“Tommy Is My Darling, My Darling, My Darling. Tommy Is My Darling. He’s the Joy of My Life!”

 

Tommy embracing Leila.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Tommy embracing Leila. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

That’s the song I sang to Tom Cat Dresser as the visiting vet euthanized my sweet boy on my bed. I had often sung that tune to him along with other ditties over his six years with me.

 

Tommy hugging Norine's shoe.  © Norine's photo collection, 2014.

Tommy hugging Norine’s shoe. © Norine’s photo collection, 2014.

 

 

Tom was the rescue cat who rescued me. I adopted him from a shelter in Burbank, CA, where he selected me and my granddaughter, Leila, as his forever family. The shelter said he was six; later I realized he was closer to ten.

BT (Before Tom), my husband, Harold, had been in home hospice for a year and I was his sole caregiver. During that time, I set aside all obligations to concentrate on him, and immediately after Harold’s death, I began taking care of everything that had been put on hold: bathroom remodeling; household maintenance; mammogram; colonoscopy, shoulder replacement.  Then when all manic activity ceased, I went into an emotional slump. One daughter recommended that I get a cat. “They’re low maintenance, Ma.”

Tommy in dryer (about to become an urban legend).  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

Tommy in dryer (about to become an urban legend). © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

Tommy has never been low maintenance. After a vet checked him out, I discovered he had kidney disease, a heart murmur and high blood pressure. He required special food and meds, but it was too late to give him back. I already loved him.

 

Bag of Tommy.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Bag of Tommy. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Box of Tommy.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Box of Tommy. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

I have never regretted Tom becoming a part of our family.   He learned the Yiddish word “shluffy” (sleep) and accompanied me to my bed at night. He was very talkative and answered when I called his name. Sometimes, he seemed too lazy to make a sound and just opened his mouth to answer silently.  That made me laugh. He made me laugh every day. He brought me physical and emotional comfort when he snuggled with me. Most of all, he reflected the love that I gave to him.

Dear Tommy: Rest in Peace.

Tommy paw print.  © Photo by Mariah Chase, Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Tommy paw print. © Photo by Mariah Chase, Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who eventually will rescue another cat after a respectable time of grieving.

 

How Was Mother’s Day for You?

Roses from my Las Cruces garden.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Roses from my Las Cruces garden. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

When my children were growing up, I used to tell them that Mother’s Day was a Hallmark conspiracy.  It didn’t have much meaning for me; the year’s other 364 days mattered more.

Not so for my Mom.  I was always sure to give her a gift and/or take her out.  She was super-sensitive about such occasions, and I knew that she compared notes with cronies, so I wanted to be certain that she didn’t feel undervalued.

One Mother’s Day, I wrote a letter to each of my three children telling them how much they meant to me.  That was so out of character that my son told me he had never encountered such sentiment from me before.

Because I am not ordinarily a sentimental person, when I was teaching at California State University Los Angeles it stunned me to discover the pain endured by biological moms, step-moms, and divorced moms whose children neglected to acknowledge them on Mother’s Day.

I think that this year I celebrated Mother’s Day in the most appropriate way.  My daughter came over and we went over details I have collected in a folder called:  When the Time Comes:  Death or Disability.

I showed her my method for paying bills, the location of critical contact numbers, Advanced Directives, burial wishes, disposal of property, etc.  I asked her if talking about such matters was upsetting and she assured me, “No,” but admitted that it will seem strange when I am no longer here.

To me, our meeting and going over such details was the best way to acknowledge Mother’s Day.  I don’t want to leave my life in a muddle so that my children are overwhelmed with unnecessary tasks.

When I told a friend about this, she asked if I had written my own obituary yet?  No, I haven’t gotten that far, but I’m working on it.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose taking care of death business brings her the gift of tranquility.

“Wow! You’ve Got a Nkisi Nkonde!”

That’s what a new friend, Cristie Barron, exclaimed when she first entered my home office.   I didn’t know what she was talking about.   Did I have a pimple on my forehead?  No. Instead she pointed to a small grotesque wooden statue on my shelf. Before this moment, I had no idea it had a name.

Nkisi Nkonde purchased in Paris, 1995.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © 2014, collection of Norine Dresser.

Nkisi Nkonde purchased in Paris, 1995. Photo by Mariah Chase. © 2014, collection of Norine Dresser.

In 1995, my husband and I had just left Romania after attending the First World Dracula Congress. From Bucharest, we flew to France to meet my brother.  We had never been to Paris before and were taking a leisurely stroll along the Seine when we encountered an African vendor offering fascinating artifacts. I was drawn to the one in the photo above and falsely assumed that the protruding nails all over the statue’s body represented something akin to voodoo.

Well, was I wrong! According to Dr. Barron, an expert in African art, the Nkisi Nkonde is a power figure containing a magical substance in its abdominal area. He is part of a class of artifacts known as nail figures. These nail figures are healers and legal experts of the Kongo people of southwest Zaire and Angola.  They make the impossible possible.

No longer in use, the nkisi nkondi proliferated in the 19th century.   Common characteristics include almond-shaped eyes of mirror glass, a broad nose with flaring nostrils and a full-lipped mouth.   The mouth is generally open, ready to speak on behalf of justice, signifying that the figure is alert and has power.

Discovery of this figure’s name and function astounded me.   Before this moment, it was merely one more macabre artifact casually standing on my shelf next to other horror related objects: vampires, bats, skulls and skeletons.

When my grandchildren were small, these objects used to upset them. “Nini’s house creeps me out,” complained Zach who later added, “At Nini’s house, it’s Halloween every day.”

I guess I’m not the stereotypical grandmother in an apron baking cookies.   I don’t prefer that role anyway. As I told my granddaughter, Leila, “Your other grandmother can teach you how to cook. I’ll teach you research methods.”

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose cross-cultural artifacts fascinate her and provide a continuing source of enlightenment.