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News of her transition on February 17, 2022, grieved me. A ninety-year-old college graduate, mother, grandmother, widow, teacher, concert-trained pianist, seamstress, and volunteer, she fully tasted the joys and hardships of life.

Years of her daughter’s stories endeared me to her, especially when needing help to their rustic cabin, summers, spent at Donner Lake at Truckee, California. There, as cheerful matriarch and widow, she greeted relatives and friends, even the brown bears that wandered nearby.

After her daughter had tended the final needs of her father, the focus shifted to her mother who soldiered on, still volunteering at her church and the Chappaqua Library in New York. Her passion for books, her deep interest in people, her indomitable will fired her spirit and attracted others to her wisdom and humor. Only dementia and a cancer diagnosis slowed her down, until her Spirit-filled release last week.

So, when the mother did pass, all legal and medical and burial plans were in order, thanks to her daughter’s daily phone contacts and timely visits, often with her husband; these occurred over the years. Her selflessness to expend energy and resources, despite chronic illness, still moves me.

Her mother’s name was Marge. She will be missed.

At 7:20 A.M., I awoke with this healing dream:

It is evening. I’m walking outdoors, anxious. My tooth aches and my dentist’s office is closed for the day. Out of the blue, another dentist sees my distress and offers his treatment: laughing gas. Despite its unfamiliarity, I agree. After injecting my body with the tiniest of pinpricks, the tooth pain is gone, and we resume walking.

The dream’s time, evening, suggests my waning energies, all the more depleted by my terminal illness. My toothache, a disorder that pains me, suggests my inability to chew deeply through experiences, to avoid matters that command my attention, even hold anything in place—an irritant that sours my mood and plunges me into self-pity: nothing matters other than the diseased tooth.

The toothache also suggests weeks of being out of sorts, soured by my new symptoms and side effects of a new drug.

The dentist, unknown from reality, suggests “a power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity,” or in other words, the Sacred disguised beneath the practitioner who knows my distress and offers specific help, laughing gas. The numerous pinpricks, barely felt, suggest cues toward deeper practice of the Twelve Steps and the rediscovery of the joy of living.

My healing astounds me and together, we walk into the evening, enjoying dusk’s sky-colors through bare branches of trees.

(Sir Humphrey Davy, early nineteenth century English chemist and inventor, colloquialized nitrous oxide into laughing gas, a reaction caused by inhaling it.)

Poverty with its multi-faceted violence scours psyches of survivors eking out a living—but not all are left in dust-pommeled gangways—throughways for rats—as recounted in Vivian Gibson’s memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek (2020).

As a pre-teen, she witnessed the 1959 demolition of the historic four-hundred-square-foot neighborhood of twenty thousand underpaid African American workers in St. Louis, Missouri; its benign neglect, for decades, had contributed to the Mill Creek’s “blightedness” that green-lighted government funding for another Interstate for suburban workers, needing faster access to their city jobs. After the quick work of the medicine balls and tractors, Mill Creek’s bombed-out landscape became known as “Hiroshima Flats.”

What could have been a scorching account of disrupted families, churches, and businesses—a viable through invisible community to the world around it—it was told with honesty, humor, replete with wisdom. Life inside those cold-water flats, heated by coal and wood-burning stoves, many with no indoor plumbing, was not without its rules and consequences. Unique patterns of communication developed among families, bonding them for life.

Such experiences had unfolded within the Ross’s 800-square-foot flat in the 2600 block of Bernard Avenue where lived the author’s seven siblings and her parents, their teachers of positive self-regard, resourcefulness, and the value of education and hard work. All moved through daunting hardships—at times—with ease. Detailed accounts jumped off the pages: their Saturday morning “shopping” at Soulard Market, returning home on the streetcar with bags of bruised fruits and vegetables, left on the ground by the farmers. No one was ever hungry in the Ross household.

Vivian Gibson’s unflinching acceptance of her hardscrabble beginnings contributed to the accomplished woman she has become: author, fashion designer, cook, wife, and mother. She has much to teach us in her memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek.

Available on Amazon

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