Jessica is especially gifted in the art of memoir. She is the author of her own memoir, and she has also edited memoirs for other authors. Here are a few paragraph from her personal writing:
Excerpt from “Psychic Surgery and Faith Healing”
Mile after mile, the wind flows through the open windows bringing with it the smell of the dry fields, cow manure, cooking fires, and molasses. The dust of the road contains everything that has ever existed. This fine powder, carried around the world by breeze, squall, and tempest, might once have been my ancestor, the clouds of another planet, or even my own body. When Joseph stops the jeepney for a short break, I wander out into the fields, my sandaled feet kicking up some farmer’s forgotten furrow, and I feel as if I am touching the stars, the moon, the very heart of God. I meet myself in the fragmented earth.
Excerpt from “Love Is Ageless: Stories About Alzheimer’s Disease”
When my mother began to act strangely in the mid-1980s, I had never heard of Alzheimer’s disease. She was only in her 60s, and since she had always been a little mentally unbalanced, I just thought she was becoming more so. Like many of us, I managed the best I could, and not always very well.
Looking back on my relationship with her, I realize that after the anguish, the weeping, the rage, fear, denial, and utter confusion, I am left with simple and almost unbearably sweet memories:
Holding hands with her in the early twilight as we danced to Aretha Franklin on the radio, or laughing over our Christmas dinner of enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant, tomato sauce and cheese smeared all over everything, as if it was my own small child I entertained.
For it was in these few fleeting moments at the end of her life, and the end of our troubled and volatile relationship, that I learned what love is – that simple state of being with another for however brief a time you have together, no matter what the circumstances.
Living on Bear Creek, we take great pleasure in watching the wildlife. A few days ago, my partner Tom came running in shouting, “Beaver! Beaver in the river!” He grabbed his binoculars and raced to the back window.
I grew up in a big city and thought beavers were ancient, extinct creatures seen only in picture books. I was shocked to actually see one in my backyard.
She was standing in the water on her hind legs, reaching for leaves on a tree that had fallen across the creek. Through the binoculars, I could see her chubby, brown belly and her tiny little hands carefully picking the leaves and stuffing them into her mouth. After she had eaten everything she could reach, she let go and floated down the river.
The image of the beaver stayed with me all that day and into the next. It felt like a gift meant to be treasured. I kept telling myself: Don’t forget the beaver. Hold on to the image of her in your mind.
But Mother Nature was not done with us. The next day, a pair of Canadian geese landed within view. First they had a fight, although Tom said they might have been mating. The male stood in the river, while the female flew up high and perched in a tree. She seemed to be posing for us. They were both perfectly, utterly still and silent. Then the female flew down to join the male and they also floated down the creek. Tom said he had been knocked over by a goose at age five, so for him it was no big deal. But I had never seen geese except flying overhead honking, a form of communication I’ve always hoped to understand.
A few days later, we observed a Blue Heron sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek. It was so close to us that binoculars were not necessary. After a brief respite, the majestic bird spread its enormous wings and flew gracefully past us, flying about two feet above the water. It seemed to be gliding on the air currents created by the movement of the water.
More time passed, and one morning we discovered most of our smallest cherry tree was missing. Gone! I blinked and, yep, the tree was not there. We examined the sliced trunk and wondered: “Who cut down our tree? Do we have an angry neighbor?” Closer examination revealed obvious tooth marks and we realized the beaver was the culprit.
Then we noticed the strawberries had been decimated! Chewed down to the ground. Why, just the other day, I was bragging about my foot-high berry patch, telling everyone “Living on Bear Creek is like living at Findhorn in Scotland, where the vegetables are gigantic.”
We have come to understand the phrase “busy as a beaver,” because our nocturnal visitor has also severely pruned the roses in our front yard and tested one branch of an English Laurel bush. She must have decided she didn’t like the taste of the laurel, because she left the branch on the ground. Fortunately, she hasn’t touched the lilacs or the broccoli.
Many lessons can be learned from living on a river. Perhaps it’s about floating—simply flowing with life—or giving up pride in possessing a beautiful garden. In the end, I decided to make peace with “our” adorable Backyard Beaver and allow her to take from us whatever she needs to sustain herself. We can always buy strawberries at the grocery store.