30 June 2009


In the classic fable, the hound excuses his loss to the hare by announcing: I was chasing my dinner, but he was running for his life. In greyhound racing, the hare is mechanical, and electronically controlled, but it is still a powerful motivator.

I printed this image on my mother's birthday card...her birthday was near the end of March. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, she did not live to see the first of April. I didn't take the photo with the intention of using it for her card, but chose it after I started thinking about how much faith she had put in "luck", and how we are all in a desperate quest to avoid the inevitable. She wasn't interested in "running" anymore, and when I took these photos at the eventually demolished greyhound park, there was only one hare still firmly attached. I knew they had been taken as souvenirs, but I decided to take it as a sign that she wouldn't give up, or at least not 'til I managed to get there. She did wait, and when I returned to the race park after her death, only the dogs' shapes were left, and they were on their last legs.

She moved to Florida before air conditioning was a given, and wore a white shirtwaist to work, with white seamed nylons, sensible nurse's oxfords and a starched nurse's cap, whose design and shape identified her school affiliation. In what must've been a suffocating and humid environment, everyone was still expected to look crisp and professional.

Polio was a significant threat, without apparent cause, and it seemed only bad luck could be blamed. To a young nurse in fifties Florida, luck seemed to be all that separated the successful from those who struggled...whether with bills, or for breath, in one of those monstrous iron lungs.

I once heard luck described as the great social equalizer, and when she was hired as a private duty nurse by a wealthy family whose unlucky son had been stricken with polio, she understood both her fortune, and her responsibility. When the power went out, the helpless patients panicked, and all personnel were summoned to manually operate the primitive ventilators. It was Florida, land of hurricanes, so this was a common occurrence.

On her days off, and they were days because she liked working nights, she would scrounge through pockets and cushions for cigarette money, and sometimes head for the dog tracks. When I was young, her Florida sounded glamourous, with cocktail dresses and matching pumps, cigarettes, shocking pink lipstick, and trips to exotic Cuba, pre-Castro.

The old track is now history, and my mother lives on in my bones....the new track has virtual betting, a smoking ban, and efficient toilets. Waste water will eventually take care of the unnatural landscape. The classic track reeked of stale tobacco and mildew, and parking was more important than grass. Desperation also has a certain odor, and it will soon creep into the new establishment.

I drove my mother to the old greyhound park a few years ago (it's just three miles from my home)...I was exhausted, struggling with a houseful of visitors and a mouthful of sutures. My son offered to go to a race with her but neither calls nor websites yielded reliable race times. The place was open, but seemed lifeless and dreary, and the attendant still couldn't confirm a race schedule. My mother hesitated, made a face, and then shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. I knew she was disappointed, but I think it was more than disappointment. I think it was recognition of time's advancement, made visible.


marymurtz said...

Seriously, this is heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time. What an astonishing piece.

virginia said...

thanks, seriously.

kaye said...

What a wonderful post, I loved reading a little of your history. Your mother must have been a remarkable person.

virginia said...

she had an interesting life, and luck played a part...both good, and bad.

she loved casinos.

"Before you can blame an individual for their choices, you have to make sure they have the same choices as everyone else."

Bix , the fanatic cook.