25 Slices
Medium 9781927068304

A Medicine Story

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

A MEDICINE STORY

Near the end of the second grade, I got into my first fight on the school playground with a younger but bigger and heavier kid nicknamed Big Ears. We had shoved at each other awhile when he stuck out his foot and tripped me, and I went for a hard tumble. I tried to break the fall, and did — but also broke the bones of my right arm about six inches above the wrist.

It was 1954. Before the days of medicare nobody in our world was in a hurry to see a doctor, and it was a long time before anyone knew those bones were broken. Our remedies began close to home. Across the back alley lived an old woman who had a reputation as a “bone-setter”. These were homegrown practitioners who applied coarse remedies to assorted ailments, including broken bones. My people preferred consulting them over doctors because their fees were negotiable, ranging from a heartfelt Dankeschoen to maybe a bag of potatoes from the garden, or even an occasional cash payment of a dollar or two. In the Low German dialect, they were known as Traijtmoakasch — right-makers. My paternal grandfather was a well-known right-maker in the district, operating a clinic from a little yellow shed in his backyard under a sign that read “Dew Drop Inn”. He had strong liniments there, and many sizes of wooden crutches on which we cousins hobbled around his yard when we went for family gatherings. But the clinic was eight miles away in the next village, while old Mrs. Sawatzky lived next door.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781927068304

Archangels and Jingle Bells

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

ARCHANGELS AND JINGLE BELLS

I Question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it. — William Blake

Perceptions are acts of creation. They can bring a dead world to life. They can replace the objective idols of our culture, and its disdain for our subjectivity, with images that point back at us when we see them. Lively images.

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus,
He looked again, and found it was
A hippopotamus.

For more than a decade I worked as a therapist for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Sometimes we got into philosophical discussions which would go something like this.

“Is there such a thing as a real Santa Claus?” I’d ask.

“No there isn’t,” the sophisticated ones said, and went on to explain what really happens on Christmas Eve: “Your mom or dad just puts the presents under the tree after you go to sleep.”

For others, skepticism had begun to intrude: “Some people say there is no Santa, but I think there is. But I don’t know how he flies to all the houses in the world in one night, unless it’s on a laser beam or something. Or maybe he brings the presents early and your parents hide them till Christmas.”

See All Chapters
Medium 9781927068304

Silent Night

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

SILENT NIGHT

It was just before Christmas. She was fourteen years old. She had left a note where her mother, but not her father, would find it, and had gone to sit on a bridge for two hours deciding whether to jump. What finally got her off the bridge, she said, was repeating doggedly to herself, “Just because my old man is an asshole doesn’t mean I have to die.”

When we met, one of the first things she told me was, “I used to be able to deal with my black holes by painting, but I can’t even do that anymore.” I had often pondered for myself the futility of repressing the death impulse, since everything that lives, dies; but I thought of what painting had meant to her, and asked, “What if you don’t take the suicidal impulse literally? What if it’s a symbol of an old way of life coming to an end, so something new can be created?” She replied instantly, “That’s it exactly — something in my soul wants to die.”

Christmas, we know, is the worst time for depressed people. The world is at a party, and they have not been invited. Many who go to the bridge don’t come back. But this girl survived the holidays, and in early January we met again. She spent most of that hour talking about her schizophrenic grandmother — how the rest of the family couldn’t understand her, yet she herself was a good friend of Grandma’s, and the two of them had no trouble whatsoever in conversing. Then, as the bell was about to ring, she said, “But I have to tell you a dream I had the other night.”

See All Chapters
Medium 9781927068304

Epilogue: The Sound of a Going

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

EPILOGUE

THE SOUND OF A GOING

And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines. — Samuel 5:24, KJV

A black butterfly lands on the blanket draped over my arm as I approach the pioneer cemetery. I’m going once more to sit in Diefenbaker Park, when the little soul stops me. I’ve heard that this means good luck. I’ve heard that psyche means both soul and butterfly, and I fancy this one has come to visit on my last walk. I’ve lived near this park for fifteen years, longer than anywhere else in my life, and the place has been my tutor and my therapist. I’m moving away, willing, unwilling, resigned.

Once you were a worm, I tell the soul, and look at you now. But your wingtips are frayed — and I ponder how it’s only June and already things are crumbling. I whisper my thoughts about the wind and the way and the second coming, and the soul sits for a moment before flying on.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781927068304

The Sound of One Cow Grazing

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE SOUND OF ONE COW GRAZING

I know a good place. By day I tramp around its trails and through its bushes, stoop like one of Gideon’s failed soldiers to drink water at its creek, gaze at things that flap and fly there, and listen to others that chirp or shriek or thump. Sometimes I talk to these creatures as if we were all children, and sometimes they reply.

But when the sun sinks below the hills across the river, stillness pervades and the dark closes in, lively critters withdraw to their thickets and nests and holes, and I am alone. There are no conveniences and no diversions — no television, no music, no toilet but an outhouse huddled in a distant black clump of trees: and if I don’t take a bottle of brandy with me, no insulation of any kind against the vastness and silence.

Here I become a boy again. In daylight, adventures beckon: spreading trees are familiar spirits, no creature fails to announce the world’s wonders. But when the place goes dark, the spooks driven off by city lights congregate, and if I’m alone I hear them, too.

See All Chapters

See All Slices