A Rant About Healthcare

True story

On Thursday late afternoon our son who attends college in Vincennes, Indiana, texted to tell me he was out of one of the three drugs he uses to control his seizures. He must take his drugs or he will have a seizure. He told me he had enough to last to Saturday. I called the pharmacy that told me-“Nope-not up for refill for 8 more days. Call your doctor.”

Of course one can’t call the doctor until business opens the next day, so Friday at 8:00am I called his neurologist. Meanwhile, I have my son hunting high and low for apparently 8 days worth of missing pills.

The outgoing message at the neurologist’s office asks you to choose an option: press one for appointments, press two for prescriptions, press three for a nurse and so on. I pressed three for the nurse and got voice mail and left an extensive message detailing our problem. Her outgoing message tells me I will wait up to 48 hours for a reply. Also, ironically, the outgoing message says that if I have a problem with a scrip to call the pharmacy. There is almost always a black hole of bureaucracy between these two entities. I can’t tell you the number of times the pharmacy has told me to call the doctor and the doctor has told me to call the pharmacy.

I wait 20 minutes and call again, this time pressing the buttons to get me to a live human who reassures me that the nurse is there and working her way through the voice mail, and she should get to it at any minute.

At 11:30,  I had not heard from her, so I called again, pressing buttons to get me to a human and this time the nurse herself answers the phone. She tells me that she will talk to the doctor and can handle it immediately, and I also ask her to send the scrip to Walgreens in Vincennes. Walgreens is the pharmacy closest to campus.

BTW—she acknowledged that it was the doctor’s office who called in the wrong scrip initially. Our son didn’t lose his pills, he simply was not given enough. “Oops, I’ll send in the correct scrip this time.” The nurse apologized and we told our son to stop hunting for the missing pills.

Now,  I pass the task  to my husband Geoff. It is his job to call Walgreens and give them our insurance and make arrangements to pay for the drugs that our son needs. He calls me shortly after to tell me its all set. Walgreens helped him set up a special payment account and took our insurance information. “No problem.” he said.

But wait, an hour later he notes on this special payment site that, Walgreens has posted that our insurance will not work with Walgreens and they will charge us $1200 for the 30-day supply. For those of you who do math that is $20 per pill twice a day for 30 days.

So he calls back to the Doctor’s office. Now it is about 2:00pm on Friday. Geoff talks to the nurse again, and she says that she will talk to the doctor again and send in a new scrip to CVS in Vincennes. We wait for confirmation. Nothing comes. Geoff drives to the doctor’s office at 4:30.  The nurse is still there, but the doctor is gone for the weekend, and she apparently never asked him to resend the scrip to CVS in Vincennes. She tells Geoff, “He’s driving to Louisville for the weekend. I’ll try to get ahold of him and have him call it in.”

Well nothing comes through. It is 8:00pm. No doctor response at all. The outgoing message on the doctors voicemail says simply to hang up and call 911. We think perhaps we need to go back to Walgreens and pay for 4 pills ($80) to get him through till Monday and then try again on Monday for CVS to fill the full scrip. Perhaps we can get the doctor to call next week?

I call CVS one more time, and after much discussion of the situation, (We have been on the phone with them three times now. They know us well.) the nice lady at CVS reveals that in fact they can call Walgreens and get the scrip from Walgreens. Who knew! At 8:45pm the pharmacist from CVS calls to tell me that not only does he have the scrip ready and waiting for my son to pick up, but there are coupons that can get us a 14 day supply for free and money off on the rest. Who knew!!

The moral of the story. CVS in Vincennes really helped us. I am switching all my scrips there even if they charge more. They came through for me. The pharm tech and the pharmacist were the heroes.

The second moral: The system is really messed up. It took two adults a whole day of head scratching, texting, phone calling and waiting to get doctors, pharmacists and insurance companies to come together to get two weeks worth of little white pills, SO MY SON DOESN’T HAVE A SEIZURE.  What happens when a parent who doesn’t have a decent employer who lets her make calls while at work needs to fix something like this?  What happens to people who don’t have insurance and  need to get meds to stop seizures?  What happens to someone who just can’t figure out how to make it work tries to get medicine? It should not be this hard.

Ask me sometime how often stuff like this happens.

Please please someone out there. FIX the HEALTHCARE SYSTEM!!!!

We Are Afraid

“Fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited….It is a climate closing in; it is like the fog in San Francisco….It is a mood which one carries around with himself, distilled from the acrid conflict with which his days are surrounded.”    —  Howard Thurman Jesus and the Disinherited

“I was afraid of him. I knew he’d kill me. So I left him, changed my name, went to a totally different city. He found me a month later and buried me alive. I don’t know how long —” Peggy says, her tone matter-of-fact.

“Like in a box? Underground?” I interrupt to check my ears.

“In a box underground,” she replies, pausing to wipe her eyes. “By the time that he finally started digging me up, and asked me before he opened the box if I was going to obey him, I had scratches all over my neck and arms, trying to get my veins out to end it.”

Peggy and I are sitting outside the local food co-op in Bloomington, Indiana, drinking coffee on a warm September morning. We’re quite familiar with one another, but I’m not sure you could call us friends. Peggy moved into the guest room in my family’s house about a month ago. So while we live together we still don’t know each other very well. It is normal for us — me, my husband and our two young children — to live with someone who would otherwise be homeless. It’s part of what we do as members of the Bloomington Catholic Worker community (BCW). But it is not normal for me to spend an hour listening to a guest talk about her fears. I’m thinking now that it should be.

Peggy was raised by her grandparents on a farm in southern Indiana. She was a scrawny girl who was frequently picked on. “They put gum in my hair,” she recalls. “Just mean kids. My sister always took up after me, but we were always molested until I was sixteen.”

At fifty-one, Peggy is petite but muscular, assertive and sweet. She calls the cashier at the co-op, “youngin’” and me, “honey.” Her long, curly hair has been dyed the red of fallen leaves, but the roots show the gray of stress. I’m envious of her energy: though she comes home after a full day of volunteering at the day shelter and weeding the garden at the Peer Recovery Center, she will still take up a broom and whisk away the dirt from our living room floor. Staying busy and helping people is one of the ways she copes.

“What’s your biggest fear?” I ask as I glance around at the other tables, aware that her voice carries. Peggy doesn’t seem to notice. She keeps her gaze on me.

“My biggest fear is Kent getting out of prison in a little under six months. I still have my nightmares, where I can smell the dirt. Thank goodness I haven’t woke up screaming in your house yet! That’s one of my biggest fears because that’s something I can’t get out of. So now I’m carrying a flashlight, a lighter, a knife on me at all times because honestly if that ever happens to me again, I will probably slit my throat.”

“How do you build back up after something like that?” I ask.

“A lot of prayer. A lot of faith. A lot of talking to caseworkers, psychiatrists,” Peggy says. She puts her hands around her coffee cup. Her pale blue eyes are wide, and she grins. “That’s why I’ve always watched scary movies, like Criminal Minds. Believe it or not, you can watch someone be in a situation and watch that show and try to figure out how to get out of it before you get in it.”

Peggy’s imagined, again and again, what might happen if Kent gets paroled and comes looking for her. She’s contemplated carrying around a small shovel, to dig herself up, and a gun for protection. “After everything I’ve been through, I will go down fighting before I give up.”

Yes you will, I think. I’m right there with her: I imagine myself pummeling her ex. But the truth is I have not been formed by fear the way Peggy has. I know I’d just collapse into a heap on the floor.

I know this because just the other night, a stranger paced the sidewalk outside our house screaming obscenities. When I pulled back the shade, he saw me and started to approach the house. My heart quickened. I locked the doors and windows and went to Peggy’s room.

“Peggy,” I asked, “do you know that guy?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said.

“Is that your ex?” I asked.

“No way. He’s still in prison. I was hoping you knew him.”

“Nope,” I said, peeking out the window again. The guy was gone.

“I’ll see if I can find him,” Peggy said, pulling on her hoodie.

“You sure?” I asked. I was not about to chase down an angry stranger.

“Yeah. I’m not afraid.” She slipped out into the night and walked the block, but we never found out who he was.

By Laura Lasuertmer for The Poplar Grove Muse, excerpted from a piece originally published in Geez Magazine #48.

Love Letters Straight from the Heart


I went crazy and cleaned out a drawer in tall chest in my bedroom recently. The top one that held old pairs of glasses, part of my rock collection, two very small baskets, an old Blockbuster card.

Tucked away back in a corner were the signature blue airmail envelopes containing love letters from my then future ex-husband. They were way sweeter and way more articulate than I remembered. I met him when I worked in a hotel the summers of 95 and 96 on the Isle of Mull in Scotland on a work abroad program. He was the barman and I worked in reception. He was English. Well, he’s still English; he just was invited not to be my husband anymore.

Our tryst had begun my second summer there.  I had gone back to America after that to return to work and school. He stayed in Scotland to finish out the season at the hotel before going back down to England for the winter. He missed me, longed for me even. His bed was empty and cold. He loved me more than he could express. One envelope even had S.W.A.K. on the back flap. At the end of one letter he had spelled out love with tiny x’s. Sweet. Tom, you sweet, sweet man who wrote sweet letters, if only that had been our whole story.

And there were the letters from Robert. Ah, Robert, the brother of one of my co-workers at the hotel. Instant cosmic connection. Old souls reunited. Letters on thin blue onion skin paper. Pale words penciled in tiny script, five pages double-sided. Saying everything, saying nothing. Words of guarded love, words of universal love unbound. Memories of our time together that first summer I was on Mull, when he told me I had the brightest aura of anyone he had ever seen. Books, gifts, presents sent.

The connection was so strong that when I was back home I knew when he was sick. He knew when I was feeling down. We met twice when I came back the second summer. Our connection scared him his sister told me, old scars still raw. But I was not the one who caused them. He ran like a scared rabbit. Oh, Robert, if there had been an us, there never would have been a Tom.






Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse   


As if wire and pinewood
unspooled to a vanishing point
along the foamy shoreline
could keep the drifting dune
in place.

As when gulls fly inland, summer
people leave, every season has its
storm. I see you letting go at the edges
looking out beyond everything
– steel waters, sobering skies.

As if we had more time to make
ourselves known to the world,
to one another, assume we’ll remake
what floats away—our lives in surges;
our tattered windsocks, our weathered homes.

As we ponder this together on the lip
of the last wave, our feet disappear
in clutches of cool sand. We hold hands,
brace for balance, seek safety in interiors.
Our fragility affirmed, we promise return.

Beth Lodge-Rigal September 2018

The Vanity of the Seasons

Fall has always been my favorite time of year, even when I was a small child. I love the brilliance, the crispness, the change from the heat-formed, clinging odors to sharp and pungent ones. I like to see the squirrels busy getting ready for the coming winter and the trees doing the same. Of course, I regret the passing of summer, as I regret the passing of each season, but I rejoice the most when it’s autumn on its way in.

I was also born in the fall…in September, so I suppose that may play a part in my love of the season. However, as I’ve reached old age, I find myself with mixed emotions about what another fall means to me. If I were religious, I’d give any deity thanks for my still being around. Since I’m not religious, I’m just glad that I am here. But here’s the rub: I’ve found that there are more associations and reasons for regarding seasonal changes with a bit of a jaundiced eye than there ever were when I was younger…or, at least, ones that I am more conscious of than when I was 30 or 50 or even 60.

Let’s get right to today’s reason. Everything I read about older women seems aimed to make me even more aware of oldness. Whether it’s telling me it’s okay to be old or telling me it’s not okay, but here are the ways to make me seem younger so I’ll be okay. Or that it’s okay, get over it. Or that it’s not okay and I should get over it. Or that I don’t exist as a real human individual anymore, get over it. But it all stems from being categorized as “old” and “other”.

I’ve pretty much been “other” most of my life…just being a female made me “other”. Not quite accepting the full role of women as defined in the 50s and 60s made me a little more “other”. Deciding not to have children made me “other”.  Refusing to wear heels (and I’m very short) made me “other”. Being determined to have an academic career made me “other”. Wanting to drive a semi-truck when I was kid made me “other”. Not being a sports fan made me “other”. Still, these were all choices that I made and don’t regret, although I’ve spent a lot of time either defending, explaining, or both, these choices. But there are things that have made me “other” that I didn’t choose, and it’s those that stab at me now, some of which have become more obvious as the world has seasoned me.

And it’s that age thing that I’m thinking of right now…the age is not choice, but how I am in it mostly is….and I am finding that vanities I have thought don’t matter do matter now. The change from summer into fall is a good example. I’ve always liked clothing that was a little different, but comfortable (thus the mention of high heels above), but kind of reflective of who I think/thought I am. And this year, as the coolness of the season whispers its arrival, I found myself feeling relief…why? Because I didn’t have to search for clothing that would be cool enough for our Indiana humid summer heat, but which would cover up my wrinkly upper arms! I could not believe that all-of-a-sudden, I cared about wrinkly arms…what the heck??? Yet, I am looking forward to warm long winter sleeves. I don’t care about my wrinkly face…I refuse to wear make-up; almost always have, hate that greasy stuff, including lipstick, anywhere on my face. So let the neck sag and the eye pouches puff and the lips narrow…no seasonal change can do much about that, and it’s an otherness that is part of my self-definition.  Bare ankles? No problem! Bare toes…well, there are those socks I love with my sandals…and my toes get cold really easily. More otherness. Socks in the summer season…why not? But those arms…no, no, no! Sometimes, at home alone, when they are bare, I get an accidental glimpse of them, and the hanging flaps where muscle used to be (and to be honest, a bit of fat) just stop me in my tracks and I look away at what I think is ugliness, even if my reflective self says “so what”…Ugh. No amount of self-talk has convinced me to go sleeveless, or cap-sleeved. Nope. No way. Forget it.

And oh, are there remedies for this. Plain old exercise and weight lifting are supposed to do the trick. 50 pound barbells. 50 reps. Seven days a week. You don’t have barbells or belong to a gym? Then just heft a couple bags of flour in each had…those big bags. Or put a rod up in your doorway and do 500 pull ups. Or get down on the floor, careful of the creaky knees and do 1,000 push-ups. That, old woman, will get rid of those creepy upper arms.

Don’t want to exercise? Have we got a solution for you ! For just $99.95 plus shipping for a 5 ounce tube, we have this miracle cream, made from secret herbs that will do the trick. All natural, of course. Just rub it on (ignore that herbal odor…just put it on on a day when you’re not going to wear anything but a bra, no other top). In ten days, bingo! No more crepe! Arms toned like a 20 year-old !  If  it doesn’t work after 10 days, sorry. You can’t find us anywhere to get your money back.

Or, we have these magic bands. Just wrap them around your upper arms every day and the heat from them will melt that extra skin away. Just be careful of burns.

The arms still sag and wiggle and mock me. Most importantly, they mock my vanity, my vanity about not being vain. They mock my attempts to just accept my almost-76-year-old-body. And, most importantly, they mock my attempt to like all seasons equally…because of them, I just can’t like summer as much as its three siblings. Sorry summer, but that’s just how it is. So I’ll bid you adieu today. Maybe next year we can try again.

Fall, my favorite, bring it on and know that this old other has an arm up her sleeve as well as a few tricks and treats.

Bev Hartford for The Poplar Grove Muse


Changing Season

I met the moon early this morning.

Me, alone on a bike.

She, nestled in the white branches of trees.

Both of us, silent.

Like the way I always felt closest to you

when there were no words

between us,

trampling our knowing

down into cages

no one could live in

for long.


Before me, the trail wends its way

along the creek for a while,

past the tended field

where squash blossoms

erupt in blooms of bright yellow,

then bends

under the canopy of trees,

where it is littered with leaves

that crunch under my bike tire,

a sign of things to come,


A lesson in letting go –

of dogs

of daughters

of lovers

of women I used to be.


From here, I cannot see

the full round face

of the morning moon,

pale as she is

against a bluing sky.

I cannot see

around the next bend,

past the underbrush

alive with chattering birdsong.


But, on I ride

balanced atop this bike,

arms outstretched

in gratitude

for mornings just like this

and the song of the creek,


of what lies ahead.


~DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

A Never Ending Current

“There’s a river of birds in migration,
a nation of women with wings…”
I sing in my mind, in my heart,
I sing when I’m a part of
Women Writing (for) a Change
and when I’m apart from it.
I sing when I’m the turtle that I am,
plodding along, grounded,
bound for the next bend in the creek,
the next tear on my cheek,
the next time I eat my own words
that could’ve been more carefully served.

But hey! Look at me!
Yes! Turtle that I am!
Fired up by the tree of life—
the circle of women and writers
and dreams in my own life!
Throw me a sky hook!
Watch me fly!

I climb out of (to the top of!)
this comfortable, familiar,
predetermined shell,
brave and bare-chested
with a vested interest
in my own survival
and the survival of women’s voices.

I grab hold of stories and songs,
poems and prayers
and those soul-shaking,
mind-waking keenings.
I ride the never-ending current
of words set free—
voices ancient and modern,
published, unpublished,
and those still incubating,
throbbing, waiting
for just the right moment to hatch.

I join strong women flying high—
a dense, impenetrable flock
of them, of us!
Spreading our truth-telling wings,
pointing out the where,
the when, the why of being:
over there,
right here,
way back then,

“There’s a river of birds in migration,
a nation of women with wings!”

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse
(Soul Collage)


Endings and Beginnings

So many thoughts are tumbling through my head this morning as I think back over the years of my life.  Some of those years have a theme; 1963, 1968, graduation years, 1990 (my son’s birth), 2014 and of course 2016 – endings and beginnings. Losing my father in 2014 left a huge hole in my heart and like my mother’s death, caused me to question my beliefs, yet oddly, confirmed them at the same time.  I have always been spiritual, but never fond of organized religion. I had imagined that I would feel my mother’s presence in the months after her death, hear her voice, know she was there – it didn’t happen and I was shocked. I realized over time that it wasn’t a lack of presence, it was lack of recognition.  I had failed to recognize those moments – the tiniest of tugs, the wisp of the wind, a white butterfly swarming around me, 2 white butterflies the day after my dad died, an aroma, a song.  Small moments of connection. What has been most challenging for me is how easy it is for time to pass without me thinking of them.  I have heard people say, “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about them”.  That is not true for me.  Days and weeks will pass and I am not conscious of thinking of them.  Then that tug, that song, that wisp of the wind reminds me.  Is it you Mom?  I can almost hear you saying, “how dare you forget about me, I gave you birth”.  Or is it you Dad?  “It’s okay kiddo, you are a lot like I was.”

Knowing that my own son will likely experience this when I am gone quickly brings tears to my eyes. I like to think he will know that I am always with him, but my death will also create space for him – endings and beginnings. One great thing about endings is the beginning; nothing ends without something new starting.  As much as I miss my parents, there is an odd freedom in being parentless for me.  The cloud of their perceived judgement has drifted, dissipated.  Funny, I was the one who put the cloud there. I was the one who could have sent it packing. I was the one wearing the ruby slippers.

It is hard, nearly impossible, to understand the existence of possibility in the throes of an ending. I just have to remember that there are endings that are joyful and I have to relish those, like August 9, 1974.  I look forward to another ending like that, hopefully this year, because I know around the corner will be a new beginning.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

To come from and to beget

“Youth is our biological and physiological homeland.  There, we know our way.  And even if in our nostalgic memories the sun shines where it was actually dark, still we are familiar with the pitfalls and perils of youth.  We know how to live in that homeland with good and bad – how to master it, anyway, better than we know how to navigate the foreign country of age into which we are expelled.”   –Frederic Morton

I come from men, it seems. From a mysterious Ignaz. And from him, born February 11, 1833 in Holungen, Germany, came my great-great-great grandfather, Johannes Heironiums Ertmer who settled in JoDaviess County, Illinois. He is the one whose name titles a 200-page geneaology of my branch of the Ertmer family. And from Johannes and Elizabeth Goldhagen came John, and from John and Caroline Ortchied came Robert Frank (a first-born son), and from Robert Frank and Mary Ann Clancy came my grandpa Robert Elwood, the fourth of ten, and from him and Alice Mary LaGrand, my father David Joseph who married Peggy Rothermel who birthed me. And I married David Lasuer and gave birth to Alice Joy and Leo David. It’s enough to make your head spin. All these men, all these women. Begetting, begetting, begetting. Then dying, dying, dying. That is most of what I know – when they were born and when they died. Until I get to my grandparents and my parents. Then I know for sure that I have come from women too.

She was the last of her generation, my grandma Alice, when she passed away in Denver, Colorado on November 30, 2016. Ninety-eight years old. We buried her in the ground at Mt. Olivet cemetery on a cold Tuesday afternoon in December. We buried her in a powder blue coffin, with pleats of blue fabric, with crucifixes and a bag of Cheetos, with argyle socks on her feet, and sparkly purple polish on her nails, with her glasses on over closed eyes, her hands resting together on her stomach, a rosary threaded through her fingers. She was thin and light when she died, just worn-out skin covering tired bones. But her hair was the opposite. It was the striking white of the full moon, perfectly poised and luminous. At the funeral home, my Aunt Mary Ann, upon inspecting the handiwork of the mortician, took out a small brush and began to fluff my grandma’s bangs over the bony curve of her forehead. “Mom, don’t you worry. We are going to get these bangs just how you like them.”


The last time I visit Grandma is in July 2016, four months before her death. She doesn’t live in a nursing home, not the kind with the metal beds and mounted T.V.s. She lives in an apartment building for the elderly, with exercise classes, a library and a menu to order from in the dining room. The living room in her small apartment holds furniture from the house on Steele Street where she raised her five children. The brass birds that flew in formation across the wall there, fly here as well. In the corner is a soft, slim leather recliner that she inherited when her eldest son, Bob, died from a heart attack. Draped on the back of that chair is the woven blanket I gave her after studying in Bolivia. In the freezer is the vanilla ice cream, essential for making the root beer floats she offers to her visitors.

When we leave her apartment for the dining hall, she turns to ask, “How’s my hair?” Mom and I reach to pull a few strands over the spot in the back that is flat from where she sleeps on it.  She is dressed in black pants with white polka dots, a white sweater, a string of pearls, and gold circular clip on earrings. “Did you see my new shoes?” she asks, leaning on her walker and nudging one foot forward. I look down at her sandals. They have thick, black soles and colorful wide straps. “Very spunky! Are they comfortable?” I ask.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “Very.”

Grandma speaks slowly and softly, like the words take a while coming to her mind and a bit longer to exit her mouth.  At lunch she starts talking but my mom doesn’t hear her and rushes on with her own story. Grandma just closes her mouth and goes for a bite of soup.  What was she going to say, I wonder. My aunt and uncle, my mom and dad, we all say too much, too quickly. So I just put my hand on her back and rub it gently. She smiles, closes her eyes and leans forward.

After lunch we walk the hallway to the elevator and I ask, “Do you know your neighbors?”

“Not well,” she says.

“But you have people you sit with at lunch?” prompts Mom.

Grandma stops and looks at us. “You know the other day I went to lunch.  And Vera wasn’t there. I asked where she was and they said she’d moved to the fourth floor.” She pauses. “Well, turns out she had died!” At the elevator we see a flyer with Vera’s smiling face, the date of her birth and death and a notice that services are pending.

Death must be everywhere to Grandma, and old age is no stranger either. I’m sure some people arrive at 80 and, like a revelation, discover themselves to be old. But Grandma has had eight years since turning ninety to be old, to feel her body weaken, her mind lose its grasp on the day of the week and the names of her children. Here the halls are populated with four wheeled walkers – bright red and blue – and cheerful nurses.  In the library, the hunched form of an elderly lady hides behind an outspread newspaper, her nose almost touching the print. A man with oxygen tubes clutches a walker, his grey sweatpants spread thinly across his wide rear.  He speaks some nonsense before singing a cheery, “Hello, Alice!” and stepping into the elevator.

I’m struck by her name, how it’s the same name as my daughter’s, how she too will grow and grow until one day her body will shrink back upon itself and struggle to stand up straight, to stand up at all.  If we’re lucky, of course, and don’t lose her before she has a chance to ripen.

And I remember that day in June 2012, when we stood in the hallway of her old apartment to say our goodbyes, my belly full of baby. That was the day I said to her, “If it’s a girl, we’ll name her Alice.”

“I’d be honored,” she said, as she wrapped me up in her bony arms.

“I love you, Grandma,” I said.

“I love you,” she replied.

Two months later, after weeks of drought and 100 degree temperatures, a series of storms roared through Bloomington to break the heat and bring new life. She took thirty-six hours to make her way from womb to world. Ninety-four years younger than her namesake, Alice Joy followed a string of six great-grandsons to become Alice’s first great-granddaughter. It’s not my favorite name: Alice. It took me a few weeks to believe that she looked like an Alice, or that a baby should don the name of an old granny. Some people, like my sister, think of several names and then wait to see the baby before deciding what to call it. But even if Alice wasn’t my favorite name and it didn’t feel quite right at first, there was never a question. She would be Alice because she would inherit the spirit of Alice Mary Ertmer. And indeed she has.

By Laura Lasuertmer, for the Poplar Grove Muse



Tea and No Sympathy



I’m on the edge of my seat as I await the arrival of my cream tea in the ironically named sunroom at the Argyll Hotel. I have the room to my self, journal at hand, soundlessly, charcoal clouds scud over the marble blue bay where the waves grow increasingly wild, heavy rain clouds stacking up over Ben Mor on Mull. Heaven.

The tall waiter with the lovely Irish lilt to his voice gently sets down the homemade scone, bits of orange peel buried within the substantial pastry, a ramekin of black currant jam, dark like velvety royal robes, a matching ramekin of fluffy clotted cream, fragrant black tea steaming in the pot, all served in white crockery, on a white linen tablecloth with a white linen serviette, white on white on white, heavy silver cutlery, soft metallic accent. I sigh, delay gratification and congratulate myself for taking the time for the luxury of a cream tea on a rainy Scottish island afternoon.

I open the body of the scone, like a clam, revealing its tender center. As I lovingly, tenderly smooth jam and clotted cream over the bumpy surface of the scone, I hear clompy footsteps approach, loud discourse regarding which of the four remaining identical tables, with four identical views would be the best choice.

Serenity lost, not to be regained, like a slippery fish wiggling from the gannet’s pewter beak. The couple looks hardy, red-faced from the sharp wind, hair pointing to all compass points, when they pull off their staticy wool hats. They finally settle on the table next to me because it has “the best view” in a long narrow room that has a wall of ocean facing windows. The waiter comes to take their order.

“Is it too late for lunch?” asked the young man in that harsh American accent that grates on Scottish ears. No Gaelic lyricism there.

The waiter points to a prominent sign that announces in bright chalky colors times and types of service. Lunch ends at two. Cream tea service begins at three. It is three-thirty.

“Can’t you make an exception? Throw together some sandwiches?”

“Sorry, sir. I’m afraid that’s not possible. The chef is preparing starters and the evening meal,” says the waiter in his politely soft accent. He’s not fooling me. I hear a “fuck you” between those curly r’s. All said with a smile.

“I’d like to speak to the manager,” says the young man, his chin cocked at a stubborn angle.

“Very well, sir.” says the waiter through clenched teeth as he heads off to find Rob, the hospitable, yet very proper co-owner of the hotel.

“What I can do for you, sir?” asks Rob as he bends his tall, thin frame to shake hands with the young man.

“This waiter tells me, I’m sure erroneously, that it’s not possible to get us a couple of sandwiches instead of a cream tea, whatever that is.”

“Declan, is quite correct,” answers Rob without apology. “As I’m sure he mentioned, Chef is busy with preparations for this evening’s meal. We are chock-a-block in the hotel and he is quite busy. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Can we make a reservation for tonight’s meal for six o’clock?”

“I’m sorry, sir. Meal service starts at six-thirty. I think we have a couple of tables left at that sitting.”

“That just won’t do. I don’t see why you can’t accommodate us on this one little thing. It’s only thirty minutes. Is it because we’re not staying in your establishment?”

“Not at all, sir. We have many non-resident diners and welcome everyone. But if we make an exception for one person, we would have to make exceptions for everyone and that simply wouldn’t be fair to our staff, “ says Rob delivering one of the most elegant smack downs I’ve heard in quite some time.

“I suppose a cream tea for two will have to do,” says the young man, making a face as if poison was being substituted for what he felt he was entitled to.

“We do appreciate your business, sir,” says Rob as he nods in a courtly fashion. “I leave you in Declan’s most capable hands.”

“Yes, sir. What type of tea would you like?”

“What are my choices?” I knew that was coming even though they’re listed on the laminated tea list perched in a wooden holder in front of the young man. The waiter silently points to it with his middle finger.

The young man orders for himself and his companion without consulting her. Her hunched back is toward me. I can’t see her face. She has been quiet through all of these awkward exchanges. Her head bent. Not looking up. I suspect this is a scenario she has seen played out on numerous occasions.

I close my eyes and shake off the negativity and tuck back in to my tea. Savoring the tanginess of the orange zest that compliments the smoothness of the tea. The wind has picked up even more and a herring gull makes three attempts at landing on a rock outcropping near the shore as the gusts buffet it about, his webbed feet expertly gripping the slippery volcanic rock.

“Why aren’t you enjoying your cream tea that I went to so much trouble to get you?” the young man asks her, noticing that she’s picking at the pastry and letting her tea go cold in its bone white cup. She mumbles something that I can’t hear and apparently, neither can her friend/husband/ lover.

“What? Stop mumbling. How many times do I have to tell you that, Annie? Speak up. I know you’re not stupid. I know you know how to put a sentence together.”

“How would you know that? Have you ever let me finish a sentence? Or allowed me to express an opinion without telling me I’m wrong, not that you disagree, but I am simply wrong.”

“That’s an exaggeration,” he snaps back.

“You’ve just made my point for me, Jeremy,” said Annie, dropping her serviette like it’s a mic as she noisily scrapes her chair backward across the tile, grabs her red coat, and stomps out, her heavy hiking boots making a statement of their own. When she comes out of the hotel entrance she has a huge backpack strapped over her shoulders.

I’m beyond caring if Jeremy catches me watching. I sit back, cross my arms and stare at him like I’m watching a chess player ponder his next move, thinking to myself, you’ve already been checked, mate.  

He blinks a couple of times and rises as if in slow motion. Throws some crumpled notes on the table and rushes out of the hotel. He starts waving his arms and yelling. I see a flash of red as Annie leaps across the water lapping around the steel ramp of the ferry. The ramp begins to rise as soon as Annie is safely on board.

Jeremy’s arms hang limply at his side. Defeated. Left alone, perhaps for the first time, most certainly not the last.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse 












My Superpower is Listening

I think my superpower is listening. I am very quiet, patient, attentive. But sometimes I think I forget this is a superpower. In the past, I have been too quiet, too attentive. I forget to speak. So on occasion I overcorrect. I get anxious about making sure I say what I need to say and I can interrupt or forget to listen. But listening really is my superpower. Because I love to do it.

When I eat lunch with Maria, I love to ask her questions about her brothers or her fears and then sit quietly for long stretches and listen to her paint her life out in front of me. I love to hear her voice get excited and her deep laugh. These lunches are my lifeline. They help me practice. She asks me questions too, things friends have never asked before. And I like that she makes me think. I like that she cares, that she is interested. She keeps her eyes on me, kind and large as I begin to weave my answer. This is why I think listening is my superpower. Because it’s Maria’s too. And I know how rich and held I feel when she listens to my life. And I know that’s how it must be when I listen to others. I always want those around me to know this feeling.

Sometimes I wonder how two such deep listening wallflowers make a friendship work. In many of my other friendships, I always listen and someone else always talks. But it is natural with Maria, like the balance we have is something ancient inside me, something so innate. I miss this when I can’t have it. Maria is busier now than she used to be, and she has someone she loves in her life. I don’t hear from her as often, and I miss being asked how I’m doing every day. This is partially because I can be honest with her. She knows all of me. And she doesn’t just listen to it, she holds it and checks up on it. She asks but she doesn’t pry. It is beautiful to have a friend who makes you recognize your own strengths, superpowers. So I think my superpower is listening, like real, deep listening, so that I remember the words for years and hold them in me like they’re my own.

My superpower is listening so that others feel loved and worthy and important. My superpower is listening so that I am not just me but a collection of all I have heard and seen and been witness to. My superpower is listening to those around me, but it is also listening to myself. I have this knowledge of my own needs and wants. Sometimes I forget to listen really closely or sometimes I listen but disregard, like a superhero who flies but for a moment can’t levitate off the ground. This is something I’m trying to work on, remembering to listen to myself as deeply as I listen to my friends, my family.

Anna Raphael for The Poplar Grove Muse
(Anna was in the first Bloomington cohort of Young Women Writing (YWW), as well as the first Bloomington Young Feminist Leadership Academy (YFLA); she  co-facilitated the 2018 YWW Girls Summer Camp, during which she wrote this fastwrite.)