Tribute to E.J. Allison
E.J. Allison took up writing at an early age. She filled a number of notebooks with short essays and storiessome finished, some unfinishedoften discovering the humor mingled with life's circumstances. She only pursued the goal of publication late in life. On March 4, 2008, she recognized this dream when she learned that an essay about her brief struggle with cancer, titled The Winner, was selected by Tiny Lights' online feature, Flash in the Pan, for publication in April 2008.
E.J.'s battle with her disease ended just ten days later, on March 14, 2008, at the age of 81.
The writings below are a tribute to her faith, humor, courage, and generosity in all things.
"a blithe spirit"
I was a twelve-year-old blithe spirit walking along Culver Road on my way home from Saint Ambrose eighth-grade to lunch one April day when Myrtle Wyand told me about sex. A graphic version. I didn't believe her. I couldn't.
Since I couldn't believe such an outlandish and revolting story, I decided to find out "the truth" on my own. It never occurred to me to ask my mother, a nurse, because instinctively I knew that we didn't discuss such things. I don't know how I knew this. I just did.
However, I remembered seeing her student nursing book in the attic and decided I could find a scientific explanation. So, after school, I carefully sneaked up the squeaky attic steps and found the boxes of books all neatly packed away, covered with dust and cobwebs. I dug in and was soon disappointed to discover that all the pages about babies and childbirth had been removed. I imagined that my father, a pristine and gentlemanly man, was saving us from contamination of the world by this precaution. Whereto next? I was fearful of visiting our library for information in case anyone should accidentally find out what I was doing.
Ruminating about what I already knew from romantic stories, I figured "it" was something that happened at night because all the books said, "he took her upstairs to ecstasy" followed by "the next morning ---". And so, I thought, that "it" must take all night. Whatever "it" was, that is. And that was all I could figure out by myself.
I went on from there with my scant bit of misinformation plus that dreadful image with which Myrtle had implanted irrevocably in my mind.
I dated boys, danced with them, kissed a few during my high school years – and learned very little. From the boy, Anthony Galante, who held me tightly, and both smelled and tasted like mustard when he kissed me, I learned to kind of hate kissing. To another boy, Bill Williams, who tried to grope my inviting-sized breasts, I whispered that I kept pure by thinking about the Blessed Mother in times of temptation. He snatched back his hands as if from hot coals, possibly from Hell, took me home quickly and never came back. I was beginning to put "it" together.
When I finally met my true love, an older man, a college fellow, a former Army Air Force pilot, who had really been around, I was ready in all my virginal, twenty-year-old innocence, for "it". One evening when he kissed me and tenderly caressed my thigh, and said something romantic, I said, "Oh, is that supposed to feel good?" He groaned and also took me home.
However, he had perseverance, stuck around, eventually married me and took me on a grand two-week honeymoon where I discovered Myrtle's explanation wasn't revolting at all.
I wonder how Myrtle found out so young.
I was no raving beauty but I did have nice hair. It was dark, thick, and shiny. I had enough wave so that I didn’t have to fuss with it much.
I can remember my English teacher, Mrs. Connelly, saying to me how nice it was and how lucky we girls were to wear our hair long and full. She called me a blithe spirit and I was always going to look it up and see exactly what that meant. This was in the ‘40’s.
I graduated in 1944 and then the short hair styles came in – and again I was lucky. My nice thick shiny dark hair took well to the new styles.
Time passed and took its toll, as it does with everyone. My long thick dark hair became grayish, thinning and rather dumb looking. As I looked around at all my contemporary lady friends, most of them had curls, good looking curls which framed their wrinkled faces nicely.
“That’s what I need,” I decided, and made the first big change in a long time. I got a perm.
For a month now, I have been scaring myself in the mirror wondering who is that stranger staring back, and quite looking like Medusa in my first-year Latin book.
I'm avoiding my contemporary lady friends in church until it grows out (although they wouldn't recognize me.)
It has always grown fast.
~ ~ ~
The other thing about Mrs. Connely was that she thought the Russians were right, that the state should raise the babies and then all would be better in the world.
I liked her in spite of such radical philosophy partly because she liked my hair.
Midge Dawson jumped up at the sound of the alarm. Startled and uncertain, she stared for a few minutes then, coming to, reached over and turned off the clock.
"God! What a sound! There is nothing like it on earth." She slid back under the warm covers and sighed. "This is it," she muttered, half groaning, "I ache all over. I'm going to buy a new mattress today even if it takes my vacation money." Rolling back the covers, she raised herself carefully over the edge. "I'm all stiff and I know it's this lumpy mess I call a bed."
As she moved around, she limbered up and became her usual, agile self. A quick cup of coffee, a glass of orange juice, and she would be on her way.
* * *
Twenty minutes later she parked her car and started down the street for the office. Midge stopped suddenly and looked into the large window of a store. "I don't believe it! Where did this mattress shop come from? I wonder when they opened? I simply can't believe I wouldn't see it. I go by here every day." Being a few minutes early, she stepped inside the door, then hesitated. It felt queer inside. She shuddered. "How silly," she murmured, half to herself, half out loud.
A tall, foreboding man approached just as she was about to leave and she felt obligated to speak to him. "May I show you something?" He spoke pleasantly enough, although Midge instinctively moved away. He frightened her. It didn't make any sense.
"For heaven's sake," she said to herself, "What's the matter with me!" She glanced around to see if there was anyone else in the shop-and then she saw it.
There at the back wall under special lighting was the most beautiful and unusual mattress she had ever seen. Very thick, it had lovely buttons in colored pairs surrounded by beautiful flowers in complementary shades. Forgetting everything else, she walked over to the mattress and felt it. Immediately she jerked her hand away. Almost like an electric shock, something had touched her!
"Let me out of this place," she muttered, then laughed a little nervously. It must be the rug of course. Shaggy and thick, it could have caused a shock. She was drawn back to the beautiful mattress and knew she must have it. As she turned away, she bumped into the man who had followed and was right behind her. She screamed! He steadied her and apologized.
"I'm so sorry, I thought you heard me."
She quickly stepped away, unreasonably revolted, and turned back to the mattress. "I suppose anything so plush is terribly expensive."
"Oh no, my dear "
Showering quickly, she gathered her extravagant new nighty over her head, sprayed with perfume, and hopped into bed. "Oh my," she breathed contentedly, "it's just wonderful. I've never been so comfortable in my whole life."
She wakened the next morning with a glow. "Oh GOD, what a good night's sleep "
* * *
She hurried home from work three weeks later, hardly able to think about anything but getting to bed. "Tony will think I'm crazy. I haven't gone out with him for ages. Pretty soon he'll stop asking." She giggled to herself as she though how ridiculous all this was. She had been dying for Tony to notice her-now she simply didn't care. Her greatest enjoyment these days was to hurry home, eat a little something, and pop into bed. Snuggled down in comfort, she thought about how happy she was. As her lovely violet eyes closed, she decided to go with Tony next time he asked.
Sleep came quickly.
The next morning, as she climbed out of bed, it was difficult to move her legs. "Really," she said to herself, "now what is wrong?" She lurched forward-and came over the side in a heap. Laughing, she jumped into the shower and thought about how rather odd she felt. She couldn't explain it. Somehow, she didn't want to leave the bed alone. She couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong.
All day long, she anticipated being with her mattress again. She left work an hour early. She didn't care if they noticed. She rand a red light on the way home. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Midge parked the car and raced for the door. Tony was waiting.
"Midge," he started. She ignored him and raced up the stairs. She opened the apartment and felt a calm settle over her as she readied for bed. Midge settled deep into the mattress, oblivious to the pounding on her door.
Midge Dawson slept.
* * *
She couldn't get out of bed. Realizing too late that her legs were slowly being engulfed by the mattress, she sat up one last time.
"I don't understand."
A long, low murmur seemed to emanate from the mattress in reply. She sank deeper and deeper until her lovely violet eyes were left staring out.
They were all that remained.
Winnie Bridger walked into the mattress store looking at the plush downy quilts and matching sheets. A tall, foreboding man stepped out and welcomed her. "I don't have much money and these look so expensive," she started to say.
"Never mind," his voice soothed. "I'm sure we will find something in your price range. Something to match those lovely amber eyes "
When I was a girl of thirteen, and the news of the holocaust was filtering in from Germany, no one could believe such horror stories. I remember thinking,
"It couldn't happen in America; people would not allow such a thing!"
After World War II concluded, I watched and ready accounts of
how America and other nations rebuilt the enemy territories that
had been so totally destroyed. With our assistance, the former
enemies became free and prosperous. In the joyful glow of peacetime,
American prosperity burst onto the horizon with unbelievable success.
Caught up in the enthusiasm after the depravation of war, we were
looking forward to a new car.
this time, a plan was put into effect labeled "Fly now, pay
later." No more scrupulous saving for that vacation, new
car or furniture. Instant gratification became the quickly acquired
"way to go."
a young wife and mother, I watched anxiously during the '60s and
'70s and saw rebellion against government, authority, old social
mores, dignity, kindness and gentility. Noise became a big factor.
Music was raucous with unbelievable decibels. "If it feels
good, do it" was the new American ideal. Into these reckless
times, I watched abortion be introduced.
forwarding into the present era, I, along with the rest of the
world, was appalled by the great loss of life in the recent cataclysmic
tsunami. As many as 150,000 were lost in a short period. Then
there was the discussion of the thousand or more soldiers killed
in the Iraq war. Every one of us feels that one soldier's life
lost is too many. I was thankful that I had no sons involved.
There is much publicity - and rightly so - about these events.
However, there is another constant toll taken that is a strangely
silent one. I watched a television report that shocked me: for
every day there are three to four thousand abortions performed
in our land. It is hard to believe that within only fifty years
beyond the holocaust, we have not only permitted the outrage of
indiscriminate abortion, but have made it legal.
knew of a nurse on a specialized hospital floor that cared for
premature babies. They worked so hard to save the little ones.
She finally quit when she realized that on one floor below, abortions
were performed. The hypocrisy between the two procedures was more
than she could understand or bear. More than fifty million babies
lost, and still going strong. Where will it end?
feel that we are no longer the moral people that we were. And
things just aren't the same. A whole generation of youth is lacking
in some normal human feelings. I remember how joyful I felt through
six pregnancies. For many, now, a pregnancy is no longer a sacred
life and privilege to be nurtured in the womb. It can be, rather,
a burden to be discarded and thrown away. I've noticed, too, that
many young people appear not to have the same respect for love,
marriage and family that is the backbone of a nation.
recently read an account of World War II that graphically described
its carnage and great loss of life. When aged combatants from
both sides gathered and discussed the sickening history of events,
they felt there must be an effort to end war as a solution to
problems. Through television, I have witnessed wars, ethnic cleansing
and abortion in our recent past.
And yet, turning to the History Channel, I was gladdened with an account of World War I. During a Christmas Eve cease-fire, the soldiers gingerly crept from foxholes in "no man's land" singing Christmas carols. The enemies exchanged gifts of chocolate, cigarettes, and soap. They became friends, sharing pictures of wives and children. Now what does this prove? I think that perhaps men long to live their lives in peace. These soldiers found it difficult to continue the fighting the next day. Is it this smothered love that gives me hope? Are we moving toward a solution? I think, after much pondering, that the answer is really a simple one. Could it be, that after all, we should love our neighbor as our self?
When I was young, my pride in America was unbounded.
Though I love her still, I find I'm a little ashamed of her now.
I have often said that when my time comes I would like to do as the old Indians: Put a back pack on my shoulder and wander into the forest until it was time to sit down and fall into the "deep (permanent) sleep" (I read this somewhere.)
That was when I was quite a bit younger, of course. However, the children have heard me refer to this choice throughout the years.
Ah yes! I'll just wander out among the trees when my time comes.
As it happens to all of us, I grew older. I thought of nursing homes and was blanketed from all sides with choicesinsurance company calls with plans for this and thattrue "old age" possibilities staring at me.
I (not as laughingly as before) still muttered about roaming through the forest, etc. etc. Nobody listened much anymore.
The other night as I got ready for bed, I noticed my mouth was twitching a little. Now I don't really call myself a hypochondriac, but I got a little nervous when it didn't stop. I wondered if this were how a stroke started and that thought immediately triggered a rapid heartbeat. All alone, I thought I'd rather go (I didn't like saying die) than survive a stroke. Finally, at about three in the a.m., I said an Act of Contrition (to ready myself for the next world,) took a sleeping pill, and gave it up.
As I was telling my oldest son about this the next day (when I was myself again,) he paused, then commented.
"It seems to me that, for someone who was going to back-pack it into the nearest forest, you got mighty excited about a twitchy lip."