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October 2009
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December 2009

November 2009

Cold November Afternoons

I've never been much of a poet, despite years of trying, but this afternoon I ran across this early attempt at levity and thought it might be appropriate for the season.

Cold November Afternoons

Grandmothers, who wring the necks of plump white hens

On cold November afternoons;

Who pluck,

 and clean,

and bake,

and baste,

and serve . . . to

Mothers, who wring the wrap from Frank Purdues

On cold November afternoons;

Who rinse,

and bag,

and time,

and taste,

and serve . . .to

Daughters, who ring the bell at Kentucky Fried

On cold November afternoons;

Who rip,

 and run,

and grab,

 and toss,

and serve with a sigh of relief . . .

That they’ll never be

Grandmothers who wrung the necks of plump white hens

On cold November afternoons.




Walking Bob and Coco


 Even before Shannon "left", I looked for Angels.  I never doubted that they were there, watching, guarding, laughing at our missteps, but I wanted the bright light and overwhelming comfort of their presence in my physical awareness.  I believed that they would appear as wispy, etheric beings.  I imagined a lot of white and the smell of cookies, you know like John Travolta in "Michael".  I never imagined that they would appear dirty and cold and smell like wet dog and well worn wool.

Walking Bob and Coco were trying to get to Hanover before dark.  The rain was freezing before it hit the ground.  The December wind was biting.  He looked like a downhill skier, braced against the wind, as he trudged up Jeff Davis Highway, heading south, one labored step after another. 

 A Jeep Wrangler is not necessarily the best vehicle for a want-to-be Samaritan but we managed to get his faded blue back pack and overstuffed Tote a La Garbage, the black plastic variety,  into the back.  Squeezing this ninety pound man wearing every article of clothing he owned and his forty pound dog into the passenger seat proved slightly more challenging.

“There’s a motel in Ashland.  We’ve stayed there before and if you can take us even a few miles, we’ll be grateful.  This is Co Co.  She won’t bite.”  His voice was soft and raspy.

So we headed south. 


“I don’t ask for handouts but I sell Vitamins.  “The World’s Greatest Vitamins”.  There’s a web site, and they mail me a check.  I had stomach cancer and these vitamins saved my life”.     


Wasting no words, Bob fished around in his pocket and pulled out a faded Xeroxed copy of a newspaper article that chronicled the miles he and Co Co had travelled together.  He sat quietly staring at the road ahead as Co Co slept contentedly across his lap, her big brown head on my right arm. She snored softly.  You would think there might be some discomfort, crammed into the front seat of a Jeep with an exhausted stranger and his sleeping dog, some need to fill the silence with superficial small talk, but after a few miles we both seemed to relax and conversation came easily.  Bob talked about his friends in North Carolina. He talked about his previous two trips across the United States on foot.  He talked about the vitamins he sold to raise money to grant wishes. He talked about his wife and daughter, killed in a car accident on their way to meet him for dinner at the restaurant he had owned. 

     I asked him why he walked.   

I asked him why a sweet seventy-two year old man felt compelled to walk alone, to sleep under a tarp, to eat when he could –what he could.  I asked him if he was ever afraid.  I asked him what would happen to Co Co if something happened to him.  His eyes were so blue and so clear and he looked at me as if he hadn't heard a word I had said.  He seemed so innocent and vulnerable.

“I hear the Angels when I walk.”

  It was that simple.

     I waited in the Jeep with Co Co while Bob checked into the Shady Grove Motel in Ashland.  She had warm, brown, knowing eyes, that seemed grateful and perhaps a wee bit apologetic.  I helped Bob get his belongings into his room.  The once gold carpet was faded and frayed and I felt a little dizzy as the blue floral bedspread danced tragically with the paisley wallpaper.  I ignored the various stains, because there was a refrigerator, a microwave and extra blankets, and Bob and Co Co seemed happy.

I left Bob with enough cash to stay for a few days.  I wanted to fix his life, with a warm bath, clean sheets and a hot meal.  I wanted to know that as the winter storm worsened he and Co Co would be safe.  I tried to understand how he lived with such uncertainty, and even envied his fragile fearlessness. 

The trip back to Fredericksburg felt lonely, I missed this tiny stranger and his brown dog. The Christmas lights sparkled in the icey rain.  I thought about holidays with Shannon.  I thought about the afternoon argument with Jules about the candles in the windows and how much he disliked them.  An argument that now seemed insignificant and silly.  I worried that I hadn’t done enough for Walking Bob and Co Co.  I wondered why my heart wasn’t big enough to take this tiny dirty man and his big brown dog home with me.  I wondered if he would have come, had I invited him.  I cried a little.  I laughed a little.  I called my Mom to tell her that I had, "Yes again", picked someone up on the side of the road.  I explained to her that he was just a tiny man with a big brown dog, certainly no threat.  I explained that he had a daughter with Shannon, and that he talked to Angels.  I can't really remember what she said, but I'm sure she advised me never to do it again. 

By the time I got back to Fredericksburg the rain had turned to ice and I took comfort in the fact that Walking Bob and Coco were safe and warm ... at least for the night.   I flipped the switch on the candles in the windows and wrapped myself in their soft glow.  I know you will scoff and think that I am prone to fanciful imaginings but as I sat there in the wicker rocker listening to the ice hit the windows, the smell of cookies filled the room. 

What if Angels walk instead of fly? What if they wear tattered wool and have big brown dogs and appear at those moments when life seems to have lost its wonder? I couldn't help but smile when I  realized that there was one more thing that I had to do for Walking Bob and Co Co, even if he was an Angel. 

Without even the slightest hesitation, I turned on the computer, searched and found the web site, and ordered two big bottles of “The World’s Greatest Vitamins".  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that one of those bottles is still unopened in the cabinet over the microwave, but whenever I see them way in the back... peeking over the Pepto and Nyquil, I think of Walking Bob and Coco and Angels and cookies and the incredible power of possibilities.

The Truth About Friendship

   Shannonbw  Shannon

Lately I've been feeling lost.  I know, nothing new for me...but this time it isn't sad or frightening or overwhelming.  This time the "lost" appears to be more about looking for footing.  Searching for the stepping stones that are secure, not wobbly or slippery. This time I'm not trying to find my way alone.

I'm creating a web site with the hope of believing myself into "found".  Believing that I can create a space in my life that is both meaningful and self supporting.   I recently had the joy of photographing a wedding...and then taking engagement photos for my niece.  As I sat and looked into their beautiful, hopeful, faces... editing and cropping photos for hours... I realized that I hadn't eaten or whined or lamented the effort.  What a treat to work with joy.  What a novel concept.

I still have so much to learn.  It is so much more than snapping a shutter.  The interplay of light and shadow, the gorgeous glow at sunrise and sunset, the emotions that surface when light hits the side of the house in just the right way or laces through the remaining leaves of autumn.

Shannon wanted a camera.  She researched and planned and saved and finally got her camera for Christmas in 1997.  I remember getting in the car and driving... freezing... wandering... looking for that perfect light or racing the sunset across Lake Anna.  We both took photos but Shannon saw things that I missed.  She saw feathers unfolding and the graceful arc of water on rocks.  I was so busy worrying that she would fall into the Rappahanock or into the Grand Canyon that I missed the joy in those moments.  Worry didn't change the course of our lives, but I allowed it to steal time.

You know that saying about people staying in our hearts forever even if they are in our lives for only a moment?  Shannon fills my heart.  I'll warn you right here and now that I am becoming more and more redundant with time....but I have to share the ride home from the Grocery store one Sunday afternoon. 

Shannon and I were on our way home from Giant.  We were only a few blocks from home when we saw this incredible double rainbow.  We debated on whether to try to get home and get the cameras but feared it would be gone before we could get back to the open field and perfect we stopped.

We pulled into a parking lot and sat on the hood of the van.  We just stared into that perfect Sunday sky and double rainbow that stretched from horizon to horizon.  There was a soft warm breeze that lifted the hair around our faces and on our necks.  We didn't know that we only had a few weeks left to be together.  We weren't worried about the peach ice cream melting, or the seafood salad going bad. We simply breathed in the moment.  I'm so grateful that we didn't race home.  That we didn't take frantic photographs to stick in a box.  There have been other rainbows, even double ones, but none as beautiful as the one that I hold in my heart beside my Shannon.

Today I posted my photo website to Facebook.  I was nervous about seeming presumptuous.  I don't want to be a self promoter.  What I do want to do, is share the gifts I've received.  There have been moments that I would have missed had I been working or cleaning or responding to all of the demands of the day.  Moments I have had the opportunity to capture and give to those incredible people who have no choice but to race the clock and work from sun up to sun down.  It makes me happy and I had almost forgotten what that feels like.

I have friends that I have known forever and some I've never met.  I have friends who glide through today's technological miracles with such grace that they amaze me.  I'm on the walking path of technology but I love that ten seconds after my Facebook post, I had wonderful supportive responses from friends and family encouraging me and expressing appreciation for those moments.

I'm thinking that although we like to make things in life far more complicated than they need to be... friendship is simple.  Friendship is honest and hopeful and safe.  I miss my best friend...sometimes more than I can bear and I have big ideas and yearnings and possibilities that I want to talk with her about, but it is harder to feel alone these days.  I've discovered that I'm less vulnerable sitting here in my little bedroom/office/library reaching out to friends I've yet to meet.  Connecting with people I love but  can't see often enough because of geography.  Sharing with Moms whose children are with mine.  Moms whose friendship is beyond measure.

I guess I just wanted to say thank you... a huge, broad brushed, far too wordy thank you for giving me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and know that even when I'm floundering and a slip and fall seems eminent... you are there with your hearts and hands extended and I never have to do it alone.


Jan_edited-1 Shannon's Mom