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June 2009

Going in Circles

Just sitting here, listening to old songs and thunder.  Sammy our dog/cat is under the bed and I'm trying to decide whether to sit here and ponder or venture outside.  I've been going in circles all day, at loose ends.  I started the day with a plan that included cleaning the house but somehow I managed to end the day with the same plan for tomorrow.  I did manage to spray gloss black Rustoleum on the metal chairs, my feet and the part of the gray deck that wasn't covered.  I blew the leaves that are dropping like it's fall, off of the sidewalks and move stones away from the pond.  I found something to eat every hour and a half and berated myself for lacking any discipline whatsoever.  I'm listening to Jodi singing "Bring on the Rain" and tomorrow is another day, and I'm thirsty anyway, so bring on the rain !

Funny how emotions simmer, deep and slow, until the sadness of the world brings them to a full rolling boil.  I didn't know Ed or Farrah or Michael, but their transitions have given rise to a societal if not global sense of loss that is valid and real but also surreal.  Loss is an unavoidable facet of life.  It follows us  like a shadow, sometimes long and lean, other times short and unrecognizable but it follows, silent and unimposing. 

I realized  after Shannon "left" that I had always been afraid of that shadow.  But as long as we look into the light instead of away from it, the shadow remains invisible and we can live unafraid.  I'm not quite there yet... I'm still afraid of being left behind.  Losing someone else I love.  An unending challenge that we have to recognize, acknowledge and then turn back toward the light, and keep moving one step at a time.

I haven't quite figured out how to be retired.  I like routine and purpose and a plan.  I'm comfortable when I have a plan, safe, and certain.  Tomorrow morning I'll probably have a plan... to clean house and maybe tomorrow I won't keep going in circles trying to stay on course.  I'll let you know.


"Sometimes I have to trust what I can't know"

“Sometimes I Have to Trust What I Can’t Know”

Winter 1992

     “Mom . . . Mom . . . wake up. I had a dream I have to tell you about.”

     “Okay Sweetie, crawl in and tell me.   Brrr it’s cold out there.  Did it snow?” 

     “I don’t think so, but shhh, listen.  It was more vivid than any dream I’ve ever had before.  I think it was a sign.  Where’s Dad?”

    “He had to go in early.  Okay, I’m listening.”

     “Emmy, you big stinky girl, move over.”

     (Everyone should have a king sized bed.  Plenty of room for Mom, Dad, child, dog and assorted cats. )

     “Come on Em, scoot over, give your sister room!  Everyone settled?  Okay Sweetie tell me.” 

     “I was at the beach, we were all in the ocean and a little further out was a boat pulling a skier, and smoke was pouring out of the boat, black ugly smoke.  The skier dropped and the guy driving the boat got out and they waded in.  The driver was saying it was this new fuel that made the smoke and he hoped nobody minded it.  I spoke up and said it was hurting the Earth and polluting the air and I started crying and ran off.”

     “Sounds terrible but how brave of you to stand up to him.”

     “Oh that’s not the end.”

     “Ooops, sorry… keep going.”

     “Well, I was looking for the condo where we were staying.  They looked like the ones at Gulf Shores, but I couldn’t find the one where we were staying so I went out front and looked for the cars and couldn’t find them either.  I looked up at the sky and it was brown with smoke.  It was coming from a cove and lots of people were standing in the water flying kites.  There were two trash cans and smoke was pouring out of them.  All of a sudden, everyone started running.”

    “Sounds like a nightmare, maybe we shouldn’t go to beach anymore.”

    “You’d like that, but wait a minute I didn’t get to the best part.  As I was going up the beach I saw a little girl sitting in the sand.  She looked at me with these big puppy dog eyes and said, ‘Shannon I’m lost.’  The pupils of her eyes were huge and they were more dark brown than black, then there was a ring of green and then blue.  Her name was Clay.  I picked her up and started walking down the beach.  I asked her if she could remember anything about where she was staying.  She said it had a deck, but they all did.  Finally we found it and there were Sesame Street birthday decorations up and a sign that said ‘Happy Birthday Clay’.  I asked her how old she was.  She said 5.  I wished her happy birthday and told her to go on in.  She did and I could hear everyone yell ‘Surprise!’  She turned around and came back.  She ran up to me and I picked her up.  She said she loved me and that she didn’t want to go in because she was tired and dirty.  I stood there holding her while we both cried.  Then I woke up.”

     Her voice had gotten soft and full of emotion, and even though Shannon had always been a deep thinker, she was also very sensible and matter of fact about life.  Her reaction was unusual and I didn’t know exactly what to say.

     “Wow.  So what do you think it meant?” 

     “I don’t know.  It seemed scary.  All the smoke and that precious little girl.  Clay.”

     “Well let’s see.  Maybe she symbolized the Earth, like clay.  Maybe the green in her eyes was plant life and the blue was water or air, or both.” 

     I felt like I was giving her lame responses to what was obviously very important to her, but it scared me too a little and I hugged her closer.  She had her back to me.  I was so happy, even at seventeen, she liked me, and we could still have our moments.  Sure, we argued, we could yell with the best of them, but there was never any doubt about how much we loved each other.  I could smell Agree shampoo and for a minute I wished I could hold on to her forever.  Just stay snuggled, safe and warm, between the soft flannel sheets. 

    “I don’t know what, but it meant something.  This will sound nuts . . . but I feel like the dream brought me closer to the ‘Big Guy’.”

     “Well that can’t be a bad thing, right?”

    “I guess. Okay. Thanks Mom.  What’s that saying about sharing your dreams before breakfast?  Does that mean they will or won’t come true?  Who knows?  Are you getting up now? I’m hungry.”

    “Me too, what are you fixing?”

    “Yeah right, I’m getting in the shower.” 

     “I love you Nan.”

    “Love you too Mom.”

     She crawled out of the bed, her bathroom door shut softly.  The shower came on and I knew steam would soon be curling into the hallway.  We moved into another day.

     I don’t know where dreams come from.  All of the scientific explanations mean little when you want only to believe that perhaps they are a gift or a message.  A way for us trust in things unseen, to know that we are not alone, that there is a plan, someone in charge, watching over us, letting us know that everything will be okay.  Beth Chapman wrote a song, Every December Sky.  I love that song especially the line, “Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.”

 

Fall 1993

     “Hi Mom.”

     “Hello my honey.  I miss you. How is everything?”

     “Everything is good.  Andi and I want to come home for the weekend.  Maybe go to a movie?”

     “Yeah!  I can’t wait!  What should I get for your guys to eat?”

     “Are you kidding?  After Seacobeck, we’ll be grateful for anything.  Seafood salad?  Oh, and get some Diet Coke okay?”

     “So are you guys getting all settled in?”

     “We’re doing good.  If I can teach her to pick up after herself I think we’ll be okay.”

I could hear Andi laughing in the background and I breathed a sigh of relief.  College was going to be okay.  Dorm life would be okay, and as long as Shannon was okay I would be okay.

 

Winter 1996

     “Mom, can you come?  I had to carry Andi to the infirmary.  They called an ambulance and said I couldn’t go.  She’s been having her period for a month and wouldn’t tell her Mom.  This morning she couldn’t walk.  I’m so scared, she was so pale.”

     Shannon was crying hysterically.

    “Okay Sweetie, calm down.  She’s going to be fine.  I’ll be there in just a few minutes.  Are you in your room?”

     “Yes.  They wouldn’t let me stay!”

     “It’s okay. I’ll go to the infirmary.  It’ll be okay.  Did you call her Mom?”

     “No.  She didn’t want me to, and she’s not in the infirmary. They took her to the emergency room.”

     “Okay.  I’ll go straight to the hospital and I’ll call you when I get there.  It’ll be okay, I promise.”

 

Summer 1998

    “I miss her so much.  I can’t imagine my wedding without her.  She was with me when I got my dress.  She introduced us.  After that emergency room thing and the ovarian cysts, she said she would be our surrogate.  Then when she found out that Alex had had testicular cancer,  that he couldn’t have babies, she was even more determined.  I don’t know exactly where the sperm was coming from but you know Shannon, she would have figured it out.  I don’t know how to be without her.  She was more than my best friend, she made me lists and kept me moving and listened and fussed and bought me breakfast at McDonald’s and made everything okay.”

     More than anyone, Andi knew the deep ache of trying to live without Shannon.  She knew what sad bones felt like.  I kept my arm wrapped around her shoulder and let her cry.  There was nothing else to do.  I knew there were no words.  In the quiet moments between sobs, I could hear the bubbles bursting in the Pepsi glass.

     “We’ll figure it out somehow.  She wouldn’t have left us if she hadn’t trusted us . . .   I had a dream last night . . .  I felt like it was a message from Shan but I couldn’t see her.  There was just a note on the calendar that she made me, you know the one with the pictures from the beaver dam, that something incredible was going to happen on 9-9-99.”

     “Do you know what?”  Andi asked, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.

     “No idea, but it’s going to be wonderful.”

     “Maybe you’ll get your book written?”

     “Maybe.  But it seemed bigger, grander . . .”

     Andi and Shannon were the exception to all the rules of friendship.  They were affectionately referred to as the “Hidden Ones” in their freshman dorm.  Quiet, reserved, no nonsense artists that found in each other all they needed in a friend.  They could fight something fierce and then forget what they were fighting over.  They were, their safe place to be. They didn’t drink, they didn’t smoke, they liked the same music, the same food, and spending every weekend at our house.  Friday nights were movie nights, with seafood salad sandwiches and Ruffles with bacon and horseradish, dip.   The spare bedroom became Andi’s room.

     I saw in her eyes, the same deep sorrow that filled my own.  We had both lost our best friend.  We had to learn to hold on to one another.

 

Winter 1998

     “Hi.  I have news.”

     I was driving north on 95, heading to the mall to do some Christmas shopping.  The first Christmas without Shannon was bleak and cold.  We loved Christmas together and I felt hollow. 

     “Hi Honey.  I never carry this phone so I had trouble answering.  Sorry.  What’s up?”

     “I don’t know how . . . I just left the doctor’s office . . .  but I’m going to have a baby.”

     “Oh My Gosh! That’s wonderful!” I had to concentrate to keep from wrecking the Jeep!

     “There’s more . . .  The due date is September 9.”

     “I thought it was impossible.  I thought Alex’s radiation . . .”

     “So did we. “

     “Oh Honey, that’s the best news ever.”

     “I know it’s early to ask, so you have time to think about it but would you mind . . . now tell me if you do . . . but Alex and I would like to name the baby ‘Clay’.”

     After I hung up the phone.  I cried all the way to the mall.  I cried because I was so happy for them.  I cried because Shannon would have been such a wonderful mother.  I cried because miracles happen and I was being given the gift of being part of this one.  I cried because I had to. 

 

Fall 1999

     I held a beautiful healthy baby girl in my arms and felt for the first time in a very long time that there might be a light in the darkness after all.  Gillian Clay was born by caesarian section on September 5, 1999.  Shannon’s Dad fussed with Andi about not being able to stick it out until the ninth.

     I traced the shape of her sleeping face, and felt her tiny fingers wrap around my own. I listened to her breathe and marveled at the way someone so tiny could totally fill my empty spaces.

        The hospital room was quiet.  Grammas and Grandpas had gone home.  Andi was sleeping.   Alex and Jules had gone for coffee.    We finally had a moment to ourselves.  I softly told our Gillian Clay about Shannon.  She stirred and looked up at me with her big puppy dog eyes.  They were dark brown with flecks of blue and green.  In that moment I realized that Gilli already knew Shannon.  They had, only hours before, held on to one another, crying, sharing that they loved each other and then . . . Shannon sent her to her Mom and Dad. 

     I looked at our little miracle, all clean and pink.  I wanted her to talk to me, to tell me that she had been with Shannon, that it was all real and fun and magical.  My ears needed to hear it.  My eyes . . . suddenly caught the ever so subtle movement of shimmering color in the shadowed corner of the pale green room.  How had I missed it earlier?

      There, floating happily above a clear glass vase of daisies and pink rosebuds, were baby Bert, and baby Ernie, smiling knowingly from their big orange and red faces, on the ‘Happy Birth Day’ mylar balloon.

     This moment was ours . . . mine and Gilli’s and Shannon’s, and it was going to be okay.


And Heaven is not so far

Outside this womb of words

With every rose that blooms my soul is assured

Just like a song I’ve known, yet still unheard

Every December sky must lose its faith in leaves

And dream of the spring inside the trees

How heavy the empty heart

How light the heart that’s full

Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.

Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.

 

 

~Beth Nielsen Chapman~

 


Forever Friends

The assignment was to write a piece about how our lives... my life... has been affected by the people around me, without using "I".  Everyone in my life has a special meaning all their own and over the next few months I hope to find words to express how each one of you has made me better, more whole.  I started with my sweet friend Blythe because she is the epitomy of how we take lemons, even crazy, off center, cockeyed ones and make delicious lemonaide.  I asked her permission to share my thoughts and she graciously said "yes".

Blythe Butterfly

     She’s beautiful without trying and her heart is open and innocent.  Her thoughts are whimsical, expansive and eccentric in the most endearing ways as she gracefully flutters from one blossom to the next in her ever enchanting excursion through life.  She is as comfortable in a soft peach linen suit and heels as she is in a second hand suede coat with fringed sleeves and knee high boots.

    Through marriage and divorce, illness and health, poverty and wealth, birth and death, she never appeared to lose her wings, and yet there is no denying that life demands we enter each chapter with our bags packed.  Massage therapist, Budweiser Model, Insurance sales, Personal Assistant, Alice in Wonderland and Bi Polar Sock Monkey were all necessary modes of travel for a heart that longed for self expression in a world where new and innovative are often misunderstood.

     She moves with amazing agility from delicate needlepoint to Shrines of the Bowling Madonna.  The chrysalis stretches, tearing fragile seams that allow an awakening to infinite shimmering threads of light.   So much life, so many expectations, so many definitions of what is acceptable and normal, it is no wonder that the powdery newborn wings lifting our Blythe, found it necessary to withdraw into the sanctuary of division.

     Now whether her penchant for thrift stores was a result of employment in one, or perhaps the passion led to the employment, is only relevant because it was the scene of the Great Divide.  Having spent many hours collecting eclectic discards that could be useful in her artistic endeavors; china doll heads (entire body being optional), bowling memorabilia, chairs, books and an incredible array of black clothing not to mention the torsos of several manikins, her morning shopping trip began as any other ordinary moment until she realized an urgent need to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the God of The ATM. 

     After withdrawing two hundred dollars, she walked across the street to the House of Yahweh Apparel Shop on Marine Avenue, a thrift store that is committed to providing food, clothing and shelter to those in need.  The logo for the House of Yahweh is the “tree of life”, (“because every tree comes from a tiny seed that gets planted in the ground and has to split open to birth new life”).  From her bra and panties, to the knit pants, sweater, leather high heeled boots and jacket, she was dressed entirely in black and paused momentarily at the doorway.  If there were other time travelers in the shop, eye contact would initiate a trip, and she had to be prepared.   She walked slowly through the store, cautiously taking notice of other shoppers.  She tried on a large brimmed, scarlet hat and dark glasses, smiling at her subtle disguise.  She lightly touched a silk scarf, and inhaled the musty scent of long forgotten books.  Instead of making an immediate purchase, she chose to go next door for a coffee, two creams, two sugars and a toasted almond pastry.  She left the waitress a $194.76 tip. 

     Returning to the Shrine, she reverently undressed and placed her neatly folded clothes on the sidewalk in front of the ATM. Beautiful, but slightly underdressed in her black undies and boots, she returned to the House of Yahweh, prompting the ladies of the House to call for Los Angeles’ finest.  When they arrived, Blythe believed herself to be in an episode of “Friends” and argued vehemently with Officer Joey, when he wouldn’t let her (Rachel) go, instead forcing her into his police cruiser and taking her “Downtown”.

     Perhaps there were clues that those who loved her chose to see only as eccentricities. Perhaps for a moment she got a glimpse of life from high above the fray.  Perhaps it was merely a test of the limits of her newly expanding wings.  Perhaps the line between reality and fantasy simply blurred for a moment like heat rising off of California asphalt.

     In perfectly predictable butterfly style and grace, Blythe has accepted that like insulin to the diabetic, pharmaceuticals provide the delicate balance life deems necessary.  She has created amazingly beautiful Shrines to the Bowling Madonna complete with grottos, colorful Retro bowling shirts, tiny ivory like bowling balls and pins, rosebuds, sparkling jeweled stones and candles.  Intricate black and white photos, representing every facet of life, meticulously cut, lovingly glued and skillfully varnished onto the bare limbless torso of a pale broken manikin, have transformed her into a being of exquisite beauty.

Between life’s chapters we rest, pack and unpack, hoping we’ll have what we need when we get where we’re going. Sometimes the pieces fit, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they lay in a shattered heap, or neatly folded before the Shrine of the God of the ATM.  Then again, maybe we’re all growing, invisibly, silently, slowly, stretching the fabric of convention, secretly hoping for the eventual rip that will allow our own powdery wings to unfold.


Points of Reference

Points of Reference

There are lines on a ruler, tabs in a notebook and dog eared pages in a book.  Points of reference that allow us to return to places of significance.  There are numbers on the calendar, in the check book, on the radio dial, the clock, the oven and the odometer.  Our lives are full of points of reference that free our conscious minds to deal with the present, without fear of losing all track of things past.

My mother’s father, Warren Winfield Haught was born on September 28, 1886, in Sistersville, West Virginia. He attended West Virginia State College, where he was the catcher on his baseball team.  After graduation he taught seven grades in a one room West Virginia Normal School.  Warren worked for the telephone and power companies, hauling cable across the mountains with mule drawn wagons.  He was a conductor for the railroad until he lost his big toe in an accident and attended barber school during his recuperation.  Warren’s sister, Vashta, was the Brandy Post Mistress but when the needs of her four small children jeopardized her employment, Warren moved to Virginia.  He filled in for her at the Post Office, and purchased a small farm at Elkwood, working it as he could. 

Olive Maddox used to walk to the Post Office to pick up the mail.  That’s where she met Warren.  She was twenty-four and he was forty-three.  They married and raised nine children on the “Old Place”, at Elkwood, walking the youngest down the aisle when he was seventy-two. 

Warren Winfield Haught passed away in February, 1970, at the age of eighty-four.

Points of reference. Marks on the ruler.  Facts that hold the spot so we can find our place in time.

When I came along my Paw Paw was already old, but what memories I have of him are clear. When I think of him, I smell tobacco and corn field sun and a good kind of sweat, the kind that comes from hard honest work and long days.  As children, my brother and sister and I, had to have blankets and pillows on the back seat of the maroon and white Dodge, so that we could nap on the long journey to the farm.  The reality is, like most childhood memories, things have gotten smaller with time, including the eleven short miles to the farm.  Left off of Berry Hill Road, the long dusty driveway meandered past the persimmon tree, past the corn fields, past the milking barn and the corn house up to the woven wire fence that supposedly kept the children in and the animals out.  There were large walnut trees in the yard that had a pungent, earthy smell, especially after they fell to the ground and the hard green fruit that surrounded the nut, blackened and got soft.

The garden was off to the right, and in the summer there were always beans to string, peas to shell and corn to shuck.  Behind the garden, there were stinky, noisy pigs and a hen house.  A well worn dirt path led to a creek that usually had enough water for little kids to fish.  My uncle took us fishing in the tiny creek.  He put the worm on the hook and all I had to do was hold the pole until I saw the red bobber disappear under the water’s surface.  I didn’t pull quite soon enough and the tiny fish swallowed the hook.  Digging the hook out, didn’t leave enough to take home and my uncle tossed the bits back into the creek.  Overwhelmed with guilt, I decided that afternoon, never to fish again.

You had to take great care in gathering eggs, especially if the hen was on the nest.  One hot afternoon, preparing to feed her own gathering brood, my grandmother took a hatchet to the neck of one of her roosters.  It’s hard for today’s me to imagine the little me watching the frantic chase that ensued but I vividly remember the headless rooster and the bushel basket that ultimately put an end to the chaos.

My Paw Paw was tall and tan and had coal black hair.  I always imagined him to be a cross between Elvis Presley and Abraham Lincoln.  He chewed tobacco and spit into a coffee can, and there was always a tiny bit of brown residue in the corners of his mouth.  I remember bib overalls and flannel shirts and a frayed railroad cap.  His skin was leathery and wrinkled from years in the sun and he had a glass eye that he occasionally removed, to our delight. 

Some Sunday afternoons after church, lots of us would visit my Mammy and Paw Paw.  There was always a pot of fresh coffee and gossip for the sisters to catch up on, while we wandered the farm.  The corn house was a magical place.   Dried corn stacked high in every corner, with a corn sheller in the middle of the floor.  The aging boards allowed light to filter through the walls, spotlighting the dancing particles of crushed corn and disturbed dust.  Occasionally we would get to watch Paw Paw feed calves from a bucket with an udder on one side.  They pushed their pink noses and furry foreheads against the side of the bucket, as if it were their Mom. Their breath was sweet as they slurped, noisily churning frothy suds that dripped from their chins. 

The kitchen at the farm was always warmed by a big wood stove, and a well worn rocker with a cushion made from feed sacks, soothed generations of crying babies.  From the rocker you could see my Paw Paw’s corner in the adjoining dining room.  His leather chair, a small table with a radio and a lamp so that he could see to read the paper.  Somewhere there is an old black and white photograph of Paw Paw in that chair, holding me and my cousin Phillip.  His lap was wide and his large hands seemed safe and sure. 

My Mother’s brothers, Warren and Jacob, grew into men much like my Paw Paw, honorable and kind.  Both are farmers, and my Uncle Jacob is a Veterinarian.  My Aunt Ruth served time in the military after college and then returned to the farm.  She was an administrator for the hospital, an avid reader and had a cow as a pet.  She had red hair and freckles and wore makeshift sunbonnets that she fashioned out of newspaper.  Ruth the oldest and Pat the youngest, along with Frances and Catherine in the middle, died of cancer, like my Paw Paw.  As my grandmother aged, she was feisty and often slipped back in time, reliving moments both real and imagined from her personal points of reference.  My Mom is now the matriarch of Warren Winfield’s family.  When she talks about him is not hard to see how much she loved him.  He could be harsh, but always fair.  He worked hard to provide for his family and my Mom says that anyone who met him, considered my Paw Paw to be the finest man they had ever known.

After several minor scuffles with cancer and the decline that naturally comes with age, my grandparents sold the “Old Place” and moved to a sixteen acre farm at Brandy Station.  Paw Paw still had his leather chair by the window, his Maxwell House spittoon and Sunday afternoon football on T.V.  My grandmother baked and we continued to gather around the kitchen table for cake and coffee.

My Paw Paw died when I was fifteen.  I wish that he had stayed long enough for me to really know him, to talk with him about life and hope and fear.  My Mom remembers that I took my brother and sister with me to the funeral home to sit with Paw Paw.  I wish I could remember.  I would love to know what we talked about, what memories we shared in those private moments, and those few shared points of reference.

My Aunt Sarah and my Mom still bake fruit cakes for “the boys”, and my cousin bought the Brandy Farm when my grandmother passed away.  Today she has camels and llamas, rabbits, guinea hens and a Zeedonk or two.  The grass is thick and green, bordered by flowers reflecting every color of the rainbow.  The “come to dinner” bell still stands in the side yard, a reminder of times past, and our family continues to gather on those special occasions to celebrate weddings and births and holidays. 

In days that often drag us kicking and screaming into an electrically bound future, there is comfort in slowing long enough to secure our points of reference.

Dog ear the page. 

Mark the line.

Capture the moment. 

Points of Reference.


Another assignment

Just Barely Six

     Can you remember what it was like to be six?  Me neither, but spending time with Alexander was like a much needed breath of fresh air.  I watched him bounce from the school bus and thought that he must surely have springs on his feet.  When he reached the driveway, he turned and waved to his friends in such a nonchalant manner, that he appeared much older than just barely six.  As he strolled toward the house, his lips moved in a silent conversation with his unseen confidant, and I had to pretend that I hadn’t noticed.

     There is an odd sort of muscular contraction that happens to your heart in that instant when a child looks into your eyes and breaks into a grin.  I often wonder if they are privy to some marvelous secret that enables them to cast spells on unsuspecting adults.  Alex is no exception, although he is typical in all the observable ways.  His little head is covered with unruly hair, hair that is the exact color of corn husks in October’s afternoon sun, and there is a flickering of light that peeks out of his big brown eyes in obvious delight.  Red tee shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes with little lights that flash when he walks, a Power Rangers back pack and lunch box, all come bounding toward me in a flurry of excitement.

     “Hi there kiddo, how was school?’

     “Good.”

     “Can I ask you some questions for a class I’m taking?”

     “Naw, I have to ride my two wheeler, while the sun is still up?”

     How can you argue with that?  At six, Alex knows what he wants to do, and that is what matters most at the moment.  I wonder how long it will be before he has to deal with trying to please everyone and the guilt of saying, “NO!”

     “We can make it like a game.  I can be a reporter and you can be…”

     “JASON!”

     “Okay, but who is Jason?”

     “The red one.  The red POWER RANGER, but only five.”

     “Five what, Jason?”

     “Five questions.”

     “I guess that I had better make every one count, then.  Okay, first, what do you think about politics?”

     “Uhm… What is it?”

     “Politics has to do with the government and running the country.”

     “Oh.  I don’t think about politics.”

     “Well then, how about religion?”

     “Uhm… What is religion?”

     “Religion has to do with God and spirituality.”

     “Oh.  I don’t think about religion.  I think about God helps us, and takes us to Heaven when we’re dead.”

     “Did you ever know anyone who died?”

     “My great-grandmother died, and my aunt Pee Wee, and Uncle Jim and my grandma, Mow-mow.  Did you know that Pee Wee died on my birthday?  That’s sad, huh?”

     “Did you know that your birthday is also Angel Day and that Pee Wee got her wings on your birthday, and that was a pretty special present?”

     Without batting an eye, he moved right into the next bit of information that he wanted to share without acknowledging the Wing Thing, but it seemed to be okay, so we moved on.

     “I brought home a note from Mrs. Robison.  I was disturbing the class.”

     “Why did you do that?  Did you want to make the other kids laugh?”

     “No, I just did.  I only like recess.  Nothing else.”

     “Okay, uhh, what would you like to be when you grow up?”

     “JASON!”

     “Why?”

     “To fight against EVIL, with Tommy, Billy, Trini, Kimberly and Zack.  I don’t like it when people are mean.  Bub made up a game called ‘fall apart’.  We blew up a lot of balloons and went in my Dad’s closet and fell apart and Dad was very mad!”

     “How did that make you feel?”

     “Bad.”

     “If you could go any place in the world, real or make believe, where would it be?”

     “Home, right here.”

     “Why?”

     “Just cause, A.J. and that’s all, I want to ride my two wheeler now.”

     “Okay, just one more thing, what do you think of your Aunt Jan?”

     “Uhm… I love her”, and with that he bounced off to more interesting adventures.

     I stood there watching him go and whispered, “I love you too Alexander!”


Another Class

Writing has always been a way for me to get clear.  Life asks so much and the mental day planner/calorie counter/checkbook/calculator/calendar can't quite keep it all straight, so writing gives me space.  In the last few weeks I've been taking a Memoir Writing class.  It is wonderful.  My classmates are young and bright and thoughtful, and the professor is witty and wise and not only has he read every book ever written, BUT he remembers authors and quotes and correlations and philosophies, and I am in awe. 

Because all of my creative juices are being expended on daily assignments, I've decided to share some of them.  Now remember, if I were already an accomplished writer, I wouldn't need to keep taking classes.  So as with all previous ramblings, I am a work in progress, freeing space.

My Earliest Memory

Judd’s Grocery belonged to my Dad, or so my Grandfather had him believe.  It had plate glass windows facing Old Rixeyville Road and a gray metal cold drink case with the cap remover on the front next to the red Coca Cola lettering, just inside the front door.  The cash register sat atop the penny candy counter and behind the glass, always covered with tiny finger prints, there were  Fire Balls, Mary Jane’s and Lemon Drops wrapped in cellophane.   In the back room of the store, my Dad butchered, so the floor was rough unfinished concrete that could be hosed down.  He fancied himself a chef, of sorts, so there was always a pot of soup or stew cooking on the apartment sized gas stove, and everyone who entered had to “at least taste it”.  The smells of cooking onions and potatoes mixed with the smell of freshly cut meat and disinfectant and danced a curious dance on a breeze that thankfully, also whispered of blooming lilacs and honeysuckle.  Each day, after breakfast, I ran barefoot across the gravel driveway that separated our white cinderblock house from the white cinderblock grocery store to help myself to “just one” piece of the penny candy.  The gravel was hot, but the backroom floor was always cool and moist and the black and white tile of the store front was smooth and soothing.  A neighborhood store, it seemed, offered credit but no one ever seemed able to pay, and each month a decision had to be made as to which utility we could do without.

 I had just turned five when I saw him.  Mrs. Minter needed just a few things, (“Could you add it to my bill?”), and wanted to show “the little girl” what she had nestled into a red and white cloth at the bottom of her wicker basket.  She said that he was part Toy Manchester and part Chihuahua, four weeks old, and at eight weeks she would “let him go for just $35.00”.  She might as well have said thirty five million.  In those days, my Dad owed everyone who didn’t owe him, and thirty-five dollars for a dog was simply out of the question. 

You would think a child would die if she cried for days on end, but I never wanted anything so desperately in my life and no amount of explaining or threatening or cajoling could ease the unbridled despair only a five year old in desperate need of a million dollar puppy could understand. The crying went on for weeks.

Looking back, I feel a lump of guilt forming in my belly.  My sister had died six months earlier and I hadn’t slept alone since her funeral.  Apparently In grieving desperation my parents chose to strike a deal, “If you will sleep in your own bed, we’ll find a way to get you the puppy.”

He ate chocolate bunnies and didn’t die.  I’m glad I didn’t know he was supposed to.  He refused to walk, having to be carried for two months, when our cat had kittens.  He thought nothing of relieving himself in the house and begged for food at every meal, but a little girl never loved a little dog more.  He loved to ride, and would jump in the car with anyone.  My Dad was mean when he drank too much, and he drank too much too often.    I can’t remember my crime, but I remember my punishment.  I can still see the happy excited face of my tiny black dog, looking out of the back window of my father’s car as he slowly steered down the gravel drive.  He had promised to “drop” my dog on the side of the road, somewhere in the country.  “Maybe next time you’ll listen.”  It happened often but I was never certain which time he would actually follow through on his hateful threat.

  Perhaps the human heart has a finite capacity.  Once it is full, things start to seep through and are no longer held.  My father found a way, in difficult times, to buy me a puppy.  That puppy was always there – even when my father wasn’t. 

That’s all my heart really needs to hold.