Sunday, November 20, 2016

Telling My Stories




Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back


June, 2017 will be 8 years since a massive brain hemorrhage changed my life. I was 57 years old and in good health. It has taken me this long to learn how to tell my story. My hope is that it will be a benefit to other survivors, their caretakers, and family to understand and empathize both the devastation of stroke, and the promise of recovery.
Adenium obesum Desert Rose

Critical to recovery is excellent physical, occupational and speech therapy, which I was blessed to have access to.  The ability of the brain to heal itself  is called neuroplasticity, which, through the repetition of movement, tasks and speech; simply, "working around" damaged brain tissue, stroke sufferers can regain function to a greater or lesser degree.

I am in the process of writing my life stories, and this episode is among the most crucial to me.  I hope you will read and find meaning in this very personal short story.




To purchase as an e-book or in print:

Here is a direct link to my Author Page on Facebook: 

Til next time!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Catching Up

Dear Friends 💕

It has been a most intense several months for me. Perhaps you might be feeling the same way--whether you are in the U.S. or not--you may be thinking our election season has brought with it concern for what's to come. There is a foreboding as this year comes to an end. My comfort zone with our current President is about to end, and I feel a new anxiety; a sense of dread. I am working on these negative feelings and easing myself out of them to a place of renewed creativity.  I hope you'll find a way to work through your fears, too, if you have any. I would love to hear your thoughts, and how you plan to, or have been getting through these uncertain times.

~~~

On a bright note, a new personal essay of mine 
was published in WildflowerMuse , a fine creative e-magon Nov. 4th. It's a sweet story from my hippie days, and I hope you like it! 🍓

Fragaria vesca - Wild Strawberries


It's the 2nd non-fiction/memoir piece I've been thrilled to have published in WildflowerMuse.
The first was published April 1st, 2016

Nana under Trellis


Me, the Garden Shadow











~~~

I'm also pleased to tell you that I have self-published the story of the brain trauma I suffered at age 57. It's a personal essay; a short book on both Kindle and in print. If you are also a survivor, or have a family member who has had a stroke, or is a caretaker, it might help you. Please pick it up, and let me know what you think here and on an Amazon review.  Thank you! 

                Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back


Please come visit me again soon! Happy and productive days ahead!  Mel 💖


And please visit me on Facebook at Coconut Bay Lane, A Writer's Haven

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Great Grandmother





Flash non-fiction by Mary Ellen Gambutti 4-20-16

Marie Henriette

She piled and twisted her shiny, dark hair into a high bun, then tied on and pinned a crisp white apron to her long, calico dress.  Brown-eyed, tall, strong, and sturdy, my great grandmother, Marie, handled her household duties without hesitation. Her days were filled with children and chores.  She was born November 1, 1858, daughter of William Lenderman and Tabitha Tripp.  A prominent farmer of Greenville, South Carolina, and a Civil War soldier, William was four times a widower. Marie helped him run the household, and care for his large family. She would be a dutiful wife, and at 26, left her father’s home to marry John Q. Cox, who farmed a neighboring 70 acres.

*
Civil War Era
 Work Dress

We girls were abandoning our bras as a statement of emancipation. I was 18, brunette, tall, flat-chested, and fresh-faced.  The elasticized empire bodice of my Jersey calico-print dress was comfortable and unrestrictive. I wore no pinafore. It was the cusp of 1970, and the “Granny Dress” was in. I wore leather sandals, and my hair fell loose, if not messy.  Many of us longed for an idealized version of what Marie lived. The closer to nature, the more fulfilled we’d be. We hiked in the Rockies, spent time on a commune, and on reclaimed Pennsylvania farmland, in an off-the-grid 1800’s house. We lit oil lamps at nightfall, and gardened without pesticides. We eschewed disposable diapers, and used cloth. We wanted sweet air, and the reward of hard work’s good sleep.  It all felt true, until modern life encroached on our dreams.

*

Before light would stir the little ones, her bread was in the oven, and John was in the fields.  Marie might have mended or knitted by oil lamp; John read or dozed by the fire, once the children were asleep.  Electricity didn’t come to their country home until about 1940.  Between first and last light, Marie’s day was domesticity: childcare, gardening, washing in the laundry tub in the yard, cooking, marketing in Mauldin, canning for winter, and her church duties.  She was well known for her fruit pies.  For relaxation, neighbor women gathered to sew, quilt, crochet, and braid or hook rugs.  My great grandmother’s life was hard, but purposeful, in the post-Civil War years.


*

I was first named Ruth Ann Cox. By 20, I gave up conjuring my first kin, and the face of my natural mother. My ancestors would remain hidden behind the faint sadness of the unknowable.  The only parents I knew, collected me from the infant home in 1952 in Upcountry South Carolina.  My adoptive grandparents were raised on central Pennsylvania farms, and taught me, a suburban middle-class girl, about their industrious, simple upbringings.  For my 20th birthday, Nana gave me an oil lamp, a washboard, a hand-cranked ice cream maker, and her cottage dishware, to signify values she hoped I would continue to cherish. She left me several of her fine quilts. My passion for gardening and nature had been cultivated by Nana, and I studied horticulture.  My husband and I had a small farm, and grew flowers for my gardening business.  We raised chickens and goats. Together with a group of craftswomen, my passion for old-time, primitive rug-hooking was indulged.  I like to think some skills are innate.

*
Marie Henriette Lenderman and John Quincy Adams Cox
Circa 1922

I study a portrait taken at a son or daughter’s wedding. With dignity suiting her status as a proud, independent farmer’s wife, Marie wears a long, black wool serge, caped suit, over a high-necked, white, wrapped chemise.  In the early 1920’s, she was dressed stylishly, yet modest for church.  Her complexion is fair, her forehead and cheekbones are high, her chin angular.  Her strong left hand and long fingers are poised on John’s right shoulder, as he sits close to her. His left hand holds his four right fingers over his crossed legs.   Straightforward, unsmiling, but kind and serene, the couple must be comfortable in the hard life they share. I wonder if I would have the courage and strength to live the life of my great grandmother.
*

William and Tabitha Lenderman, their family; John Q. Cox, Marie Henriette, and several of their children, including my maternal grandfather and grandmother, are laid to rest in Antioch Churchyard, Fork Shoals, SC. One happy fall day, I connect with my birth mother and my ½ sister, after a lifetime apart. I have searched with intent for natural family for 2 years, denied by the State of South Carolina any but the barest information. I’m 40, before the internet, and DNA revelations. In this tiny brick church, this September Sunday, I sing among both close, and distant kin. With thanks, I swallow grape juice from a tiny plastic cup, and take a wafer, like my ancestors had done all their lives. I feel their work, their spirit, their hardship, and this heritage. I’m proud to know these people, especially the matriarch, Marie Henriette.


***
My sister, Karen, Cousins Lawrence Cox and Helen Cox (Garabedian),
 and Leila Grace Cox - Momma
at Antioch Cemetary Fall, 1993

 all content copyright Mary Ellen Gambutti 2016


Friday, April 15, 2016

Searching for Leila

Dear Readers,   Thank you for returning to my story about putting together pieces of  natural self-hood.  I'm referring to the Sealed Record adoption laws in South Carolina that prevent my sisters and me from knowing the whole story of our origins. This right to know is, in our opinion, one that every American must have.  I was prevented from identifying my natural mother and my siblings, and I still have no "right" to information of my birth father's identification. We three sisters are all in our 60's; not children.  

*

Our sister, Karen, and I learned of Lottie by chance, in February 2015, through a 2007 internet post on a geneology site.  Lottie was seeking information of our mother, Leila, who died in 2004:

Hi Renee,
I am Lottie Lee Caddell Altman and my grandmother was Lottie Lee Causey Caddell. I am the daughter of her son, Alonzo Lanneau Caddell and I was named for my grandmother. My father, grandmother and grandfather are buried at Providence Baptist Church in Macedonia South Carolina.

The area of our family in Berkeley County is known as Hellhole Swamp which covered many small communities. My grandfather was from an area known as Hood Town but is now known as Macedonia. I believe my grandmother was from Cordsville but I cannot verify that information at this time.

My Grandmother Lottie Lee died before my birth so I never had the opportunity to meet her. However, I can remember her picture hanging on the wall in my grandfather's home and how highly everyone spoke of her. I believe this picture is now in my Aunt Mary Magadeline's family which was the youngest of her children.

My father, Alonzo died when I was four years old and my mother Leila Grace Cox Caddell left us when I was six weeks old. Therefore, my Grandfather Andrew raised me until his death.

I have been searching for my birth mother and my friend, Suzanne has been helping me. She found your posting and excitingly provided me the information. I have a picture of my father, Alonzo and will post next to his information.

It is so good to find someone researching the family history. I have always lived in South Carolina. I will keep in touch.
Lottie 

*

This is part of an email exchange between Lottie, Karen and me, the day after we 3 connected. Lottie, Karen and I were introduced by e-mail and Facebook on Valentine's Day, 2015. None of us had any information about siblings, other than a sibling who had died in a drowning accident at 16 in TX.:

ME:  "Hi Honey,  the short version is that I contacted Catholic Charities, Charleston, since I had my adoption papers.  They would only give me non-identifying information.  And it was very sketchy.  With the name Lee--the papers referred to me as Ruth Ann--I pursued a path for Lee's for months.  This was in 1992, before internet was widely in use.  I got the help of local geneologists. The break came when a C.C. agent offered to give me more information, for a fee.  She would only give it to me on the phone, so I wrote the little extra she revealed to me on an envelope.  I was stunned and excited to learn our mother's name, Leila Grace Cox.  I later learned that Lee was the name of her divorced husband.  "Karn," the name, repeated a few times in the notes the agent read me, gave me no clue as to the sex of our sibling.  I guess the name was interpreted from Momma's speech.  For more weeks I phoned, wrote letters to agencies and with the geneologist, who used old cemetery records, maps and phone directories, this time with the name Cox.  It all led to my call to Lawrence Cox, our  now sweet, deceased cousin, who shared information with me. First, he gave me the number of Aunt Ruth Cox, Momma's sister-in-law, and she gave me Karen's number. Never give up asking, dear Lottie!   xo

Lottie: WOW - You did all this before the internet!! You are very strong willed. What happened when you first met our mom? Did she every say anything to you about what happened?

ME:  Karen told me, that at first, Leila denied that the woman who called Karen was a daughter, but then quickly said it was true. She had me in St. Francis hospital, (the papers could have been signed then and there) and she left me.  Or, she might have gone to Catholic Charities while pregnant to tell them she wanted to give me up.  St Francis was affiliated with the Phillips Mercy Hospital and Infant Home in Rock Hill, where I was taken. When I met Momma she seemed happy, but she had no information about my father, or of any other siblings.  If only they would unseal the records.

Although we did have a good meeting with Karen, there were a lot of mixed feelings. I think our mother's poor health and lifestyle contributed to her confusion. She had end-stage kidney failure, was on dialysis, and while still in TX, where she had lived for 32 years, her leg was amputated. But we got around; went to cemeteries in Greenville to visit ancestors graves, and attended a Lenderman-Cox family reunion.  It was often pleasant, but sometimes strained. When I returned to PA she would call me.

Lottie: I was born in Berkeley County Memorial Hospital in Moncks Corner. I went to Family Court a few years back in Berkeley County to get a copy of my original birth certificate. When I asked for it, the clerk laughed and said South Carolina was a sealed state. Therefore, the only way I could get a copy was to hire an attorney. I still remember how she laughed without even caring how it affected me. 

*

Karen: Yes, Lottie, Mama really created a lot of unhappiness down the road. I lived with her parents, Frank and Corrie Cox til I was 10 even though mama's brother Charlie and his wife Ruth wanted to adopt me, and raise me with their daughter, Linda. (She's the only 1st. Cousin on mama's side). Finally, at 10 she came and got me and took me to Texas where she was living with her husband, Frank Adams, and their daughter, Susan Paulette (Susie).  It was terrible! He was an alcoholic and she drank too. Then they would fight. She was a mean, crying drunk. Now I know why. He was abusive to me too. At 13, she brought me back to SC. She was going to leave me with her parents again, but by then Grandma had dementia, so I guess she knew that wouldn't work, so we left for Charleston on a Greyhound. Mama never drove. We stayed about a week in an old hotel I think on King St. She had lived there before and knew the owners. She took the last of her money and bought a white blouse and black skirt. I think her uniform at her new job, probably where she had worked in past. But Mama was very heavy and her looks were shot, and she was leaving Susie and I alone in the room at night while she worked.  I guess she knew that wasn't working, so we hitchhiked to Spartanburg, and she asked my daddy, Ralph Lee, if he would take me. He said yes, so I stayed, and she and Susie went back to Texas. I finished school in 1966, got married to Johnny Allen 1 month later at 17. I have had my ups and downs but still know God has blessed me beyond measure. Hope to hear from you soon, 
Love you, Karen

*

Thanks for reading! And thanks for supporting unconditional release of adult adoptee birth records and Original Birth Certificates in all States!
Leila Grace Cox September, 1993,
the day after we reunited. I was born in 1951. 


Monday, April 11, 2016

Writing My Stroke Story

June will be 8 years since the hemorrhagic stroke that changed my life.  I began writing about it about 4 years ago.  Today I completed a satisfying manuscript and submitted it to a literary journal. Fingers crossed!  Intensive therapy continued for about 3 years.   I'm not fully recovered, but consider myself to be "nearly there." I have accepted that reality with as much grace as I can.  I'll never drive again, which is no great loss, except of my independence. I'm blessed to have a partner who takes care of me; driving, cooking, and keeping house. He was with me at that moment, and has never failed me.  None of the tests revealed the cause of my stroke.  The usual suspect, Atrial Fibrillation, was ruled out. Borderline hypertension was considered the culprit, with paroxysmal spikes. My right sided hemiplegia (paralysis) was a result of the hemorrhage having occurred on the left side of my brain.  My right torso, leg, foot, toes and right arm, hand a fingers were dead weight and numb for many weeks. Expert therapy saved me.  One of the most difficult problems of my stroke was speech; my ability to read with comprehension, count, decipher numbers, and speak with clarity.  I learned this deficit is called Apraxia.  "Apraxia of speech is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control coordinated muscle movement."

  http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/ApraxiaAdults/ 

This verse tries to describes the feelings around the effects of stroke on my speech, that to this day, sometimes catches me up. 

Wordlessness

 Learning words baby talk jumbled.
 My child speaks – a delight!

Expression – Music, Art, Words, Flowers

 Stroke and Aftermath

 Wordless impressions, then

~ Gobbledygook ~

 “Say what it is, say what you mean, can you?”

Put my feelings into words, can I?
 Learning to speak my language
Understanding the images – what do I see?
 Play the games, read the stories.
 Learn to think, learn to read, learn to speak again
Learn the new me.

***

Wikipedia
 Characteristics  Apraxia of speech (AOS) is a neurogenic communication disorder affecting the motor programming system for speech production.[6][7]Individuals with AOS demonstrate difficulty in speech production, specifically with sequencing and forming sounds. The Levelt model describes the speech production process in the following three consecutive stages: conceptualization, formulation, and articulation. According to the Levelt model, apraxia of speech would fall into the articulation region. The individual does not suffer from a language deficiency, but has difficulty in the production of language in an audible manner. Notably, this difficulty is limited to vocal speech, and does not affect sign-language production. The individual knows exactly what they want to say, but there is a disruption in the part of the brain that sends the signal to the muscle for the specific movement.[7] Individuals with acquired AOS demonstrate hallmark characteristics ofarticulation and prosody (rhythm, stress or intonation) errors.[6][7] Coexisting characteristics may include groping and effortful speech production with self-correction, difficulty initiating speech, abnormal stress, intonation and rhythm errors, and inconsistency with articulation.[8]

Monday, April 4, 2016

Adopted Child

  
                                                              

Mary Ellen, at 6 months, March 1952
My adoptive Dad, Al, and me, at 5 months










The Whole Story

The adoption papers are duly notarized, fees are paid, and the year-long foster period is over. A Certificate of Birth and Baptism changes my name from Ruth Ann to Mary Ellen, states that my parents are the couple who fostered me, and shows the 1951 birth date I’ve always known. It falsifies my birthplace as Rock Hill, S.C., and no hospital is named.
*
Agnes, my adoptive mother, with me, Summer, 1952
I’m 6 when my parents tell me the story of my adoption, a fairy tale with a happy ending. “Adoption” sounds grown up and strange, special, missing something. Or even precious or breakable. I fantasize the family who came before my adoption. I can see nothing of my father or mother in the mirror.  I had all the dolls and toys I wanted, a loving home, but no brothers and sisters.  How could it be that my first family was killed in a car accident? Why not me? Because I was with the nuns in the “home”? I imagined, even hoped, I would recognize them all in a store or on the street. Who do I look like?  I squinted and studied the mirror.
*
It’s like being re-born when I meet my mother in 1993.  I’ve persisted in my quest for kin for years, and now I have more truth.  Now I know I lived in Phillip’s Mercy Infant Home in Rock Hill, South Carolina for 5 months prior to leaving with the couple who would adopt me a year later. I’m told my hospital records were lost to fire, so I may not see the imprint of my baby feet. My original birth certificate is forever sealed by the State, and a shortened version of my identity is all that’s available to me. With the help of a “search angel,” I have the most critical puzzle piece: my birth mother’s full name.
*
“Momma, a lady called me from up north, and said she might be your daughter,” my half-sister Karen confronted Leila. “Not true!” Once again, my mother denied me. Karen coaxed the admission. Our mother did give birth to another girl when Karen was about 2. She thought the nuns in the Catholic Hospital would take good care of me. She couldn’t recall whether she had held me; she said she “just left.” She denied she knew my father’s name.
*
“I’m Mary Ellen, your daughter!” I re-connected with my birth mother by phone in August of 1993, one day after my call to Karen. Leila sounded pleasant, and we were both excited. When I asked her how she felt about our reunion, she answered softly, “I think it’s great!”  Leila had been watching talk shows about reunions, Karen told me, but neither suspected our own drama was unfolding. I further ventured, “They make it so hard to find our birth families. I don’t think that’s right.” The woman who gave me life replied, “No! Not if you really want to find each other.”

***
In fact, I may never have the whole story. Through the help of autosomal DNA and Ancestry.com, I have an ancestral profile, and in an attempt to thin out genetic matches to my 1/2 sisters, I have some idea of possible paternal lines.  I can't be confident that I'll identify my paternal match.  (I have trouble calling him father, because the likelihood is that he never knew I existed.)
  
Lottie
Karen and I discovered Lottie on Valentine's Day, 2015. Leila never mentioned that she had left an infant daughter with her husband, who died at very young age, leaving Lottie to be raised by his family. Lottie posted an internet note on a geneology site around the same time that I was finding my kin. She sought information about her mother, Leila. Tragedy, irony, and finally, blessing:  that we 3 sisters have connected without our mother's help, or the help of the State of South Carolina.
Karen insisted we have a portrait made together at Walmart, around Christmas 1993. I'm so glad we did it. Momma died about 1 year later.  This photo makes me look so much shorter than Karen. In fact, she, Leila and I are around 5'7." 
***

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Web Adventures

Dear Reader,

If you have found me a second time, welcome back!

I've read that if you want to publish in this digital age, it's best to have a "platform," such as a blog.  Intimidated by tech speak, I hesitated.  Facebook's Personal Blog seemed a user-friendly place to start. So, in October 2014, I began to curate craft posts about non-fiction, memoir and writing, in general.  That blog description is: "Writing personal essay/memoir. Sealed record adoptee, stroke survivor, Air Force daughter."   

You can visit me:

On Coconut Bay Lane

The problem with facebook's blog is that to generate interest the owner must "Boost,"  which is another way to say, "Pay."  Since I'm not an income-producing venture (yet) selling views is not an option for me.  I'd rather spend my spare change on paper books and e-books, or on an occasional writing course, or mentoring. Until a few months ago, I had not begun submitting my work.

The on-line writing courses I've taken were each helpful in finding my writing direction and voice. They've demonstrated fine narrative, memoir, personal essays, flash, hybrid form, etc. Wonderful teachers pushed us to keep writing. Now that I have some work "out there," and plan to publish a chapbook or anthology of personal memoir/essays, it feels time to move ahead with this blog.


I was thrilled to be accepted to the March issue of Gravel Literary Magazine, for "When Work Was Play," 3 brief memoirs. I hope you will enjoy them here:

http://www.gravelmag.com/mary-ellen-gambutti.html

I have several short non-fiction pieces submitted to various publications at this time. I received the good news yesterday (it was not an April Fools, thankfully!) that my piece, Garden Shadow was live in Wildflower Muse. It's a beautiful e-zine.
https://wildflowermuse.wordpress.com/

You can read my piece here, in the company of lovely artistic work.

Wildflower Muse

Til next time!
Mel


Friday, April 1, 2016

First Time Out


Sarasota Bay at Bird Key Park

Friday, April 1st at 7:00 pm.

Dear Readers,  It's been a clear, humid day in Sarasota, like so many here.  But this day was different. It began with an email from Heather Lenz, of Wildflower Muse, telling me my short memoir piece had been published!  Garden Shadow is live!  It's the story of my relationship with my dear Nana, Julia Tokar, and my life-long relationship with gardens.

I confess, I am very new at this blog thing.  I have a Facebook Personal Blog, On Coconut Bay Lane at https://www.facebook.com/melwritestoday/ (to which I warmly invite you), but this Blogger thing is new to me. With my patience and yours, I might learn.  Technicalities of permalinks and hyperlinks might early on get past me.  Perhaps my 13 year old grandson, Shaya, might help me on that score <<smile>>.

First, let me introduce myself.  I'm 64; a forever flower child.  I came of age in the "Vietnam Era;" an adoptee daughter of an Air Force Intelligence officer. Mine was a troubled teenage. I romanced and married at 19, after a sojourn in Aspen, then further entered the uncertain young adulthood of marriage and family. A precious daughter was born. But life felt uncertain, then sad. After more uncertainty, like vocations in healthcare and marketing, I re-married and returned to school for horticulture training. It proved to be the most satisfying, creative work I had known. Growing plants and designing flower gardens was my joy.  I thrived on the hard work, and the aesthetics. I loved writing proposals and describing ideas to clients. Everything about it was good, except the money, as I was an independent contractor with no financial backing. Yet, with the part time help and encouragement, of my husband, Phil, my sole proprietorship lasted about 15 years.

The writing began in childhood. As many say, "I've always written." My strong suit was always words over numbers. Mine were little essays, often about nature or gardens, then poems for myself and other children. I went on to write poems affected by teenage angst.  After a stint in direct marketing, and marketing proposals that stifled me to tears, came the blessing of flowers, and a better kind of sales letter. Once retired, I published a lively and colorful newsletter for my age 55+ garden club.

I lost a great deal when I had a brain hemorrhage at 57.  My recovery has come to a point of pretty good balance and better use of my right hand and arm. I'll never drive again, nor jog, nor garden on my knees. But I am alive, and the outcome of the tragedy has been the blessings of patience (better), focus and attention to detail (usually), and a deeper calm like I have never known.  After the stroke, I reconnected with people in a meaningful way.  I began to use the computer as if my life depended on it.  And I began taking writing courses on-line. This last has changed my life.

So here I am in Florida, half-way moved between Easton, PA and permanent residency here.  I'll blog about my adopted childhood, my Air Force family upbringing, the days I both remember, and those...not so much, in those difficult times.

Here is the link for Wildflower Muse and "Garden Shadow" Enjoy the beautiful magazine!

https://wildflowermuse.wordpress.com/tag/mary-ellen-gambutti/


Peace and Love,
Mary Ellen (or Mel, if you prefer)

This gorgeous image is of a painting by Yolanda Rodriguez titled, "Ibis and Red Flower." Available from http://fineartamerica.com/art/yolanda+rodriguez
Clearly, the flower is an Hibiscus :-)