Halfway There Starting Right Here

Susan Creamer Joy

Susan Creamer Joy
Paris, Iowa,
September 30
Retired Domestic Space Cadet/Current Arbiter Of Midlife Dysfunction
Not often
Artist, Poet, Writer, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Lover, Seeker, Follower, Listener, Communicator, Found, Forgotten, Sainted, Sinner, Struggling, Sentient, Surviving...So far, so-so....... Unless otherwise noted, all of the artwork accompanying these posts was created by and is the property of the artist.


Susan Creamer Joy's Links

NOVEMBER 19, 2010 8:54AM


Rate: 55 Flag



There is a small, half-moon scar on the underside of my chin.  It came from my mistaken belief at nine years old that whatever object was hung on the handlebars of my bicycle would remain separate and apart from the spokes of the front wheel.


In this case, an umbrella became my disfigurer, confidently hooked as it was over the gleaming steel bar of my bike while I blithely cycled around the neighborhood after a light, summer rain.


With an oddly accute awareness I could feel the grainy contents of the asphalt road embedding in my chin as I landed face-first in the middle of the street and the weight of my beloved, red two-wheeler resting along my back after flipping us both "ass over teakettle," as our Scottish housekeeper used to say.


Our housekeeper's name was Helen O'Neill, and she was a stoic.  A bespectacled, petite, grizzled and grayed woman in her early fifties, she came to live with us through an agency after my mother had applied for a "mother's helper/housekeeper" to assist her in running the house and managing her three young children while she was experiencing a very difficult pregnancy with her fourth.


Helen was a widow and former decades-long member of the Royal Air Force, with a thick brogue, a love of Robert Burns and a distracted grimace that perpetually hounded her face until all evidence of joy was stricken.


Even on the occasion when duty called her to proffer a more nurturing countenance toward my sister, brother and I, it was clearly a strain; as though by showing us any signs of affection at all, she was violating some generational, blood oath of emotional impenetrability and would be damned to course the foggy hollows and moors of her native land for a deathless eternity.


Clearly, I could not turn to her for comfort as I stood in stunned embarrassment next to my slightly- mangled metallic steed, cupping both hands under my lacerated chin in a futile attempt to curb the profuse bleeding.


She would have regarded my teary-eyed state with distain and remedied the situation with a perfunctory efficiency so dismissive it could border on abuse.


Our house at the time backed up upon the ninth tee of the Winged Foot Golf Club course; a club where my grandfather was a founding member and one my own father enjoyed in the summer months with dismaying regularity, if you were to ask my mother.


On that day I became aware that the universe shifts in funny ways.  It lands you in a field of incongruent and surreal dynamics that would be likened to a miracle if the outcome were evident at the time; but in that landscape and at that moment, it just seems odd.


It was on that odd landscape as I gingerly groped my way around the back of our house, that I glanced in the direction of the golf course and saw my father.  He was among a foursome of men, all obviously taking advantage of the break in the weather and just teeing off when I spotted him.  


Although I knew that the likelihood of his welcoming the intrusion of his bleeding offspring while in the midst of his golf game was not high, the far more terrifying alternative of facing Helen compelled me to march toward the course.


While it is true that in this instance he would probably not qualify for Most Compassionate Father of the Year, he tended to me with a balanced concern, cleaning my wound with his golf rag after dousing it several times in the ball washer which was provided at every hole.  After giving me a clean, white hankie from his pocket, he sent me home to apply Bactine and Bandaids on my own.


Evidently, stoicism is not confined to Scottsmen alone.


The following fall and winter were difficult in our house.  My mother's pregnancy had grown more tentative and remanded her to bed rest for the duration.  This, of course, left Helen as the active and sole matriarch of our slightly-derailed clan.


Her work ethic was peerless and in spite of my genuine fear of her, I watched with admiration as she not only maintained her daily workload of  housework and laundry, but effortlessly added to it the duty of tending to my bedridden mother, cooking all meals and taking over the task of delivering the three of us in a timely fashion to the bus stop, supper table, bath or bed.


Homework hour was overseen with the unconstrained vigilance of General Patton, though usually accompanied by cookies and milk which she would brusquely deposit on the table then turn away in a manner so swift I often suspected she was hiding something.


I suspected it might have been a slight smile.


At the end of January we experienced a blizzard that was so fierce we were without power for several days.  My father was away on business unable to get home, and as we kids moped about the house in frigid knots, draped in layers of knitted wools and thermal blends, Helen was outside in the blinding curtain of white winds shoveling the front walk. Coatless.


She knew the fragile state of my mother's health and that an emergency birth might be forthcoming and was blazing a generous trail from the house to the street just in case.  


Because of the unrelenting nature of blizzard snows, the path needed constant re-shoveling.  So, every two or three hours Helen would take off her apron,  grab the snow shovel where she had it propped by the front door, and in nothing more than her snow boots and pink uniform, she would begin the clearing process all over again.  This went on for days.


She kept all of us warm and fed us hot meals of Mince 'n Tat'ies by preparing them in the large, stone hearth in the room my mother quaintly called "the keeping room;" continually running fresh hot tea and homemade soup up the stairs to my concerned mother throughout the day and frequently plying her chilled, gestating body with warm blankets throughout the night.


In the deep middle of one of those nights after two or three days without power, I awoke to a blue cold that prompted me to go down to the kitchen where I hoped to find my winter coat.  


Instead I found Helen, sitting in a chair at the kitchen table still in her uniform, her head bent low, resting on the tabletop and nestled in the makeshift pillow she'd made with her apron. She was snoring soundly.  


Next to her on the table was a miniature book bound in a plaid, cloth cover embossed in gold with the words:  Poems of Robert Burns.  I recognized its shape being that of the small bulge I would often noticed protruding from her apron pocket.  


Terrified but too intrigued to walk away, I picked up the book and my flashlight and was quickly mesmerized; and sitting there next to the slumbering body of Helen, absorbing not only the heat from her skin but the mysterious words from her little book, I was swaddled in a blanket of enchantment. 


Oh, my Luve's like a red, red rose,

That's newly sprung in June.

O, my Luve's like a melodie,

That's sweetly play'd in tune.

Sleep was no longer an option.  My mind was too full of this lyrical mystery turn away now.

The following day my mother was rushed to the hospital to deliver my brother, three months prematurely.  My father, who was finally able to make his way to my mother's side, later told us that our brother was so small his whole body fit neatly in the palm of my Dad's hand with room to spare.  


No one was certain whether he would survive.


No one except Helen.  She was not only convinced that he would live, but also that she would be his nurse.  Suddenly, this woman without a smile found a lightness in her soul and it was wound around the idea of daily coddling this small baby boy.


But I had an obsession lighting my own soul.   For days I pestered her for the meaning of those alien words in her little book.  Who was this man?  What was this language?  Why did I want to understand them so desperately?   But even as she shooed me away in her blustering haste to prepare the house for my brother's homecoming, there was a palpable ribbon of sweetness behind her gruff tone; and I knew that in spite of her harsh demeanor, calcified by years of forced tenacity, she liked me.


"Go'n me wee Hen!  Y'r a buther ta me new!  I canna tale ya of da  theens ya do'in have tha age ta knew!  Be off we ya, Lass!"


My brother did live.  Only when he was brought home to us, it was necessary that a full-time nurse come live with us, too.  He was so very small and susceptible and my mother was still quite weak.  They both required specialized care.


Although she never said a word, Helen was devastated, and as the days passed into weeks, I watched her fold back into that familiar mold of granite resolve until the very act of making eye contact was too painful for her to manage.


One day she came to my mother and announced that she would be leaving the following morning.  She'd taken another job and felt it prudent to start immediately.  My mother was startled but had no wish to retain someone who was that unhappy; and although she was quite naturally sad to see her leave, she wished her the best and said goodbye.


Within a few days I found that I missed her profoundly and so I took myself up to the room that had been hers off the kitchen for consolation; hoping, perhaps, to pick up some faint remnant of her pressed into the walls and bed linens.  


There, I found on her nightstand that familiar small, plaid book of poetry.  She'd heard me after all.  Opening it, I saw that she had circled a verse:


"Then catch the moments as they fly

And use them as ye ought, man;

Believe me, happiness is shy,

And comes not aye when sought, man."

Helen was a stoic.  And I am proud to say, "So am I."


And whenever I feel the underside of grief or turmoil threaten to bring me to my knees, I have only to trace that scar on the underside of my chin to know:


"T'will be a better day a'morrow.  Aye."


Tapadh Leat, Helen. 













Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
First off, big ouchie on the bicycle accident, had a few of them, enough to leave some scars for tales!! ~nodding~

Second, great story about Helen, rated.

Twice if I could!
Thanks, Tink! I just came from Scanner's blog....I'm still shaking! Lookin' for normal now...whoa.:)
excellent story susan! r. again i adore your art
Susan~ really terrific writing, and art, and altogether wonderful ode to Helen. And yay! for Stoicism! (I have an alter-ego design company: "Stoic Stock"- even had labels and sold greeting cards locally :) (r)
Lovely story.. My grandmother read to me from "Robbie" Burns everyday.
This brought tears of memories.
rated with hugs
Helen was quite a lady, wasn't she? The expression ass over teakettle was used often in my house when I was a kid.
Nice post, Susan.
What an excellent story. You're writing just seems to jump off the page. You lived at Winged Foot? That must have been great. I would have loved to live there. Sorry about the video, a little early I guess. I wanted to give this guy a reason for dying. It's a shame when people die like that and they just disappear. Great Post!
This is beautiful writing. You have a real gift you know, and I'm so glad that you share it with us. -R-
Helen left you a very valuable gift and lesson and this spoke volumes of her love....better than words ever could. I was raised in a stoic family of people a lot like Helen and I understand her quite well.
At least you remember whence came the scars. I've got several for which I have no rational explanation.

That said, there's a lot to be learned from the dour, stoic Scots. One of my grandmothers was an Angus, and the set of that granite face could evoke awe. She was determined, among other things, to set the family longevity record, and she did. I suppose that's where I get my stubbornness.

But how nice of Helen to leave Rabbie's treasured book of verse behind for you.
Good story! P.S. I have my own half moon chin scar.
What wonderful writing! Thanks so much for this! Love the painting too!
What a wonderfully written piece and touching experience in your life. You are tremendously talented and I just loved this and your art. Thank you so much for sharing it. R
excellent in every respect.

Truly beautiful! Do you still have the book?
Some hide their hearts. Great story, written in your masterful style. Winged Foot? Are you kidding me? That is one of the gems of all courses in the world....
Thanks giving, indeed.

Who knows what legacy we leave behind? I'm sure Helen never dreamed she had this much influence on your heart. Your fountain is really flowing these days, I look forward see what's coming next. You fascinate me.
There you go again with your fantastic writing. Rated with great admiration!
Beautifully told, Susan. Every scar we carry - seen or unseen - has its own story. If we pay attention and learn from them, we may be better for it. Happy thanksgiving to you.
A delightful story from beginning to end, and a wonderful weaving of Helen's stoicism and the peak through to what might be there.
I just love your writing-all of it!
Helen sounds quite intriguing. I wonder what happened to her.
A lovely tale, wonderfully told.
a powerful piece of writing, Susan.
This is the most beautiful story I have read in a very long time. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to you too.
Now you've gone & made me cry... This is the kind of writing that stays with the reader for a long long time. Add the amazing artwork & you have a perfect & powerful essay. Really, they should let us rate in tens, because sometimes one each is just not enough!
Everything's up to date in Kansas City, but you haven't gone about as fuhr as you can go. Improving with every keystroke. Who else can do that?
One of your best, you writer, you.~r
"I often suspected she was hiding something.
I suspected it might have been a slight smile."

Such a wise child. Such a wonderful story.
Big comfort to have had someone like that in your life. She left you more than expected. Touching post.
This story is one of my favorites by you. I love the sensitivity you wrote it with.

Jonathan W.-The story seemed to write itself. I only edited:)
dirndl- I'd love to hear more about Stoic Stock! I love your work:)
junk1-It was a well-used phrase, wasn't it. I guess hearing it with that brogue made an even greater impression:)

LC- You can borrow anything I've got, sugar!:) Hang in there!
Linda S.- Did she really? He has a magic to his words, indeed!
Scanner- No worries about the video. I am just relieved your 'note' wasn't real!
l'Heure- Thank you, much.
Christine G.- There seems to be a lot of that here, which is why it is so wonderful:)
Torman- I was familiar with recalcitrance but stoicism seemed scary at first:)
Bo- My first dog was a Scottie named Angus:)
Bonnie- Helen's make the world go round in the end.
Fred H- Well, you always said we were from the same school:)
Lucy S.- The art just seemed to fit this in an uncannily perfect way:)
Sheila TG...- I'm not sure what 'talent' produced this. It seemed to write itself:) Thank you!
Cyril- Thank you in every way:)
Conrad C.- Sadly, no. We moved several times and at some point, the book moved into the great void. I am always keeping my eye open for one like it, but it is doubtful I will ever find one.
Dr. Spud- I grew up at that club...swam on the team in summer, sledded on the course in winter and had names for every duck on every pond.:)
Gabby Abby- I guess I fascinated Mr. F. as well, my rampant narcissism not withstanding...musta been the "sociopathic, porno-egotist" in me. Three cheers for the dark side:)
Shawn P.- You are going to make me blush. Okay, you did :)
Fusun- Happy T-day to you, too! Don't burn yourself..some scars we need to avoid creating!
sophieh- I suppose the lesson is that we just have to look harder at something or someone when we don't understand them at first:)
ladyfarmerjed- Thank you! I would imagine she is no longer with us. She'd be pushing 100 by now. I hope her life brought her happiness.
ladyslipper- The bar is high and I just keep reaching:)
Sarah C.- I think much of whatever power in the story was channeled by Helen:)
Fay P.- Thank you! Helen had a hard life. I wanted to offer her as much beauty as I could in recounting the memory of her.
Suzie- Hopefully, after you cried, you smiled? Thank you so much :)
Leon F.- No, it ain't an we got lots a tweakin ta do to git up ta speed! But we is tryin':)
Joan H.- It was a labor of love, truly. Thanks, Joanie:)
trilogy- I think I'm getting much less wise as I age, darn it!
Rita S.- She was a comfort...more so in retrospect, but what a gift she ultimately gave us all:)
Veronica W- Gracias, Muchacha! :)
Lezlie- I think it is one of mine, as well. But that is because the memory of her is so rich and she influenced me in a way that brought me to the land of poetry and language with a life-long embrace! :)
Oh, Susan, every story, every picture is better and best. I loved how you wove the poetry into this. RRRRR
Thanks, Bea! It just sorta fit, huh?
I thougt you are a good writer but you are a good artist too!
Thank you for the great writes and arts.(always ^----------^)
Thank you, Anne! I guess it is always good to have a back-up plan!
A wonderful story told with great love. Thank you!
Am caught by the thought of this woman who "... found a lightness in her soul and it was wound around the idea of daily coddling this small baby boy." Then knowing she wouldn't have this care, began to "fold back into that granite resolve until the very act of making eye contact was too painful for her to manage." What sadness filled her so that she could no longer stay. Very special portrait you give us here.
Lovely ... and I visited your website yesterday -- you are an amazing artist as well as an amazing writer! Inspiring -- Happy Thanksgiving!
late late late late i am. damn. it's so hard to catch up when there so much great stuff, like especially this. what cyril said is perfect, so i'll just say "ditto" to cyril's perfect comment.

have a fabulous thanksgiving, susan. and have fun doing all the christmas-y stuff and art and things. like the beeeeyoootiful piece at the top of this page. damn, you're good.
peerless! aye! you, Helen, and your writing. perfect-aye indeed! r
Stacye- Just trying to remember the things I'm thankful for:)
Anna1liese- It took a lifetime to understand the woman who stood before me when I was a child. But I know she was an angel of sorts.
Marilyn S.- If you EVER are interested in anything on the site, let me know. List prices do not apply to OSers! Thank you for being so kind:)
Femme- You have a FABOOLOUS Thanksgiving, Too, my dear Femme Friend! You are a gem and a half! :)
APMuse- AH! Now I can close my eyes and think of sleep. APMuse has made her presence known. All is right with the world! Happy Thanksgiving to you! :))
Beautiful story told with perfection.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, dear friend.
Beautiful, beautiful story and artwork. Made me cry when Helen left and left behind her book of poems for you. Susan your writing just continues to get better and better. I don't know how you do it. I look forward to reading the next one, and the next one.

Your post reminded me of our Helen, named Emma who was more of a grandmother to me that my actual grandmother was. She worked for my family well into her eighties - I think if she would have stopped working she would have passed away. I often think of with great love and affection - I don't know what my childhood would have been like without her.
You have written so darn many perfect pieces. and this is my favorite of them all. The writing just shines through on this piece, and the emotion mixed in carrys me along.
You have written such a beautifully complex picture of Helen. She nearly leapt off the page. And the poetry....what can I say. Such a delightful twist to the mysterious Helen. Susan you are a fine writer indeed my lass. R.
Very interesting piece. rated
(What, not writing about yourself today, lol?)

I can see why you took so much pride in this, Susan. I could picture and hear Helen vividly, and I salute the stoics of the world. Beautiful prose as always, my friend.
I really like her and loved the story and really loved your painting. Beautifully written. I could see her, your bike fall, all of it. I can still remember what it felt like to fall off my bike so hard on a street. Thank you. Great reading.
Susan, how well you capture the essence of Helen, and how well, how stunningly beautifully you write--it's description as revelation. Such a delight to read.
So sweet, and bittersweet, a tale. As true "tales" often are.
Bicycle riding at the start is a difficult learning experience. I am glad yours was only a small scar. I unfortunately broke my arm .
Unbreakable- May this Thanksgiving be one of your most blessed and set the tone for remarkable and happy times ahead:)

Trish R.- Thank you, kindly:)

Geri L- May all the Helen's and Emma's of the world know the gift they left behind and be proud:)

JD- I think it is one of my favorite's too. Just because it is also one of my favorite lessons and memories.

Rita B- I think she "leapt" off the page because she was screaming to be let out! This story fairly wrote itself:)

Caroline H.- She was an interesting subject, for sure:)

Cranky- Yeah. It was hard letting go of my normal "pseudo-literary-self abuse- sociopathic-porno-egotist" self, but I managed to squeeze in a tiny bit of room for someone other than me:) Now, where did I put my mirror?

Janice W- I'll bet if there is one universal childhood memory we all share, it would be that of taking a spill off a bike:)

Jerry D.- It was fun to write...something I had not really thought about for dozens of years:)

Bellweather V.- This is an instance of fact being curiouser than fiction. It is all true, and with truth like that, who needs a robust imagination? I suppose we all have one or two of these perfect "tales" within our histories. It comes down to narrating a memory with the pathos of a "tale," and with a memory like this, it wrote itself:)

Algis K.- Ouch! At least it was a 'respectable' accident. I broke my leg when I was twelve merely running down a hill of dewy grass! Talk about embarrassing:)
This is a wonderful story. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
My husband is a stoic. Know it well. Quiet noise that is created in my head trying to understand what is inside his head and mind. Losing preoccupation. Let it go. Hard to do.

Lovely sharing about your Helen. Be so well and have a wonderful, yummy Thanksgiving.
Sheba-Thanks! I'm happy you found enjoyment here!

Just Cathy- Stoics are usually only tough on the outside, as you know. For those patient enough to wait it out and wade through their exterior, what remains is golden!:)
i like this better than anything i have read of yours before. i want it to keep going. i felt the cold, smelled the soups and teas, itched with a child's impatience to KNOW, NOW! extremely fine story, suze.
I am not a stoic, it seems, and in fact have a wee tear in me eye.
dianaani- It was a fun story to write...mostly because it really did seem to write itself. I had not thought about Helen for decades until last week when she just 'appeared' in my mind and screamed to be remembered in print! I wish everything I write came this easily!

Judy M.- Why, let me be gettin' ya a bit o' the old hankie new, me lassie! T'ra!
I was late getting to this post, but I am so glad I got here. So lovingly told and it read like a great novel. I like Helen.And I like you.
My god, Susna, your posts just get better and better - and your art is amazing, as always. One of the bets things about Open Salon is...you. Have a wonderful holiday season, lady!
Bleh - forgive my typos in my comment...too much party last night!
Wow. You have topped yourself again. I found this a breath of fresh air after being away for so long. Brilliantly done. The artwork is stunning.
This is good. This is so very, very good.
We can learn so much from the people around us! Did you draw all these pictures?