into the magic paste
that would become the lumpy dumplings
in our favorite chicken soup

We coveted the gentle stroke
that would calm a fevered temple
And dreaded the near-scalping
when those hands came in contact with
any object surrounding a
shock of hair attached to the backs of our heads
(“It’ll only hurt for a second…!)

Those hands, nearly forty years old, were introduced
to the steering wheel of a station wagon in 1961
and carried on a love/hate relationship with that object
for the next thirty years
And in 1966, they traded the dust cloth and mop
for the pencil and the adding machine
The kitchen table for the desk at Woolworth’s–
another love-hate relationship that lasted nearly twenty years.

I remember those hands
fussing with the filmy folds of a veil around my face
taking needle and thread to the great hole in that veil
after I wrapped it around a barberry bush fleeing the rice-throwers
on a chilly October morning in 1976
Those loving hands…those mother’s hands

In retirement, those hands
Clutched a fishing pole or a handful of playing cards
(“I’ve got a hand like a foot!!”)
Tipped a watering can into one green thing or another
that always responded enthusiastically to her touch
stroked the soft fur of the latest adoptee
or sneaked forbidden bits to furry family members
waiting confidently at her feet under the dining table
Wrapped around a pen, dispatching volumes upon volumes of word puzzles
heavy with the rings and bracelets she loved to pile on
But busy…always busy

I hope now, wherever her spirit is going
they give her hands, as well as wings

Elsie B. 1922-2007

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Fold thy hands sleeping!
Angels are keeping
***Watch o’er thee now.
See, it is dawning!
Light of the morning
***Falls on thy brow.

White wings are flying!
No more shall dying
***Darken thy day.
Leave thou Death’s portal!
Spirit immortal
***Speed on thy way!

When skies are paling
And clouds are sailing
***Over Earth’s night,
Only in dreaming
Shall thou be seeming
***Lost to our sight.

Dream mists are drifting!
Fingers are lifting
***Curtains of space!
Framed in its splendor
Wistful and tender,
***Smiles thy dear face.