Wednesday, May 30, 2007


After a week of rain, the sun is shining, but it is too late. I have already slumped into a dark depression, and it will take a few days, or even weeks, of sunshine to dispel the gloom.

Michigan weather can chill you to the marrow of your bones, adding a cutting, sharp wind to the drizzling cold. The entire state can be enveloped in a blanket of clouds, making every object around you an opaque, sordid gray. I am not talking of the crashing thunderstorms of summer, with the lightening flashing and torrents of water falling down to refresh the earth and brighten the greenery. I am not talking about the light Spring showers, dainty little splashes that moisten the soil. No, this is the week or month-long drizzle that is a harbinger of Spring around here, with flowers struggling to bloom despite the chill, and hope springing eternal until you finally say, "To hell with it!" and resign yourself to doom and gloom forever.

While I suffered from the depression that comes with constant rain, I read a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul. These inspiring tales from various sources did little to lift my spirits, even though they were tender, heartwarming stories. Instead, these missiles of grace and good will brought tears to my eyes and recriminations to my heart. I wavered from sheer self-pity to anger at the fact that others were so gushily, sentimentally happy. How dare them?

My moodiness is, I think, inherited from my father, who had what my mother liked to call "Black Spells." He would stomp around the house, a glum expression on his face, then sit in his chair and stare into space, his mind a million miles away from the farmhouse with its spattering of rain on the roof and the pails my mother sat around to catch the leaks. They were methodical and musical, never losing cadence, ringing out like bells as the water in the pails splashed around. But, to my father, they were drumbeats of misery, heartbeats of dark thoughts.

I remember my mother used to explain that his "Black Spells" were understandable because, as she put it, "he had to put so many of his brothers and sisters away." She never explained what she meant by that, and it has never been explained in any search of family lore. Whether he sent them to asylums or prison, my mother never enlarged upon her remark.

I do remember hearing that my mother's brother, Uncle Asa...the one that failed to pay the loan my father had signed for....took off for unknown regions, leaving behind his four children and his wife, my father's sister. This desertion affected her to a point where she had a nervous collapse. I don't know if she died or if she was one of the ones my mother thought he "put away." Pop never talked about it, even though he used to snort derisively at the mention of Uncle Asa.

Uncle Asa later was known to have fled to California which, in those days, was like fleeing to the ends of the earth. His four children were farmed out to relatives and became great, responsible adults that I was fortunate enough to meet not too long ago. Uncle Asa returned from the West to visit us in Michigan. He had married another woman, Aunt Sylvia, who was completely bonkers.

They lived with us for awhile and then Uncle Asa disappeared again, leaving us with Aunt Sylvia. She used to make Hjalmar sit at night and read passages of the Bible to her. This might have been good for Hjalmar, but Aunt Sylvia peppered the reading with acidic comments. Every time a sinner was threatened with Hellfire and Damnation, Aunt Sylvia would shout, "That's where you're going, Asa!"

Aunt Sylvia's behavior finally became so erratic that one day she stripped off her clothing and walked down the street, as the neighbors gawked. When Helma and I trudged home from school that day, there was the little white wagon of literary fame. There were the attendants, trying to coax this bare naked lady into the wagon. We were mortified, without the maturity needed to pity Aunt Sylvia and her plight. Helma clutched my arm and we walked with our heads down, looking neither left nor right.

The happiest person celebrating Aunt Sylvia's departure from our lives was Hjalmar. He now went back to his normal life, free of his Bible-reading sessions. Aunt Sylvia died shortly after leaving our house, alone in some dark, dingy insane asylum. We used to have those structures back then. The one in Pontiac, Michigan, now torn down to make way for progress, looked like a medeival castle sprawling across the greenery. When I worked for the newspaper, I visited there several times. It always made me feel as though I were sitting in one of those old, grungy gas stations you run across on a trip, dingy, dirty, cobwebs floating in the corners, the kind you stop at to use the bathroom which always seems to be an invitation to deadly disease, grime combined grit and other people's detritus.

A depression always brings back memories. Old hurts, old grudges, old feelings of remorse and resentment and rage. It's good to spill them out sometimes, to shove them away from you like a log floating in the water, hoping they will float away forever. One of the hardest parts of the Bible is obeying that one instruction, forgive those who have trespassed against you as they forgive yours. Well, we can hope so, anyway.

Anyway, it is time now to bask in the warm air and sunshine and chase away the cobwebs that collect in the wintertime. Chicken Soup only goes so far when it is cold and clumped and clammy. It takes the bright arm of sunshine to bring back a climate of cheer and warm that soup into a tasty, delectable mixture.