short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Babysitter

When I was smaller, Mommy sent me to church every Sunday morning. I like to go to church, but I was the only one in the family at that time who attended church, so the church sent a van to pick me up. The church van always came at 9:15, and Mommy was always rushing to get me ready on time.

One Sunday morning a man came to the door at 9:10. Mommy could not believe that the van was five minutes early. She always counted on those five minutes to get me ready. Usually, no one came to the door, so she figured that they must have been sitting there for a while. She started to hurry.

"Just a minute," she said, leaving the door open. She quickly grabbed my suit coat and put it on me.

"I just have to comb his hair; it will just be a second," she called to the man at the door as she darted into the bathroom after a comb. A few seconds later, I looked mighty spiffy.

"Almost ready," she called out again, as she rushed upstairs to get my Bible and offering.

Whew! She had never got me ready so fast.

"Here he is," she said, out of breath, as she pushed me out the door.

I looked up at a tall man in blue. I did not know him, so I just stood and looked at him, and he looked at Mommy.

"Ma'am," he said, now that he could get a word in edgewise. "All I require is a signature." He was an express mail postman with a package for Mommy.

A friend of Mommy says that every time she sees an express mail truck now she thinks that there goes Mommy's babysitter. She also said that Mommy was not going to get Mother of the Year Award that year.

I thought it was about time for another of Doah's stories. This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Angel of Beirut

Were I to have had any doubt about God protecting me, one incident in the Middle East would have dispelled it. I had traveled on university business from Jordan to Lebanon (a trip that put me on the “search her on every leg of every trip,” i.e. “randomly selected for search” list at airports worldwide for a while).

One morning in Beirut I started down a ghetto-looking street, devoid of vegetation or people, wondering if I had somehow misunderstood the instructions that the hotel clerk had given me in French. (French and Arabic are the two lingua francas in Lebanon. Of these, I chose to speak French. My mastery of French was greater than my capacity to communicate in Arabic, and I certainly looked more European than Arab although when I donned hijab — a headscarf — I could surprisingly pass for a Middle Easterner in looks.)

The stone buildings on the Beirut street stood stoically silent as if on guard, comrades of mixed color and size, humbly displaying the wounds of past wars for any accidental passerby. Some had chipped corners and broken stairs. Most were bullet-ridden.

As I walked down the street, a man suddenly appeared. Where had he come from? He looked directly at me and called out to me.

“You are not from Beirut, are you?” he asked in excellent English although his countenance was definitely Arab. He then commented, “You look Western.”

“I am a Westerner,” I answered cautiously, careful not to mention my American heritage. In the Middle East, I was always honest but never candid. If, in any given situation, I could pass for European or, as more often happened, a Russian, I did so. It was safer, given the war in Iraq and highly emotional reactions to Americans in the Middle East in general.

In response to my admission, the man replied, “In that case, you don’t want to be walking down this street. It would not be safe for you. Where are you trying to go?”

I crossed the street to where he was standing so that we did not have to continue to shout. He waited patiently, without moving. Coming up to him, I explained that I was looking for an ATM. He directed me to another street. I thanked him and walked away.

I thought he had remained at the spot where we had spoken, but as I was passing through the intersection only seconds later, I turned and saw that the spot was empty. How fortunate, I thought at the time, that he was in the right place at the right time to protect me. Later, I wondered how he could have disappeared so quickly?

But who was he? As Ashley Siferd wrote in her guest blog on this site last week, there is someone watching out for me. Wish I worthy of it! No, I don't deserve it, but I do love it!!

Adapted excerpt from Blest Atheist. Double-posted on my other blog, Blest Atheist, for convenience of readers of that blog, who tend to differ from readers here.

For more angel stories on the Blest Atheist blog, click here and for ones on this blog, click here and here.

Beth Niquette maintains a blog of angel stories that you might like to read, and I would point out that Sr. Lorraine is looking for angel stories for a book should you have any to share.

In conclusion, may you always be watched over by angels!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hi, There!

Hi! My name is DD. At least, that is what everyone calls me. I do have another name. It is Doah Donald Mahlou, but almost no one calls me that.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I like to organize things and to manage what other people do. Most especially, I like to make plans. Mommy says that my favorite phrase is "I've got a plan!" Well, I've got a plan now. My plan is to tell you some stories about my mommy. She says they're embarrassing. Daddy says they're normal for Mommy. I say they're funny. You decide!

Now, let me tell you about my mommy. Perhaps you have met her — my mommy? She's like the lady next door except that all kinds of strange and funny things happen to her. She rushes to the bus stop, ready to attack the workday with a vengeance — except that she seems to have forgotten something that leaves everyone staring. Airplanes fall apart on her, and road trips somehow end up in the wrong states. Then, when she is exhausted, she flops into bed and finds a "stranger" there.

Mommy says that there are two kinds of people: the detail-observant and the detail-oblivious. Some folks are detail-observant. They notice immediately if a neighbor has purchased a new truck, someone has rearranged the living room furniture, or the house is on fire. Other people don't seem to notice the little (uh, sometimes big) details—but they might notice a house on fire if it is their own and they are sitting in it and starting to feel hot. Mommy calls these people detail-oblivious.
My mommy is detail-oblivious. I like that because odd things happen to detail-oblivious people. Life with a detail-oblivious person can be a whole lot of fun.

This book contains only true stories about my Mommy, but mommy made me change the names of her friends (and her bosses). She says that I should protect the innocent — and her. I don't quite understand that because most all of the people I talk about in this book are guilty of the things I describe, including Mommy. Well, Mommy says that they have to be treated as if they are innocent. So, I did that.

I got the idea for this book from Jacqueline Reuss. She was my mommy's secretary, and she thought funny things happened to Mommy. She said that someone ought to write a book about Mommy. So, I did. Thank you, Jacqueline. That was a fun idea! We got you, Mommy!

I dedicate this book to Dr. Joan Landy, Karen Lindstrom, and Sue Scott, who were some of my teachers, and to Julie McGlinchey, my reading tutor. They all thought there was hope for me to become something called literate, but they were the only ones who thought so — except, of course, for my mommy, my relatives, and my family's friends. As for me, I'm starting to believe now.


This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Since several readers have commented on the human interest aspect of this "project," I thought you might be interested in reading the introduction to the book that Doah and I worked out together, talking about the origin of the book and the reason for his enthusiasm. He really put in a lot of hard work. It took us all weekend every weekend for a full year, with him relating to me the stories he remembered personally or remembered having been told by various relatives and friends and my typing them up and reading them back to him for his approval and editing ("no, no, I not say that," he would pronounce when my words did not meet his approval). It was a great mother-son collaboration -- and Donnie, the daddy here who is a computer graphics specialist, did all the graphics, again with Doah having the right to final approval.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shopping Catastrophe

Mommy does not like to shop, but she does go shopping sometimes. It is probably good that she does not go shopping too often. The times that she does are interesting. If it were more frequently, it might be irritating—or worse. Let me give you an example.
Once my Mommy and her friend, Zina, went grocery shopping. At that time, Zina and her daughter, Ksenya, were living with us.

Zina is like my Mommy in many ways. Like my Mommy, she does not see details. In the case of food, people like Zina and Mommy do not see apples and oranges, they see fruit.

Anyway, Mommy and Zina came home from the store with a lot of food, but it was not the kind of food we usually eat. In fact, I did not even know what some of the food was.

My sister was quite surprised at the food she saw on the kitchen counter, so she asked my Mommy what the food was and why she had bought it.

Mommy answered, "Aunt Zina put it in the basket, so I bought it. Frankly, I have no idea what it is. I just figured she wanted it."

So, Ksenya asked Zina what the food was and why she had bought it. She got a surprising answer.

Zina said, "Aunt Beth put it in the basket, so I said nothing. Frankly, I have no idea what it is. I just figured she wanted it.

My sister and Ksenya then confronted their mothers with their near identical answers. It turns out that neither had put the food in question into the basket. In fact, neither remembered taking a basket at the door. So, obviously, they had waltzed off with someone else's grocery cart and bought someone else's food.

Conclusion: Do not send someone who does not see the difference between apples and oranges to the store.


This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading. The book was featured, one of thousands of other books of course, at the National Book Exhibit in Los Angeles that year, and Doah proudly walked up to the check-in counter for his author badge. "I author," he announced, and he really acted like one at the booksigning. Sometimes that boy can surprise me! Here are some other posts from Doah's book: Casual Attire and Just One of Those Days.

Note: After several rather lugubrious posts, I thought it might be time for some fun. I hope this post will bring some laughter, or at least a smile.

Monday, October 5, 2009


That my grandfather died was not troubling. It was a relief. What was troubling was that I let him die deliberately. It was not chance; it was a choice, and the guilt dogged me for more than 40 years.

Pop (the name my grandfather preferred) had a special affection for the girls in the family. In fact, we three older girls in the 8-Pack, my brother's term for the eight children in our family, just whet Pop’s appetite for more. Soon, he was sexually abusing our slightly younger girl cousins, as well.

We girls had only one conversation about the matter, and I remember it clearly even now. My younger sisters, Danielle and Katrina, and I were in the bathroom together. Our parents were asleep. In this conversation, we were comparing notes about what happened when Pop babysat us. It turns out that he had prurient interests whenever he came close to any of us girls. I wanted to tell Ma, but Katrina urged me to say nothing. “How many beatings do you think you can survive?” she asked.

Katrina was always worried about staying alive because Ma was extremely physically abusive and would find highly creative and life-threatening ways of beating us, such as pulling us down the stairs by our hair, coming after us with knives, hitting us with wooden objects, and even at times biting us. I was willing to risk everything and anything for “the principle of the matter,” but in this case, it was clear that the risk would be useless. Just thinking about what might happen, Danielle fainted, her typical ruse to avoid beatings and other unpleasantness. So, giving in to the petrified urgings of my sisters, I said nothing to Ma. Instead, I listened to her extol Pop, her father, with warm heart and misty eyes and tell us how lucky we were that he was willing to baby-sit us when she and Dad wanted to go out.

With Pop, one wore pants, not skirts, and quickly made oneself scarce. Avoiding Pop, however, was not always possible, and wearing pants in a community where girls were expected to wear dresses was not always possible, either. On one visit to my grandparents, it seemed safe to wear a dress since there were ten of us descending upon our grandparents and we were all going to sit around the kitchen and talk. Still somewhat naïve — after all, I was only nine — I mistakenly assumed that there could be no danger in that. However, as soon as we arrived, Grammy said to me, “Elizabeth, go see what Pop is doing in the basement. He made a bureau for you and is painting it. See if you like the color.”

“Oh, Grammy,” I replied. “Whatever the color is, I will like it.” I spoke bravely and strongly but trembled inside, feeling alone in that room of eleven people.

“No, no, go down and look,” Grammy insisted. I came up with a myriad of creative excuses not to go into the basement, each one more lame but more urgent than the one before. Grammy would not entertain them. She thought that there was something “good” for me down there. She did not know that it was a lion’s den, and the lion was lying in wait for me (or for any girl relative who might be innocently thrown to him). Dismissing my pleas to stay upstairs as a childish desire to remain with the grownups, she led me down the stairs and handed me over to the lion.

Perhaps she will stay, I thought hopefully but incorrectly. “Here is Elizabeth,” she announced to Pop. I felt like I was being “served” to him as some kind of entrée. I know that Grammy had no idea what would happen next, what always happened next. After all, we always emerged from the lion’s den healthy on the outside albeit bruised inside. The kinds of mauling we experienced were well hidden under clothes.

I turned to go back upstairs with her, but she firmly turned me over to my grandfather, standing me next to the half-painted blue bureau, saying “Perhaps you would like to help Pop paint.” Painting, I thought, is not what Pop ever has in mind for me.

As soon as my grandmother disappeared, I became numb for an instant. I was once again in the lion’s den alone.

Pop lay down his paintbrush and in one quick movement, deftly slid his paint-covered, rough fingers into my body with a practiced hand. “You are a good girl,” he whispered. “Gram does not let me touch her, but you understand. I need you to understand. It is important that you be a good girl for Poppy.”

As he pulled me closer, I felt the hardening in his pants, something that no 9-year-old girl should know anything about. Although I was physically pinned, my mind was free, and I desperately searched for a way to distract him long enough to get away from him and back upstairs.

“Grammy said she would be right back down,” I said to him, hoping that he would be afraid of getting caught. Grammy was a matriarch of formidable proportions, and she was able to control Pop like no other.

That argument was ineffective, however. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, as he began nuzzling my neck, “we can finish before she comes back. It won’t take long. She won’t know. I just need you to help me take care of this.” With those last words, he rubbed his free hand along the protrusion in his pants, and, growing excited and breathing heavily, he fumbled with his zipper.

At that moment, my eye fell on the paintbrush. A weapon!

“Look, Pop,” I said. “Here is the paintbrush. Grammy wants us to paint. If no more gets painted, she will wonder what happened. I am going to paint.”

I was able to catch him off-guard as his zipper jammed, and I quickly twisted away. I, too, had become practiced at these encounters. Dipping the paintbrush into paint, I quickly began to paint the bureau, putting dark blue where light blue belonged. That distracted him long enough to say, “Stop! You’re messing up the paint job.”

At that point, I handed him the paintbrush, saying “You finish it!” With that, I ran upstairs.

“How do you like the bureau?” asked Grammy.

“It’s very nice,” I answered. Right, nice! I hated that bureau for the next nine years that it stood in my bedroom.

My bedroom, with or without that bureau, was no haven. Whenever Pop babysat us, I never slept. If I did, I would awaken to 250 pounds of Pop on top of me. Sometimes I would hear him coming up the stairs. He was a big man, and climbing stairs caused him to breathe heavily. In those cases, if it were not winter, I would climb out of my bedroom window onto the sloping second-story roof and hide under one of the old-fashioned New England eaves, pulling back against the angle created by the intersection of the eave with the side of the house, hoping that no neighbor would notice that “Elizabeth is on the roof again” and solicitously call my grandfather. With eight children and ten rooms in the house, it could be anyone’s guess as to where I was — or, at least, that was my thinking. Pop could not squeeze through the tiny attic window, anyway.

When he could not find me, he would amble off to Katrina’s and Danielle’s bedroom to tuck them in. Familiar with his special tucking-in routine, I felt like a coward that I watched him leave in relief and did not come to the rescue of my sisters. Of course, my 50 pounds was no match for his 250, so I just crawled farther under the eaves and hoped that the two girls could protect each other.

When I became a teenager, I brought even greater joy to my grandfather, who always expressed delight in seeing me. “Pop really loves Elizabeth,” everyone would say.

“With love like that,” I would think, “let him love someone else!”

One morning, my father dropped me off at my grandparents’ house in the city before school. (We had no school bus in the country and 13 miles was too far to walk.) I was still tired from one of Ma’s late-night beatings and fell asleep while waiting for a friend to stop by to walk to school with me. That was a big mistake. Grammy had already gone to work, and when my friend stopped by, Pop told her that I would be out sick that day.

I woke up to the sound of the bedroom door being locked from the inside. Lying on my stomach and watching through half-closed eyes, I saw Pop remove his pants. I had a very good idea what was coming next and realized that there was no way out because Pop was between me and any exit. Then, nearly immediately he was on top of me, trying first to remove my clothes, then to turn me over. I clung desperately and wordlessly to the sides of the bed. I have no idea where I got my strength because for a young teenage girl to win a strength contest with a former lumberjack and blacksmith was unrealistic, but win I did. Unable to "awaken" me or turn me over, he was pondering his next move when the front doorbell rang.

“Saved by the bell!” I thought, as relief washed over me. “Literally!” Who rang that bell and why? That was a wonderful mystery, but not one I was going to waste any time solving.

As Pop went off to answer the unexpected doorbell, I did not wait to see who, if anyone, was actually at the door but quickly grabbed my school bag, raised the window, jumped to the ground, and ran off to school, having thwarted yet another attempted rape. I arrived at school a little late but elated: I had won a show of strength in more than one sense of that expression. Serendipity had once again protected me.

Serendipity and I had to thwart many such attempts. Ma was constantly putting me in Pop’s charge. Whenever I complained, Ma would hit me. Whenever I suggested an alternative babysitter, Ma would hit me. Whenever I tried to reason that perhaps I was old enough not to need a babysitter, Ma would hit me. And in every instance, Pop would show up with a smile to watch over me.

The greatest opportunity for Pop arose when Ma decided that it was time for me to learn to drive a car and that Pop would teach me. I did not need many lessons; I had been driving a tractor for many years. I imagined being with Pop alone in the car on the isolated roads in our farm community and knew that this opportunity spelled disaster. I refused the lessons. Ma demanded. I still refused. Ma called me a bitch and a brat. I still refused — I was used to being called names, anyway. Ma hit me and spat in my face. I still refused the lessons — and reciprocated Ma's attack with an equally forceful hit-and-spit counterattack. I knew I could win this battle because no one could make me get into the car. I had free will even if free will came with physical and emotional abuse. Both were preferable in my mind to sexual abuse. So, I learned to drive a car only after Pop died.

Thank God, Pop did die. Katrina, Danielle, and I were teenagers at the time, and we were the only ones with him when he departed our universe. He was supposed to be babysitting us. He made some popcorn for us, a talent he had that all his grandchildren enjoyed. (Even bad people have some good traits.) Then he sat down, took a deep breath, put his head back, and stopped breathing. I watched with the dawning realization and hope that he was dying. When he did not take a next breath, I told my sisters that something was wrong with Pop. I was pretty sure that they knew what was going on, but they said nothing.

At the time, unspoken thoughts were the safest ones because of the steps I chose to take next. Rather than going into the kitchen after Pop’s heart medication, I walked slowly to a neighbor's apartment. There was a part of me that said this was wrong; any human life should be saved. Another part, however, said that this was right. Nature had determined that Pop's life was at an end, so why should I do something artificial to prolong it, as well as prolonging the abuse of myself and the other girls in the family. My decision was as much a matter of self-preservation as it was a form of protection for others. I would not consider it altruistic. Later, I rationalized that I had not denied Pop his medicine because he had not asked for it. Instead, I had left it in the hands of Nature, and Nature ultimately had given the female side of the family a reprieve.

The neighbor came, determined that Pop was dead, and made all the proper phone calls. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I watched the coroner carefully as he checked Pop, wanting to be sure that Pop was, indeed, dead, very dead, as dead as the chair he was still sitting upright in and would not, like a zombie in a horror movie, suddenly come to life and terrorize us again.

Dozens of town folk showed up at church for Pop’s funeral. He was clearly very popular in town, and, like my parents, he had been an ardent church-goer. As Pop’s immediate kin, my family sat up front and center. We were all decked out in our Sunday-nice clothes. With folded hands, outward demureness, and inward relief, we waited for the final sentence in the last chapter of Pop’s life to be spoken. That sentence shocked all of us victims of Pop’s sexual addictions: “This man has been a pillar of the community and a great example to all of us in his godliness. May all the men in our community follow his example!”

I could only imagine a town gone wild with orgy and wondered where the morals were. How could a minister of the church say such things? Those words were nails not in Pop’s coffin but in mine, in the coffin of atheism that I had been building for myself for 16 years. From that day forward, for me, any concept of God was also dead. I had no idea whom or what the members of the church were serving, but in my mind, if the minister was promoting sexual abuse of children, or equally bad, did not have any idea of my grandfather’s proclivities, I wanted nothing to do with him, the church, or what the church represented. It gave the final impetus to my fateful youth sermon a few months later in which I suggested that an atheistic upbringing was preferable to being raised in hypocrisy, a sermon that ended in my family being permanently expelled from the church. At that time and for many years afterward I did not realize that one cannot judge God by the people who enthusiastically attend church, proclaim their faith in public ways while practicing evil, or really do worship God but suffer from the weakness of the flesh.

The trauma did not end with Pop’s burial. Afterward, I lived with the conviction that I had murdered him. Even though I rationalized that Nature took him, he was not old (64 years old) and could have lived longer had I brought him his medicine. I knew that, and so did my grandmother.

“You are 16 years old,” she admonished me. “You are capable of knowing what was going on, and you knew where his medicine was. Why did you not give it to him?” She looked at me questioningly. I think deep down she knew I had intentionally not given him his medicine, but she had no understanding as to why I would withhold it from him. It was not a question that I ever answered for her. The truth would only have hurt her, and she had done nothing to deserve such hurt.

The instant Pop died I forgave him for his sexual appetite that would not be satiated by someone of his own age and was only whetted by children who were helpless in his grasp. To some extent I felt vindicated that I had taken charge of the situation and "gotten back" at him by not giving him his medicine. Some day I would forgive myself for my helplessness, for my reluctance to tell someone who might have been able to put a stop to it, for taking the coward’s way out and letting Nature deal the death blow. Someday, I would do that, thanks to a divine lesson, but not right away for such a day does not come quickly nor such an act easily.

Excerpted from Blest Atheist, copyright 2009.

About Me

My photo
I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.