Chapter 24: Emma Clare Dances Over
After reviewing her long life with her best friend and setting her affairs
(including a reconciliation with Bertha) in order, Emma Clare dies. In
death, she is reunited with old friends and her family.
A true conservative, Emma Clare does not believe that “progress” is anything
more than movement. Although she still prefers the old ways, she also understands
that the old must die before the new can be born. She is obviously not
afraid of death. She and Gertie will come back to pester Herta in chapter
“Better and better.” Emma Clare is misquoting a popular affirmation from
the 19th-century French psychotherapist Emil Coué: “Every day, in every
way, I am getting better and better.”
“A hard man is good to find.” This is often attributed to Mae West.
The mystery of Julia’s life is finally solved as we learn where she was
and what happened to her after she fled the Ozarks. She and Emma Clare
are now able to forgive each other.
“Banty” is a diminutive form of “bantam.” I had a friend who had an Aunt
Banty who was a tiny elderly woman who lived in Long Beach many years before
I moved here.
When Janie gives Banty Bear to Emma Clare, we see again a strong connection
between generations. This recalls Sarah Baxter and little Cindy in chapter
3, where Cindy gives Sarah a pink rose bud; when we see Sarah in the scrying
mirror in chapter 17, she’s still holding it. As pagans tend to do, Emma
Clare gives honest answers to Janie’s questions.
Pete Seeger told the story about Lee Hayes in his
Precious Friend concert with Arlo Guthrie in 1981. Julia would
have owned the LPs of that concert. I have it on CD.
The Weavers, one of the earliest folk-singing groups, was formed in
1948 by Seeger, Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman. Although they
were blacklisted during the McCarthy era, they had enormous influence on
groups that followed them, like Peter, Paul and Mary. Hayes died in 1981.
Alma at the Cut ’n’ Curl. Oh, all right--Alma cuts my hair. Angelo (mentioned
in Chapter 15) bleaches my hair. It’s fun to slip your friends into your
Alzheimer’s Disease. In 1990, I had a part-time job as the companion to
a woman named Fran who had Alzheimer’s and was living in an assisted care
home. Fran was 82 years old, but about two years old mentally. Among other
things, I ate supper with her, took her out for rides (she loved my John
Hartford tape), and put her to bed. To help her settle down, I read to
her—Erma Bombeck, P.G. Wodehouse, and a book of Goddess stories. After
a few months, she had to be moved to another facility, and I never saw
her again, but her daughter told me how she died. People with Alzheimer’s
curl up into themselves. Their hands curl into fists, their bodies curl
into an unmovable fetal position, and when they lose the ability to swallow,
they die. Fran and I made a terrific team—she spent all her time talking
to invisible people and I was watching and listening to the invisible people
who became the characters in this novel.
The transmigration of souls is one of the core doctrines of Theosophy.
It teaches that the soul rises from mineral to plant to animal to human
to angel. We might think that, like archy the cockroach, Madame Blavatsky
is going the wrong direction, but it’s necessary to remember that the cat
is the highest form of life. In my imagination, HPB’s soul began in a fluorite
mine and progressed to a mugwort bush. Next, she was a Russian bear, then
the famous occultist. After spending eight more happy lives as
Felis catus, she will begin climbing up through the nine angelic
The lambada was a fad dance in the late 1980s. While providing comic relief
here as Emma Clare approaches death and Bertha sinks in Alzheimer’s, the
cat is also creating a starry path for Emma Clare. She is her psychopomp.
Emma Clare dies right after she says, “Good friend.”
Strike up the Band(1940), one of the big numbers is “Do the La
Conga,” which is also part of the spectacular 15-minute finale. In this
movie, Mickey (age 20) and Judy (age 18) don’t put on a show like they
Babes in Arms and
Babes on Broadway, but enter a radio contest held by Paul Whiteman
for the best high school band. The movie was directed by Busby Berkeley,
but I’m pretty sure the cat is
not using his choreography.
The Dweller at the Threshold is an occult term for an invisible entity
that attaches itself to a human being. It is said to have been invented
by the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) for one of his gothic
novels. Blavatsky (the author, not the cat) and Alice Bailey also discuss
the Dweller. It was Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the famous opening line, "It
was a dark and stormy night...." That's why the famous
Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest to compose the opening sentence for
the worst possible novel is named after him. It's hard to write such awful
prose. At least on purpose.
It is said that when we meet our loved ones on the other side, they look
as young as we remember them. I had a near-death experience, but I didn’t
see any white light, so I saw no reason for Emma Clare to see it either.
The dancing is an obvious metaphor for the active flow of energy through
both life and death.
How does political conservatism (exemplified by Sarah Palin and other
politicians) differ from the kind of conservatism Emma Clare expresses?
Why does Emma Clare have to die? Are you shocked by the death of a major
character? Why or why not?
Have you or anyone you know had a near-death experience? What happened?
What or who did you see?
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
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Secret Lives Reader’s Guide for personal use only.