I'M SITTING IN MY PORCH drinking coffee out of a bone china coffee cup and thinking about bones. And, yes, bone china is actually made from bones. This moderately creepy component of china has inspired me to post some thoughts on bones. But wait a minute, I have to get a sweater first, because I'm chilled to the bone from the cool, early morning air. I know a lot about bones. I became familiar with them at an early age. My father was an orthopedic surgeon–yeah, an old sawbones.
Make no bones about it, bones have done a lot for me. In addition to their more prosaic raisons d' etre of supporting my body, allowing me to walk upright and protecting my brain (moderately successfully), while I was growing up my bones helped me in any number of ways:
As any not-so proper doctor's daughter would have done, I viewed a lot of scandalous, X-rated photos when snooping around in my father's medical library.
Because my father was the team's doctor, I often sat in a box seat right behind the New York Giants' dugout. In addition to watching players break their bones at close range, I got to talk to Willie Mays, Hank Sauer and Bobby Thomson. They waved to us when returning to the dugout and sent us home with autographed balls and gloves.
My wishes would be granted if, while breaking the wishbone at dinner with my brother, Tommy, I got the long end.Bones also have their downside. I have a bone to pick over what we had to do as kids if we wanted our mothers to be safe from fractures. Remember hopping around avoiding cracks on the sidewalk so you wouldn't "Step on a crack, break your mother's back"? Nice! And the equally nice retort reminding us that bones break, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me."
Despite the breakage factor, boney though I was, I led an enchanted life.
For instance, when I went to visit my father at the hospital, I thought he was some kind of ghostly deity. He wore a long white coat which billowed out and fluttered behind him when he walked and sparkled when it caught the light. He was generally followed by a group of ghostlets in shorter white coats who stuck very close while listening attentively to his every humerus (pun intended) word. Soon the ghost and ghostlets became one–an amorphous, shifting form propelled down the hospital corridors above a flurry of locomotion created by the 16 or so shiny, loafer-clad feet beneath it.
I knew when I was going to get the brushoff. It was when we arrived at my father's office in the hospital. The brass nameplate next to the door read "Head Ghost." Actually it read "Harrison McLaughlin, M.D.," but I couldn't yet read then. Too busy floating around the hospital to enter, my father would stick his head in the office and say "Mrs. Graham, would you mind Suzie while the boys (those were the short-coated, adhered ghostlets) and I go take care of another one of these critters?" The "critters" apparently were the patients who were either waiting to get their bones sawed or those who had already had their bones sawed and were recuperating in various, slings, braces, and plaster casts, while hung from the ceiling in traction. I felt terribly sorry for all those critters because once they were seen by my father and his boys, they never walked again–they "ambulated."
I loved hanging out in the Head Ghost's office. A complete human skeleton hung from what looked like a meat hook in the ceiling. At first I thought it spooky, but then I made friends with it and danced with those merry, dangling bones in our private, ether-scented ballroom to the rhythmic clickety-clack of Mrs. Graham's typewriter. There was also a skull on the desk with whom I had many in depth conversations about, well, bones and other important matters (such as what had happened to the skull's teeth and what's it like to be dead) crucial to a 4-year old, while waiting for my ghost––I mean my father–to return.
When visiting my grandfather, Papa Bisgood, bones came up frequently. I would constantly invite Papa to come out and do things with me. Once in a while he would, but usually he said that he could not. When I asked him why, he never gave any reason other than "I've got a bone in my leg." Year's later I recounted Papa's excuse to my husband, and to this day he declines invitations with "I'd love to, but I've got a bone in my leg." It works; people just don't question such a regret.
My next encounter with bones occurred when I had an art-related accident (that's another post) and severed several of the tendons in my neck and shoulders. My doctor sent me to a radiologist for an X-ray of my head and torso. I entered the radiologist's office after the x-rays were taken, and noticed that literally hundreds of other x-rays were hanging on the office walls–sort of like art. Until then, I had always thought that skeletons were generic and would look pretty much alike. However, I was stunned and a little bit frightened to see that mine looked exactly like me. I could pick "me" out instantaneously–perhaps because my bones are petite and my face doesn't have much integument. I stared at the dark, empty eye sockets in that roentgenogram and my eyes itched to be cradled in them. Those bones claimed me. The skull, clavicle, sternum and all 24 ribs, some sort of grim, ersatz chorus, sang to me, "Yes, we are thee ! This is what you'll be sooner than you think."
For a while, I took solace in the fact that my bones will be around for a long time after the rest of me goes organic and returns to the earth. But they will not last forever. When I die, I will not have to say goodbye to them right away. Depending on soil conditions, it may take hundreds of years before they disintegrate and become one with the universe. But when they do, it's...