For the good times…

Yesterday was amazing. The sun popped over the hill at 6:30am and tracked its way to sunset, never once getting lost in the gray matter. Stayed a little breezy, so never truly short-sleeve weather for this delicate prairie flower, but it was a superb Saturday. We met Rita out at the winery in the late afternoon for Easy G and the Blue Notes, a Cajun & Creole food truck, and smooth local Farmer’s Turnpike White. The food truck, Duke’s Place, is the baby of Papa and Mama Duke, and the aroma of jambalaya, seasoned fries, fried okra, and other wonders was irresistible. Since nobody resists around food, wine, and music, we had the fries. Rita knew Mama from another winery night and the three of us had a fun conversation while things were heating up in the truck, wherein we learned that Papa teaches music at three area universities and earned his doctorate in that subject at KU this spring. I’m guessing he’s late 40s, early 50s, and I’m all respect. And Vanessa (Mama) never stops smiling while she works, so the vibes are cool.

We set our lawn chairs under the trees in the green green grass, commandeered the one little wooden table on the place (it’s becoming a running joke), settled in, and breathed. The day, despite the tiny chill in the air when bigger gusts sailed through, was lovely, and the dozen or so small children in attendance looked to be in kid heaven. Just past the main yard and narrow driveway there’s a little meadow where one girl, maybe 8 years old, held her own against three likely-9-year-old boys and a football – girl’s got an arm. There were four tiny girls and one just past toddler age who flitted around like butterflies, all whispers and bravado. Every once in a while the herd instinct would take hold and all the kids from big to small would run down a path into the woods, only to wander right back in short order. The smallest followed after everyone until her eyes glazed over and she looked like she wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep, right in her little tracks, and this mama’s guessing that happened before they left the driveway. One reason I know is that I slept nonstop until 8:30 this morning and felt positively renewed. NOTE TO SELF: Wine and Cajun fries, fresh air and music at every opportunity.

The evening was like a delicious shot of novocaine after the weekly load of fresh pain, which not only rhymes but is part of a greater rhythm. When you combine benign nature, great food and drink, heart-grabbing music, and the knowledge that likely everyone there would have your back if necessary… you can’t go wrong. The winery is partially the creation of friends of Rita’s… a chemical engineer and his physician wife… and their two little boys made up part of the football/pirate/explorer entourage down in the meadow. Can you say wholesome, boys and girls? Chip and Joanna Gaines have nothing on this place. 😊

People will always determine whether life is good or not, and as much as I try to live without them, it feels better to be around kindred spirits. I think tomorrow I might get to see a couple more and I can’t wait. ❤️ If what we’ve all just been through hasn’t helped us sort out our priorities, we’re not gonna get there, kids. Make it a great week… we’re due for a heat wave here tomorrow!

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Goals…

Since my current objective is to be outside walking every day, I’m hyper-focused on The Weather Channel, and what I’m seeing is a roller-coaster path to spring. Pretty sure it’s that way every year, but this time I’m feeling the nuances. We had 8″ of snow late last week, and parts of it are still on the ground. Today’s high is forecast to be 70º with sunshine, so the remnants should disappear while Rita and I are out “hiking” this afternoon, and I can’t wait. She’s scouting out a path I haven’t taken, just for extra interest and incentive because she’s cool like that.

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That was yesterday. We walked around the Pohler Lofts neighborhood and spent a little time at the Wishing Bench, which someone with a wonky heart on a rough day set on fire some years ago, but which has been refurbished and laden with items dear and meaningful. Next time I’ll take a fresh pic… yesterday we were just there to look and ponder. We went from Pohler to Hobbs Park & Stadium on 11th and looked at the murals… read the quotes by Langston Hughes, who grew up a few blocks NW of there… along with other words from other souls who helped make Lawrence what it is.

Old photo of original bench.
Hobbs Stadium

We love this town, which is still in Kansas but so not like the rest of the state. Our Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, is one of the nation’s most endangered in this year’s midterms… and her GQP legislature has hatched a bill to separate Douglas County, one of two blue dots in the state, from the rest of NE Kansas and stretch our voting block in a straight line across the state all the way to Colorado, 400 miles long and an inch deep. Against our will. Against anybody’s better judgment. Against sanity. It’s crazy-making to be rendered helpless in our own defense, which delights some people no end.

I have a theory, which if proven wrong would crush me. I think you can make #lfk your kickaround dog, poke her with sticks, try to put her nose in the mud… and get virtually nowhere. Digest this in whatever way lines up with your basic philosophy, but a blurb Google handed me says “Lawrence, Kansas was founded in 1854 by antislavery radicals who had come to Kansas under the auspices of the New England Emigrant Aid Company to outvote proslavery settlers and thus make Kansas a ‘free’ state. The city was named for Amos A. Lawrence, a New England textile manufacturer who funded the company’s settlement efforts.”

“Antislavery radicals” sounds so… judgmental, don’t you think? When we go to Free State Brewery… Free State Dental… any number of clearly freedom-loving spots in town… I just think how fresh the air feels. I am for sure anti-slavery, but isn’t everyone? Wait… that’s the “radical” part, isn’t it. From what I can gather, John Brown was a nutty old scarecrow who knew his beans, knew right from wrong, knew people weren’t livestock, and he left an indelible imprint here, as we continue to ask ourselves “WWJBD?”

Abolitionist John Brown has been famously depicted in a mural done by Kansas artist John Steuart Curry in the State Capitol building in Topeka, completed in 1940. The mural portrays Brown almost as an Old Testament prophet, a Bible in one hand, a rifle in the other.

Mr. Brown did his rabble-rousing in the 1850s, coinciding with #lfk’s infancy and likely setting the tone for future dealings with the surrounding world. Then in the 1860s, as Civil War devastated the country, William Quantrill contributed his bit to history:

“The Lawrence Massacre, also known as Quantrill’s raid, was an attack during the American Civil War (1861–65) by Quantrill’s Raiders, a Confederate guerrilla group led by William Quantrill, on the Unionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, killing around 150 unarmed men and boys.

The attack on the morning of Friday, August 21, 1863 targeted Lawrence due to the town’s long support of abolition and its reputation as a center for the Jayhawkers, who were free-state militia and vigilante groups known for attacking plantations in pro-slavery Missouri‘s western counties.” -Wikipedia

Quantrill couldn’t burn most of the native stone buildings on Mass Street and elsewhere, but he did his damndest to scorch the character and reputation of Lawrence. And how many people today can even tie his name to this place in history?

I may have been too mesmerized to take pictures yesterday… I haven’t been out much ya’ know… but it’s all still there and we’ll go back. Not today, however, when the high temp will be 28º, a 40º drop from yesterday afternoon’s balmy stroll. Overcast. Gray. Glad I got out and shook hands with Monday while the gettin’ was good. I’m more thankful for a little sister who never whines about slowing her “veteran hiker” pace for the old girl with the hardware onboard. Wait… she has plenty of same, so she knows.

Thought I was seeing ghosts slipping along the sidewalks… all that talk of Quantrill’s Raiders and John Brown and how we got here. Turns out it’s snowing, and now the flakes are gathering mass and acting all sassy. I get to stay in here all day, and walk or no walk I’m loving it. I’m wishing all of us a cozy day bathed in peace and freedom…

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Film at eleven…

We’re in the throes of a schizophrenic weather event, a thing the bread-basket is well known for. Yesterday’s high temp was 66º with sunshine. The wind, however, was a ravenous wolf that escorted winter back to our door as we slept last night, and at 6am the world outside is swiftly being layered like a wedding cake, even as the snow pushes southward. It’s currently 23º out there, which is almost our high for the day… a drop of 41º from yesterday’s temp. Real-feel is 8º so I’m sticking with blanket, fireplace, and hot chocolate for the duration… and we’ll pioneer our way through until tomorrow’s high of 40º and sunny.

I miss the colossal blizzards of my childhood, back in the olden days on the prairie. In retrospect, although school was canceled on a regular basis every year, there was one true big-deal weather event… in the winter/spring of 1957. The snow came down like wet laundry from March 23rd through the 25th while the wind made winter-festival sculptures of it and we cooked up adventures in our dark farmhouse. The electricity was out for about a week, but we had Coleman lanterns and kerosene lamps from my grandparents’ house across the drive, so it was all fine with us, by which I mean anyone not responsible for clothing, feeding, and sustaining us as viable humans. Our floor furnace ran on gas, but did it need a spark from the wires to fire it? At any rate, we stayed snug as bugs, my folks always kept the freezer full of food, and the kitchen stove was on gas. Yay us!

March 1957

That year I was nine years old, my little sisters about 4 and 5, and in the photo we’re sitting atop the evergreens in our grandparents’ shelter belt, which never really recovered. Our baby brother even got to check it all out for himself the day this photo was taken, feeling the cold, eating the snow. Our neighbors could walk out their upstairs bedroom windows onto the drifts that stacked up against the north side of their house. Good times…

It’s only grown darker since I got up at 5:45, and not much is shakin’ down there on the streets. A true snow day for savoring…

Next month is the 60th anniversary of one of Kansas’ biggest blizzards, MY blizzard, about which there’s information in the link if you’re interested, including a small paragraph about the blizzard of 1886, which was related to me by my grandma, born three years after the event. The People, with their verbal accounts of history, had it right… and I wish I’d listened to every word of hers like it was a lifeline.

https://www.weather.gov/ddc/1957Blizzard [Hit back-arrow to return to blog post.]

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A simple little story…

art: Autumn Skye Morrison

Sunny but cold. Today feels like one long tunnel. I tried all morning to write a letter, but it isn’t coming out right, so either it isn’t meant to be written, or I haven’t cracked the code of truth yet. For now, this is a better story that somehow speaks to what I was trying to write…

My dad has bees. Today I went to his house and he showed me all of the honey he had gotten from the hives. He took the lid off of a 5-gallon bucket full of honey and on top of the honey there were 3 little bees, struggling. They were covered in sticky honey and drowning. I asked him if we could help them and he said he was sure they wouldn’t survive. Casualties of honey collection I suppose.

I asked him again if we could at least get them out and kill them quickly; after all, he was the one who taught me to put a suffering animal (or bug) out of its misery. He finally conceded and scooped the bees out of the bucket. He put them in an empty Chobani yogurt container and put the plastic container outside.

Because he had disrupted the hive with the earlier honey collection, there were bees flying all over outside.

We put the 3 little bees in the container on a bench and left them to their fate. My dad called me out a little while later to show me what was happening. These three little bees were surrounded by all of their sisters (all of the bees are females) and they were cleaning the sticky nearly-dead bees, helping them to get all of the honey off of their bodies. We came back a short time later and there was only one little bee left in the container. She was still being tended to by her sisters.

When it was time for me to leave we checked one last time and all three of the bees had been cleaned off enough to fly away and the container was empty.

Those three little bees lived because they were surrounded by family and friends who would not give up on them, family and friends who refused to let them drown in their own stickiness and resolved to help until the last little bee could be set free.

Bee Sisters. Bee Peers. Bee Teammates.

We could all learn a thing or two from these bees.

Bee kind always.

~~author unknown

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An homage…

My mom was one of nine siblings and I grew up surrounded by cousins, with our maternal grandparents at the center of the circus, always. It was one of those families where the Christmas presents fill up half the living room and the dining tables take all the space that’s left. We were raised on humor, hugs, and a knowing instilled by farmers and former military that we were expected to suck it up and survive.

But Grandpa died of lung cancer… and then when Grandma, the Queen Bee, left us at age 95… all the air went out. We went from time-honored massive family reunions to none, literally in a heartbeat. The Clan has dispersed itself around the globe over the years, so there are generations of cousins I’ll never know, even by name. And it’s sobering to realize that most of the cousins I grew up with I’ll never lay eyes on again. They’re there… I’m here… neither of us is going here nor there for all the reasons… so the last time we saw each other… was the last time we’ll ever see each other.

People change. Life changes us if we’re living it at all. We assume we know the humans with whom we share a gene pool, but it’s a delusion of youth and immaturity… the longer we live, the greater the distance between us. And sharing a bloodline doesn’t mean we’ll get along, or even like each other. The current mood of the planet has soaked into every part of society by now, making family dynamics a minefield… therefore, at least half my extended family considers me “better in theory than in practice” at best… and I’m good with that.

Everything ends. The most beautiful things in the world – like a big crazy family with love coming out its pores – don’t remain static, they can’t. So I’m paying homage to a dynasty that was and is no more. It was never what we purposely remember it to be… but close enough for family and fairytales.

WHERE IT STARTED…

WHERE IT WENT… x 3 or 4 by now

Possibly the last big reunion we had. These are all 1st cousins, about half the total at the time.

Fall melancholy… moody rambling… somber thoughts…grieving the losses… celebrating what was. All respect to a big ol’ family that’s tried as hard to be human as any I know. And on we all go…

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Good hearts are safe homes…

I have brazenly committed a crime this morning and I have no shame, because I stole a piece of writing (and life) that’s too exquisite to keep to myself…

Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well — one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — from her bag — and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands — had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an Old Country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate — once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

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A fractured fairytale…

Once upon a time, long long ago, on a farm far away, there lived a little girl. The girl’s early childhood held much of what today’s world calls “going through some things,” silently shaping her psyche and setting her future in motion.

From the outside, we observe that the “wild and free, who cares??” mindset of farm children earned the girl her share of dings and cuts, but it’s in hindsight that we see her defining moment… a water-skiing accident at age seventeen that rearranged the molecules in her body in ways that would make themselves known over the ensuing years. Hotdogging for friends, she skied too far onto the sand and when her skis stopped she flipped out of them, impacting earth with the side of her neck and right shoulder, and flipping again onto her back on the beach. We know it couldn’t have been pretty, but any landing you walk away from is a good one.

The girl blithely greeted life as if she weren’t a ticking time bomb, and her naturally sunny nature saw her through much. She married a good man with PTSD, just home from Viet Nam, and they had a blond, blue-eyed little boy and continued the farming life, with everybody pulling together to make it work. When the girl was 29 years old one of the concealed bombs from the accident exploded in the form of a ruptured aneurysm under her skull, and following cranial surgery she found herself walking away from another one. Thin, bald, but under her own strength, she started to entertain questions about what else fate might bring?

One weighty answer came years later when the farmer perished in a harvest accident. The girl then left the farm and her world spooled out in entirely new directions. Life had been totally rearranged, and after a year and a month alone she met and married a California surfer-dude, natural caregiver, friend for life, and best boyfriend ever… that’s what she said.

Meanwhile, areas of damage continued to make themselves known. A once-nagging back pain was now a constant source of torment, and a couple of small back surgeries aimed at relieving pain changed nothing. Her right shoulder became unbearable, so more than thirty bone spurs were removed and a few tears mended. Countless lumbar injections and epidurals have had negligible effect.

The little blonde farm girl turns out to have a fatal flaw… she’s something of a klutz. This only became more pronounced after the accident, which put her gyro out of whack, so throughout her lifetime she’s had many interesting falls… one a memorable escapade on ice that shattered her other shoulder, cracked two ribs, and smashed her face into a large potted plant. Now both shoulders get regular steroid injections to deal with Arthur, who makes himself at home everywhere, uninvited.

The little girl from long ago is old or on her way, and now another bill has come due. Our story tells us that the scar tissue from the cranial bleeds and surgery has a life of its own and is generating something called focal seizures… oh joy for the girl. She realizes by the symptoms that these seizures have been building in intensity for five years or longer… and that the accompanying aura is the same as when the aneurysm first ruptured out there in the stillness of the prairie. She says it feels like waiting calmly in the presence of death… and there is no fear in the room. The good news is “there’s an app for that,” and better living through chemistry is panning out so far.

Moving our tale along, the girl who is now an Old got to see her own spine last week in stark relief, which answered all but a couple of questions because there’s nothing like black and white for instilling reality… and now the Girl and the Dude have a few things to talk about.

So, boys and girls… life is long, day by day, but a brief candle when viewed from the other end of the telescope. Early on, we think everything will get right when we’re finally adults, which is one of the saddest, funniest misconceptions of childhood ever. Only gradually and often at a late date do we start to grasp that life is about the moments and each one is steadily making us who we are. Sometimes the way we handle life makes us prickly and insufferable… sometimes life comes at us so hard and fast we struggle to sort things out in time to deal with them the right way. And sometimes we’re just jerks. At least that’s what the little farm girl said…

THE END

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An awed “Ohh… “

“Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable… I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours… Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unbearable sound of the roses singing… If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”- Mary Oliver

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The Tale of the Topless Dancer, the Baby Clown, and the Cross-Country Heist …

Someone reminded me of this recently… worth a rerun.

In the end it was the rain that did it.  Her breath stopped short that morning as a thread unraveled in the middle of her chest and let go. Water kept falling everywhere-all-the-time-non-stop and she instinctively knew one more day of it would finish her.  That and the asshole she lived with.  Him more than the rain, because when things were new and intoxicating between them the incessant rain had felt nurturing and cocoon-like and hadn’t sent her mood into the toilet.  Zoe had to face it, The Asshole was the cause of her angst, and just like that she couldn’t wait one more second to get far, far away from him.

Fragments of escape possibilities, the kind every smart woman hangs onto for eventualities, jumped around in her head.  When the guy shopping for groceries who persuaded you into his bed on sight… or had it been the other way around… lets you know, none too subtly, that you’re replaceable… a girl has to start reviewing her options.  There weren’t many, she didn’t even have a car, but she was pretty sure she could recruit Teresa and Bobby Lee, whose jobs happened after dark, to help her with the plan she was hatching.

Turned out things were currently loosey-goosey for her day-tripper friends. They’d just been hanging out ’til the next opportunity, and picking up a U-Haul day-rental sounded like a fun little diversion.  So while The A-hole was away on a job, she and Teresa and Bobby Lee – who was strung out enough to let the girls do most of the work, not that he was all that helpful under primo conditions – loaded her stuff, what there was of it, into the truck.  Zoe was possessed by a sense of urgency – go, go, get it done, get out of here – but it wasn’t easy keeping her helpers on task, especially with her brain zinging like a sparkler. Teresa was wearing her customary 6-inch heels, and although Zoe had to admit her friend was as skilled at navigating her spikes on the ground as she was on the pole, all she wanted was to keep moving and be gone before he got home, leaving no trace of herself behind.  

In the kitchen she made a snap decision not to leave him so much as a fucking knife and fork.  She was done.  Finished.  Tired of being played, tired of living at the frayed edge of the law, tired of people she didn’t know showing up at her house at all hours, sleeping there, drinking her beer like it was water, stinking up her bathroom, leaving everything for her to clean up.  And the guns – she was weary of all the firearms. The Big A, until recently The Desired Beloved, kept a .357 Magnum in the bedroom, handy but out of sight, and that had been preying on her thoughts more and more, not because she especially feared finding herself on the business end of it, but because – HOLY GOD – she had a small son who was nothing if not curious.  Her SON!!  Her almost-four-year-old Jacob was at the circus with his second mom, her closest friend, and she had to figure out a way to pick him up on her way out of town!

The rain took a smoke break, they wrapped up the load-out, and she got ready to say her goodbyes, but Bobby Lee had other plans.  By now, the three of them had tacitly acknowledged that this was no day trip, and Bobby Lee, the proverbial good-hearted gangstah, who would find himself cooling it in prison not long after, was reluctant to let her set out cross-country without a companion.  So when Zoe rolled out of the driveway, ensconced in the passenger seat was Teresa, decked out in her CFM spikes, little ankle socks, and one of her eclectic outfits.  The three extra thongs she carried in her battered model’s bag would have to suffice for the duration.  And of course more stilettos and their adorable sock friends – a girl goes nowhere without options.  The tops and little shorts and scarves and vests she favored for covering her lusciously-acceptable assets took up barely any room, and what self-respecting artist leaves home without her makeup?  TRIP. ON!!

The day was getting away.  What if he came home, saw what she’d done, and started tracking her down? The girls navigated their way to the circus, located Jacob laughing with his friends Izzy and Marc, and whisked him away as unobtrusively as they could considering that he was having the time of his life.  Second Mom had taken the boys down to the floor for face-painting and not only was Jacob in clown-face, he’d won Best Award for the incredible look he’d given himself.  Irony of ironies, it ended up as a full-page photo in the local paper, but not until after the little entourage was halfway across the country.

It must have been a hilariously harrowing trip from the coast to the heartland… the falling-apart country girl, the miniature clown who declined to have his face washed in any service station restroom, and the drop-dead-hot topless dancer.  God only knows what Teresa cooked up to keep Jacob entertained with along the way, but she’d never been accused of lacking in creativity and she had a nurturing streak.

They managed to get across the state line before the truck started breaking down and losing A/C.  With no other choice and facing potential defeat, they pulled into the first U-Haul place they saw, where not only did the gracious employees put them into a brand new truck, they transferred the load for them.  Meanwhile, Teresa nabbed the paperwork from the office and had a private moment with it in the Ladies, changing just enough numbers to keep law enforcement in the rearview mirror for as long as possible.

Okay… back on the road.  Drive, catnap, get junk food… drive, catnap, get junk food… straight through to the middle of the continent.  Zoe wished Teresa would get behind the wheel once in a while, but she trusted herself more so she kept her mouth shut.  Mile after mile over the next two days, through dark and light, her mind was occupied with the immediate past, the slightly-unhinged present, and the murky future.  “How – really, time to be honest here – did you end up as a 21-year-old single mom living with a big-time coke dealer who finances his operation by stealing and chopping high-end cars?  I mean… really. Let’s talk.” Despite being more adventurous than most, she’d always seen herself as a good girl.  And notwithstanding a couple of rough patches with drugs, binge-drinking, and heartbreak, resulting in a few ill-timed decisions and close-call extrications, she still knew she was a good girl.  She just needed to get away from a bad situation and clear her head and she’d be fine.  She had to get clean, too, a process that was already underway since she and Teresa had fled with only so much stuff.  Zoe knew she’d be crashing about the time they reached their destination and this wasn’t going to be pretty… but when you need time and a fortress, you head home.

She didn’t call ahead, her reasoning emotion-driven … what if her mom or dad sounded dismayed at the news that she was on her way back to the farm?  What if that much warning was all they needed to head to the mountains?  What if they said, We can’t do this, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.  She knew, worn down as she was, that anything less than love and acceptance at this point would break her, so she kept her foot jammed in the gas pedal and her eyes on the road.

Halfway through the third day out she turned in at the farm, her little clown asleep in a crumpled heap on the seat, his face paint smeary and faded, and the dancer folded up against the door looking shaky and shop-worn.  And surprise, surprise, no mom and dad. Genuinely stunned that her instincts had been right for once, and so exhausted her knees would barely keep her upright, Zoe decided to pull a Scarlet and think about it tomorrow.

Sure enough, show up on the morrow they did, the parental units, visibly distressed to see a U-Haul truck in the yard and their daughter and grandson right there in the flesh, big as life and twice as natural.  Oh WELL, Zoe thought, so much for ready acceptance and a port in the storm… time will have to be my friend.  Wonder how much slack they’ll cut me on that?

As it turned out, slack-cutting was in Zoe’s favor but Teresa had to go. One look at her exotic, tall, blonde, stacked loveliness, legs all the way to her ass, starting with the six-inch stilettos and those baby-doll socks that promised everything, and Zoe’s mom decreed that Teresa would need to be on the next flight out.  She was.  They drove her to the airport the following morning, however much her dad may have inwardly wished for a week or so to get acquainted.  Back to the coast ma’am, end of story, thanks, and all that.

Zoe and her dad off-loaded the truck into an outbuilding, and after a couple of days had passed he asked, “Shouldn’t we be getting that truck turned in?”

“Well, no,” Zoe said, “it isn’t going back – that’s… the rest of the story.”

So at dusk she filled it with gas from the farm tank, and with her mom and dad following she drove, drove, drove, drove, far out into the countryside, parked it where it would eventually be discovered, and in the pitch dark carefully wiped it down, leaving it unlocked, keys in the ignition. While she industriously removed DNA from the truck, her dad was fretting and urging her to hurry.  He kept saying “I just know we’re gonna get caught.”

Her mom finally said “Oh, hush.  You’ve watched entirely too much TV.” That and her general enthusiasm over the night’s shenanigans almost moved Zoe to forgive her for her initial coolness.  But no… not ready yet, and she had too many overwhelming things to figure out before she’d know who she was again. So she crawled into her parents’ back seat, fell asleep on the way home, and proceeded to lie on their couch in a fetal position for a couple of weeks while life took a vacation.

Eventually one morning she woke up to sunshine and her old self-mocking mantra popped into her head, “Good girls go to heaven.  Bad girls go everywhere.”  Well, hell, she thought… I’d better get going.

And she did.

{Not exactly fiction — you can’t make this shit up.}

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A bunny tale…

Easter was three months ago but we all pretty much missed it so this lightly-edited return to 2013 seems okay… and yeah, still feeling sentimental. A piece I wrote seven years ago…

Yesterday for the first time in memory, Easter Sunday buried me under a huge pile of nostalgia.  You’d think Thanksgiving and Christmas would have considered that their sacred duty, but no, it was innocent pastel little Easter that blindsided me.

I’m the eldest of three sisters.  Our brother is gone, our parents, too, all of our grandparents have passed away, a lot of aunts and uncles, a few cousins, and without warning yesterday a tsunami of loneliness sent me rolling end over end.  My sisters, although close in spirit, don’t live nearby, my son and Kim’s are long hours away in different directions, so it’s just me and Pa, which is ordinarily more than fine.  The KIMN8R himself is now an “orphan by default” — grandparents, parents, step-parents, sister all went off and left him via death.  His niece and nephew, cousins and aunties live far away.  So.  We manage, and we have a very good time at it.  Yesterday was just one of those days.

The growing-up years.  Depending upon the whims of the calendar, Easter morning sometimes dawned sunny and mild, but more often cloudy, gray, and chilly.  Regardless, we four munchkins threw jackets and hats or goofy little headscarves over our jammies at the crack of sunrise and ran across the driveway to our grandparents’ big yard where Grandma was waiting with our Easter baskets.  The hedges and trees and other hidey-holes yielded up an abundance of chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, candy eggs and assorted Easter-y gifts until our baskets were full. Then back home for a breakfast of waffles and bacon, followed by a mad scramble to get into our new dresses – made by our mom – white anklets, and patent-leather shoes. Our little brother was stuffed under protest into a pair of pants and a jacket, and the tie that always gave him a church headache.  As for the three of us girls, we could be found complaining bitterly about the way Mother did our hair — it looked dumb, too curly, too straight, too not right.  Caught up in the joys of motherhood, she continued the grooming ritual on the drive to church, straightening or smacking anything within arm’s reach and using Mom Spit to clean the ears of whomever was fortunate enough to grab the middle position, front seat.  When she managed to get dressed is a mystery for the ages, but at least our dad knew enough not to sit in the car and honk the horn the way one of our uncles did every Sunday.  I have to wonder if he would have lived to see another glorious Easter morn.

Once there we sat in a row, with Grandma in charge of keeping order through the judicious application of Juicy Fruit gum, pencils and church bulletins.  Our parents were in the choir shooting us the stink-eye if we whispered or giggled too much, while we pinched each other under cover of the pew in front of us.  Grandma gave it her best shot, in her Sunday dress and hat and one time wearing a pair of earrings lovingly shaped out of flour-salt-and-water paste and gifted to her that morning.  Grandpa went to church with us about once a year, at Christmas time.  He always said he wasn’t cut out for church because “When I work, I work hard. When I sit, I fall asleep. And when I go to church, I sit, so… ”

Our parents would leave the choir loft and sit with us for the sermon, during which time Daddy invariably found it imperative to clip his nails. That little task accomplished, his next aim was to free a piece of hard candy from its crackly cellophane wrapper.  His painstaking efforts to keep the whole process quiet only resulted in its taking f.o.r.e.v.e.r. … one tiny explosion at a time.  If I’d been the pastor I’d have marched down from the pulpit and thumped him on the head, but I couldn’t think about it or the giggles would do me in.

Church blessedly over, we all piled back into the station wagon, our brother sighing loudly and claiming a window seat so he could stick his head out and breathe again.  He’d already ripped his tie off on the way to the car.

We’d come back home to the aroma of the Sunday dinner Mother had somehow put in the oven that morning — another mystery of time and space — shuck out of our good clothes, and start sorting our Easter basket haul.  Pretty sure we managed to stuff a goodly pre-lunch portion of it in our faces.

The afternoon usually consisted of endless egg hunts of the boiled-and-dyed variety, culminating in the cracked and battered dregs getting thrown at whichever sister, brother or cousin veered into our line of sight.  It was all fun and games until somebody put an eye out, of course.

I’ve been contemplating what sort of cosmic convergence might have set off yesterday’s blue mood, but nothing momentous stands out.  Just a little too much, maybe.  A little too much perfect day, a little too much sunshine, too much quiet, too much capacity for remembering, too much of not seeing people I love for too long.

The earth is back on its axis now and life goes on …

1951 – the year I fully realized I was no longer an only child. My sister Susan was about 3 months old that Easter.

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A Sunday…. page 62

Day 122 – 07/12/2020

When nostalgia hits (see yesterday), my mental viewfinder fills up with images of family and the farm where I grew up, or at least came of age. If you liked my Memorial Day post, these photos are for you. (Link follows)

https://playingfortimeblog.com/2020/05/23/remembering/

The people in the image above are my Grandma and Grandpa Wagner, my dad and his dog Sarge, in 1933 when my dad was 11 years old. The garden in the story was north of the house but you can see my grandma’s pretty fish pond in the background, filled in before my memory because of the dust off the cattle pens and the hazard to toddler grandchildren. Grandma had plans that didn’t always suit farm living, but she never gave up.

My grandparents, my dad, about 6 yrs old, and his brother Ed, eleven years older. They had a good relationship as adults.
The Dierking sisters – Nora, Ruth, and Clara (my grandma)
My Great-aunt Ruth in flush times
The dugout/livestock barn/root cellar where the three girls grew up, shown during a visit by family in the late 50s or early 60s, long after it had been abandoned. It was outside a little town about an hour SW of where I live now.
Caroline Dierking on the right, mother of the girls – and my great-grandmother – with her sister Emma.
In Sheboygan, Wisconsin with my Great-aunt Emma and a little relative on her right whose name was Colleen.
My cousin Katie, Uncle Ed’s daughter, and I after playing dress-up in Grandma’s big upstairs closet. I was about 5 and worried that my dress would end me as I negotiated the steep stairs.
The Wagner munchkins, Rita, Judy, Susan, and our brother Danny in Grandma & Grandpa’s shelter belt north of the garden. Says 1957 so I was ten years old. And our mom was obviously curler-happy that day.

Tomorrow… barring anything unforeseen… my mom’s people. 💙

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An epic love story… *

*…but not the one you think

It’s story time, boys and girls, so pull up a sunny patch of rug and help yourselves to coffee.

The soothing Sunday morning sounds washing over me from the other side of the wall are brought to me by a Southern California kid with a lifetime guitar jones. He got enough Christmas cash when he was eleven to buy one of his own and his dad drove him to a strip mall on a Sunday afternoon to see what they could find. He brought home a little Kawai with nylon strings and shut himself in his bedroom to figure it out.

There was no internet of course, no guitar backing-tracks, no online instruction, not even the thought that someone in the immediate area might give private lessons, let alone how a kid might pay for those. He did start at the Boys’ Club woodworking shop with his dad when he was eleven, but that was gratis except for the experience.

Without benefit of social media and the kind of advertising we take entirely for granted now, he was unaware that many famous guitar makers were based right where he lived. Later, thoughts of missed opportunities shot through his brain. Rickenbacker was in Santa Ana, Fender was in Fullerton, he could have walked there! How much would a job at one of those places have altered his life?

He was out making his own money by thirteen washing dogs, then a paper route, followed by Kaplan’s Bakery, the dream of being a guitar player eventually a low-banked fire, as the music scene in Southern California took on a life of its own and he went off to Viet Nam so he could come home with his head held high. When he got back of course, everything had changed and the mood of the country was a little hostile toward dreamers, so first order of business was a responsible job, and from then on life looked like a series of management positions, entrepreneurial projects, marriage and family.

The guitar thing refused to leave him alone, however, and by the time I discovered his presence in the world he owned four of them, plus amps, mics, speakers, recording equipment, the whole nine yards. Our shared love of music conspired to bring us together in a band setting, and for the past nearly sixteen years I’ve had the joy of watching a small parade of beautiful instruments make their way in and out of our house, and of marking his progression from wannabe to still-shy pretty-wow-player. He’s traded and strummed his way from a high of thirteen worthy guitars to a current eight that he lovingly pays attention to, giving them rotating places of honor on stands within reach.

I’ve sat on one of Ed Roman’s black couches in his Las Vegas guitar store (now gone) more than once while Kim played all the incredible guitars he wanted to touch and hold and hear. He hangs onto the blonde Strat that kissed him back – he might never part with her for the way she draws the music out of him, much like the little Taylor he came across last year just as a windfall blew through for him. He picked up an antique lap steel in the same deal and started taking lessons to challenge himself – that’s how a guy keeps rolling.

My respect for his desire, determination, and hard work knows no bounds. He’s put in the hours, day after day, year after year, to figure out how to do what he wants most to do. On the flipside, my beautiful little grand piano sits silent while I let body pain and hearing loss keep me off the bench, and that’s all I’m sayin’ about that, life being what it is.

My husband has been my hero since the Easter Sunday he walked into my house to cook dinner for me, decided first things first and kissed me good, then got down to the business of looking out for me because I was so clearly in need of same. He knows what he wants, doesn’t always get it, but has never been afraid to work his ass off for it. So if plump 2020 isn’t the year I put mine back on that bench, it prolly isn’t gonna happen. Pray for me, kids. 💋

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Catharsis is good…

Here we are in the doldrums, the no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year’s. Nobody ever knows what to do with it – do we have our employees work? (Mom & Pop shops) How many hours CAN we crank out of our employees? (NOT Mom & Pop shops). It’s clearly a dilemma for all concerned, and for me personally it just feels weird. The world outside my windows looks gray and listless, like everything’s shut down, but maybe that’s only because it’s 13º out there, all things considered, and I’m a drama queen. I’m sure I can find bright shiny things to get me through until December 31st, I’ve managed every year until now, and as soon as the KIMN8R gets home from the gym it’s all good anyway – he brings the party with him, yes it is that way, that’s why we got married, to spend all of our best minutes together.

Just for grins, I could get an early start on the resolutions I will knowingly break in 2019. I’ll fail to measure up in various categories throughout the year, but with these I’ll squirm when it happens, having named them publicly. Sooo, off the top, and in no particular order…

  • Stop letting email pile up in folders. You are NOT going to retroactively deal with a fraction of it.
  • Stop procrastinating. Do it now. It’s not like you have carte blanche on the future, so face reality NOW.
  • Stop NOT playing your piano. PLAY it. Like every DAY play it.

I see three stop signs I put up there that are really GO signs, so for starters, today will be about (the process of) dumping several thousand emails (again, yes) and also taking the cover off my beautiful little concert grand. It’s a story inside a story inside yet another story, but for now I just need to sit down and play it because since I first learned how to make a melody happen, that’s been my truest form of catharsis.

Whatever makes you feel better and frees your heart to hold more happiness, start doing more of that and less of whatever doesn’t make you feel that way. So simple, and it has nothing to do with failing or succeeding. Whatever’s ahead for all of us is on its way, and it’s good.

We’re going with that until further notice, tribe.

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Sum-sum-summertime!

A nice thing happened last week – one of my sister’s besties shared two pieces from my old blog and it was a huge encouragement for at least two reasons:  1) It touches me that she saved them, since I only vaguely remember writing either one, and 2) It didn’t make me cringe to read them again from this vantage point.

Reposting one here:

Kim and I have been catching some advertising on TV that has us scratching our heads.  The ads are for a well-known outdoor-recreation merchandiser of colossal proportions, touting their store-sponsored summer camps.  The footage shows happy children and their parents sleeping in tents, toasting marshmallows, going fishing, and participating in other fun activities associated with the open-air experience – all of it taking place

INSIDE THE STORE!

I’m all for exposing kids to new experiences and the joys of outdoor living, but somehow the ads only succeed in making me feel sad.  I grew up camping with my family, so I know it doesn’t have to cost big bucks for the real thing unless you require everything to be first class.

First class we weren’t – more like a band of gypsies – but I wouldn’t trade those summer idylls for anything.  My dad was an irrigation farmer, making it difficult for him to get away during the over-heated summer months; however, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Three or four times a year, between May and September, my parents, an aunt and uncle, and a raft of kids would load up and go to the lake for several days of sun, swimming, water-skiing, sleeping under the stars, and eating food cooked outdoors.  There was a little fishing here and there, too, and we were usually joined by other relatives and friends at various points during our stay.

My grandpa had stocked up on Army surplus items when the gettin’ was good (and cheap), so we had access to a big green army tent that was hot as blazes after a day in the sun but did a good job of sheltering us from the elements; kerosene lanterns; cots and smelly sleeping bags; portable cook-stoves; ammo boxes for storage; and most anything else a few days without the comforts of home might require.

After loading the station wagon with everything from soup to nuts, the first stop was the grocery store for all the real food – bags upon bags of it.  Then with everyone crammed into the vehicles we caravanned to the nearest large body of water, an hour and a half away, happy as clams, singing, laughing, and playing travel games, and with much “discussion” over who got the spot between Mother and Daddy in the front seat.

We kept a small ski boat and a big old (with the emphasis on old) ramshackle trailer house in a storage area at Cedar Bluff Lake, towing both down to the water upon arrival.  The boat would be launched, the trailer leveled insofar as was possible, the tent(s) set up, the charcoal grills placed on standby, and all things put in order for an extended stay.  We kids, of course, barely noticed that these things were happening.  We’d either worn our swimsuits on the drive up, or shucked into them the minute the wheels stopped rolling, and we were happily jumping off the dock, dunking each other, yelling, running around … and asking what we could have to eat.

Our mom and aunt seemed to do little besides cook the entire time, when they weren’t busy grabbing a streaking, flailing kid at every opportunity in order to slather him/her with sunscreen, but they were nevertheless visibly more relaxed and laid-back about life than at home.  Everyone who’s experienced it knows there’s something about food cooked and consumed outdoors that enhances its flavor many times over, and we feasted like royalty.  Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and fruit for breakfast, baloney sandwiches, chips and veggies for lunch, grilled hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks or chicken with all the extras in the evenings.  And a steady, day-long supply of cold soda and Black Cow bars, plus anything else we could manage to ferret out of its hiding spot.

The babies played in the sand.  The little kids banded together and pursued their own enterprises of hiking, exploring, sharing secrets, and defending each other from callous onslaughts by the medium-sized kids … who obviously dedicated their time to harassing the little kids.

The bigger kids’ hours were defined by transistor radios, water-skiing, sun-tanning, and keeping a close watch for interesting-looking members of the opposite sex.  The kicker was that our parents preferred going to the lake during the week rather than on weekends in order to avoid the crowds, so the pickings were slim.

Our dads spent their time trying to keep the boat motor running, hot-dogging on slalom skis as a reward for their efforts, and consuming quantities of cold beer.

And our moms, who were known to do a little sun-tanning themselves while catching up on their reading and talking, were no doubt simply thankful to survive it all one more time.

The time always passed far too quickly, and after three or four days of non-stop sun and water everything would be packed into the cars again for the trip home, each and every item either wet or coated with gritty sand, or both.

Unlike on the drive up, there was no singing; there was barely a word spoken.  We were all sunburned within an inch of our lives, AGAIN, and God help the child who inadvertently touched a sibling on any part of his or her person.  We were well-acquainted with the misery of sun-burnt skin and we swore each time that it would never happen again, but nobody in our acquaintance yet knew how potentially deadly the condition was, so we were not nearly as careful as we should have been.  On the way home, the only reason anybody vied for the middle spot in the front seat was because that’s where the A/C blew the coldest.

It was rude, it was crude, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  We loved every minute of it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat … if only to have all those people back with us for one more lazy summer.

Not every child will be lucky enough to experience the kind of summers we did, but I do hope they realize that there’s more to life than a pseudo camp-out in a retail store.

 

Burntside-Lake

 

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How bad is your OCD?

indecision1

Over the years together Kimmers and I have gradually realized that we’re both assorted shades of OCD. His shows up, fortunately, as a desire for neat and clean so we’ve saved serious coin by declining to engage the services of a Professional Domestic Engineer since his Mom-&-U.S.Navy Training rendered him eminently qualified. He also prefers being alone in his kitchen while he works his magic according to nose and feel. It isn’t nice to interfere with the Zen, not to mention that it would be foolish, so staying out of the way and maintaining partial radio silence is no sacrifice on my part. I read yesterday that “he who feeds us is our personal god.” I’ll buy that, especially since Kim’s an entirely benevolent one and those are hard to find.

My OCDness is sort of what it looks like – oddness. Odd Cranial Disarray. That’s me up there with too many things taking up space in my brain, sorting priorities, trying to stockpile enough spoons for whatever’s ahead. When it all gets to be a little much I start asking myself what needs to go, either for a while or for good. This month it was my long-term addiction to Facebook, something that felt unbreakable until now. In a bold effort to rescue myself from the slough of despond over politics, which is to say daily life, I shut the door cold turkey on February 1 and the only thing I miss is comments from my real friends there. If I go back when March blows in it will be with a far less engaged mindset. No rush.

The most obvious clue that I’m at least a little OCD is that whatever toy grabs my interest and attention gets the “You’re my favorite thing in the world” treatment until the shiny wears off. Disclaimer: The preceding statement does not apply to people I love – distractions only.

First obsession I remember was learning embroidery from my grandma, making quilts with her, making my own clothes, and then in my little old lady days falling victim to the counted cross-stitch fever that took the civilized world by storm. It was fun, expensive, and I got good at it, but alas, in the end too much work for the eyes and neck muscles, so bye-bye trunkload of fabric, floss, and patterns, hope your next mistress isn’t so fickle.

Having grown too young at that point for needlework I got my first computer and the world was new again. It turned all that industrial-strength bookkeeping on the farm into a sweet walk in the pasture, and it was chock full of games, including an elaborate DOS setup that taxed all my brain cells even as it entertained. Then…years later, when I was even younger, social media burst onto the scene in all its primal glory and began its scorched-earth march to the sea, incinerating all in its path. And hasn’t it been a barrel of laughs, boys and girls? Still is, some days, and I’ll wander back soon, to touch base if nothing else.

I have fond memories of the adorbs farming app in the early days – I lived that silly game, fretted when my crops failed because I was, incredibly, away from the computer when they ripened, took pride in arranging everything just so. One day it dawned on me that I was exerting a godlike control unavailable to me as an actual farm wife and I quietly left it to the birds and bunnies. Then came Candy Crush, the game that ate my soul.

In my current iteration as an adolescent I’m bouncing from one fill-the-blocks app to another, working an endless selection of online jigsaw puzzles and crosswords, dabbling with Twitter, and still ending up with plenty of focused hours to write. Shocking how time-devouring Facebook alone is if you think you have to see every.single.thing that passes through your feed.

I started out to say something here but it got lost in the spaghetti, so let’s do this – if you have reason to think that you, too, may be eligible for the OCD Club, raise your hand, introduce yourself, and let’s have a meeting.

 

 

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